December 9, 2023 | Rome, Italy

GPS, as in sauce

By |2018-03-21T18:57:19+01:00September 28th, 2013|"In Provincia"|
After being saved, time for pasta in porcini pepper sauce. Photos by Ruurd de Jong.

nce upon a time people relied on stars for travel directions, that or a veteran god. Now they have GPS.

I met a woman who worked on a mountain rescue team. She told me her unit often used helicopters — at great risk and expense — to rescue people who’d managed to trap themselves in impossible places, sometimes against all common sense, like cats in trees. When the woman asked some of the rescued why on earth they’d tried to go where they did, some would reply, “Well, the GPS said I could get there.”

The story made me remember a few of our first B&B guests. When they couldn’t find us in the hills, they’d call us. I’d say to them: “Is there anything you see around you that indicates your location so I know where you are?”

One of them cheerfully replied, “I see a yellow house.” They probably don’t have yellow houses in Los Angeles.

Another woman actually said, “I see a tree.”

A third, and she wasn’t kidding, said, “I see my husband.”

Off we’d go (minus helicopter) to chase them down, like lost pets. This happened at all times of the day and night.

GPS has changed all that. Now, they just punch in a name

Take the Swedish couple that successfully made it to Carpi, near Modena. As soon as they got there they immediately asked about the ferry to the Blue Grotto. You know, the famous mountain ferry. They had actually wanted to go to the island of Capri, off Naples, some 700 kilometers away. You think I’m making it up? Check the BBC report in July 2009.

For us, though, GPS is a blessing. If it weren’t for GPS, the web, and Skype our guests would still be throwing coins in Rome’s Trevi Fountain, oblivious to Umbria’s rustic charm. True, we still have to rescue them from time to time when they insist on following “the voice” and not our detailed directions. Technology doesn’t know the lay of the land, and they may find themselves spinning their wheels in a creek with my neighbor’s ducks.

Mostly, though, they get here and hug us, as if they’d made it through some daunting wilderness.

Sometimes I feel like thanking them, for getting the spelling of the place right, for not killing any ducks, and for managing to arrive before 9 p.m. But I spare them the speech. And we eat.

Autumn Evening Delight (serves 4)


  • 400 gr. (12 ounces) canned diced tomato.

  • 15 gr. (1/2 ounce) dried porcini soaked in 2/3 cup of lukewarm water.

  • 2 Large onions, thinly sliced.

  • 2 Red or yellow sweet peppers cut into 1 cm. (1/2 inch) wide, 4 cm. (2 inch) long strips.

  • 3 tabsp. heavy cream.

  • 400 gr. short pasta such as penne, rigatoni or lumache (or gluten-free alternatives).


— Use a shallow, thick-bottomed pan with a lid over low heat. Soften onion and sweet peppers in 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil until they break apart, about 30-45 minutes.

— When the mixture starts to dry out, add the soaked porcini in its water.

— Simmer until the soaking water is completely reduced. Add the tomato and cook for 10 more minutes until slightly thickened. Add cream, but don’t cook it.

— Pour the sauce on your short pasta, with a sprinkle of chopped fresh parsley.

— Eat with your phone turned off.

About the Author:

Letizia Mattiacci wrote the "In Provincia" column from 2011 through 2019.