28 June 2012

AUNTIE PASTA; Classics with a Twist - Of Lemon Please

SARONNO, Italy - There are many things to love about the island of Procida, starting with its location in the Gulf of Naples. Then there’s the lushness of the gardens, the palm trees, the creeping Bougainvillea, the fragrant lemon and orange groves, the colorful pastel houses, and the adorable three-wheel microtaxis that haul the weary up and down the steep road to the Santa Maria delle Grazie church. But most of all you have to love the people who live there, the ones who voted to restrict tourism and keep their town a real town and not just another tourist attraction.
Welcome to Procida
That intelligent, forward thinking is the reason why there are only a few small hotels on the island, and even fewer private accommodations.  Tourism was inevitable, as it usually is when a place is as beautiful as Procida, so it serves the local population well that most of the restaurants are centered down around the harbor.  If the island looks familiar it may be because you've seen it before in  “Il Postino” and “The Talented Mr Ripley”, as both were filmed here.

Procida is the smallest of the three islands in the Gulf of Naples, but one of the first to be inhabited, starting way back at some point between the 17th and 16th century BC. The Romans didn’t arrive until many centuries later. In the 6th century AD the island was annexed to the territory of Naples and it has been a part of Naples ever since.
 Easter Procession
On Good Friday there is a solemn procession, where a wooden statue of the dead Christ is carried on the backs of the faithful up to the highest point of Procida. The following morning, another procession of crosses and relics, accompanied by the sad music of trumpets, weaves through the streets. This is a procession of mourning in the ancient tradition of the Spanish Misteri, a tradition brought to the island when the Arogonese ruled in the 14th century. 

The island has a rather turbulent history of repeated Saracen raids and marauding pirates, but that didn’t stop the Benedictine monks from building the abbey of San Michele Arcangelo.  A hundred years later, In the 12th century, the island became a fiefdom of the Normans and the feudal lords of the island were the ‘da Prodidas,” including the  famous Giovanna da Procida, one of the heroes of the Sicilian vespers. He was the first, great “signore” of the island, which now bears his name.
 Fishing Boats of Procida
OK, that's enough talk about the island, now it’s time to eat. This week’s recipe are two rather well known dishes, Meatballs and Spaghetti with Clams, but with a Procian twist – the addition of a little lemon juice from the lemons grown in the glorious lemon groves on the island.
 With These Hands
  SPAGHETTI WITH CLAMS AND LEMON
Serves 4
320 g of spaghetti
1,2 kg of small clams
2 Amalfi Coast lemons  (the juice of)
1 clove of garlic 
1 small – and hot – red pepper (or crushed red pepper)
1 tablespoon of chopped parsely 
1 dl (about ¼ cup) of extra virgin olive oil 
  salt
Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan, and when it is hot, but not boiling, brown the clove of garlic.

Clean the clams carefully, under running water, eliminating those that don’t open
Put the clean clams in the frying pan, first removing the garlic clove. Cover the pan let cook over a low heat.

When the clams open, remove them from the pan and strain the cooking liquid.
Carefully wash the lemons, and with a vegetable peeler take off a very thin slice of the peel, taking care to leave the bitter white part. Finely dice the lemon peel and set aside. Squeeze the juice from the two lemons and strain the juice.

Return the clams, the strained cooking liquid and the lemon juice to the frying pan, along with the crushed red pepper, the diced lemon peel and reheat everything together over a low heat.

Bring a good amount of water to boil in a large pot, add salt and the spaghetti. When the spaghetti is cooked al dente, drain it and add to the clams and sauce in the frying pan. Turn the heat up and mix the spaghetti and clams, and add the chopped parsley. Serve in a large dish, sprinkled with some of the chopped lemon peel.
The Yellow Gold of the Amalfi Coast
 LEMON MEATBALLS
Ingredients: ground beef gr. 400, gr grated Parmesan. 50, 1 egg, 1 garlic clove, 1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley, flour, juice of 1 lemon, olive oil, salt and pepper.

In a bowl mix the meat with the egg, cheese, parsley, finely chopped garlic, salt and pepper and let stand at least an hour. Then form the meatballs, (it helps if you wet your hands), and then roll them in flour, shaking off the excess.

Next, put them in a pan with 3-4 tablespoons of olive oil and cook over low heat for about half an hour turning frequently. After a half an hour, drizzle them with the lemon juice, raise the heat and as soon as the sauce starts to boil, remove pan from heat and serve them, piping hot with a side of sautéed spinach and mashed potatoes.  

24 June 2012

LIFE: Bilingual Brains


SARONNO, Italy – The joys of speaking another language, any language-  are many and now  researchers at Northwestern University have documented differences in how the bilingual brain processes the sounds of speech compared to those who speak a single language. The study, which was published by the National Academy of Sciences, shows that the biological difference in the auditory nervous system appears to enhance attention and working memory among those who speak more than one language.
 Amalfi -  A Good Reason to Speak Italian
What I don’t understand is if what the scientists claim is true,  how come after spending my formative years in a bilingual home, and 20 years of living and working in Italy, I can’t grasp those linguistic pop- it beads the Italians call pronouns? You know, the la, lo, le’s and the ti, vi, gli’s, not to mention  ci and ne, the ones they string together at the drop of a hat with frightening ease.    

And let me just add that not only do I have the problem of trying to figure out which of the umpteen pronouns to use, forget about snapping them together, but there is also the daunting task of trying to figure out what sex they are. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine a dish would be masculine – piatto, but a lamp is feminine – lampeda. Somehow, the visual reasoning part of my brain thinks it should be the other way around, but it’s not up to me.
Somewhere on the Amalfi Coast -
Another thing that has always confused me are the pronouns the Italians keep in a linguistic storage box and only take out sometimes. I’m talking about the egli/esso/ella/essa/essi/esse that I have never heard anyone use, but yet if you look at any published list of personal pronouns, there they are. I say the Italian language is in serious need of a good cleaning out, if you don’t use it, lose it.

I can still remember listening to my father and my grandmother deep in conversation and wondering who this ‘Louie” was they kept talking about. I remember wracking my five year old brain trying to figure out just who that guy was. Of course I had not yet been introduced to the full range of Italian grammar and my knowledge was limited to the spoken word, so there was no way for my five year old brain to know that their ‘Louie’ was actually ‘lui’, the pronoun for ‘he’. And whoever ‘he’ was, my grandmother was less than happy with the guy.
Who can resist? I'll take two.
“Because you have two languages going on in your head, you become very good at determining what is and is not relevant,” says study team member Dr. Nina Kraus, a professor of neurobiology and physiology at Northwestern.  “You are a mental juggler.”  Juggler is right, especially when you  - I mean me -  is trying to do a crossword puzzle and my brain keeps slipping into Google translate. Let’s see, what’s a four letter word for shelter – oh I know, casa. Oops, that’s not right – it’s tent.

But its more than just the pronouns. Sometimes even the most simple of phrases become a linguistic Rubic’s cube in Italian. Choice may be a good thing, but frankly, there are times when there are too many choices. It’s a daunting process to say the least, made even more difficult by those words that are bi-sexual.
Piazza della Rontunda Rome - My Favorite Place in the World
Take the word table, for example. That one really is sneaky. Keep in mind we are talking about the same thing here, a plain, old run-of-the mill- table, except if the table is not set for breakfast, lunch or dinner, it is called a tavolo. But lay one place mat, one dish, a fork and a spoon on it, and it undergoes  a sex change and transforms from the masculine tavolo into the feminine tavola.

“We have determined that the nervous system of a bilingual person responds to sound in a way that is distinctive from a person who speaks only one language,” Kraus says. Could this be doctor speak for nervous breakdown?
 Nothing Like a Summer Night in Rome
But the good news is that some preliminary research suggests that people who speak a second language may have enhanced defenses against the onset of dementia and delay Alzheimer’s disease by an average of four years.  After studying older people who spoke multiple languages, they concluded that the more languages someone could speak, the better: People who spoke three languages were three times less likely to have cognitive problems compared to bilingual people. Those who spoke four or more languages were five times less likely to develop cognitive problems. 

So if you are struggling trying to find your way through the labryith of Italian grammar, think of the long term benefits, the longer, healthier and happier life you will lead with the roll of a few R’s and the joy of knowing what sex your carpet is. And admit it now, didn’t you really always want to know that? 

21 June 2012

AUNTIE PASTA: Capri's Caprese

SARONNO, Italy – It’s not hard to see why the romantic little island of Capri has been the preferred playground of the rich and famous since the days of the Romans.  It is still one of the most popular destinations in the world, a beautiful place, surrounded by sparkling emerald Tyrannian Sea and cooled by balmy sea breezes.  
 The Piazzetta of Capri
It’s pure joy to sit back and relax at a sidewalk cafe, nibble on some local olives, sip a limoncello and carpe diem – sieze the day. And who knows, maybe a wild boar or two will wander into town, just to say hello, snuffle around a bit and see if there isn’t a spare acorn or two to munch on.  
 Sit Back, Enjoy the View
When you tire of relaxing in Capri, the larger of the two towns on the island, you can go up to Anacapri, the smaller of the two, or hike up to the Belvedere of Tragara, where all the villas are, including Mariah Carey’s  (I think).  Another option is to go down to Marina Piccola, the little harbor, where you can swim or sit on the tiny beach and marvel at the strange sea stack formations, the Faraglioni, that broke off from Capri millions of years ago. The Marina Grande, the big harbor, is on the other side of the island and from there you can explore all of the secluded beaches and magical sea caves, including the Blue Grotto. 
 The Sea Stacks from Marina Piccola
Capri  has been inhabited since forever, even before the Romans. In fact when the Roman workmen were digging the foundation for the luxury Sea Palace villa of the Roman Emperor Augustus,  they uncovered giant bones and stone weapons. Possibly the remains of a brontosaurus cookout? The emperor put the bones and weapons on display in the garden of his villa.  
 Today's Charming Houses of Capri
Augustus' successor Tiberius built a series of villas at Capri, the most famous of which is the Villa Jovis, one of the best-preserved Roman villas in Italy. In 27 CE, Tiberius permanently moved to Capri, running the Empire from there until his death in 37 CE.

Such a spectacular setting calls for light, refreshing summer food, starting with a classic dish that was created on Capri, the caprese. It’s as easy as can be, with only four simple ingredients, mozzarella, tomatoes, basil and olive oil. The preparation is even more simple: slice the mozzarella and tomatoes, and alternate slices of each on a dish. Drizzle some extra virgin olive oil on top, add a basil leaf or two and eat.  It may be simple but that doesn’t mean the Capresi cooks don’t have a few secrets or two (actually four)  to making the best caprese salad. 
 What Grows Together Goes Together
Secret Number One is the mozzarella. On this beautiful island they only use mozzarella di bufala from the buffalo farms in Campagnia;  Secret Number Two: only the sweetest, juiciest, vine ripened tomatoes will do; Secret Number Three: dress the tomatoes and mozzarella with a thin ribbon of extra virgin olive oil DOP, from Campania;  and Secret Number Four, top with fresh basil leaves, preferably grown in the cooks own herb garden or windowbox. And that’s it. Oh, maybe a grind of pepper and a sprinkle of salt, but nothing else.  Cool and refreshing and pure heaven to eat on a warm summer’s day.

Another popular summer dish in Capri is Caponata. Regular readers of this blog have probably figured out by now that Italian is a language with a passport. It travels up and down the boot, wandering from one side to the other, and wherever it lands the locals take it and use the words to mean what they want them to mean. If the Sicilians want to call a vegetable dish a caponata, that’s fine, but in Capri, Naples and the rest of Campagnia, it is a bread and tomato salad made with freselle.  And why is it called caponata if it is made with freselle and tomatoes?  Because the freselle, also known as pane biscottato, are also called capone, hence caponata.  

 Jucy Ripe Tomatoes
Freselle

 


This is also a simple dish to prepare. Basically, all  you do is make a simple tomato salad, add the softened freselle, then just mix and eat. It doesn't sound like much but it is really more delicious than you can imagine. 






Capri's Caponata (Bread and Tomato Salad)
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups water
4 to 6 whole-grain freselle or pane biscottato
1 tablespoon red or white wine vinegar
4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
3 or 4 juicy tomatoes, depending on the size, rough chopped (add the juice back into the bowl)
fresh basil or flat-leaf parsley leaves, torn or shredded
optional: anchovies or tuna, capers, olives, roasted peppers, sliced red onions

Put the tomatoes into a bowl, Add the capers, onion, peppers,  bread and anchovies if you are using them, mix and taste. Add salt if needed, pepper and mix again.   

Stir in 1 tablespoon of red wine vinegar and about 4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil. Taste and add more salt, pepper, vinegar or oil if you think it's needed. Mix once more to really really blend the flavors.

In a medium bowl, dissolve the salt in the water. Dip the pane biscottato or freselle for a minute or two into the salted water. The bread will continue to soften as it stands.  (Or, if you are impatient like yours truly, soak them until they are soft and then squeeze out the excess water.)

Squeeze the water out of the fressele and break them up into approximately 1½- to 2-inch chunks and place them in a serving bowl. Add the tomato salad in the bowl with the broken bread and mix. Garnish or toss well with some additional fresh basil or parsley leaves.

Serve immediately. 

17 June 2012

LIFE: Excuse me, Do You Speak Italian?

SARONNO, Italy -  If you are one of those who stayed up nights studying Italian before embarking on your trip to Italy and you still didn’t understand anything when you got here, all I can say is join the club. It happens to everyone. What Italian teachers don’t tell you is that Italians don’t really speak Italian, I mean they do speak Italian of course, but not all the time. Let me explain: what they actually speak is Italian with a sprinkling of local dialect.   
 Venice's Grand Canal
Venice is a good example. It’s everybody’s favorite city, but also one of the most challenging when it comes to language. Let’s start with the basics – streets. You probably know that in Venice the streets are called ‘calle’. However, if a ‘calle’ is smaller than a regular ‘calle, its  called a ‘calletta’. But the ‘calle’ becomes a ‘lista’ if several other ‘calle’ lead into them, i.e. the Lista Vechia dei Bari in Cannaregio

And then there’s ‘ramo’. Ramo literally means small branch and it is a subdivision of a ‘calle’. According to the degree of ‘ramification’ there can be a primary ramo,  ‘ramo primo’ and a secondary ramo,  ‘ramo secondo’. There may even be more. This does not mean, however, that the ‘ramo’  is narrower than the ‘calle’, it can be exactly the same width, or it may be longer, or then again it may be shorter and there is no rule saying it can’t end in a dead end, which apparently many do. Now, if the street has a lot of boutiques and cafes on it, it is neither a ‘calle’ or a ‘ramo’, but a ‘ruga’, from the French word for street, ‘rue’. And let us not forget the ‘calle stretta’, ‘calle larga’ and ‘calle lunga’, the calle narrow, wide and long, just in case none of the other names are descriptive enough. 
 The Bridge of Sighs
And, less you think it ends there, it doesn’t, for there are also the salizzada, or salizada with only one z, which means “street selciata”: the streets that were the first to be paved with cobblestones. Why they think it is important to know this is completely beyond me.  And what ever happened to plain, old, reliable strada? It’s here too – but in Venetian it means ‘a broad street’ and there is only one of those in Venice: the Strada Nova in Cannaregio.  

While we are on the subject of walking around Venice, there are more than ‘calli’, ‘rami’. ‘ruge’ and ‘salizzada’ to walk on, you can also walk along the ‘fondamenta’. While ‘fondamenta’ means foundation, like the foundation for a building in standard Italian, here it means a walkway along a canal. That is unless the ‘fondamenta’ is in front of a wide expanse of water, like the ‘bacino’ di San Marco, then it beomes a ‘riva’. Are you still with me?
A Stroll Along the Fondamento
Okay then. A ‘fondamenta’ runs along a ‘rio or rii (in the plural), which are what the many small canals are called. A ‘rio’ is seldom straight and most likely edged with houses. The term ‘canal’ is reserved for the three large canals of Venice, the Grand Canal, the Canal of Cannaregio and the Canal of Giudecca. 
  
So if a ‘rio’ is a small canal, what, you might ask, is a ‘rio terrà?  Easy peasy. A ‘rio terra’ is a ‘rio’ that has been filled in with terra (dirt) to create a street, but of course it can’t be called a street because …… I have no idea.
Pigeons, Pigeons, Pigeons
Look Ma, I've Got Pigeons on My Head
Anyway, as you make your way through the maze of pedestrian walkways, call them what you will, crossing many of the 460 bridges that connect the sixty separate islands that make up the city of Venice, you will at some point cross Piazza San Marco. It is the only piazza in Venice, and it connects to the only ‘piazzetta’. The ‘piazzetta’ goes from the Dodge’s Palace to the ‘bacino’ of San Marco, where in other times, prisoners were hung, right out there between the two columns that are just standing there like nothing ever happened.  And while the locals waited for the executions to begin, they would shop or have a cup of coffee and visit with neighbors. Today, it’s where all the tourists feed the pigeons and then take photos of themselves feeding the pigeons.

All the other squares that would normally be called piazza in almost any other Italian town, are called ‘campi’ here, or, if they are small, a ‘campiello’. But hold on, Venice wouldn’t be Venice if there were only four names for the same thing. We can’t just have ‘piazza’ and ‘piazzetta’ and ‘campo’ and ‘campiello’, there must be more. What about the open spaces that are in-between? Ahh yes, the spaces in between. The ‘piazzale’. There is only one, and you’ve already crossed it if you arrived in Venice by train for the station is in Piazzale Roma.
The Columns of San Marco
But don't despair, all those hours spent trying to figure out why every Italian verb has to have six different forms, and trying to wrap your head around tenses that don't exist in English,  really will pay off in the long run. There are other towns to visit, charming towns, lovely towns. Just be aware that in Milan a room is called a locale and in Genova it's called a vano, while in ....... well never mind, you'll figure it out.

13 June 2012

AUNTIE PASTA; Sardinia Lives On


SARONNO, Italy –  The island of Sardinia is a unique place, close enough to be tempting but far enough away from western Italy to make you feel you have journeyed to another world,  It has almost 1,000 miles of shoreline and wild, rugged mountains where shepherds still tend their flocks in the summer.  It is the second largest island in the Mediterranean, only Sicily is larger. “It lies,” D. H. Lawrence wrote, “outside the circuit of civilization.” But whether near the sea or in the hills, there is no denying the strong tradition of eating simple, rustic and hearty dishes. 
 The Emerald Waters of Sardinia
The  coastal cuisine encompasses the best of Mediterranean fish and shellfish, including lobster, whereas the inland areas specialize in meat: myrtle-scented suckling pig no bigger than an American football, lamb, and a plethora of wild game, including wild boar, that roam freely not only in the mountain areas, but in the towns as well.

The Sardinian diet isn’t much different than the normal Mediterranean diet, except they tend to grow more of their own food and forage for others in the wild. Housewives use both foraged and cultivated ingredients on a daily basis and create dishes that are more flavor intensive than labor intensive. There is a Sardinian expression that goes, ‘sa cuchina minore no timet su fuste’ – simple cuisine makes the home great.
Spectacular Sardinia
But the cuisine of Sardinia is more than just Italian, it’s a hybrid of many ancient cultures, some so old they no longer exist. They start with the Phoenicians, followed by the Carthaginians, Romans, Arabs, Moors and Spanish, and the Maritime Republic of Genoa. They all, in turn, invaded the island leaving behind bits and pieces of themselves to add to the island’s cuisine and language.

Today there are six official languages spoken in Sardinia: Italian, Sardinian, Sassarese, Corsican Gallurese, Catalan Algherese and Liguriuan Tabarchino.  The island has been invaded and occupied by nearly every Mediterranean power for more than 2,500 years, and only became a part of Italy in 1861.
 Curlgiones
You can taste the influence each these cultures had on the Sardinian cuisine in dishes as simple as pasta. Fregula, for example, it looks like big grain couscous which reveals its Moorish origins. Another typical Sardinian pasta is malloreddus, small and chewy little gnocchi that are made with a saffron infused dough, saffron being contributed by the Arabs. Curlgiones are another Sardinian specialty, a type of ravioli filled with potatoes, pecorino cheese and mint. Like other raviolis, the filing tends to change depending on where you are on the island. Almost all cuisines, even today, have some type of stuffed dough dish, so it’s hard to pinpoint exactly how this dish came about.

But there is one other thing, an important thing, that makes the cuisine of Sardinia special. The island has been identified by the longevity experts at National Geographic as a Blue Zone. They traveled the world looking for places where people live the longest, healthiest lives, and Sardinia is one of those places. A high percentage of the population lives to be 100 or more, so when the Sardinians toast someone on their birthday with the popular Italian toast, ‘cent’anni’ – may you live a hundred years, it is more than just wishful thinking.
Malloreddus
For a little taste of Sardinia, here’s an easy recipe to try.

Malloreddus with Meat Sauce

Ingredients
1 medium onion chopped
150 grams ground pork
150 grams ground veal
100 grams of peas (defrosted frozen ones are fine)
300 grams of tomato sauce (bottled is ok)
1 small bunch of parsley
80 grams grated Pecorino Sardo cheese (aged is best)
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper QB (quanto basta/to taste)

Prepare the sauce: Pour 4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil into a saucepan, add chopped onions and saute’. Add the ground pork and veal, salt and then cook. When cooked, sprinkle with parsley and add the fresh or defrosted peas and cook everything together for a few minutes to combine the flavors. Then add the tomato sauce. 

Add more salt if needed and pepper, (I usually add a tiny bit of sugar as well), and cook over a very low flame for about an hour. The sauce should not boil, but softly bubble. Add a little hot water if the sauce starts to become too thick.

Prepare the pasta. In a large pot bring water to a boil and cook the malloreddus. When they float to the top, continue to cook them for another three minutes, then drain. Toss with the meat sauce, sprinkle with grated Pecorino cheese and serve. You may not live to be 100 but you sure will enjoy the time you spend eating this tasty dish.

10 June 2012

LIFE: Cinecitta'-City of Dreams

SARONNO, Italy -  Unless you saw the 2011 documentary film made about Cinecitta’ you will probably be surprised to hear that the during World War II, Cinecitta’, the Italian movie studios in Rome, were converted into a refugee camp.  
 Rome's "City of Dreams" Cinecitta'
But even before that, it had been used as a concentration camp for about nine hundred men caught by the Fascists in the nearby Quadraro quarter. Italy’s alliance with Germany was never a solid one and on October 16, 1943, the Nazis plundered Cinecittà and loaded their loot into 16 train cars and left Rome for Germany and Salò Republic. In January, 1944, the studios were bombed by the Allies – it was one of the fifty bombings Rome would suffer.
 Studo Backlot
On June 6 1944, the “City of Cinema” was taken over by the Allied Control Commission, as a holding station meant to house thousands of refugees. The partially bombed modernist movie complex was quickly transformed into a refugee camp. One section was run by the Italian Post-war Assistance Ministry. The other half was controlled by the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA). Its occupants were people of 30 different nationalities, among them Poles, Russians, Iranians, Chinese, Gypsies and Jews – including survivors of Nazi extermination camps. Half of them were under 18 years of age. Life in the camp was extremely hard. Buildings, backdrops and sets – from Roman temples to French boudoirs – were adapted to accommodate the refugees’ most basic needs.
 Filming "Rome"
Before its conversion, the 400,000 square meter studio had been equipped with sound stages and  back lots, editing rooms and office spaces. Originally built by private investors and heavily subsidized and supported by the fascist government, Cinecittà opened with grand fanfare on April 27, 1937 with Mussolini overseeing the ceremonies.  In the six years between 1937 and 1943, nearly 300 films were produced there, films like The Iron Crown which won the Golden Lion Award at that year’s Venice Film Festival and Rome, Open City by Roberto Rossolini, which won the Palm’d’Or  at Canne and the New York Film Critics Circle Award in 1945. 
 Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck in Roman Holiday
The studio wasn’t until 1947 that the studio opened for business again, and by late 1950s, Cinecittà became known as Hollywood on the Tiber. By the 1950s, American production companies in search of cheap facilities began to turn their attention to Cinecittà. Films like Roman Holiday and Three Coins in the Fountain took advantage of both the facilities at Cinecittà and the possibilities for location shooting in Rome itself. The studios also hosted many epic productions, like Quo Vadis? in 1951. Ben Hur was filmed here in 1959, and the production of Cleopatra was moved from London to Cinecittà following problems with budgeting, bad weather and Elizabeth Taylor's health. 
 Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra
Since those days of Ben-Hur, the studios have played a large part in many international productions including Helen of Troy, (1956), Francis of Assisi (1961), Cleopatra, (1963), The Agony and the Ecstasy 1965), Fellini’s Casanova (1976), Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet (1968), La Traviata (1982) and many other grand film productions. More recent films include those by Roberto Benigni  and Woody Allen. If you can find any of the Italian oldies, they are still worth watching, more than worth watching, they are actually great.