Friday, April 29, 2011

Italy! Mount Vesuvius!

Mount Vesuvius is the only active volcano in mainland Europe, and has produced some of the continent’s largest volcanic eruptions. Located on Italy’s west coast, it overlooks the Bay and City of Naples and sits in the crater of the ancient Somma volcano. Vesuvius is most famous for the 79 AD eruption which destroyed the Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum. Though the volcano’s last eruption was in 1944, it still represents a great danger to the cities that surround it, especially the busy metropolis of Naples. Mount Vesuvius has experienced eight major eruptions in the last 17,000 years. The 79 AD eruption is one of the most well known ancient eruptions in the world, and may have killed more than 16,000 people. Ash, mud and rocks from this eruption buried the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum. Pompeii is famous for the casts the hot ash formed around victims of the eruptions. The unfortunate people suffocated on ash in the air, which then covered them and preserved amazing details of their clothing and faces. Starting in 1631, Vesuvius entered a period of steady volcanic activity, including lava flows and eruptions of ash and mud. Violent eruptions in the late 1700s, 1800s and early 1900s created more fissures, lava flows, and ash-and-gas explosions. These damaged or destroyed many towns around the volcano, and sometimes killed people; the eruption of 1906 had more than 100 casualties. The most recent eruption was in 1944 during World War II. It caused major problems for the newly-arrived Allied forces in Italy when ash and rocks from the eruption destroyed planes and forced evacuations at a nearby airbase. The 79 AD eruption of Vesuvius is why volcanologists use “Plinian” to describe large volcanic eruption clouds. Pliny the Younger, a Roman historian who witnessed the 79 AD eruption, wrote the oldest surviving description of the tall, tree-shaped cloud that rose above the volcano. Modern volcanologists use the term to describe large-volume, violent eruptions that produce quickly-expanding clouds of rock, ash and gases which rise many miles into the atmosphere. Some more recent examples of Plinian eruptions include Mount St. Helens in 1980 and Pinatubo in 1990.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Italy! Cannoli!!

A cannoli is a Sicilian pastry dessert that is an essential part of the cuisine of Sicily. They are fried, tube-shaped pastry shells filled with a sweet, creamy filling. These treats have a long and storied history and just as many variations. For traditional cannoli, the filling is made of ricotta cheese or even sweetened marscapone. This cheese is blended with a combination of vanilla, chocolate, pistachio, Marsala wine, rosewater, or any other of assorted flavors. In addition, the size of the cannoli varies as much as the filing's flavorings. The shell is made of flour, butter, sugar, and a number of other ingredients. This dough is then rolled into ovals and wrapped around a dough ring and fried. Following the frying process, the shells are stuffed using either a spoon or a pastry bag. The pastry can be as small as the finger-sized cannulicchi to fist-sized offerings from Piana degli Albanesi, a town near Palermo which has three languages, an Albanian dialect, Italian, and the local Sicilian dialect. Cannoli originated in Palermo and the surrounding areas. They date to the time when Sicily was controlled by the Arabs. Historically, the pastries were made for the Carnevale, the festival season which occurs immediately before Lent. The festival is typified by parades and masquerades, something like Mardi Gras. It is thought that the cannoli might have been a fertility symbol during the season. Now, however, cannoli are enjoyed year round across Italy and in the United States. Americans who love cannoli might be more familiar with variations of the original than the original. This is probably partially due to the modifications that were made to the recipes by Italian immigrants once they got to the United States. In many instances, crucial ingredients were less available in the United States than they were in Italy. This may be why most cannoli made in the United States rarely feature marscapone. Cannoli do still contain ricotta. In other areas, the filling may be a sugar, milk, and cornstarch custard without any cheese. When buying or making cannoli, it is important to remember that they must be consumed quickly. If they are left to sit, the shell will absorb some of the liquid from the filling and quickly turn soggy and lose its crispness.

Italy! Pizza!!

Pizza: the soul of Italy. There are not too many nations that can say their national dish has become an international phenomenon. Italy has two such dishes, pasta and of course pizza. In America pizza usually falls into two categories: thick and cheesy Chicago style or thin and more traditional New York pizza. In Italy pizza also falls into two distinct categories: Italian pizza and the rest of the world. It might seem silly considering the basic ingredients, but one taste of a true Italian pizza and that's it. You will never feel the same about this simple and delicious food again. The word "pizza" is thought to have come from the Latin word pinsa, meaning flatbread, although there is much debate about the origin of the word. A legend suggests that Roman soldiers gained a taste for Jewish Matzoth while stationed in Roman occupied Palestine and developed a similar food after returning home. However a recent archeological discovery has found a preserved Bronze Age pizza in the Veneto region. By the Middle Ages these early pizzas started to take on a more modern look and taste. The peasantry of the time used what few ingredients they could get their hands on to produce the modern pizza dough and topped it with olive oil and herbs. The introduction of the Indian Water Buffalo gave pizza another dimension with the production of mozzarella cheese. Even today, the use of fresh mozzarella di buffalo in Italian pizza cannot be substituted. While other cheeses have made their way onto pizza (usually in conjunction with fresh mozzarella), no Italian Pizzeria would ever use the dried shredded type used on so many American pizzas. The introduction of tomatoes to Italian cuisine in the 18th and early 19th centuries finally gave us the true modern Italian pizza. Even though tomatoes reached Italy by the 1530's it was widely thought that they were poisonous and were grown only for decoration. However the innovative peasants of Naples started using the supposedly deadly fruit in many of their foods, including their early pizzas. Since that fateful day the world of Italian cuisine would never be the same, however it took some time for the rest of society to accept this crude peasant food. Once members of the local aristocracy tried pizza they couldn't get enough of it, which by this time was being sold on the streets of Naples for every meal. As pizza popularity increased, street vendors gave way to actual shops where people could order a custom pizza with many different toppings. By 1830 the "Antica Pizzeria Port'Alba" of Naples had become the first true pizzeria and this venerable institution is still producing masterpieces. The popular pizza Margherita owes its name to Italy's Queen Margherita who in 1889 visited the Pizzeria Brandi in Naples. The Pizzaioli (pizza maker) on duty that day, Rafaele Esposito created a pizza for the Queen that contained the three colors of the new Italian flag. The red of tomato, white of the mozzarella and fresh green basil was a hit with the Queen and the rest of the world. Neapolitan style pizza had now spread throughout Italy and each region started designing their own versions based on the Italian culinary rule of fresh, local ingredients.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Italy! Leaning Tower of Pisa!

The Leaning Tower of Pisa! The construction of this imposing mass was started in the year 1174 by Bonanno Pisano. When the tower had reached its third storey the works ceased because it had started sinking into the ground. The tower remained thus for 90 years. It was completed by Giovanni di Simone, Tommano Simone (son of Andreo Pisano), crowned the tower with the belfry at half of 14th century. The top of the Leaning Tower can be reached by mounting the 294 steps which rise in the form of a spiral on the inner side of the tower walls.This very famous work is of Romanesque style, and as already stated dates back to the year 1174. Cylindrical in shape it is supplied with six open galleries. A cornice separates these galleries one from the other and each presents a series of small arches fitted on the capitals of the slender columns. In the base there is a series of big blind arcades with geometrical decorations. In the belfry there is the same design of arcades as that of the base, with the difference that here, there are, apart from the reduced proportions, the housings of the bells. This monument is mostly famous for its strong inclination. Regarding this inclination it can be safely stated that it is undoubtedly due to a sinking of the ground right from the time of its construction. Therefore, the assumption of those who desire to imagine that great tower was built inclined is entirely without foundation. Unfortunately, even today the great mass continues to sink very slowly. It is a question of about 1 mm. every year. Since nobody can state with mathematical security that this sinking will continue in the future at the present yearly rate, without its ceasing, remedies by means of adequate measures, based on scientific studies and projects, are under consideration. In the meantime supervision with instruments of very high precision is continuously being carried out.