Summer is gone astray here. It rains and rains and rains. There are no chances to enjoy my favourite activities at home, which are two. I have a shared garden that nobody else uses, where we can have barbecues. We had no opportunity for a barbecue since last month. And then, I have a terrace above my head. I rarely go there, surely not in winter when it is covered with snow. But the views are great and it faces west, so sitting there in the evening with one of the excellent German beers and something to nibble on is a great way to unwind after a working day. There are a couple of challenges involved though: making sure the bare wood on the floor is not wet or humid, which requires this rain to stop for at least a couple of days; trying to convince the cats not to jump down from the roof; and managing to climb the very steep ladder down even after a beer. Which makes the snacking part vital. The food must be easy to carry (you need at least one hand to climb up that ladder, so one trip for the beer and one for the snack), it must be tasty, it must be healthy because I can’t keep on putting on weight, and then you have to have some dinner, right?
There is an idiom in Italian: ‘Una ciliegia tira l’altra’, a cherry leads you to the next one. Indeed, I cannot stop. Cherries are among my favourite treats. The season in Italy is painfully short, probably over by now, but for my good luck it tends to be longer here up North. We have been having sweet and dark Spanish, Turkish and Italian cherries for months, but the true highlight is now, when the local ones are ready and ripe, and oh so tasty.
I probably inherited the passion for cherries from my dad, although to be fair, it is quite common a passion. It is one of the best moments in life to wander through the Italian countryside, possibly on a bike, and come across a cherry tree, in a sunny morning of May, the air hot but still bearable. It is a joy me and my dad have shared more than once. Every time, we don’t care whether the cherries are of the sweet or the tart variety (both are quite common, there are often trees that have been abandoned, or so my dad used to say to me, which is probably not completely true, but anyway, we are not doing more damage than birds). We eat cherries until we are literally sick, both of us.
I confess it: I’m not cooking much lately. I do have excuses: I’ve been in Calabria, and you see, summer in Calabria is a world where cooking is not required. First of all, you can’t cook with the water supply coming and going without notice. And then, anyway, you won’t cook with fruit and vegetables that good. You just don’t bother. You can very well survive on bread and tomatoes and ricotta and watermelon. When you really feel like a cooked meal, you go to a pizzeria – after all, expats have a right to eat as much pizza as they want when they go back to Italy. It is a recognized human right. Another food staple is granita: when you come back from the sea, you stop at a little place under a vine, you order a ‘granita con la brioscia’ – you can choose between a handful of very good flavours, but honestly more (black mulberry) is the way to go. Whipped cream is optional, although it does decrease the amount of granita you are going to get. La brioscia, a brioche, is not optional.You have a moral obligation to have granita every day – the season is so short, it has just started and it is going to be gone by the middle of September. After that, there may be still 40 degrees and you may still be going to the sea, but this little bar will only serve normal patisserie and excellent coffee, waiting for another short season of shine. It is always deserted outside the season, I wonder how they survive.
I’m back to Germany now so I guess I should start cooking again. And I always start again from the basics.
Of my go-to ingredients that never make it to the blog, couscous is a probably the biggest suspect. I use it quite often, ready in a handful of minutes for a quick lunch salad, or to bulk up a meal, and here I find good, cheap bags of all varieties of couscous at the ethnic shops (I almost choked when I saw how much more it costs at the local supermarket, once..). A no brainer, really. But it is not something I personally would consider for a high-end meal. Precooked couscous has always a bit of a soggy consistency. When friends make it for me from scratch, or I go to a North African restaurant, the real version is one of the things I enjoy the most. It has a great texture and the flavour of good durum wheat is hard to beat for the pasta addict Italian that I am at heart. By comparison, I’m always a bit underwhelmed by the precooked variety. I think a person that really enjoys cous cous probably sees my lunch salads the way I’ll look at people cooking soft wheat pasta. I understand it has some conforting and convenient charms, but please, do not compare it with the real thing.