Nov 242007
 

Well, not exactly my hometown, but it was the home town of my ancestor, the Baron. However, after visiting Verona, I wouldn’t be ashamed to call it my home; it is a beautiful city. You won’t see any pictures referring to Romeo and Juliet because I avoided that trap. The city has much more to offer that fake balconies and possible houses of Shakespeare’s ill-fated lovers from his famous and beloved play. My only complaint about Verona is that it is very difficult to navigate around the city. The street signs have either not been replaced since the Roman Empire ;-), which means you can’t find them because they have faded on the facade of a building or there is no street sign. It is very frustrating.

We did not stay at a romantic hotel in Verona. We stayed at a Holiday Inn about 15 minutes drive from the old city because I had enough Priority Club points for two free nights. It was a decent Holiday Inn that had been recently renovated. The breakfast buffet was included and was not the best Holiday Inn breakfast buffet, but certainly not the worst.

Verona became a Roman Municipality in 49 B.C. So, the layout of the old city is based on the typical Roman military grid. Originally the Arena and Piazza Bra were on the outskirts of the city.

One of the most impressive pieces of architecture in Verona is the Roman Amphitheatre, called the Arena, which means sand and refers to the sand that was spread in the middle of the amphitheatre to absorb the blood and cushion the gladiators falls. It was built at the beginning of the 1st century AD, some 50 years before the Colosseum of Rome and was the third largest amphitheatre in the Roman Empire. It could hold approximately 30,000 people, which was more than the population of the city itself. In the Middle Ages, it was used as a fortress and its arches became workshops, shops and bordellos. In August 1913, a performance of Aida was held at the Arena on what would have been Giuseppe Verdi’s birthday and it has been hosting the summer opera festival ever since. It is an impressive structure and a real testament to Roman architecture.

Verona is a walkable city, with new surprises around every corner. Buildings with frescoes, like the ones above.

And, beautiful brickwork. This is the inner courtyard of and the Scala della Ragione or Steps of Reason leading up to the Scala family’s palazzo. The Scalas were one of the rulers of Verona in the 17th century.

There are also beautiful piazzi to walk around and dream about another time.

I guess you are wondering about the food…..

Since this was the beginning of our trip, we were trying to behave ourselves and believe it or not we didn’t buy any sweet treats. It is true!

We did have some decent food in Verona. Nothing fancy, just nice simple meals.

Our first evening in Verona we decided to go some where near the hotel and the front desk at our hotel recommended Osteria Mattarana. This was a nice and simple restaurant that was full of locals. We were the only tourists in sight and since we both speak Italian, we fit right in. We were a bit shy about taking pictures, but everything we had was delicious. We had the following:

Il tritone – we shared this

An antipasti consisting of carpaccio of smoked swordfish, triangles of polenta with smoked pike and smoked salmon with  rocket (arugala) butter

Il fettucine di pasta fresca ai porcini tartufati – my husband

Fresh fettucine with porcini mushrooms and a sprinkling of black truffles

Pizza Misto Bosco – me

A pizza with sauteed wild mushrooms

The food was delicious and not too expensive. I would definitely eat there again. They are famous for there inhouse cured meats and their steaks.

Stay tuned for Part II 

Nov 102007
 

The medieval walled town of Bergamo is a charming town with piazzas, palazzi and frescoed churches that owes much of its beauty to 370 years of Venetian rule.

We decided to stop here on the way to our first stop of our trip, Verona. I had been to Bergamo about 14 years ago when I was living in Lugano and I remembered it as a charming town. It was still as charming as I remembered and it was a perfect stop on the way to Verona.

Bergamo is made up of Bergamo Basso (Lower Bergamo) and Bergamo Alta (Upper Bergamo). Bergamo Alta is high above the lower town and can either be reached by taking the funicular or driving up and parking in one of the public parking lots that are hidden in the narrow cobble-stoned streets of the old town.

The main sites in Bergamo Alta are:

  • Piazza Vecchia (old square)

  • Palazzo della Ragione. It was the seat of the administration of the city in the communal age. It is now the site of exhibitions. Erected in the 12th century, it was rebuilt in the late 16th century by Pietro Isabello. The façade has the lion of St. Mark over a mullioned window, testifying to the long period of Venetian dominance. The atrium has a well-preserved 18th century sundial.

  • Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore (Saint Mary Major). It was built from 1137 on the site of a previous religious edifice of the 7th century. Construction lasted until the 15th century. Of this first building remains the external Romanesque structure and the Greek cross plan, while the interior was widely modified in the 16th and 17th centuries. Noteworthy are the great Crucifix and the tomb of Gaetano Donizetti. The dome has frescoes by Giovanbattista Tiepolo.

  • Cappella Colleoni (Colleoni chapel), annexed to Santa Maria Maggiore, a masterwork of Renaissance architecture and decorative art.
  • The Rocca (Castle). It was begun in 1331 on hill of the Sant’Eufemia by William of Castelbarco, vicar of John of Bohemia, and later completed by Azzone Visconti. A wider citadel was also added, but it is now partly lost. The Venetians built a large tower in the Rocca, as well as a line of walls (Mura Veneziane) 6,200 metres long.

  • Palazzo della Ragione and the nearby Biblioteca Angelo Mai (Palazzo Nuovo), designed by Vincenzo Scamozzi.

One of Bergamo’s famous son’s is the famous opera composer Gaetano Donizetti. He was most famous for writing the opera Lucia di Lammermoor.

Bergamo is also famous for its polenta and cheeses. Unfortunately, we did not have time to try either of these, but I have fond memories of eating polenta with taleggio cheese and a wild mushroom ragu. The soft, creamy polenta mixed with taleggio cheese and sage and served with a delicious wild mushroom ragu. It was the perfect meal for a cold day. Of course the cold didn’t stop me from having gelato. I had some at the same gelateria with my husband and the pistachio gelato was a good as I remembered it.

Soft Polenta with a Wild Mushroom Ragu

Serving Size: 4 to 6 as first course

For the polenta:

1 cup polenta

4 cups water

1 teaspoon fine sea salt

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

3 tablespoons finely grated parmesan Reggiano

For the ragu:

1 cup heavy cream

1/2 teaspoon fresh, minced (¼ teaspoon dried) thyme

1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan

1 teaspoon virgin olive oil

1 cup small cremini mushrooms, cleaned, stemmed, and quartered

1/2 cup assorted wild mushrooms, cleaned and, if large, sliced

2 medium shallots, minced (2 tablespoons)

1 small clove garlic, minced (1 teaspoon)

1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon freshly chopped parsley

Place the polenta and water in a heavy-bottomed 2 ½ quart saucepan (preferably one with fluted sides) and stir to combine. Set the pan over medium-high heat and bring to a simmer, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the grains are soft and hold their shape on a spoon, about an hour. Whisk in the salt, pepper, butter, and parmesan. Cover and keep warm. (The polenta may be transferred to a bowl, covered and set over barely simmering water. If necessary, thin the polenta with hot water before serving.)

While the polenta is cooking, pour the cream into a second heavy-bottomed saucepan and simmer over low heat until it is thick and reduced by half, about 15 minutes. Whisk in the thyme, nutmeg, and parmesan. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Heat a large skillet over high heat, 2 minutes. Add the olive oil and swirl to coat. Add the cremini mushrooms. Sear and stir intermittently until the mushrooms release their juices and begin to brown, about 3 minutes. Stir in the wild mushrooms, shallots and garlic and continue to sautée over high heat until the mushrooms are tender, 2 minutes. Stir in the salt and pepper. Add the reserved cream and parsley and stir to coat. Taste for seasoning.

To serve: Scoop the polenta onto warm appetizer plates, leaving an indentation on the top. Spoon the mushroom ragout over. Serve immediately.

http://www.baronesstapuzina.com/2007/11/10/bergamo/

Nov 102007
 

 

My  husband and I just returned back from 11 glorious days in Italy. We flew to Milano and stopped in Bergamo on our way to Verona for two nights, then we drove to Bologna for a few hours on our way to Colle di Val d’Elsa for one night, then to Siena for the day and then went to Monte Santa Maria Tiberina in Umbria for a week where we drove around the beautiful region of Umbria and saw Citta di Castello, Umbertide, Montone, Gubbio, Perugia, Spoleto and Assisi.

Over the next couple of weeks I will be writing about the places we visited and providing a recipe to go along with the blog entry. Hope you enjoy the trip.

Nov 052007
 

Sorry for the long break.  I just returned from a wonderful trip to Italy and I have plenty to show you. I will be writing a full report in the next few days.

 For now, here are a few teaser photos:

 

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