Saturday, March 23, 2013

Divided in two

Last year I wrote about the garden at the Cappucin monastery called affectionately by locals "paradiso", and kept meaning to take more pictures when the sun came out to really do justice to the beautiful spot. It's on top of the hill over the tunnel connecting the Old Town and Fegina, a garden that has bloomed since the 1600's, framed by traditional stone walls that hang over the sea.  It's arguably the most breathtaking spot in the village, and one that is very special to the Monterossini as well as anyone who has ever been up there.  The top of this hill constitutes one of the first settlements of Monterosso - the walls of the town cemetery next to the monastery and chapel are the original walls of where the first Monterossini lived.  Centuries ago, when pirates and other foes arriving by sea were common, it made more sense for the original settlers to live where they could have a more strategic viewpoint of danger on the horizon, as well as having easier access to their farms in the hills.  My blog post with photos and a longer description of the monastery and the garden can be reached through this link.

Two nights ago, due to the constant rain we've had the past few weeks, a sudden landslide brought paradiso crumbling down to the ground below, in front of the entrance to the tunnel.  Devastating not only for the loss of this important spot, but because of the necessary work to rebuild and stabilize the ground above, this landslide has rendered the street separating the Old Town and Fegina unusable, effectively separating the two parts of an already tiny village.  Work started immediately, but it will take a matter of weeks before the land can be considered stable and the street safe for people to use.  The town has a green bus that can be accessed in the piazza in Via Fegina to bring people to the Old Town and vice versa, as well as a small boat service (weather dependent) that brings people back and forth from the Old Town harbor to the Circolo Velico, the area behind the statue of the Giant in the New Town.
Rebuld Monterosso has all the information for tourists arriving on the train who need to get to the Old Town where they have booked hotels, or anyone looking to visit the historic town center, as well as anyone in the Old Town arriving by ferry who needs to get to the Fegina side and the train station.  Also, Kate Little, another American living in the area,  has great information about other hiking trails in the area that can be accessed in Monterosso through her blog Little Paradiso, since the Blue Coastal trail is still closed undergoing work.  
Floods, blizzards, earthquakes and a landslide or two just prove that Monterosso is one tough little village with a lot of heart.  Those coming to visit in the next week or two be assured that many things are still opening up regardless (restaurants, bars, and so forth) and it is business as usual here, though it might take you a little longer to get from one side to the next.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

A fish by any other name

My last post about orata and its ugly english name got me thinking about fish names and their translations in english.  Here in the Riviera, we get a bounty of fish that I have never before encountered, in a variety of shapes and sizes.  Salmon and tuna are old news.  Here, you'll find pink fish with flowing fins called gallinella, flat square fish that go by the appropriate name rombo, and my personal favorite, cicale, or the noble sea grasshopper.
Here are a few of the fish and shellfish you'll find swimming in the sea and onto your plate, and their names in English - these are the more obscure ones that confounded me at first.  Obviously, the simple ones you can find easily in any language book (i.e. vongole=clams), but these are frequent guest stars on the menu in the restaurant:

gallinella: tub gurnard*
cicale: sea grasshopper
ricciola: amberjack
dentice: dentex
calamari: squid
polpo: octopus
seppie: cuttlefish
lampuga: mahi mahi
rombo: turbot
ippoglosso: halibut
platessa: plaice
pesce spada: swordfish
acciuga: anchovy
cernia: grouper
triglia: red mullet
palamita: bonito
sogliola: sole
scorfano: scorpion fish
pescatrice: monkfish
nasello: herring hake or european hake

*ugliest fish name ever

Saturday, March 16, 2013

the queen of the sea

This might be a seaside Italian village problem that doesn't translate to other places, but Manuel's grandmother solved that old question, "What do I do when I baked too many orate?"

In all seriousness, a bunch of fresh fish were brought home the other day, and anticipating more hunger then we had, 5 of the white, succulent orate were roasted in the oven, stuffed with herbs from the garden, olive oil, garlic and roasted on a bed of potatoes and olives.  Orata is one of the local fish that is common to find in the Cinque Terre on restaurant menus.  In English, it takes the name "gilt head bream", which is both too long and too ugly to work its way into my vernacular.  Orata remains orata for me.  In France, it is popular as dorade, in Spain, dorada, but regardless of it's name, it's a flavorful white fish that flourishes in the Mediterrainian.  We ate two, and then the next day when we opened the refrigerator, they were still there, looking at us accusingly in our wastefulness.  Commenting on the way the head splits away from the body, Manuel's grandmother informed me that the fish were, in fact, smiling.

Manuel is Ligurian, and so is his family, and he comes from a long line of thrifty people who don't throw anything out.  Knowing that day old roasted fish wouldn't go over well reheated with a group of people who grew up on the sea, Grandma had another simple, delicious solution.  "The Queen of the Sea", she mused, gently starting to separate the flesh from the body, carefully shredding the meat to make sure the small bones were taken out.  "Orata is our queen of the sea here".

She chopped carrots, celery and onions small and thin, then sauteed them in a good pour of olive oil.  After they were translucent and soft, she added a big handful of chopped parsley, and tomatoes, letting the whole mixture simmer for "enough time".  Vegetable broth was in the refrigerator, also made yesterday, so that was added, along with all of the already cooked, shredded orata.  Day old bread was toasted and brushed with garlic and broken up into croutons.

Hearty, delicious and disturbingly simple to have such wonderful flavors, and an easy way to use up a roast fish or two.  Certainly fitting for the smiling queen of the sea.

Friday, March 15, 2013

What do you do in your garage?

Make homemade wine!

And solve the mystery of how the cork gets in the bottle...

Monday, March 4, 2013

Words of wisdom

In my time here bedridden, I've been fortunate to get to spend time with Manuel's grandmother. Around 4 pm she usually will pop her head in and bring me a hot cup of tea and some cookies, and we sit for a little bit and chat. Almost everyday she says something that makes me either crack up laughing, because she's a sharp lady, or tear up because she's an adorable grandma, as most tend to be.
We are sitting by the window (correction, I'm lying in bed by the window and she's sitting) watching the clouds roll in, discussing how its supposed to rain the day after tomorrow.
She shrugs, sips her tea, and tells me that they have an old proverb that when punta mesco (the big mountain lumbering to the right of the village) wears a "hat" (of clouds that is) rain is due.
I traded proverbs with things like, "it's raining like cats and dogs" and "April flowers bring May showers".
She sat quietly listening, laughing a little at the image of cats and dogs falling from the sky, and then raised herself up to bring the teacups into the kitchen.
As she turns back towards me, she pauses. "Cri, we have another
important one here in Italy."
"Oh yeah?" I reply, waiting for sage wisdom from sailors about clouds and such.
With a chuckle she replies, "when it open your umbrella".
The wisdom of Italian grandmothers never ceases to make me smile.