My love affair with Greece

My love affair with Greece

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Strangely enough, my love affair with Greece began when I moved to Rome. I disliked the beach stablimenti with the rows of umbrellas and  sun-beds and I yearned for the simple sea I had known during my childhood in Cornwall. Then I discovered Greece and ever since ‘summer’ means Greece to me. In the beginning when school term finished I would put my daughters in the car and take the ferry to Igouminitsa. We drove around sleeping in rooms over tavernas, exploring the legendary Peloponnese. We were moved by feeling of sanctity at Delphi, haunted by Clytaemnestra, Iphigenia and Orestes at Mycenae and inspired by a white and scarlet Melina Mercouri at a performance of Oedipus Rex in Epidaurus.

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In later years we flew to discover the islands- Ionian, Cyclades, Sporades and Dodecanese. Crete drew us back at regular intervals as we dreamed of the bull dancers and sought echoes of Homer’s wine-dark sea. On all these many holidays food and wine played a very minor rôle. We never acquired a taste for retsina and the other wines were often barely drinkable. The meze were always a delight but when we were taken into the kitchen to choose our main course we were not inspired by the heavy, luke- warm stews. We relied on moussaka and souvlaki to save the day. My first real gastronomic experience occurred in Loutrou, Crete at the Blue House where mother and daughter-in-law vied to produce the most perfect home cooking. Wines started to become something to be sipped slowly with pleasure and the taverna food began to bear some resemblance to the good Greek cooking I used to enjoy in Greek families.

I always talked about Greece in my Rome classes and people began to ask me to organize an adventure for them One summer, after a morning swim, when I was the only person in the sea, I sat enjoying a glass of wine and thinking “et io in Arcadia sum”. Arcadia should be shared with the deserving few, so the idea of my Greek Idyll was born.

Kerasia Beach, Corfu9445267 Finikounda

I have run several adventures  in Sifnos, Symi and Crete but last year I moved to the Peloponnese for my Greek adventure. This September I am returning to Finikounda and moving on to the Mani peninsula. When Ancient Sparta declined in power its citizens retreated to the mountains rather than serve alien masters and they became known as Maniots, from the Greek word mania. The Ottoman Turks made little headway with these fierce, proud people and the Greek War of Independence was nurtured by this rebellious region. It is largely unexplored by foreign visitors, but I first learned of Mani through the pages of English writer Patrick Leigh Fermor’s wonderful book and I am looking forward to discovering the tiny villages nestled in olive groves, and the magical, translucent coves.

ManiMani Harilaos restaurant

There are only 3 rooms left for this Adventure which starts 2nd September.

This month I have taken myself firmly in hand and I am doing a variety of treatments and therapies in the Terme, or thermal baths in Ferentino. It is very time-consuming and I have not yet been painted with the black, viscous mud that is supposed to work miracles.

I am mailing this newsletter to give details of the adventures planned for the rest of this year and 2017. The first ‘escape’ will be to my beloved Greece in September, and I am adding a few days in Mani, once inhabited with brigands and war lords. This area has not been really discovered by tourism and gaunt, ruined towers frown down on the magical sea.

http://www.italiangourmet.com/cookingschoolinsinfos.php

October starts with Sicily but there is no availability because Sicily always gets booked up a year in advance. Next year I am planning to rent a fabulous villa I have found outside Siracusa. It is on the sea, with an infinity pool but the part that attracts me is the fabulous kitchen, complete with cook who will be the genie with the lamp – available on demand to fulfill all our wishes. There are six bedrooms so we will be a happy few.

Puglia was where I did my first cooking school ever and it is still one of my favourite regions. In the intervening years it has been ‘discovered’ but there are still many special places to explore and there is still availability. http://www.italiangourmet.com/gourmet_adventure_puglia.php

In November I am planning to offer two days cooking and eating in Rome followed by exploring the Ciociara, the area just south of Rome. It is still relatively undiscovered by tourism, although the Romans (the Ancient ones !) built vast villas and appreciated its natural beauty.  From my home in Ferentino I have had great fun discovering the local truffles, the beautiful lake with a moving island in the middle and the cascades at Isola del Liri. I have yet to explore the black mud !

In 2017 I will be repeating some well-established favourites :

Budapest http://www.italiangourmet.com/cookingschoolinpuglia.php

 Bologna. http://www.italiangourmet.com/gourmet_adventure_istanbul.php

I am also very excited by two big projects. I will be going to India in February to plan and set up the tour of Rajasthan which I have been talking about for years. India has a very short ‘cool weather’ season so the historic, Heritage hotels get booked up months in advance. This will be my final Indian trip for late 2016, early 2017 and I will have to move fast to secure the places I want, so if you think you might be interested please let me know now ! http://www.italiangourmet.com/cookingschoolinnorthindia.php

My second big project is expanding Morocco to include a visit to all the Imperial Cities. The idea started when I was pining for Istanbul and people felt sad because the political situation made me drop this popular adventure. Morocco is politically stable and I have no qualms about offering this exotic, mysterious country as a replacement. In fact this makes me feel I am selling it short. I hope I am not. Morocco is no understudy. I have been visiting every year for a long time. The people are lovely, the palaces enthralling and the food satisfies both spicy and sweet tastes. In Marrakech the French colonial influence is everywhere, in Fez it is the past and Africa that has had the dominant role.

http://www.italiangourmet.com/cookingschoolinmarrakech.php

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June and July 2015 Newsletter

June and July Newsletter 2015

 I have neglected my writing because I have been too busy globe-trotting and planning future travel. I have missed my quiet times and I find writing about events sets them in your memory and helps you to see them in perspective. Next year I will allow myself more space. Continue reading

Availability and Special Offers for the first six months of 2015 – Gourmet Adventures and Cooking

In my Rome school in Piazza Venezia I am holding some special 3 day ‘hands-on’ cooking classes which include a market visit and olive oil tasting. Continue reading

August Newsletter

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 Well thankfully August 15 has come and gone, taking with it the frenzy of pre-Ferragosto, when people are either away, rushing to get away or making life difficult for everyone because they are not getting away. I usually stay in Rome in August by choice because I love the deserted city which reminds me of the Rome I fell in love with but this year I have been travelling in Italy on family holidays.

 On my way to join Nicola and Chris in Cortona I visited my friends Helen and Keith Richmond at Boggioli in Tuscany, and was thrilled to come away with a bottle of their delicious prize-winning olive oil. I carried it carefully back to Rome and will use some of it in my olive oil tasting sessions. I have always been rather put off Cortona by all the hype about the Tuscan sun but the weather has been strange this year and there was very little sun in July. On the other hand I loved Cortona. We cooked one meal each day then explored the restaurant scene. We ate well and I was thrilled to discover many places offering pasta with truffles. It is one of my passions so I often gave in to temptation. Our favourite was La Bucaccia and Romano won my heart when he offered me several glasses of Ribolla Gialla which I did not expect to find in Tuscany. He showed me his cooking school facilities and I am going to try and fit in a few days cooking with him in the autumn.

 At the beginning of August Georgina and I took her daughters to Sant’Agata where we stayed in a lovely green Agriturismo. We dropped in to say ‘hello’ to everyone at Don Alfonso and Livia insisted we had a light lunch in the garden. I was a little apprehensive because young children and elegant, gourmet food is not a natural partnership but Livia chose zucchini and calamari in a light batter from the antipasti menu and they loved the pasta with Alfonso’s organic tomatoes.

 Before the holidays I was lucky to find an electrician willing to work in August to rewire the cooking school. My last class in July was dramatic and traumatic. We were about to finish the pasta for lunch when one of the power points started a continuous, piercing ring. The oven started to reply, and it was pandemonium, as if someone had a finger on the doorbell. When I went to call the doorman, Micelangelo, I could smell burning plastic. I asked him to switch off the power and call an electrician. As we were sitting down to eat the pasta ( remember, pasta waits for no one) the two palace electricians arrived. In Italy the workmen all eat at 12.30 and nothing usually is more important. I think it was only the spectre of Palazzo Doria Pamphili burning down that brought them up to me. We then sat to eat the pasta in front of them. I explained it was part of the lesson but I am sure that was reflected in the eventual bill. They discovered one wall was almost completely black in the hall and we had had a serious electrical fire inside the walls. There are two flights of wooden stairs and everyone told me to be thankful it had not happened while I was asleep.

Symi beach

This  week I am off to Rhodes and Symi to run a ‘gourmet adventure’ and I am looking forward to the calming waters of Greece. I will return to Greece in October to set up my Mani adventure for next year .http://www.cittadeinicliani.com/

Plans for 2015

In February I am going to Sri Lanka to explore the possibilities of a Gourmet adventure based in my friend, Ken’s, B and B. Anyone want to join me ?

April     Marrakech and Seville

May   Sant’Agata, Amalfi Coast followed by Sicily in June

Mani, Greece to be fitted in for food, wine, sea and sun, and Cortona, Tuscany

Budapest 4 – 9 October

August recipe

 Pasta con fagiolini, pomodorini e caccioricotta

 

Pasta with green beans, tomatoes and cheese

In Puglia this dish is made in the summer months using young green beans and small red tomatoes. Traditionally a pungent, hard, white cheese is grated on top. It can be replaced by Pecorino. Thick long pasta is usually broken into three lengths so that , when cooked, the beans and pasta look the same size. Visually the dish is very attractive, but it will taste just as good if you substitute a shorter pasta.

500 g small short pasta, like piccole penne, or bucatini or perciatelli broken in three

300 g thin green beans, trimmed

250 g small, red, full-flavour tomatoes, cut into halves

1 small onion, finely chopped

6 fresh basil leaves

3 T extra virgin olive oil

2 T freshly-grated hard white cheese, like cacioricotta, or Pecorino

2 T extra virgin olive oil

salt and black pepper

 Heat the oil and let the onion soften and begin to change colour before adding the tomatoes. After a few minutes add whole basil leaves and seasoning. Cook gently for a few minutes, but do not let the tomatoes start to break or shed their skins. Season lightly. Bring a large pan of water to the boil, add salt, then throw in the pasta and the green beans. When the pasta is cooked but still al dente, drain and turn the beans and pasta into a large, shallow serving dish. Arrange the tomatoes and basil over the top and sprinkle with the cheese .At the table stir together and serve at once.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Summer Newsletter

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In June we had a very enjoyable gourmet adventure in Sicily. We started in Siracusa with our welcome aperitivo in Piazza Duomo in Ortigia, followed by a seafood dinner in the old town. The next morning we moved to Scicli where we established camp in the charming Hotel Novecento. One of our group had travelled with Vueling from Florence and the airline had left everyone’s luggage behind. The Italian festa delayed the return so she was forced to borrow odds and ends from the rest of the group until she was happily reunited with her own clothes. We cooked and ate, explored and ate, not to mention copious wine tasting. We drank to Indy’s clothes, drank to Montalbano and often drank to ourselves. We explored Noto and watched the Atzec-type chocolate being made in Modica. On another day we shopped for Sicilian delicacies in Marzamemi and had a great lunch at the Cortile Arabo where I fixed up to do a cooking class next year. This year we cooked in a rustic farmhouse and the enchanting Eremo in Ragusa Mare.

 After Sicily I made a quick dash to the UK to meet up with my grandson, Alex, in Stratford upon Avon. We stayed for two nights to see ‘Henry lV Part 1’ followed by ‘Part II’ the second night. It was a very strange interpretation of Hotspur which distorted the first part Paul Taylor writing in The Independent said:

‘…it’s so over-the-top that I’m afraid I found Hotspur’s death – after the thrillingly tense climactic sword-fight – to be a relief rather than a wrench.

However I have never seen such a brilliant Falstaff, and the comic scenes which are often tedious were actually funny.

Henry IV Cinema poster

After all this travel it was a relief to come home to what I imagined would be peace and calm. However Italy had been suffering freak electrical storms and I arrived home to find no electricity, no phone and a burned-out modem. I later discovered the new Smart TV had succumbed and the Sky dish too. I now have wi fi and phone but no television so I am ignoring world news which is very soothing, and I am getting the house in order, sorting out boxes of junk that have been sitting around for ages.

June 19th was Corpus Domini and in Ferentino they celebrate with the Infiorata Everyone helps to decorate the narrow winding streets with flowers. This year’s torrential rain had made it more difficult than usual. These flowers lead down to my house on the right. Cars are not allowed and luckily Italy was not playing in the Mondiale, or World Cup.

 infiorata

The weather seems to have finally settled down and we are getting ready for a long, hot summer. I am spending a week in Tuscany with my daughter, Nicola, and grandson, Chris, and then my youngest daughter, Georgina, is arriving and we are taking my two small grand-daughters to Sant’Agata sui Due Golfi and Ischia in Campania.

I am giving preliminary details of next year’s gourmet adventures. I am gradually retiring from my Rome Kitchen but the dates for the rest of the year are on my web site, and special dates can some times be accommodated.Team Building and other corporate events can still be organized.

 Marrakech in April after Easter, followed by Sevilleat the beginning of May. Both 5 day trips can be booked separately or together.

Sicily 30th April to May 6th. There will be an optional 3 days on the

Amalfi Coast from 27-29 May to cook and eat at the legendary Don Alfonso and visit Amalfi and Positano. This will need to be booked very early and I will have prices and details on my web pages by August 15th. If you are interested let me kinow as soon as possible.

Sifnos or Creteat the beginning of July

 Budapest 6 – 9 October with a final optional 2 days in Vienna or Prague.

 IstanbulThis yearI did not include Istanbul as most of my ‘regulars’ had already enjoyed the adventure. Let me know if any of you are interested because I would love to repeat one of my favourite ‘adventures’.

Recipes for this month

 Biscotti di mandorle   Almond biscuits

We learned to make these with Signora Nella in her cooking school near Scicli

in Sicily. She prefers to blanch her own almonds and grind them in the food processor but you can substitute commercial ground almonds.

300g ground almonds

200 g sugar

2 eggs

Zest of one large lemon (un-waxed)

A few blanched almonds for decoration

I use my food processor to make this very quickly.

Mix together the ground almonds, sugar, lemon zest and eggs

Line a baking tray with baking parchment and pipe out small balls of the mixture.

Make small balls by hand if you find it easier. Leave gaps between because they will expand during cooking.

Make an indentation on the top of each biscuit.and stick in an almond.

Bake in an 180 c. oven for 15 minutes until golden brown.

 Pasta alla crudaiolo

 A favourite pasta dish from the south for when it is really too hot to cook.

 500 g pasta(preferebaly De Cecco or pasta fron Gragnano)

500 small ripe tomatoes chopped

6 large basil leaves, roughly torn

1 clove garlic, minced

Salt and a little chilli oil or chilli

2 T extra virgin olive oil

Chop all the ingredients and leave in the fridge. A little diced mozzarella is sometimes added.

Cook the pasta al dente, drain and add the tomato mixture.

Serve at room temperature.