We’re imagining where we would be right now, if Covid-19 had not kept us all from traveling… We’d be in Prague for the annual Spring Festival (online only this year), how about you? Here are a few memories from a previous Music and Markets Prague journey:
What’s on everybody’s must-see list when they come to Prague? The striking of the town hall clock, of course! So we join the crowd to watch the action (skeletons, Moors, apostles, and all) and, after all that hard work, stop for coffee at the world’s only Cubist Café (Cubism took shape uniquely in architecture in Prague). From the staircase, to the chandeliers, to the coat racks, the interior is adorned with those distinctive diamond patterns and faceted edges, particular to Cubist design. But the coffee and cakes are pure decadence…Viennese coffee and a Black Forest Cake to share, please – now we’re fortified for some shopping! And before we know it, it’s time to continue our international cuisine theme with the best Steak-Frites outside of Paris – at the delightful little Café de Paris across the river. Tucked into a cobbled corner of Malta Square, it’s quite popular with the French embassy staffers, who work just around the corner. Four of us can’t finish all of the steak and fries – but oh are they fantastic! And that secret sauce….the best! There’s more to see on this side of the river – pretty gardens, the many embassies and ministry headquarters, and the Lennon Wall, begun in the 1980s and still going strong, evolving daily. Back at the hotel, getting ready for tonight’s event, we spy a balloon floating over the old city – what fun that would be!As the sun sets, we complete our day with an interesting Spanish Baroque concert in the Rudolfinum – well, it’s certainly been an international day! Next year we’ll once again be there in person, enjoying this magical city with our Music and Markets guests.
The best way to describe us (Kirk and Anne Woodyard) is that we’re interested in the stories that make the places we visit come alive.
We’ve visited Europe more times than we can count, learned some entertaining stories there, and met some warm and helpful people who also enjoy the wonders of music and life in Europe. We look forward to sharing these stories and friends and experiences with our Music and Markets guests.
Since 2003 we’ve hosted Music and Markets tours in France, Italy, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, England and Spain, and in 2019 added Wonder Tours with a more intentional concentration on art and architecture, local culture, food and wine, and less time dedicated to concert-going.
We also design and host custom private tours – previous locations include many French, Spanish, British and Italian regions.
Between our music-related travels, we split our time between our homes near Washington DC and the south of France. While both of us have experience in organizing travel and music groups, Kirk’s background is in project management and competitive writing, and Anne is an accomplished pianist with over forty years of teaching and performance experience.
This blog appeared first on 4 April 2020 on my website. Italy was in full lockdown, and I had the luxury of more time to cook.
Some dinners are tweets: heat up the leftovers and pour a glass of wine. Others are more like short stories taking more time and connecting you to other people and places.
I take the kitchen compost down to the orto (vegetable garden). The cavolo nero is beginning to flower. I’d better use the remaining leaves. I ponder what to cook as I walk back up to the house. I settle on infarinata. I’m remembering the infarinata we had at the Vecchio Mulino during the Advanced Salumi course that had just ended.
Cavolo nero in full bloom. I hope the leaves aren’t too tough.
FRIDAY AFTERNOON I have a good idea of the ingredients — broth from cooking biroldo (a blood sausage which I can get at my village shop, but not the broth), beans, cavolo nero, some odori (onion, carrot, celery) and cornmeal. Since I’d never made it at home, I decide to check a couple of my local cookbooks.
The Recipes of Marilena: Flavours of the Garfagnana
I bought Le Ricette di Marilena many years ago from the inimitable Andrea Bertucci at the Vecchio Mulino.
Andrea & I at his Osteria Vecchio Mulino, Castelnuovo di Garfagnana (photo: Jeff Blaine)
Marilena is from Fosciandora, which is on the southern edge of the Garfagnana. When I think of that area, I think of Marina Donati, the weaver to whom I take guests on my Tastes & Textiles tours. Marina is a courageous woman who decided to preserve the traditional woven patterns of the Garfagnana instead of creating her own. She sold her scarves, tableware, rugs and handbags at weekly markets, packing and unpacking her van and setting up her stall single-handedly.
Besides these rugs, Marina weaves table linens and scarves. They make great gifts which easily fit in a suitcase.
Marilena wants me to throw dried beans pre-soaked overnight, finely chopped cavolo nero, squashed garlic, potato and onion both finely chopped, a stock cube (which I refuse to use) and salt and pepper into a pot of water and boil for two hours. Halfway through I’m to add some pork stock. After two hours I whisk in the cornmeal and stir continuously for 40 minutes and serve hot, seasoned with a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil, or leave to get cold. The leftovers can be cut into little squares and fried.
The other cookbook is one I bought when I first arrived in Lucca in 2004. The author Emiliana Lucchesi was a researcher and collector of recipes. Her book includes recipes gathered from the mountains of the Garfagnana to the beaches of Viareggio. It ranges from recipes of the peasants to those of the well-to-do, from home cooks to restaurant chefs. She relates stories and legends. I’m very fond of it.
Emiliana’s recipe is similar yet different. She wants me to use fresh borlotti or scritti beans, which are summer vegetables, and basil, which dies at the first frost. Yet she herself states that infarinata is a robust and tasty winter dish. She suggests adding some pork skin, which might give a hint of the missing broth from biroldo. She cooks the beans separately, sautés the odori (which include carrot and celery) to which the beans and their liquid are added. There’s a nice touch about drizzling the olive oil on the hot dish in the form of a cross.
Even the name of the dish is inconstant. Marilena calls it ‘farinata’ and includes in brackets the alternatives ‘menomatoli’ and ‘pacchiarini’. Emiliana calls her recipe ‘infarinata garfagnina’, but also notes that at Pietrasanta and Querceta on the coastal plain it’s known as ‘intruglia’ or ‘incavolata’. She prints ‘L’infarinata’ which gives the whole recipe in verse in the Garfagnana dialect (or perhaps Garfagnana Italian).
Of the pig, one knows, you throw away nothing; One eats it all, cooked properly. When you’ve cooked biroldo, if you have it in mind to make a special dish, take that broth, beans, potatoes, odori, lots of cavolo nero…
And to complicate matters further, if you ask for ‘farinata’ at Massa, you’ll get what we in Lucca call ‘cecina’, a chickpea flour galette cooked in a shallow copper pan in a wood-fired oven. I recently found Mauro Agostini who makes the pans, and we’ll be going to visit him during the Tastes & Textiles: Wine to Dye For tour in September. Not only will we learn how the pans are made, but also how to make cecina and enjoy lunch cooked by his son-in-law Jimmi in a battery of copper pots.
Mauro and a cecina pan. He explains why the copper is beaten. I thought it was decorative, but it has a function.
Besides being the cook, Jimmi is the sales rep for his and Mauro’s business.
By now I’ve spent a pleasant hour or more (who’s counting) exploring the variety of traditions of a single dish in the relatively small area of Lucca Province. That’s what Italy is like: confusing and endlessly interesting at the same time. I don’t know where the idea of a single Italian cuisine came from.
SATURDAY MORNING Up to the shop to do my weekend shopping. I ask Eugenia, the owner and one of my cooking mentors, how she makes infarinata. She starts with lardo (fresh pork back fat) minced with odori. I must remember to tell participants on my salumi courses about this delicious confection which you can use when making minestrone or spread on hot toasted crostini.
Bruno, who we usually meet at his metato (chestnut drying hut), is mincing pork back fat with onions, carrots, celery and parsley.
She sautés more odori in the melted lardo, adds the pre-soaked and boiled borlotti beans and then proceeds more or less like Emiliana, but without the basil and pork skin. Since I’m in Casabasciana, I decide to proceed more or less with her recipe.
I go down to the orto to pick the cavolo nero leaves. What will become of it this year? I think about Penny, my friend who does more of the work than I do but is locked down in England. Rolando who digs it every spring is locked down in his own village in the valley. (I’m happy to report now that Italy is coming out of lockdown, Rolando has been up to do the digging, and I’ve planted the vegetables.)
SATURDAY AFTERNOON I put the beans to soak. I’m slightly embarrassed. The beans aren’t from the Garfagnana; they’re ‘Cera’ beans from Agriturismo San Cassiano, the farm where we stay during the mozzarella course. It’s in southern Italy, in the region of Campania where you have to go for the best mozzarella di bufala. Andrea the farmer and his mother Rosanna the cook share precisely my philosophy about agriculture and food. They are affectionate and generous to me and my guests. I always load up with their beans and Rosanna’s jams, both of which taste intensely of themselves. I was especially sad not to be able to see them due to having to cancel the mozzarella course at the end of March because of the coronavirus.
Andrea in his squash patch explains that it’s pointless trying to get rid of the weeds. You’ll never win. Concentrate instead on making your plants healthy and they’ll reward you.
Rosanna, knife in hand, teaches us how to make her zuppa using Andrea’s vegetables and wild leaves we’ve foraged around the farm.
SUNDAY MORNING I simmer the beans with a crushed clove of garlic and a few sage leaves.
SUNDAY LATE AFTERNOON I unhook my copper paiolo from next to the fireplace. The paiolo has a slightly rounded bottom and a sturdy iron handle by which you hang it over the fire. It’s ideal for making soups, stews, polenta and infarinata. I bought mine in one of my favourite shops in Lucca in Via San Paolino, nearly opposite the church that the Puccini family frequented. It’s stuffed full of every type of home, kitchen and agricultural implement you can imagine, mostly made of metal, but not all.
Sautéing odori in my paiolo. Untinned copper is not toxic, but don’t leave food in it overnight.
I chop the onion, carrot and celery and sauté it in olive oil. I add cavolo nero and potato, the beans and their liquid, some strips of skin from prosciutto (which Renato, Eugenia’s husband gave me Saturday morning) and more water and start them simmering.
Next time I’m going to chop the potato and cavolo nero finer.
I light the fire in the kitchen fireplace.
When the vegetables are cooked, I slowly add the farina di formenton otto file (flour of eight-row maize) which I got last time I visited Ercolano Regoli at his water mill in Pieve Fosciana.
Formenton is the Garfagnana word for ‘corn’. It has eight rows (otto file) of kernels around the cob.
Ercolano owes his name to Beato Ercolano, a 15th-century Franciscan friar who founded what is now Agriturismo Ai Frati, where we stay during the Tastes & Textiles: Hanging by a Thread tour. Most people in the Garfagnana have nicknames, but Ercolano is so kind and good, the essence of a saintly being, that he is always called by his real name, Ercolano.
Saintly Ercolano. You can almost see a halo floating over his head.
Formenton otto file flour coming off the millstone (photo: John Morrison)
I stir with a spurtle, a turned wooden stick used by the Scots when making porridge. In reality, polenta is also a porridge, a mush or pap which can be made from many types of flour. In the Garfagnana we also make polenta dolce (sweet porridge) from chestnut flour. As I stir, I think about my dear friend Sarah who gave me the spurtle. I’ve known her for decades, from her days as administrator for the Academy of Ancient Music, then tai chi lessons together which led her to study the Alexander Technique which she now teaches in Edinburgh.
Polenta is traditionally stirred with a stick, although not usually so elegantly turned.
I learned from Alvaro Ferrari, master polentaio (polenta-maker) of the Garfagnana when I first arrived here, that 40 minutes is not long enough to adequately cook our whole-grain formenton otto file cornmeal. It requires a minimum of 1 hour, and he adds, if your guests are late, all the better. But the best secret I learned from him is that you don’t have to stir your polenta continuously. Just drape a damp cloth over the top of the pot, cover it with a lid and simmer as slowly as possible for an hour. No stirring! You can get on with preparing the rest of the meal. Whether this method would work with a stainless steel pan, I can’t say. When cooked in copper, it doesn’t stick to the bottom.
Here’s Alvaro (on left) on my very first tour in 2005. Hanging behind him are both yellow and red varieties of the formenton. (Photo: Marion Edwards)
I hang my covered paiolo on the hook in the fireplace, making sure the cloth isn’t hanging down the sides (my cloth is singed and reminds me not to make that mistake again).
I’m so lucky to have a fireplace in the kitchen all kitted out with the chain and hook for cooking. I wish nonna were here to show me how she did it.
SUNDAY EVENING I open a bottle of Alessandro Bravi’s Garfagnina Rosso wine. Alessandro makes it below Camporgiano, north of Castelnuovo di Garfagnana, the administrative capital of the Garfagnana. His sangiovese grapes grow in vineyards even higher in the Garfagnana and don’t ripen until the end of October or early November. Alessandro likes a challenge.
Alessandro explains that at the cantina he has exactly the right micro-climate for the pinot nero grape. His wine isn’t burgundy, but it’s excellent all the same.
During courses and tours we go to his cantina (winery) to tour the vineyards and cellar and eat dinner cooked by his dad Stefano.
The aromas and flavours of the finished infarinata are beyond my powers to describe: the pungent scent of this season’s olive oil as I drizzle it over the hot infarinata, the intense flavour of corn and beans, the slight bitterness of the cavolo nero and the throng of friends who have been present along the way, if not in body, then in spirit. A happy ending to a short story.
And now it’s time to say arrivederci. I’m retiring from Slow Travel Tours in order to have more time to design, promote and lead my courses for food professionals and keen amateurs (cheese, olive oil, gelato and salumi). I’ll still be running a few tours too. Sign up here to receive occasional newsletters and here to get my blogs directly in your inbox.
I wish everyone safe and happy travels as soon as it’s safe!
Erica Jarman invites you on inspiring culinary tours of life behind the scenes that you won't find in any guidebook — get to know the food artisans and craftspeople of Tuscany and Sardinia. Come join me and my Italian friends and dip into a lifestyle where lunch is more important than business. Find out more at Sapori e Saperi Adventures and follow Erica’s own adventures on her blog.
Slow Travel Tours is an affiliation of small-group tour operators who offer personalized trips in Italy, France and other European countries.
CIAO TUTTI! Come join us on our Virtual Photography Travel Tours!
If you’re subscribed to this newsletter or just stumbled across it somehow, chances are that you’re like us: You LOVE to travel and most likely you also love to document your travels with photographs — to capture memories or, if photography is a beloved hobby, to bring beautiful images home and then play with them in Lightroom, Photoshop and other postprocessing apps. Now we finally have the time to do this, right?
So here we all are, tending to our victory gardens, hopefully enjoying a lovely spring in the US (instead of Europe, where we’re supposed to be right now), some of us madly processing images from previous travels and watching lots and lots of Netflix and Co.
Still, how sad that we can’t connect with friends in Europe, visit places we love, explore new exciting locations, and travel with our many repeat photo tour clients who have become friends over the past 10 years.
During a fun Zoom meeting with our group of Slow Travel tour operators, Erica Jarman from Sapori e Saperi Adventuresshared a brilliant idea: Why not offer free virtual tours?
And so we went to work. We wrote a post for each day of our Cinque Terre Photo Tour while it was supposed to be happening in real-time. We shared beautiful locations and photo ops, some of our favorite images, anecdotes, and great drone footage and spiced it all up with local recipes and music. Something for all our senses: sights, sounds, and almost touch and smell — delicious pasta with walnut cream sauce anyone? Or maybe a glass of sparkling Spritz?
Our Cinque Terre Tour just ended on Thursday but you can follow it here, day-by-day. The enthusiastic responses from our subscribers inspired us to keep going and yesterday we started our 6-day virtual Photo Tour in Tuscany. Venice and The Czech Republic will follow.
We would love to have you join us and travel with us to our favorite locations in Europe. To sign up for your daily travel adventure, click here. »
If you’d like to explore the first virtual tour to the colorful Cinque Terre villages on the Ligurian coast, you can find all 6 posts here: