The Roman alphabet, first developed by the Etruscans and further refined by the Romans, is the foundation of many modern-day languages.
It is interesting to note that the modern Italian Alphabet consists of 21 letters, with J, K, W, X and Y not present. These ‘missing’ sounds are easily formed by joining letters together, for example, a ‘j’ sound is formed by adding the vowel ‘i’ or ‘e’ after a ‘g’, as in Buongiorno. A ‘k’ is formed by adding an ‘i’ or ‘e’ after a ‘ch’, as in the girl’s name Chiara. More can be found here.
If you don’t live in Italy and want to learn the language, a good starting point is the alphabet and the way it is pronounced. The Italian word, analfabeta means illiterate. Naturally.
The climb to the highest point in the Umbrian hill town of Spello, Italy, is steep but the view is stunning. At sunset, the heat haze gives a pink glow to the olive groves and colline, the foothills sweeping up to stony Assisi in the distance. A welcome park bench awaits with an older gentleman keen to chat about the Roman ruins to be found a few steps away.
A black cat glides by and carefully balances on the drinking fountain, eager to quench its thirst.
The teenage girl can’t resist: she carefully pats the cat and follows it along the cobblestone path, yearning for a pet after her long months of travel.
Photographic themes and challenges are a lot like time travel. I hop into the Tardis and revisit wonderful places, remembering the conversations, the food, the ambience. After the visit, a few timely crops are made and then the hunt is on to extract a few pearls that might fit the chosen theme.
This week it’s numbers and we are heading off to Umbria, Italy.
A house sign in Spello, on Tempio Diana Street. Diana, the Roman goddess of the hunt, the moon and birthing, continues to make her presence felt throughout Italy. It is interesting to note that the cult of the Virgin Mary was tacked on to that of Diana, ( and in Sicily where Greek connections are stronger) that of Artemis too.
Spello is an enchanting small hill town in Umbria. Apartments to rent are economical and the views from the top of the town provide vistas of Umbria, the olive grove walk from Spello to Assisi, and also the industrial plains in between, ever-present but rarely mentioned.
The search for dinner is on. Will we dine at Number 9?
Despite my attempts to fill her head with history, dates, architecture and numbers, Mischa Bella was still in search of her idol, Justin Bieber, and found him in Italy. She also found the Twilight actors in Volterra! Thank goodness she has now outgrown him.
Bread has played a central role in the history of La Cucina Italiana and everyday life.: this is reflected in the endless array of expressions concerning Pane (bread). Consider just a few of these,
Senza il pane tutto diventa orfano– without bread, everyone becomes an orphan.
Uscire di pane duro– to leave behind hard bread or to have a change for the better.
Essere pan e cacio- to be like bread and cheese, ie thick as thieves.
churigo come il pane, medico come il vino. Look for a surgeon who is like bread ( ie young) and a doctor like wine ( ie old).
E’ buono come un pezzo di pane. He’ s like bread, He’s a good person.
L’ho comprato per un tozzo di pane. I bought it for a piece of bread, (a bargain)
pane al pane e vino al vino , to call a spade a spade.
But wait there’s more. I’ll spare you the rest.
My most recent loaf, a wholesome, nutty Pane Integrale con Miele ( wholemeal with honey) reminds me of a crusty loaf I bought years ago in a small Umbrian hill town. The crust is crunchy and dark, but not too much so, and the open textured bread is easy to digest, which is surprising for a loaf made of 100% wholemeal flour. I’ll admit that when it first emerged from the oven, I was a little concerned. Nothing worse than pane duro, hard bread.
The secret is the long slow rising ‘biga’ or starter, made especially for this loaf, and the addition of honey. The recipe comes from my favourite cookbook, The Italian Baker, by Carol Field, and I offer this bread recipe to Leah, of the Cookbook Guru as further proof of this book’s worth.
Pane Integrale con Miele– Wholemeal Bread with honey. ( Ingredients are listed in grams, ounces, cups )
1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast
160g/5.6 oz/2/3 cup warm water
200 g/7 oz/1 1/2 cups minus 1 Tb unbleached white flour
Stir the yeast into the water in a mixing bowl and leave for 10 minutes. Stir in the flour with 100 strokes of a wooden spoon. Let rise, covered, for 6 to 24 hours. Measure 1.4 cup of this starter and throw away the rest. ( NB. I used the rest in another recipe!)
Stir the yeast and honey into the water in a mixer bow: let stand for about 10 minutes. Break up the starter and add to the bowl. Stir with the paddle until the stater is in shreds. Add the flour and salt and mix until the dough comes together. Change to a dough hook and knead for 2 minutes at low speed and 2 minutes at medium speed. The dough should be fairly smooth and have lost most of its stickiness. Finish kneading by hand on a floured board.
First Rise. Place the dough in a large oiled bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and let rise for about 2 hours or until doubled.
Shaping and second rise. Turn the dough onto a well floured surface and shape into a round loaf without punching the dough down. Place the loaf on a slightly oiled baking sheet or a peel sprinkled with cornmeal . Cover with waxed paper or a towel and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise until doubled, around 45 minutes to one hour.
Baking. Preheat oven to 230 c/450 F. Bake for 10 minutes, spraying the oven three times with water. Reduce the temperature to 200c/400F and bake 25 minutes longer. Cool completely on rack.
My notes. My dough spread quite widely and looked like a cartwheel loaf one buys in Italy. I slashed the top of mine in a tic-tac-toe pattern, causing some deflation before it entered the oven: next time, no slashing to see what happens. I used course semolina on the trays. No need to waste the left over biga – use it in another loaf while the oven is hot. The book also gives instructions for making the loaf by hand or with a food processor. I have listed the method by kitchen stand mixer only.