I have been missing in action for a few months and am aware of this, but I was having an extremely difficult time for personal reasons and simply finding the energy to get up in the morning was a chore. On top of this, I was thinking of nothing but my problems which are a. Too personal to be venting about In so public health forum as this blog and b. Of very little interest to anyone who does not know me personally. That said, I would like to ask for forgiveness for the neglect and to note that I will begin writing again in earnest shortly. Please just have a little more patience while I pull myself together.
With love, from Italy
One of the very best things about living in this part of Italy is that at the weekend, particularly in the summer, all you need to do is take the car (or even better, the vespa) for a 10-15 minute drive and you can stop for a coffee/icecream/beer/other (delete-as-appropriate) in one of the most stunning places on Earth. Today, we stopped for a walk in Vietri sul Mare, just ten minutes from my flat be car and the “first pearl of the Amalfi Coast”.
With love, from Italy
The other day I was on the telephone talking to my grandmother and mentioned that I was going to go and have a glass of wine. She asked me who I was going with and I told her that I was taking my dog and a good book.
But what will people think? She asked me.
My first reaction was of confusion. What did she mean? Then understanding dawned. I had been out of the UK for so long that I had forgotten that sitting and having a drink alone in the UK is seen (by some) as something done solely by alcoholics. Not so here. Nobody bats an eyelid if someone stops at a bar to have an aperitivo by themselves. Why? Very simple: it is only ever ONE drink.
Drinking alone is frowned upon in the UK because, I think, of the binge drinking culture. The tendency (not of all, or even most people, but of enough of them to catch the attention of the media) to get absolutely “smashed”. The idea that alcoholic drinks are indeed something to go and “get drunk” on, rather than something to just enjoy the taste of. There are so few people who go out and get drunk here that it never crosses one’s mind to think of someone as having a problem if they have a glass of wine at a bar by themselves, especially because said wine is usually served with food of some kind. Of course, it is more fun to have a drink with friends, but there is nothing wrong with taking a good book and a four legged friend, or as another acquaintance of mine sometimes does, a sketchbook, for a relaxed sip.
A glass of wine in Italy can take as long to drink as a bottle might in the UK. People savour the flavours of the wine, they don’t throw it down their necks as quick as possible in order to get as drunk as possible as soon as possible. That is not to say that Italians never overdo it, of course they do. Just generally not on purpose, and generally not every weekend.
This may be changing, as I have noticed that far more young people than before are drinking to excess (God that makes me sound old – I’m only 27!); but I have still never seen anything like the drunken scenes that I have witnessed across the UK in my time (Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds, Lincoln, London, Perth, Newcastle, Hull, York and others). This I think, is why it seems to be “OK” to stop for a single glass of wine in a bar here and not so much in Britain.
A little in moderation. Definitely my motto, and definitely the way things seem to be done here.
Disclaimer: I am in no way saying that all or most Brits abuse alcohol in any way. I am saying that I think we have more of a binge drinking culture than the rest of Europe and that we see alcohol differently to the rest of Europe. So please do not be offended!
Polpette di seppia
Some of the most delicious recipes I have ever made come from mistakes, disasters, serendipity. This, my friends, is one of those recipes! It came about when my local fishmonger forgot that when I buy cuttlefish I usually make stuffed cuttlefish (he usually remembers) and chopped my cuttlefish up. Of course I didn’t notice until I got hame in the evening and took the fish out of the fridge to cook!
For the large sides, there was no problem: these are fantastic lightly grilled with a squeeze of lemon juice. I knew however that for two hungry horaces who had both been training today (him football, me running with May) just some grilled cuttlefish and salad wasn’t going to cut it. So I came up with this on a whim and lo and behold, it worked! Crunchy, filling, savoury and just the right amount of fishy, they added the necessary substance to the meal – yum!
You will need:
2 whole cuttlefish, cleaned and with the tentacles placed to one side
a piece of stale bread (I used one about the size of my fist)
a handful of capers (rinsed if in salt)
2 tbsp seasoned breadcrumbs
2 tsp plain flour
1 tbsp olive oil
1. Put the larger sides of cuttlefish to one side. Chop up the smaller parts into cubes. Set the oven to heat to 180°C
2. Place the cubes in a bowl and mix with egg, pepper, capers, breadcrumbs.
3. Soak the stale bread under running water then break up into the mixture.
4. Form the mixture into patties then roll in the flour. Place in a baking tray then drizzle the olive oil over the top before placing in the oven to bake for around 15 minutes, or until piping hot on the inside and golden and crunchy on the outside.
5. While those are cooking, wash lettuce and arrange on the plates with some wedges of lemon.
6. In the last 5 minutes before serving take the cuttlefish sides and sear them briefly in a nonstick pan with a sprinkle of salt. No oil should be necessary.
7. Serve, with cold, dry white wine. We had a lovely Pinot Grigio which surprised me as it isn’t usually a grape I really enjoy, but this was lovely – fresh, dry and with a slight aroma of unripe peaches. Yeah, my boyfriend would say I am talking rubbish too, but trust me, and if you don’t then try it – it’s called Cacciatore, and I’m not sure it’s available outside of italy… anyway, thankfully another successful experiment!
Sometimes being lazy is necessary, and the best thing about being lazy in Italy is that it doesn’t mean you can’t have a delicious meal. I mean seriously:
Creamy buffalo mozzarella, fresh sun ripened tomatoes, fragrant basil and strong green extra virgin olive oil – the Caprese… accompanied by a side of spicy olives (home made by the deli round the corner) and fresh crusty bread to mop up the juices. It’s all about the ingredients…
100% flavour. Minimal effort.
With (lazy) love, from Italy
Risotto alla milanese con porcini from Lombardy
On Italian TV at the moment there is a programme called “Benvenuti a Tavola”. It is based on the age-old North vs South rivalry which is surrounds pretty much everything in Italy and which ranges from the good natured to the downright nasty (some people going as far as wanting to take Italian citizenship from anyone born South of Rome).
I have lived in the North and the South of Italy, and although there are definitely differences, I think that the people are more similar than either side would care to admit.
I don’t like to join in on the fight, and usually say nothing when the verbal battle between North and South begins, but there is one subject about which I am passionate: FOOD.
All of Italy produces fantastic recipes and products. My personal favourites are almost all from the South: Mozzarella di bufala (Campania), ‘Nduja (Calabria), Taurasi wine (Campania), Salerno Anchovies (Campania), Limoncello (Campania) Pecorino Sardo (Sardinia), Cannoli (Sicily)… The list goes on, with the only Northern products getting a look in being Chianti (Tuscany), Balsamic Vinegar (Reggio Emilia) and Parma Ham (Reggio Emilia).
The same goes for recipes. However, there is one Northern recipe that I adore and which I make on a semi regular basis. It is also a hit with my Southern friends, despite its provenance – Milanese risotto with porcini mushrooms, a sticky, savoury, fragrant dish of rice, saffron, butter, mushrooms and one extra secret ingredient that I am about to reveal to you…
You will need (for 2 large portions):
- 1 heaped cup arborio rice
- A handful of porcini )preferably fresh or defrosted frozen, but dried will do at a pinch. If you use dried you will need to soak them in water for at least 20 minutes before starting and use the water for the risotto so as to keep all of the flavours.
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 clove garlic
- 1 generous knob of butter
- 2 tbsp grated grano padano or other hard Italian cheese
- 1 vegetable stock cube dissolved in a pint of warm water
- 1 glass of dry white wine
- 1 tsp of saffron
- and the secret ingredient, a few drops of truffle oil
1. Heat the oil and finely chopped garlic in a pan until the garlic begins to brown.
2. Add the rice and stir until the rice is coated with a sheen of oil, then add a couple of ladlefuls of stock.
3. Stir constantly, making sure that as the stock cooks off you continue to add more. Bear in mind that the rice will need about 20 minutes all in all.
4. About five minutes in, add the saffron and the porcini, chopped into bits. Continue as before.
5. After a further five minutes, add a glass of white wine instead of stock, then continue as before.
6. If you find the stock is not enough, you can continue to add plain water until the rice is cooked. Do not add further stock or you risk making the dish too salty.
7. When the risotto is “ondulato”, that is to say most of the liquid has evaporated and the rice is cooked but the dish is still fluid enough that you make gentle waves as you stir or move the pan, remove from the heat and stir in the butter, a few drops of truffle oil, then the grated cheese. This should thicken the dish to the perfect consistency.
8. Serve with the rest of the wine, as usual
With love, from Italy
Or pasta, potatoes and zucchini, as you prefer.
Yesterday was one of those days. You know, the days you really, really don’t want to go to the shops but you don’t have anything in the fridge that looks like it will make up a whole meal. I had been fancying pasta with courgettes for a while, but yesterday to my dismay I realised there were only two small courgettes in the fridge. “What goes with courgettes?” I thought. I toyed with the idea of peppers but didn’t really feel inspired by it. Then I spied the potatoes and figured “Why not?”. Be aware that this recipe, intended to make two portions, actually makes three (or two ENORMOUS portions if you are hungry!)
You will need:
200g of penne pasta
2x courgettes (zucchini)
2x medium sized potatoes
2x cloves of garlic
A handful of smoked pancetta bits
1x glass of dry white wine (plus another for each diner of course)
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp of pecorino cheese
Salt to taste
1. Finely chop the garlic and cube the courgettes and potatoes.
2. Boil some water in a small pan and toss in the cubed potatoes for par-boiling
3. Heat the olive oil in a frying pan and gently fry the garlic and pancetta until they brown.
4. Add the courgettes and continue to fry over a low heat. When they begin to soften, add the white wine and a couple of pinches of salt – not much as the pancetta and pecorino cheese are themselves salty.
5. Keeping the hot water, drain the potatoes (they should be almost cooked) and add to the mix, strring well. Bring the water back to the boil, salt, and toss in the pasta.
6. While the pasta cookes, keep stirring the mixture in the frying pan. You want to see the potato begin to come apart and amalgamate with the rest of the ingredients.
7. When the pasta is cooked al dente, drain and add to the pan. Mix well and season with the pecorino and the black pepper. When all of the pasta is coated, you are ready to serve it with that glass of dry white wine we mentioned earlier.
As wine, I used Falanghina. Not everyone agrees, but where possible I try to drink the same wine I used to cook the meal with. Partly because I think it brings out the flavours, and partly because I am a believer in the old saying that if you would not drink it then you shouldn’t cook with it – but that’s a whole other post!
With love, from Italy