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15 March 2013

Calamari and Potatoes in Tomato Sauce and The Town of Narni

I depend on two companions in my kitchen whenever I cook.  The iPod or the TV.  The past weeks, I had turned off the music in the house almost completely and I just stayed glued to the 24-hour local news channel.  Without a prime minister and a pope the past weeks, I was practically a living specimen of a news addict.  I knew every single news by heart and I was my husband's personal anchorwoman whenever he comes home.  The other night had been unexpected when the white smoke billowed out from the Vatican's chimney.  I was chopping some vegetables while I was half-listening to my husband guiding our son with his homework and to the newscasters' drone of voices while we all wait for the smoke to come out.  It's only the second day so, no one was really thinking that white smoke would come out so soon.  But it did and the shouts of joy were deafening at St. Peter's Square.  In our kitchen, my husband and I exchanged identical words.  "There's a new pope!" 

Dinner was late but who cares?  My whole family was glued to the TV except our 3-year old who was complaining why her favorite cartoon characters had to be replaced with over-talkative newscasters and a huge noisy crowd.  It was a crash course about papacy to our 7-year old instead who understood everything we explained to him except for some important concerns: 

How do the cardinals and Pope go to the bathroom with all those clothes they are wearing?  Uhhhm, I don't know.  Isn't the Pope very, very rich?  The state he heads is rich.  So he can buy whatever he wants?  He's a Pope.  I don't think he wants so many things.  Like a Happy Meal at McDonald's?   I think he would rather have better food.  So, if he's rich, he is always with guards and he cannot walk anywhere without them.  I don't think so Poor him, he cannot go to McDonald's
Leaving McDonald's alone, meals at home is sometimes a fusion of Asian and European blends like this one.  This is a common Italian dish called Calamari in Umido con Patate.  I added some green peas to give a bit of contrast in color.  Half of my family ate it with bread and the other half with rice.   It's good however you want to interpret it.  

This beautiful ancient Umbrian town is called Narni.  Narnia to C. S. Lewis who based his imaginary land to this town after he saw it in an atlas when he was a child.  The minute you drive towards the town, you will be mesmerized by its position and the ancient but lively feel of the town.  I immediately loved it the first time I went there and since it's not that far from home and there's a good restaurant there, it became one of our favorite towns to visit.

Records show that the town had existed from 600 B.C. under the name Nequinum.  When the Romans conquered it and made it a Roman Municipality, they changed the name to Narnia in 299 B.C.

During its long history, the town had always opposed Rome even if it was under its rule.  The Roman Army however kept it because of its strategical position during the wars.  Like most small Umbrian towns, Narni has the medieval appearance with the cobblestone streets, stone buildings and narrow alleys.  It is known for the Ponte di Augusto from the 1st century, the largest ancient Roman bridge ever built that crosses the Nera River.  Half of the bridge still stands at 30 meters high (picture below).  

In 1979 Narni's underground (Narni Sotterranea) was discovered by a group of 6 teenagers when they investigated a hole in a wall that led to a small passage.  Shining their path with flashlights, they followed the passage and when the light shone on a face of an angel painted on the wall, they knew that they stumbled on something important.  Further investigation led to the discovery of a Medieval small church, torture chambers, a small prison cell with writings of persons' names and dates on the walls from the Inquisition and an ancient Roman passage.  Needless to say, this discovery led to years of further research in old books to understand what went on under Narni.  Tours are conducted underground but pictures are not allowed.  I was able to take one when I asked.  I took a picture of the apse of the church (picture above, upper left-hand corner).  After the tour, we found out that our very own tour guide, Roberto Nini, was one of those 6 teenagers who discovered the sotterranea which explained why he was so knowledgeable.  It made our tour very special.

In one of our trips there, we chanced upon a town market with a Medieval theme selling handmade crafts by local artisans.  Below are some pictures of the market.   

Have a good weekend and I hope you enjoyed this post!


Calamari and Potatoes in Tomato Sauce 

Calamari in Umido con Patate


Serves 2
  • 4 medium or 2 big calamari (squid), cleaned
  • 2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 1/2 cup peas (frozen or fresh) (optional)
  • 1/2 onion, sliced thinly
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • chili, chopped finely, seeds taken away
  • 1 cup canned tomatoes
  • 1/8 cup water
  • fresh parsley, chopped finely
  • 1 twig fresh rosemary, needles only
  1. Slice the calamari in the middle to open then slice to strips.  Chop the tentacles.
  2. Sautè the onion for about 3 minutes.
  3. Add the canned tomatoes along with 1/8 cup water.
  4. Add the potatoes, calamari  & rosemary and cook for 20 minutes in low - medium fire.
  5. If the sauce is drying up, add some hot water.
  6. Halfway through cooking, add the peas.  
  7. Season with salt & pepper.
  8. Add the parsley.
  9. Serve alone as an appetizer with bread or as part of a main dish with steamed white rice or polenta.