This is my first newsletter of 2014 and I hope everyone has had a lovely Christmas and a good start to the year. For the first time in years I spent Christmas in England, staying in Bath with my daughter, Nicola, and grandson, Christopher. In some ways it seemed as if I had never left but many of the practical details made me feel an alien. In Boots and W.H.Smith I caused delay and confusion when I handed over my credit card to the assistant instead of putting it into the machine on the counter, and after Christopher and I had done a mammoth Christmas food shop at Waitrose I discovered we had to stagger out to lunch with eight heavy, bulging bags because we had failed to book a ‘slot’ for us to leave our shopping for car collection. This at least stopped me from extravagances in Bath’s incredible kitchen shop where I am always fascinated and tempted by the huge selection of cookware.
I had a very bumpy flight back to Rome and early on New Year’s Day I flew to Marrakech. I am putting my blog post about this at the bottom of the newsletter. This course has been full since last May but two people have been forced to drop out with health issues so let me know if you would like to take their place.
In Rome and Ferentino I have been finishing my second 25 recipe book – Diane Seed’s Favourite Vegetable dishes. Mediterranean countries have lovely traditional vegetable main meals which must be much more appealing than contrived substitute dishes like vegetarian bangers and mash.
I have decided to put off Budapest until next year but my summer is going to be enhanced by the Sicily and Greece trips. Sicily is probably my favourite destination and it is always exciting to explore the Val di Noto with its Unesco World Heritage Sicilian Baroque towns. I love Sicily but the real draw for me is the food – dark, grainy chocolate from Modica, cannoli and gelati from Noto, and the glistening fresh fish and fruit and vegetables bursting with flavour from Pachino. Greeks, Byzantines, Arabs and Norman have all left their mark on the island and whether you dream of Visconti’s glorious Il Gattopardo or drool over Camillieri’s Montalbano Sicily is more fascinating than you ever imagine. This year I am going at the beginning of June to enjoy the sea and sun. There are still some places available so get in touch.
The summer would not be complete without a visit to Greece so I am returning to the beautiful Symi in September (1-7). This is already quite full so please let me know soon. This is a lazy ‘adventure’ with the emphasis on sea, sun, food and wine but we will cook a couple of meals together.
I had thought to re-introduce Sifnos during the school holidays for family escapes but I have not had much feedback. Let me know if you think this is interesting.
AUBERGINE (Eggplant) APPETIZER
All Sicilians have their favourite variation on this traditional vegetable dish, which is usually served atroom temperature. It is very versatile as it can be served as antipasto, a vegetarian main course, or as an accompaniment to meat or fish. On one occasion as I was setting off for Rome in my car withoutstaying for lunch, my host made me a panino with caponata. It was delicious but quite a challenge to eat tidily with the crusty bread and juicy vegetables. Some people find the sweet-and-sour flavour too unusual for their taste, but I think it is very good. I am not so sure about the ‘baroque’ version from Modica where a little dark, grainy chocolate is often grated over the top.
1 kg medium aubergines (eggplants),cubed unpeeled
1 medium onion, finely chopped
400 g canned Italian plum tomatoes, chopped
2 young celery stalks, chopped 2 cm lengths
10 large green olives, stoned and halved
4 anchovy fillets or 2 salted anchovies
2 T capers, rinsed and dried
5 T red or white wine vinegar
2 T pine nuts
2 t sugar
6 fresh basil leaves
6 T extra virgin olive oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper
Sprinkle the aubergines with salt and leave in a colander for about 40 minutes to `purge’ the bitter juice. Heat half the oil and gently cook the celery and omion . When the onion is soft and beginning to change colour remove the vegetables with a slotted spoon and pour in the remaining oil. Turn up the heat, add the rinsed and dried aubergines. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring continuously. Add the tomatoes, olives and capers. If the capers are very large they should be chopped before they are added to the pan. Rinse and dry the anchovies and pound to a paste before stirring into the pan. Add the vinegar, sugar and a little pepper, then return the celery and onions to the pan. Simmer for about 15 minutes. When the mixture has thickened, check the seasoning, add the pine nuts and basil and allow to cool. Let it stand for at least 4 hours before serving.