|Italy outside the Freccia’s windows
Once I left the Viking Star in Venice, I travelled across Northern Italy by bullet train to Milano, or so I hoped. Unfortunately, a World War IIbomb was discovered at Brescia, which is right on the route. The train was re-routed and instead of the 2 ½ hours it was meant to take, it was well past noon when I arrived.
There to greet me at Milan’s magnificent train station was Edoardo, my Italian ‘brother’ who had
driven up from Assisi, a four hour trip just to have lunch with me at his
sister Sofia’s home in Milano.
|Sofia, Edoardo and Elena Minciotti
What a joy it was to come together with this wonderful family—virtually all of them. Edoardo brought his beautifuln daughter Elena, who is studying at the University of Perugia. Laura and her husband Francesco and son Federico came from across town. Sofia and Mario, her husband, had a marvelous lunch for the family and I was so thrilled to be with this vibrant, boisterous crew!
|Laura La Ferla and her mother Sofia Minciotti
The Minciotti LaFerlas occupy the top floor of a wonderful apartment building on Via Eustachi which is at the heart of an area of Art Deco-inspired buildings. The apartment is a repository
of their lives. Sofia, a teacher, has filled her home with books, an entire collection of which were written by Mario, a journalist who has authored over a dozen of them. Mario’s passion is for paintings and horses of which he has amassed a huge collection filling their Salone.
|Francesco Amatruda and Mario La Ferla
Towards evening, Sofia insisted on taking me on a tour of the center of Milan, which is all of two subway stops away. I have been so blessed with weather. Ever since we sailed from Barcelona, there has been not one drop of rain. In Italy
it’s called L’Estate di San Martino which is Indian summer Italian style. The feast of St Martin of Tours is celebrated in Italy on November 11th. As
Martino was travelling home from Rome
to France, in the midst of a storm, he met a beggar who was crippled from the
|The La Ferla Minciotti Salone
offered the man half of his cloak. After a few minutes, the rain stopped, the wind calmed down and sun came out heating the air. In his honor,
three days of perfect temperatures recur every year to commemorate his generosity. All I can add is that this year the celebration was much appreciated by this traveller.
|Bramante’s Chiesa di Santa Maria
loved Milan which seemed to have smaller crowds and fewer tourists than anywhere on my trip. I loved the incredible style that the Milanese have in spades. Even the airport bus drivers wear their scarves with panache. In fact, everyone seems to make an effort at fashion.
|Federico, Master of the Trampolina
I loved the market right outside Sofia and
Mario’s door. I loved the scale of the
city, so easy to navigate. But most of all, I loved being with the family: I loved going to 9-year-old Federico’s school and accompanying his grandfather in taking him to and from his English classes. I loved shopping with Sofia and eating at their table. I loved their taking me to the newest and aptly named Porto Nuovo, as modern as any recent development here in New York and perhaps even more so. I loved speaking Italian the entire time. I loved the entire stay and I have to say, it was the highlight of the whole wonderful trip.
|Art Deco in Milano.
After our Chinese experience (see Gung Bao Chicken), I was delighted with the invitation to dine at home. Sofia made a point of explaining that everything she cooks is by feel. There are no real measurements of her
dishes. Instead, she counts on intuition and years of practice.
notes as I could. So the recipe I am giving
you allows you as much leeway as you like.
Pasta e Fagioli is generally a soupy mixture of beans with a small amount of pasta stirred in at the end.
In Sofia’s recipe she used gluten free pasta sparingly. You can up the amount if you’d like. The other words of wisdom that Sofia proferred were to use dried beans and not the canned variety as she feels
strongly that the metallic taste of the cans comes through. She actually uses her pressure cooker to cook beans and cut down on cooking time. I’ve given instructions for cooking the
beans stovetop. In the event that you are pressed for time, in a pinch she
recommends beans in a jar if you can find such a thing. She also makes batches of the dish because it re-heats brilliantly and gathers flavor along the way. Here is the recipe:
soaking the beans overnight) 45 minutes. Total 1 hour 45 minutes.
soaked overnight and drained.
beans with 6 cups of water and bring to a boil.
Reduce the heat to maintain a simmer and cook the beans until tender,
about 1 hour. Remove about 1 cup of beans and their liquid. Reserve a second cup of their cooking liquid. Drain the beans.
salt and pepper. Gently stir in the beans and their
cooking liquid until heated through, about 2 minutes.
salted water, cook the paste until al
dente, about 10 minutes. Drain the pasta and reserve 1/2 cup of pasta
water. Stir the pasta and ¼ cup of the water into the beans and cook until
warmed through about two minutes. (Add
the remaining pasta water if need to make a creamier sauce.)
pecorino, parsley and rosemary and serve with more pecorino on the side.
|Milano Moderno at Porto Nuovo