Braccioforte, where dreams and reality meet

Posted 8/31/10

Via Roma 17 is the gateway to a building that may be older than St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome and it’s a second home to Diana Armstrong of …

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Braccioforte, where dreams and reality meet


Via Roma 17 is the gateway to a building that may be older than St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome and it’s a second home to Diana Armstrong of Littleton, an award-winning writer and cooking teacher with an international focus, who recently published “Somewhere South of Tuscany.”

The book offers an account of her ongoing connection with a stone house that was once the entry to a monastery in a medieval Italian town called Lubriano, between Tuscany and Umbria. She and her husband David bought it after vacationing repeatedly and falling in love with lifestyle in what she calls a “four cat town.”

As the book begins, nine years ago, she and son Richard, aided by the suave Signor Galli, are negotiating the purchase of an ancient home in Lubriano from a clearly questionable seller, one Signora Morelli.

An ongoing adventure commences, with a string of workers who arrive when they feel like it, with definite opinions about how things should be done; also with “abundance from nature all around you… Delicious food, olive groves, vineyards, fabulous scenery and the inspiring time-honored ways of the anziani, ancients of Lubriano,” she writes.

The town and its surrounding countryside date back to the Etruscans.

The book has been seven years in the writing and many chapters are headed with nicely-related literary quotations selected with David’s input after the book was completed. Proceeds will help her daughter Heather’s work with Save Our Youth, she says.

In addition to describing bits of daily life and people who provide an ongoing support system for each other, she takes the reader to pageants, vineyards, markets, craftsmen’s shops, parties, pizza restaurants and more. Always, she tells us how it looks, sounds, smells, feels. The light, the ancient stones, the trees and flowers in her recovered garden and the fresco on the kitchen ceiling all lend texture and color.

“The garden becomes a huge living area,” she says, adding that they eventually bought a house next door with central heating, which is not possible in Bracciaforte.

Repairs had to be approved by the mayor, since the property is historic and the Italian way of thinking is “piano, piano.”

That fresco is a story in itself and illustrates the disregard some worker had for the history and precious art: a cut for an electric cable went right through the angel’s belly button! Another chapter or two give and account of a well that they discovered when accidentally breaking through the kitchen wall. That had to be tended to before work could continue, so no one would fall in!

Armstrong and her husband are natives of South Africa, who moved to Littleton 17 years ago. The Italian retirement home requires fairly active oversight, but it’s obviously a joy to her. Her next book? A compilation of food writing, she says, undoubtedly flavored by that garlic and “excellent” olive oil. (The last third of the book is filled with delicious-sounding recipes, tailored to American cooks.)

When asked which recipe to reproduce for our readers, Armstrong says:

“Slow Roasted Onions with Bread Crumbs —

as cooked by Lubriano’s Pierro in his cooling-down pizza oven, but you can make this dish at home in a regular oven”.

6 servings

2 pounds small white onions, peeled

1/2 cup water

1/2 cup olive oil

Salt and white pepper

2 cups breadcrumbs made with stale bread

Place onions in baking dish, packing together so they are almost touching. Pour water and olive oil over them and season liberally with salt and white pepper.. Now sprinkle breadcrumbs onto the dish and place in oven at 250 degrees for three to four hours, or until a warm, toasty brown.


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