August 4, 2011
All this time I’ve been missing the sea, its smell, the way it reflects light. Some people tell you that if you are born by the sea, you can’t do without it. I wasn’t born by it, but I belong to the sea anyway, never had a doubt about it. I am a different person when I am close to the sea.
One of my last days in Wales I took a break from packing and went to a yoga class with my bike. As I was cycling back home, I stopped. I took that ride almost every day, apart from the darkest part of winter, to go to work. It went from my house down the hill, then it ran through the heart of the forest. I’d check for mushrooms in autumn and bluebells in spring. The path then continued by the sea, between the city centre and the beach, until the office, some 3-4 miles further down. I had gorgeous summer days on that path. I had harsh days as well: when there had been a tempest the night before it would be covered with a thick layer of sand. With high tide some sprays would hit me. By the time I came to the office my heart was beating fast and I felt alive. I developed an addiction to weather forecast – I checked the excellent met office ones trying to guess if I was to have half an hour window without too much rain, or whether the wind gusts would just be too strong. Wind is the worst enemy when cycling by the sea, it can literally stop you if you are going against it. I learned not to mind rain that much, on the other hand. Like my landlord once said, while trying to unblock a pipe in our garden under a torrential rain: “It’s just water”. It is.
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May 19, 2011
Would you start your dinner with a cappuccino? If you are Italian, of course you won’t even finish your dinner with a cappuccino, let alone have it as an amuse-bouche.
However, this is what I did tonight. And I can’t advise you strongly enough to do the same, asap.
It all started with a restaurant.
I have already told you about my favourite restaurant here. When I lived in Wales my favourite restaurant was exactly the opposite type: posh food, made only with local, seasonal ingredients, run by local people, in a stunning location. The restaurant was renown to be among the ‘fine dining’ ones in the area, thus we waited quite a while before trying it: posh places ended up all too often in the same ol’ barely edible food and a double price tag.
When we did go there eventually, we were truly sorry for not having eaten there before. We were truly sorry for having previously wasted our money in other restaurants, posh or not. The dining room had just a few tables and was set in a stone cottage, immersed in an ”area of outstanding natural beauty”, in front of the ocean. Part of the charms was due to the cozy, homely atmosphere given by the huge stone fireplace in that tiny, dark room. We knew the food was different the moment we were served home-made bread of two types, both really good: finding good bread in Wales was harder than finding the Holy Grail. The menu was seasonal, local, well thought after, and cooked with skill . You see, eating out in Wales was an adrenaline sport: we tried a new place not much with the expectation of getting good food, but more with the hope of avoiding food poisoning. On the other hand, I have cooked some of my most amazing meals there: local produce was nothing short of stunning.
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February 16, 2011
There are barely any recipes of fish on this blog, however I love eating fish. I find it a stunning ingredient, much more interesting and subtle compared to meat, with few contestants in terms of complexity of flavour and texture even in the vegetable world (a few mushrooms, maybe?). I am not intimidated by fish as an ingredient: I have a handful of family recipes up my sleeve that are tasty and foolproof. I grew up eating fish. Both my parents cook it with skill, but it was usually my father who wore his apron on Saturdays to cook today’s catch from the market. When we visited our grandparents, it was a fish feast.
Nothing like fish brings me to pure, unadulterated gluttony. I might be able – under extreme circumstances – to be fed up of eating chocolate, or pasta, or cheese, or oranges, or heaven forbid! maybe even pizza, but nothing would ever stop me from being the one who polishes off that monumental fried baby squid dish.
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December 26, 2010
And finally, trifle time. I was intrigued by Ivonne’s choice for the next theme of Sugar High Friday. In Italy we have a pudding called ‘zuppa inglese’, literally English soup, and I was quite curious to find out what the English name for it was, if there was any. It turned out the closest dessert is trifle.
Zuppa inglese is a dessert prepared in most restaurants and in many homes, in the Northern region called Emilia Romagna, and neighbours. A concoction of lady fingers or sponge cake, soaked in the typical bright red sweet liquor called alchermes; a thick layer of custard, heavy with egg yolks and cream, often in two versions alternating – chocolate and cream. The visual impact is definitely tacky, with its red, yellow and black striped effect; it has its rustic charms but it is as heavy as a stone, particularly after a proper meal from Emilia – from salumi, among the best in Italy (think culatello and prosciutto di parma, but don’t forget mortadella, just to name a few), to meat-filled tortellini or lasagne, to finish off with some meat dish like roasted pork or boiled poultry.
I have eaten my share of zuppe inglesi, and wanted to go the opposite way with this challenge. I decided I wanted to turn to the most English version I could find. And in order to do that, I turned to the most English of my sources – Jane Grigson, ‘English food’. I did think of Nigella first – you know I have a weakness for her fantastic accent – and there are indeed many nice ideas of hers in form of a trifle. Nigella, being the sensible woman that she is, is of course a fan of this good-looking, easy and versatile dessert you can effortlessly assemble with store-bought ingredients. But I was charmed by the original recipe. Ms Grigson laments that trifle is often tacky with its glaced cherries decorations, and rarely ‘a pudding worth eating’. Her recipe would bring the joy back to eating it. Macaroons, soaked in fortified wine and brandy, a layer of totally unflavored custard, a layer of raspberry jam, and on top, the ‘Everlasting Syllabub’ by Elizabeth David. I was bound to try it. The recipe is so old fashioned, so imprecise, and it totally works. Just the kind of recipe I love.
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July 18, 2010
Whenever I travel back to Italy, I gorge on fruit. My favourite season is the beginning of summer. In June you’ll get apricots and the first peaches and figs, but also cherries and the last strawberries. Don’t forget the not very popular abroad nespole. Also melons are present, even though not at their best yet. Autumn brings its share of pleasures: the end of the summer usually means the best figs, pears, prunes and peaches. The season evolves into grapes, apples and mandarins, and also in winter you can find comfort in oranges.
When I moved abroad I was disheartened. Fruit was almost all imported, which means expensive and flavorless. It is true that I could find rhubarb, but there is only that much rhubarb that a girl can enjoy. Spring arrived and went and no cherries made their appearance. I was ready to face a gloomy cherry-less summer. Also for strawberries, possibly my favourite fruit, I was ready for the season to come and go in a blink of eyes.
But how wrong I was. How wrong.
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January 17, 2010
Orange trees in Piana di Gioia Tauro
If I had to pick a forbidden fruit, I’d go for citruses. Nothing speaks of Heaven like an orange or lemon garden to me. I expecially have a crush on lemon trees – I find there is something magical and sacred about them.
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