The Saturday following Good Friday, I was all ready for Dolores with a special breakfast—I broke out the “pan di ramerino,” a Tuscan specialty yeast roll that is normally served only on Holy Thursday and Good Friday, and then disappears for the rest of the year. I discovered them in Florence in 2003, with my roommates there, and we were hooked the first time we tasted the combination of yeast rolls with rosemary (“ramerino,” but in Tuscan dialect) and raisins. I had an easy recipe for yeast rolls, and tried them three times, until I finally slapped my forehead—Tuscans use olive oil, not butter, in their baking! The last try, I got the texture right, and from then on I have made these often, with rave reviews always. She was delighted with the new combination of flavors, too, and with coffee and fruit, we were done and out with our cameras to explore more of Spello.
This doorway was not exactly “special,” but we both liked the layers of doorway, then stairway in the background through the door, and then another doorway above the stairs. Just the little things, like the religious symbol over the outer door, the postal boxes on either side, the potted plants and all the varied textures—it’s a treat to spend time seeking out photos here.
We were soon on the way to the “acquadotto Romano,” the Roman aqueduct restored only a few years ago by Stefano, the architect brother of Paola. Leading the way, I soon had us well down the wrong (but parallel) roadway, and we “bushwhacked” our way uphill through the olive trees to the upper road, and finally found the aqueduct. Along the roadway, on our way back, we stopped for some photos of the red poppies, just beginning to be numerous. With rains (and sometimes hail, “grandine”) nearly every afternoon, many are damaged and not worthy of photographing, but the rains have also pushed many more to open. Where the soil is not cultivated, drifts of these red poppies appear all spring, and this roadside was no exception. Dolores had ample opportunity to find poppies, wherever we walked.
An advantage of getting out early in the morning is the sunrise light on Spello, from the east side. Our walk took us to many spots where views of Spello behind us were plentiful, and where we could frame the village in olive trees, and also red poppies.
Saturday night I introduced Dolores to the bresaola and arugula salad, with lemon, olive oil, Parmesan shavings and pine nuts—a big hit with her. It is a perpetual favorite of mine, and we can have more wine if we eat sensible dinners, like salads. Worked for us!
On Sunday, Dolores and I began the day by attending Mass at the convent—my recommendation for her, the only Sunday she would be in Spello. The bells begin ringing at 8:15, then 8:30 and 8:45, until Mass begins at 9. The nuns there are members of a closed order, and are not seen again (except for medical emergencies) once they have taken their final vows. Their music didn’t disappoint, but it was tough for Dolores to sit through a sermon that she could not understand at all. I am not accustomed to the Catholic traditions (she was), but still mass at the convent on Easter morning was a special treat, for both of us.
Later that morning, we were invited to Robespier’s home for lunch (“pranzo”), for Easter with the entire family. I was kept busy translating for Dolores, but Robespier is such a good actor, there is little need to explain what he means. Recently turned 87, he hears less, but still hardly misses a step in leading the conversation at his table. It was an honor for both of us to be included, we enjoyed a very bountiful meal, ending in wonderful roasted lamb, and Dolores really got the VIP treatment.
Later that afternoon, we walked by the Circolo Photo Hispellum (the old Roman name for Spello), where Ennio invited us in, and then “gave us the store.” He kept bringing more and more packs of postcards made from historical photos of Spello, and large printed panoramic views of the village, and calendars and more. Finding out that we were both photographers was great news to him, and he did not want us to go. He showed us around the small meeting room of the photo group, not far from my house, and it is covered in large prints of old and historic photos, as well as photos of significant events in Spello.
Ennio is very proud of the “Circolo” of “friends of photography,” and I have accepted the invitation to come and visit on their Wednesday night meetings, which are really only chatting sessions. The first time, he and I were alone for the first hour, and he had already “accidentally” planted a kiss on me when I kissed his cheeks in greeting—one cheek, and then I didn’t get beyond his lips before he landed the second kiss. I was happy to see a second photographer show up—as a chaperone, thanks. (And Ennio was SO disappointed to see my wedding ring—almost as happy as I was to be wearing one for him to see! Bet his wife would be surprised! He had already established that my 61 years and his 69 years were a good match—too bad that won’t be working out for him!)
The day following Easter Sunday is a holiday in Italy, called “La Pasquetta,” the “Little Easter.” It is “Lunedi degli Angeli,” the Monday that Mary found the tomb of Jesus open, and the angels spoke to her to tell her that he was not there. Usually, it is a day of picnics, especially up on the mountain here in Spello, and often with the leftovers from the big meal of Pascua the day before. All over Italy, people head to the countryside for picnics, with Easter heralding the beginning of spring. For us here, it was a day threatening rain and hail, so no one was risking heading up the mountain for the day. Instead, Dolores and I booked a reservation with Nazzareno, in his Vallegloria Barbarie restaurant right across the piazza from my house.
Dolores and I showed up at 1 p.m., our glasses were immediately filled with prosecco, and a small plate of Nazzareno’s rosemary focaccia was served while we waited for our antipasti. The restaurant was once a pizzeria, and now he uses the pizza ovens to turn out his focaccia, always a tender, flavorful start to the meal.
Our appetizer plates arrived in minutes: eight different bites to sample, always a beautiful presentation. Cristina, his wife, is the chef, while Nazzareno (originally the chef, and now the sommelier and host) handles the front of the house while she cooks. Our plate had a small tomato baked with savory breadcrumbs on top; an herb I have only had here called “agretti,” steamed and then with a few fresh fava beans and some fruity olive oil on top; a slice of very aged pecorino cheese (sheep’s milk); perfectly ripe cantaloupe and a slice of proscuitto; a deep-fried fresh artichoke heart; a sage leaf, dipped in batter and deep-fried; a small spoonful of creamed baby onions, with a breadcrumb crust; and finally a small crostini with a slice of wild boar (“cinghiale”) salami on top. Every one was only a bite or two, but a perfect selection, and all complementing one another, both for the eyes and for the palate.
Next, we were served a portion of lasagne, made with layers of ricotta cheese, and with tender chives baked into the ricotta filling. Small splashes of black truffle sauce were dripped on the top, and it was a light, flavorful change from the lasagna we normally see in the U.S. The restaurant was packed with holiday diners, out for a special meal, on a day when Nazzareno normally only served dinner. (For Pasquetta, only lunch that day, and then home for him and Cristina.)
Next, an orzo dish arrived, with mint, zucchini, fresh tomato and fresh fava beans in the creamy sauce holding the orzo grains together. This is rather like barley, I think—a chewy small grain, usually served as a “primo,” before the main course. (This was our second “primo,” after the lasagna.)
When our “secondo” arrived, the meat course, it was slices of rare, tender beef, served with roasted potatoes and paper-thin slices of celery root, dressed in olive oil. There were bits of green beans and herbs in the potatoes, for color, and the combination was a winner, for both Dolores and for me. Here, at this restaurant, there is no menu and no price is quoted. All of the wines, including the prosecco when we arrived, are included in the meal, down to the last sweet dessert wine or limoncello, and everyone in the restaurant is being served exactly the same meal. There are usually two choices for dessert, but all of the rest of the menu is fixed. Astounding to me, the cost of the complete meal is about €30, which is a bargain considering that wine glasses are always full, and the food is fantastic.
Our last course was dessert, and we both chose a tiramisu, made with candied orange peel in the mascarpone layers of the dessert, and served with sweetened strawberries and a small chocolate bell on the side. I think the ladyfingers were dipped in Grand Marnier, not espresso—but the dessert was light, and just perfect to end the meal. The tables around us were emptying, and the remaining glassware was a roadmap of the courses, changed each time the wine changed—prosecco, red or white wine, and then the dessert sweet wines.
It would not have been a complete visit for Dolores without being a guest with Nazzareno, and we got special treatment. In fact, whenever I stop in and ask for him to save me a table for guests, he says he ALWAYS will have a table for me—a nice touch. I walked Dolores back to the kitchen to introduce her to Cristina, and our meal was finished. Vallegloria Barbarie serves a fun and reasonably priced meal of very high quality—not to be missed in Spello.