Visiting Italy - The Little Italian School
Piazza Gabriele Pepe - Campobasso - Molise

Piazza Gabriele Pepe - Campobasso - Molise

Molise. Where is Molise you ask?  Well, that’s what a lot of people ask. Once upon a time Abruzzo was the name of the region until 1963 when the province of Campobasso was split to form another region known today as Molise. As a little girl I remember hearing my father say he was Abruzzese when people would ask what region he was from, because it was easier than giving a history lesson!

One of the reasons I chose to take my students to Molise was because apart from being close to my heart, it is not a tourist destination, and I wanted to invite them into our other ‘life’ in Italy, where we still have immediate family, our best friends and godchildren, our nieces and nephews. I wanted them to experience the true taste of local Italian living. The visit turned out to be even more wonderful than I could have ever imagined and I am truly looking forward to doing it all again very soon.

Cantalupo del Sannio - Molise

Cantalupo del Sannio - Molise

Our 5 day tour of this delightfully picturesque region situated between the Adriatic Coast and the Sannio and Matese mountains, with the Abruzzo and Puglia regions above and below, I drove the students around in our Fiat 500 and they discovered a winery that was brought back to life, spent a day on a friend’s farm with his family and made pasta, took a trip to one of the highest points in the region to a cheese factory, and visited a Countess at her masseria to taste her extra virgin olive oil, along with some very long lunches of some of the finest typical Molisani dishes served with a whole lot of love and pride. The most important part of the visit was sharing our local Italian life with this very small intimate group. Does it get any better?

Here are a few pictures and a description of how our days went. I will do my best to remember the details because I was too happy living and enjoying the moments to keep a journal and stop too many times to take photos. I am certain I missed a few snaps along the way. I must mention that everything we ate and drank on this journey was either produced by the host, or by a local neighbouring farmer, and our guests could taste it with every single morsal and sip during their stay.

Enjoy!

Riccia - Molise

Riccia - Molise

The students arrived a day early, which wasn’t a problem at all, because in true Italian style nothing usually is. One of the best things about this visit was that the group was small and intimate, and the visitors were considered to be our guests rather than tourists. My husband and I were the guides so we could ad lib when we wanted and add in the odd extra aperitivo, or visit somewhere spontaneously that wasn’t on the ‘agenda’. It was very relaxed and as authentically Italian as can be.

The morning after they arrived we were headed to my sister in law’s farmhouse for a visit. She’d asked us if we wanted to go and make jam as the fruit on her prune tree was ready to be picked. We stopped by at one of the towns pizzeria’s, owned and run by a family who has been baking for over 100 years. You’ve never eaten pizza quite like it. We also stopped to get a bit of prosciutto, mozzarella and parmigiano to take to her farmhouse for a little ‘spuntino’ (snack) at lunch time. On arrival we decided against making the marmellata (jam) and instead went for a short hike through the woods to stretch our legs and breathe in some fresh Molisano air.


Before our orientation that evening (when the visit officially began) we went for an aperitivo and took a stroll through the historic centre up to the Castello Monforte. Later that evening we ate at a restaurant tucked away in the underground city of Campobasso, boasting ancient stone carvings and paintings. We ate melanzane al forno with ricotta, homemade cavatelli with cinghiale, veal medallions, and then enjoyed some deserts, caffe` and of course amaro.

On day two we headed off to Ripalimosani where we took a 4wd and drove through some hillside vinyards to see how this uncultivated land had been given new life by its owners, and how the wines are produced using no preservatives or pesticides. Back at the hosts home, we tasted all of their delicious wines, from Tintilia rose and red (a typical grape from Molise), to whites including chardonnay.

I’m not sure I’d call them ‘tastes’ as the pours were extremely generous, so it was just as well we were offered platters of bread, capocollo, salsiccia, caciocavallo and other cheeses, all from local neighbouring farmers.

After our visit to the vineyard, we headed off to our friend’s horse riding property where they also have a trattoria and we enjoyed a never ending lunch that was absolutely divine. Rosaria prepared many different local delights and the antipasto was full of variety including cacio e uova (cheese and bread balls), buffalo milk mousse and fiori di zucca. My favourite were her homemade ravioli with ricotta filling and a very light pesto di pistacchio sauce. The cantucci biscotti with cherry and lemon jam she made were so good I took some home for our breakfast the next day. From the pips of the cherries she’d used to make the jam, she also made a heavenly cherry liquor enjoyed by all. Waste nothing!

Day three we took a visit to our friend Pino’s farm who greeted us that morning with an espresso made with the moka (stove top espresso maker) and a few different homemade biscotti and crostate (sweet pies). If our guests had known what his mamma was going to prepare us for lunch I know they would have refused breakfast.

We were invited into Pino’s ‘sala dei lampadari’ (the room where all of the prosciutto is hanging to be cured) where he explained to us the process of how it’s all done (in Italian of course!). We also got a chance to taste it at lunch. Pino’s mamma then took us to milk the cow and use the milk to make some fresh mozzarella, followed by a pasta making class of cavatelli (a pasta shape typical of the Molise region) with flour made from their own grain. We tasted the ricotta she had made earlier that morning and all agreed it was the best ricotta we had ever eaten! After lunch we all had ‘la zoletta’ made especially by Pino, which is a sugar cube soaked in alcohol made from a variety of different herbs found on their farm, and was just what we needed to help us digest the 6 course meal we had just devoured. Then we took off up to the top of this wonderful village to enjoy the most supurb panoramic view of Italy, all the way from East (the Adriatic coast) to West (the mountains of Campania), and while up there we visited some churches and drank fresh ice cold water that was gushing out from the mountain side.

Day four was our cheesemaking day in Agnone. Near one of the highest points of the mountains in Molise (alto Molise) we were guided by the daughter of the producers of the famous Caciocavallo cheese, fresh mozzarella, and cheeses with tartufo and peperoncino (chilli) to name a few. The family have been making cheese since 1662 and we watched as they created the cheeses in their petite factory and then headed off to view the ageing produce in their cellar, along with a tour through their very own museum where we found out about the family’s history and ended with a tasting of some of their cheese. Afterwards we drove a little further up the mountain to enjoy another very long lunch by another gorgeous family, who when we couldn’t decide on which ‘amaro’ we would like at the end of our meal, they brought us out every bottle they had (there were around 6 from memory) with some glasses so we could taste them all. One was made with the ginseng root which is grown on their land, though we were told it is hard to find.

Day 5 and our last day was with the delightfully charming countess Donna Marina at her masseria, walking through her olive grove, seeing how the extra virgin olive oil is produced, bottled and labelled by hand, and ending our day with the most wonderful olive oil tasting imaginable. We enjoyed a beautiful light lunch of olives, crostini, pasta with chickpeas, and ‘la pampanella’ which is a typical slow cooked pork rib dish from San Martino in Pensulis, followed by some biscotti and caffe. On the way home we stopped by the family farmhouse to show our guests my fathers old school, which is pictured in what I use as my logo, and was the inspiration for starting up The Little Italian School.Just as well we had a light lunch because we had our aperitivo and fairwell seafood dinner in a quaint little piazzetta in Campobasso that evening where we enjoyed local wine and the freshest fish from Termoli (a coastal fishing town in Molise) caught that morning. It was a great night but I was feeling a little emotional knowing our guests would be leaving the next day, wishing they could stay just a few days more.

 

I am so grateful for the way in which the hosts embraced our visitors and treated them like family from beginning to end. It couldn’t have been more perfect and we are looking forward to taking more guests to this undiscovered region of Italy that continues to deliver its local culture and traditions in the most authentic way, with so much pride, love and passion. The locals can never do enough for you. There is a saying in Italy that goes ‘Il Molise non Esiste’ meaning ‘Molise doesn’t exist’. I can tell you that it absolutely does, and it has so much to offer. I believe it’s one of Italy’s best kept secrets and kind of hope it stays that way.

Termoli - Molise

Termoli - Molise

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Crema di Limoncello Recipe
Creamy Crema di Limoncello

Creamy Crema di Limoncello

Crema di Limoncello. So delicious to drink and so simple to make. After popping up a little snap I took of the mini bottles of Crema di Limoncello I am making for my daughters confirmation as a ‘bomboniera’, I had so many requests for the recipe, I though it would be easier to write a very short blog post with the very simple recipe and method on how to make this little party stopper!

The recipe I have is one my sister in law in Italy gave me many years ago and it works a treat every time. So here you have it.

You will need:

1 litre of alcohol

2 litres of long life full cream milk

1.5 kg sugar

A vanilla pod

5/6 lemons

Peeling the lemons

Peeling the lemons

Method

Peel the rind of the lemons and soak them in the alcohol with the vanilla pod for up to 30 days.

Once the infused alcohol is ready you can prepare your creamy goodness to add to it!

Pop the milk and sugar in a pot and melt the sugar (don’t boil the milk).

Allow it to cool and add the lemon/vanilla infused alcohol.

Bottle and pop it in the freezer.

Yes…it’s that simple! Enjoy

Bottling the liquid gold!

Bottling the liquid gold!

Tania Pietracatella
Being an Italian Immigrant -My Nonna Rosaria's Story
Nonna Rosaria 95 years of age

Nonna Rosaria 95 years of age

For an Italian, there isn’t much difference between your mamma and your nonna as they play pretty much the same role in your life. My nonna helped raise my brother and I because my parents had restaurants and worked around the clock. I went to visit nonna the other day to chat with her about leaving Italy to immigrate to Australia. I have always wanted to write a blog about her story which is no doubt very similar for most of the Italian immigrants who took the same journey. Having to leave her mamma and other family members and not knowing if she’d ever see them again must have been heart wrenching.

I’d always heard bits and pieces of the story as a little girl. I used to listen in to the family chit chat in Calabrese dialect when we’d sit to eat family lunch on Sundays. Nonna’s signature dish were her soft and fluffy potato gnocchi with ragu. There were always lots of giggles when nonna & nonno would reminisce and tell us stories about different people in their ‘paese’ (town).

Everyone in the paese had a nickname which was usually related to something they did or some sort of habit they had. Nicknames came in handy because a lot of people named their children after grandparents, parents or other family members, which meant there were a lot of people with exactly the same first name and surname so it was hard to know who people were speaking about.

My nonni had 8 children, 7 girls and 1 boy. Nonna turned 95 today and I know how lucky we are to still have her. She’s been living in the same suburb for 35 years and is well known and respected in the community. She grabs taxi’s and heads to shopping malls to shop all on her own and she enjoys frequent day trips with her friends on the Italian Community bus. She still lives at home,  has such a crazy sense of humour and she’s really quick witted and jokes around all the time. She’s always upbeat and playful and considering the life they had I sometimes think seeing the humour in everything helped them get through the tough times. They worked hard to put food on the table, and there was always enough to feed an army! Our table was that of a typical southern Italian family… full of people, loud voices, food, love and good times.

So here is her story, translated just how it was told, and I am sure a lot of you who had parents immigrate from Italy can relate to it or have heard similar stories. Hold them close to your heart, and remember to tell them to your children and grandchildren, because it’s also a part of who they are.

Nonna Rosaria in her 40's

Nonna Rosaria in her 40's

How old were you when you met nonno and when did you marry?

I was 15 years old. Nonno came to work for my dad on his farm. That’s how we met. He was very tall and handsome. I fell in love when I saw him. We were together for one month before we got married. Nonno was 20 so there was a 5 year age difference.

When did he leave for the war?

He had to leave for war just six months after we married. We married on the 1st of June 1940 and he left on the 4th January 1941. Six months. I was so sad and scared for him. But he was one of the lucky ones. He lived.I had my first baby, Giuseppina, named after nonno, just 13 months after we married. Nonno came back for leave and met the baby. Giuseppina died when she was just three years old from an illness.

When nonno returned from war what work did he do?
He came home for good after 5 years.  He had been sent to Russia. He was so thin we he returned I could barely recognize him. They had no food. Men were dying from the cold and hunger. In Calabria there was nothing after the war ended. No food. Nonno was a farm guard. He watched over the farms. There was very little food so people would steal it. There was no bread. We were only allowed 400 grams of bread a day. The government would give it to us. During the war all of the bridges were blown up by bombs so there was no way to transport it. We had our 3rd baby and when she was 18 months old he left for Australia which was about 7 years after the war had ended.

Nonno Giuseppe receiving his Australian Citizenship

Nonno Giuseppe receiving his Australian Citizenship

Why did you choose to come to Australia? Who did he come with and what did you all know about Australia?

Nonno’s cousin told us about it. Other family members had come and said there was lots of work here. He came alone and the boat took 32 days exactly to arrive. He was 34 years old and he couldn’t speak English. He knew nothing. Nothing. Bush and kangaroos that’s all. But it doesn't matter.


What work did nonno do when he arrived and how long after he arrived did you come?

He first lived in Balcatta. He would go to work in the bush cutting wood and burning to clear for wheat. Then he went to ‘Wes Feely River’ (Westfield River) in Adelaide.  They all got taken by train.
I left 3 years later with our 3 children. I was very nervous and scared but I was happy we would see nonno again.

Nonno Giuseppe settled in Australia with his veggie patch

Nonno Giuseppe settled in Australia with his veggie patch

What was it like travelling with your children alone on a boat all the way to Australia ?

It was a little bit scary. There were about 300 people on the boat. Italian, Polish, Macedonian, Yugoslav & Greek. The ship left from Genova and travelled down to Sicily to pick up the Italians.

How did you pay for the boat trip and what did they give you to eat on the trip?

Nonno sent the money after he had been working in Australia for a while. On the boat we ate soup and sometimes a little bit of meat.

What was it like to leave your mum and your family?

It was very hard, very painful. My mum died 3 years after I left so I never saw her again.

When you got off the boat did nonno pick you up and how did he get to Fremantle?

Yes he came by bus. We didn’t have a car of course. We had to save money to buy a car.

Where did you live first?

We lived in East Perth. It’s very fancy now but East Perth was a very very poor area when we moved. Lots of Italians, other immigrants and Aboriginals lived there. Many husbands would leave to work in the bush so sometimes I would send one of my daughters to sleep at a neighbours house who’s husband had gone away, just to keep them company. They hated it but I made them go. We all looked after each other and helped each other.

Did the Australian Government give you money to help you?

The government gave money towards school books. There was no dole but there was lots of work so our eldest children left school early to go to work and help us with the bills and feeding the family. We did jobs like cleaning, and washing dishes. They weren’t paying well but it was better than what we had come from. There was a lot of opportunity.

Nonna Rosaria visiting her home in Italy at 68 years of age

Nonna Rosaria visiting her home in Italy at 68 years of age

Were the English/Australian people kind?
Not too bad. Yes they were very nice. They mingled with Italians. The people I worked in hospital with when I was cleaning were nice. Nonno used to work at Thompson Steel making railway tracks, and at night he washed dishes in a restaurant. Work was usually where we mixed with other people. At home we had a very big Italian community so we all understood each other. The language, the culture, the feelings. We understood what we were all feeling and that made it easy. We all pulled together, we helped each other. It was very nice. We didn’t have much to share but we shared whatever we had.

Did you always want to go back home to Italy when you first migrated?
I always thought about Italy and wanted to go home but after the 4th baby was born I settled and I liked Australia. When I was 68 years old I went back to visit. I found the ‘paese’ the same as when we left it but I was happy to see some familiar faces.

It doesn’t matter where you are. You have to be happy. You have to be happy you are healthy, you have family, you have friends. Just be happy inside. It doesn’t matter where you are. You have food, you have family, you have friends. Just be happy child.

Learning Italian. Where do you begin?
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Learn Some Nouns

You want to learn how to speak Italian but not sure where to begin? Well, a good start would be to learn as many nouns (names of things) as you can. In my Absolute Beginner Classes I also like to expose students to some Italian grammar. Learning grammar gives you a much better understanding of the language and gets you speaking a lot quicker than learning phrases. Exposing students to grammar doesn’t mean they should be memorising and mastering what you teach them in an instance. It just means they have seen the word or the rules and from that point on, each time they are re-exposed to it they may learn and remember a little more. Remembering what is learnt comes with practice by doing exercises, and it takes time.

Essere and Avere Verbs

There are two ‘verbs’ (doing words) in Italian that are taught in the Absolute Beginner course and I am going to write a little explanation on how to learn and use them. While rote learning may be a little old school, it may be a good way to memorise them, but if you have a method that suits you more then you should stick to it.

In Italian, we have verbs just like in English. Only in English, we don’t change the verbs 6 times to suit the person or object doing the action, or the person we are speaking about who is doing the action, like we do in Italian.

To construct a sentence we use lots of words and grammar. A sentence like :

‘The boy is beautiful’. 

‘Il ragazzo e` bello’.

This simple sentence is made by adding a noun + verb + adjective …..or in simple terms subject + doing word + describing word)

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So firstly you should learn your ‘subject pronouns’  (the subject of your sentence – who you are speaking about):

Here are the subject pronouns (meaning the person or thing doing the action).

I - io

You - tu

He/She/It - Lui, Lei, esso/a

We - noi

You all - voi

They - loro

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Essere (to be) and Avere (to have) are the first two verbs we learn as Absolute Beginners

So the verbs Essere and Avere in English are used like this

 

ESSERE - TO BE

io sono -I am

tu sei - you are

tui/lei/it e` - he/she is   (notice the verb has changed 3 times already   am, are, is)

noi siamo - we are

voi siete - you all are

loro sono - they are

example sentences:

I am Italian - Io sono italiano

you are French - tu sei francese

he/she is Australian - lui/lei e` australiano  

we are Italian – noi siamo italiani

you all are Italian – voin siete italiani

they are Italian - loro sono italiani

AVERE – (TO HAVE) works the same way.

I have a child - io ho un figlio  (pronounced fi-li-yoh)

You have a child - tu hai un figlio

He/she/it has a child - lui/lei/esso ha un figlio

We have a child – noi abbiamo un figlio

You all have a child – voi avete un figlio

They have a child – loro hanno un figlio

These are very simple sentences, but if you have a few Italian nouns up your sleeve, then you can already start to make simple sentences.

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The problem most students face when learning verbs is they get confused when the ‘subject pronoun’ (the person or thing doing the action), is replaced with a name.

For example:

He is beautiful – Lui e` bello

Gianni is beautiful – Gianni e` bello (He = Gianni)

Or a little more complex is when you are speaking with someone asking them questions and they have to answer changing the verb so it all makes sense.

For example:

Question: Do you have a child? - Hai un figlio?

Answer: Yes I have a child. - Si, ho un figlio.

Question: Does Chiara have a child? – Chiara ha un figlio?

Answer: Yes, Chiara has a child – Si, Chiara ha un figlio.

Note how the verb ‘have’ in the English sentences hasn’t changed , but in the Italian sentences it has because it is agreeing with the person in the sentence who is doing the action.

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This is a very basic explanation and joining classes can be very helpful and would be the next step for anyone wanting to learn ‘la dolce lingua’. While phrases may be fun to learn, they are very limiting when trying to have a conversation. I always remind my students that they must walk before they run! So start your learning journey by building your Italian vocabulary and slowly but surely the language will all start to come together.

Childrens 'Pasqua" (Easter) Activities
Trani Cathedral (Puglia)

Trani Cathedral (Puglia)

Pasqua in Italy is based heavily on religion. In this FREE 4 page printout I created you can read a simple and easy explanation of Easter in Italy to your children and fill in the activities with them. Building your child's Italian vocabulary is a fantastic start for them if they want to learn Italian, and mixing it with learning about some of the Italian culture and traditions is a perfect combination. Does your little one know that the Easter Bunny doesn't exist in Italy? Italian children still eat chocolate Easter eggs. The egg is a symbol of 'new life', and they usually have a 'sorpresa' (surprise) in them. 

Enjoy this FREE 4 page Easter activity printout and build your child's Italian vocabulary. BUONA PASQUA A TUTTI !
Pasqua in Italia.pdf

Trani Cathedral (Puglia)

Trani Cathedral (Puglia)



Tania Pietracatella
FREE Pasqua Activity Printout for Kids


Children’s 'Pasqua" (Easter) Activities

 
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Pasqua in Italy is based heavily on religion. In this FREE 4 page printout I created you can read a simple and easy explanation of Easter in Italy to your children and fill in the activities with them. Building your child's Italian vocabulary is a fantastic start for them if they want to learn Italian, and mixing it with learning about some of the Italian culture and traditions is a perfect combination. Does your little one know that the Easter Bunny doesn't exist in Italy? Italian children still eat chocolate Easter eggs. The egg is a symbol of 'new life', and they usually have a 'sorpresa' (surprise) in them. 

Enjoy this FREE 4 page Easter activity printout and build your child's Italian vocabulary. BUONA PASQUA A TUTTI !

Pasqua in Italia.pdf

 
 
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Easter Fiadone Recipe

Fiadone Cake - Easter Ricotta Cake

This morning I woke up really early with the urge to bake a couple of traditional Italian Easter cakes. There's nothing I like more than to rise before the sun and bake while our bambini are still snuggled up in bed asleep. I'm pretty certain they love waking up to the smell of a freshly baked crostata or biscotti too. We love a little 'sweetness' for breakfast in our home. It's one of those 'Italian' things.

Our kids aren't too fussed on 'La Pastiera Napoletana', so I made them a 'Crostata di Nutella' instead. I'll be sure to share the recipe one day soon. But for now lets talk Easter...

Here are the ingredients for a Fiadone cake my beautiful mother in law handed down to me about 20 years ago when we temporarily lived in the in laws home in Italy before getting our own apartment. She would make it every Easter. I don't pretend to be a cookbook writer but I love to share recipes. When it comes to the method, well, I believe that if you practice making something with love enough times you'll work it out.


For the pastry:

10 tbsp of type 00 plain flour

1 egg

2.5 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

2 tbsp sugar

about half cup water

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Knead it well and set aside to let rest while you make the filling. You will need 

5 eggs

5 tablespoons sugar

1 grated lemon zest

about half kilo ricotta ( I use Thats Amore Cheese Ricotta. It's the creamiest and the best and it's already drained and ready to go)

(if you have any fresh cream you can add a dash to the mixture also)


Roll out the dough and place it over an oiled ciambella tin:

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Fill with the mixture and flap the edges over to cover the mixture

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Here are the 2 Easter Cakes I made plus the Crostata di Nutella. 

The Pastiera (pictured left) was on the top shelf of the oven and overcooked slightly on one side just the way my husband likes it. Perfectly imperfect!

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Conservare le Olive
 
Olive Picking
 

It’s olive picking season! And like every other year I get asked ‘how do you do your olives’? So this year I thought I’d write a short blog and include the recipe.

This time each year, we usually have an olive picking day with friends. I’ll make a delicious ragù and some fresh pasta so we can sit and enjoy lunch, a glass of wine and a few laughs together after the job is done.

 
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Our wonderful, kind and very healthy 95 year old neighbour Signor Gangemi, who migrated from Calabria around the same time as my parents, has an olive tree that is over 70 years old, and boasts some enormous and the most wonderfully smelling olives I have ever seen. We also have two olive trees on our verge, much younger than our neighbours, but with equally delicious olives on them.

 
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It just so happens that our trees fruit on alternative years, so it’s olive harvesting every year for us, because Signor Gangemi has an abundance of them when his tree fruits and he loves to share. Infact we spend a lot of time heading over to each other’s houses to share some sort of produce from our yard. He especially loves our fresh eggs, and when my children run them over, they never return home empty handed. It’s just one of those ‘Italian things’.

 
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Now the olive conserving is my husband’s job. He’s responsible for changing the water each day leading up to the day we jar them, so here is a very rough explanation of how you can make your olives if you happen to be picking some this year. I’d be the worst cookbook writer ever, because I don’t measure ingredients (another one of those ‘Italian things’), but here goes in point form, and you can also email me with any questions tania@thelittleitalianschool.com.au

 
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STEP 1

-Pick the olives !
- slit each olive with a knife – or – lightly bash each one with a hammer

STEP 2

-place the olives in a bucket of fresh water (make sure they are covered)
-change the water each day with some fresh water for at least 2 weeks. This may need to be done a little longer depending on the size of your olives. The best way to tell if they have lost their bitterness is to taste them.

STEP 3

-prepare the brine by melting 200gr of salt per 1 litre of water  and bring to boil (you’ll have to work out youself how much brine you may need depending on the quantity of olives you’ve picked. You can always make more if you need it so it’s best to start small and work it out from there.

Once boiling,  and for about 10 litres of water you’ll need to add

-a handful of peppercorns

-4 or 5 bayleaves

-lemon rind

-a clove of garlic (or more if you prefer more)

-a handful of rosemary twigs

STEP 4

-Using your sterilised jars, place the olives in them, poor in some vinegar (we use our own homemade red wine vinegar) maybe to a quarter of the jar, and top up with the brine.

Enjoy your labour of love!    

 
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Something About Italy - Emiko Davies
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Picture credit Emiko Davies

1) How did you end up in Italy ?

The first time I lived in Florence was during my third year of art school; I decided to leave my school in Providence, Rhode Island, for the damp Florentine autumn season – and I fell in love with it. I came back a few years later with an idea just to spend a year there and get it out of my system but I ended up staying and meeting the man who became my husband. It's been 13 years since then!

2) How much of the Italian culture were you familiar with before you moved there?

Being an art student and history lover, what I knew of Florence was the Renaissance. It was my favourite subject at university so in a way when I arrived in Florence – a city that very much lives in its past – it felt so familiar and like all my books had come to life! I knew something of the food (who doesn't these days? Italian food is so iconic) but really didn't understand the regional differences until I lived in Florence.

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Picture credit Emiko Davies

3) What were the biggest cultural differences you experienced ? Are there any you dislike? Which one is your favourite?

I mainly noticed the cultural differences when we had kids. The way children are treated and brought up is so different to Australia! I'm a bit over the hypochondriac reaction to the cold, like not playing outside if it's cold or wet, not blow drying your child's hair or drinking chilled drinks even on a hot day! Let's not talk about the unsolicited advice on how your children are dressed from complete strangers! But I DO love that family culture is so respected and that children are welcome everywhere you go, that breastfeeding in public you get cheered and how strangers (often the ones telling you they should be wearing socks) gush over your babies.

4) Is Italy all roses and as romantic as people like to portray it is?

Ha, it is and it isn't. It's a land of contrasts really. There are often frustrating moments – mainly to do with politics, red tape and getting things done or things like lack of opportunities. But they are by far made up for by a certain way of life – the food, the food habits, even yes, the view! Yes, there's something about coming home after a hard day, stopping at your favourite wine bar with the beautiful Renaissance buildings silouhetted against the pink sky and the glittering lights in the river and you remember why you live in Italy.

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Picture credit Emiko Davies

5) What were the biggest challenges you faced when you moved there?

Finding a steady job. That still hasn't happened! And navigating the impossibly complicated system of setting yourself up (that eventually happened, albeit with lots of confusion and so much frustration). The language happened easily for me but I've grown up learning and speaking different languages though I think for some my expat friends that has been a hurdle in itself too.

6)Would you recommend moving to Italy? And why?

It depends. It's not for everyone. I'd recommend it if you're willing to learn a new language and to jump into an adventure. I spent 8 years growing up in China and I feel that really prepared me for any situation (there really are so many surprising similarities between the two cultures actually)! As long as you know that living there is definitely not like having a holiday there and are prepared for the annoying bits too. That, and you need to be prepared for long, unrelenting, humid summers without air conditioning and a very active mosquito population! People love the idea of “Under the Tuscan Sun” but to be honest the summer is my least favourite part of living in Italy.

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Picture credit Emiko Davies

7) How does it feel being foreign but wanting to embrace and feel part of a culture that is not yours? Do the Italians treat you like an Italian or do you always feel a little foreign or more like a visitor than a local?

I have been lucky in that I have never felt like a tourist or a foreigner in Italy and maybe it's because I learned the language quickly and made Italian friends or because I have dark hair and maybe look the part. One of my best friends is a blonde Scottish woman who speaks better Italian than I could dream of and yet in a shop or restaurant she will always be treated like a tourist first. I feel like even though Florence is a small city and its inhabitants are known as being a little gruff, there is a large international community here and so I've always found I fit in with that – I've been an “international” person more than half of my life now. I think that's partly what drew me to Florence in the first place.

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Picture credit Emiko Davies

8) Is the saying ‘home is where the heart is’ true for you? Do you think of your birthplace often and your family and friends back home?

It's true. I miss my family in Australia more than I ever have, even though I've lived out of home since I was 17 – and for decades have lived on the other side of the world. I think it's been having a family of my own that makes me miss my own family more and consider Canberra, my birthplace, home even though I haven't lived there in so long.

9) Do you think you will reside there forever or will you return home one day?

I've spent my whole life moving from one country to the other and have called Canberra, Sydney, Melbourne, Beijing, Tianjin, Providence and Tuscany home for significant portions of my life. So staying put in one place isn't something I'm used to – but I would love to give my daughters the opportunity to experience their two cultures, Australian and Italian, equally. So we will see!

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Picture credit Emiko Davies


You can find photographer /cookbook author Emiko Davies on Instagram https://www.instagram.com/emikodavies/ to view her stunning feed or visit her website http://www.emikodavies.com/ and be inspired by some of her delicious recipes!

Kirsty Russell
La Festa della Donna - Women's Day
Pictured : some of the strongest women I know. Family & friends of the heart - location: Farmhouse Italy  L-R Silvana, Adriana, Myself, Fausta, Rachel

Pictured : some of the strongest women I know. Family & friends of the heart - location: Farmhouse Italy

L-R Silvana, Adriana, Myself, Fausta, Rachel

We Italians love a good ‘festa’.

For those of you who have lived in Italy, you'll know that the Festa della Donna (International Women’s Day) is celebrated with blooming mimosa flowers that can be found on almost every street corner ready to gift to a wonderful ‘donna’ (woman) in your life.

La Festa della Donna is celebrated each year on the 8th of March and is a significant day because it reminds us of the importance of women all around the world. Once upon a time women were suppressed and discriminated against, but on the 8th of March in 1917 in San Petersburg, after the 1st World War, women marched the streets to fight for womens rights. 

Pictured: The most important woman, friend & role model in my life: Mamma

Pictured: The most important woman, friend & role model in my life: Mamma

The mimosa is the chosen plant to give women on this special day. There are a few different reasons why it is thought that this bright yellow bloom was chosen.

Some say the flowers of the mimosa are a reflection of what a woman is, being bright, cheerful, delicate and strong all at the same time.

Others say that the flower was chosen just after the war, when there wasn’t much money around, so it was economic and easily found in the fields, blooming every year in March.

Picture Pinterest

Picture Pinterest

Buona Festa della Donna a tutti!

Have fun celebrating all of the strong, beautiful, sensitive, caring, loving women in your lives!

Pictured: the other most important woman in my life - Nonna 95 years old

Pictured: the other most important woman in my life - Nonna 95 years old