Michelle DiBenedetto-Capobianco's life sounds awfully romantic. During the school year she lives in Port Washington, New York, and each summer she packs up her husband and three sons — ages 9, 10, and 12 — and moves to a tiny town in the mountains of Italy for the summer, where she runs a cooking school and tour company.
The village, called Salle, where her father grew up, feels frozen in time. "There are no stores in Salle," says Michelle. "We either rely on the various trucks that come to sell things like fruits and vegetables, breads, cheeses, and fish, or we travel to neighboring towns to shop at open-air markets or shops."
We talked to Michelle about how life's rhythms change for her in Italy each summer.
How are your meals different when you're in Italy?
Unlike in the U.S., pranzo (lunch) is still the primary meal of the day in small towns in Italy — especially when school isn't in season. So there are always two courses: a primo that consists of a grain (quite often pasta, which we eat a lot more of than we do when we're in New York) or a soup, and a secondo that consists of a protein (it's not always meat — sometimes it's formaggio alla brace, cheese that is grilled over an open fire or in a skillet, or a frittata).
Dinner is the lighter meal and happens later, around 7:30 or 8 p.m. My favorite type of dinner is an antipasto-type spread that involves no cooking — bread with olive oil, garden tomatoes with basil, plump briny olives, cheese, and some thinly sliced prosciutto.
Where do you do your grocery shopping?
We often shop in the neighboring town of Caramanico Terme. There is a row of stores on the main corso (street) and I love to hit them all during a grocery shopping trip. First, the fruttivendolo — he has the most amazing tomatoes, flat beans, and apricots in the summertime. Next, the panificio for pizza pane (a hybrid of bread and pizza), fiadoni (savory cheese pastries that are a great snack), and fresh pasta cut into whatever shape you'd like. Then the salumeria for prosciutto and cheese, and the macelleria for meat.
We go to a small supermarket for catch-all groceries. The nearest big supermarket is 45 minutes away.
Are there any foods you miss?
Peanut butter! We can find Skippy in Italy, but that's not my favorite. Greek yogurt is also hit or miss.
What snack foods do you feed your kids in Italy?
Definitely more Nutella! But fruit and nuts are a staple wherever we go.
Do you go out to eat more or less as a family than in the U.S.?
We probably go out to eat a lot more often — but that's because it's summertime and we're out and about exploring new towns and sites. I also need to research and try different restaurants and eateries for my tours in Abruzzo, so I make those "R&D" meals into family outings. My kids love good food and eating out and are quite accustomed to long and lazy Italian meals. It's our bonding time.