May news and Agretti recipe

cleaning agretti 2There has not been a recent newsletter because there has been a dearth of news. I have been confined to barracks, with only accompanied trips to various clinics for treatments for my partially torn Achilles tendon. I have graduated from crutches to walking sticks, and a type of padded, elastic sock.. This is known as a “tutor” in Italian. What it is meant to be teaching me is a mystery, but Italians use English words in a strange way. When I first came to Italy I was mystified by after-dinner plans to visit “a night”. The club had disappeared.

All my life I have run around in bare feet, kicking off my shoes as soon as I get home. Now I have been told this is fatal, and that flat shoes are equally bad for the Achilles tendon. It is not fun, and I am getting stir crazy.

After this self-indulgent moaning session I will move on.

The weather is glorious, and I have been lolling around on the terrace catching up on my reading. In preparation for my October Sicily visit I have re-read David Gilmour fascinating life of Giuseppe di Lampedusa, The Last Leopard. It is a fascinating glimpse behind the scenes, and inspired me to watch again the dvd of Viscontis “Il Gattopardo”. Anyone planning a visit to Palermo should watch this before they go.

May is a great month for vegetables because the winter greens linger on, even though the fresh spring vegetables are usually irresistible. I have denied myself the pleasure of visiting the market because the uneven cobbles would be a challenge at the moment, but I phone to talk through whats looking good before I give my order. This is probably as useless as the customers asking the fishmonger if the fish is fresh. What answer do they expect ?

Today I have bought my first agretti of the season. This is also known as “barba di frate” or friars beard, which seems an unkind conjecture. It is a pain to clean, but nowadays it is usually sold in bunches with most of the roots already removed. It cooks in a few minutes. I am giving my favourite, very quick recipe at the end of the newsletter.

A group of three friends have had to cancel their June Sifnos adventure for health problems. Their travel insurance is covering their deposits so I have three places available for 1000 euros instead of 1750. Details on my website. Get in touch if interested.

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

There is still availability for Sicily in October

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

For domestic reasons I have postponed the Ciociaria until April 2018

Agretti con uovo in camicia

Crescenza1-739x1024 Uovo agretti

1 bunch agretti, washed and trimmed

1 large, fresh egg

1 T extra virgin olive oil

Salt

Garlic, peeled

1 small piece chilli pepper

Cook agretti in boiling, salted water for five minutes. Drain,  reserving some of the water. In a pan heat the oil, add the garlic and chili. Stir in the drained agretti and stir round for just under five minutes. Carefully poach the egg for two minutes in the boiling agretti water. Lift out and serve on a large plate, surrounded by the agretti.

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March News

 

Since my last newsletter my life has been first, a whirlwind of activity, then secondly, a very boring, immobile existence, stretched out on a couch alla Elizabeth Barrett, with no dynamic Robert Browning in sight. At the beginning of February I flew to India to choose hotels, and set up the programme for next year’s final Indian adventure, moving every two days to try to get the most out of my rushed itinerary. While I was there I signed up for a relaxing Ayuvedic massage, as I do every year, but this time I had an unlucky experience with an obviously untrained masseuse. I should have clambered off the couch after the first few minutes but it is difficult to be commanding when you are only wearing disposable massage thongs! I contented myself with asking her not to touch my hands or vulnerable right foot. She obviously over-compensated on the other foot, and in the morning I was in pain when I tried to walk. I carried on for the last two days, but back in Italy, a scan revealed a lesion in my Achilles tendon. Now I am having daily laser and ultrasound treatments, with strict instructions to use my crutches when I have to move around. Very frustrating.

Spring has come to Ferentino but I have to delegate the gardening, shopping and cleaning, and shut my eyes to the winter damage. Cooking is a problem on crutches, and all the local trattorias seem to have treacherous steps at the entrance. Still I console myself with imagining the weight I must be losing ! Of course balancing on the scales is too demanding.

 

I am travelling in my imagination as I book the aceito balsamico tasting for May, and I can almost smell the wild oregano drifting down from the hills in Sifnos as I plan pottery visits with Ronia. When I watched the BBC team running from burning stones spewing from Etna I remembered how in times of volcanic activity flights have to be diverted to Palermo. In October we are flying into Catania and out of Palermo so I hope Etna will be taking a rest.

When I am more mobile, after Brexit and other catastrophes, I will write another more ‘newsy’ letter.

 

Gourmet Adventures for 2017

Bologna and nearby Cities –      Full

Some spaces still available for :

Sifnos, Greece  –  June 17 – 24  http://www.italiangourmet.com/cookingschoolinsinfos.php

Sicily –   October 1 – 9  http://www.italiangourmet.com/cooking_school_in_sicily.php

Ciociaria – October 13 –  20 http://www.italiangourmet.com/gourmet_adventure_ciociaria.php

India

I will not be taking firm bookings until August but please let me know now if you are interested in one or two parts, as places are very limited. Priority will be given to returning visitors.

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

 

Sifnos, Greece June 2017

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Sifnos, a small, relatively quiet island in the Cyclades, is known as the island of pots and cooks. It has also been called the island of churches since it has over 365 churches and monasteries contained in just 74 square metres

Continue reading

September and October news

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September has been a strange month. I flew to Greece to meet the people signed up for the Greek adventure and we drove down to the south of the Peloponnese to stay in Finikounda for a few days, before moving on to explore the Mani peninsula. We had a few carefree days swimming at Zanzibar Beach, eating in our favourite tavernas and catching up with Marina and Cris. We had two great dinners at Palia Istoria and we repeated our idyllic day with Ilios, going with his boat to a remote, uninhabited beach to swim and read, while he unpacked the drinks and meze, and prepared his delicious fish soup.

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The next day the winds and rains came and we felt as if we were living through a monsoon. It rained relentlessly with huge tropical storms. In Kalamata cars were swept out to sea and several people were drowned. I have never experienced anything like this in Greece before. Many roads were closed and the immediate shore was stained yellow with the soil washed into the sea. When we left for Mani we had to make a long detour and we passed fallen bridges and uprooted olive trees. We were relieved when we arrived in Mani to find normal summer weather and sun to dry our sodden beach towels and clothes.

Mani is remote and not many tourists make it this far. We drove through the legendary Sparta but there were no archaeological remains to be seen. Their military prowess was so respected they did not feel the need to build fortifications so there are no crumbling city walls to conjure up the past ; however the Battle of Thermopoli is commemorated with a statue of King Leonidas, bearing the words “Come and Take”, which is believed to be the Greeks’ response to Xerxes demand for them to throw down their arms.

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We drove through Arepoli, where the Greek War of Independence was started on March 17 in 1821,  to stay a night at the beautiful, tiny fishing village of Limeni

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filename-limeni-191-jpgThe sea is incredibly lovely and it all seemed very special after the storms we had left behind. We celebrated with a delectable Sunday lunch at Takis, right on the sea. In Mani the towers and houses are built of stone, and even the churches seem sombre to those used to the white and turquoise Cycladic buildings. We drove on to spend our last days in Gerolimeni at the small, historic Kyrimai hotel.

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The setting is beautiful and the sea irresistible. I plan to return next year but I must admit I will have no regrets at leaving behind the Mani speciality, smoked pork – siglino – which seemed to make an inappropriate appearance in so many dishes.

At the end of the week I head off to Palermo for our Sicilian adventure and then the last trip this year, Puglia.

Next year I will change the Sicily programme to concentrate on the two most fascinating towns, Siracusa and Palermo. This will give us time really feel at home as we explore the many layers of history, culture and, of course, gastronomy. Dates 7 to 15 October 2017.

Details will be on my website by Tuesday but please let me know as soon as possible if you are interested because places will be limited.

There are still places for Bologna at the end of March. Email for more details.

Recipe for the last of the sun

Small octopus or calamari Santa Lucia style (Polpetielli o calamari alla Luciana)

The Neapolitan fishermen around Santa Lucia invented this way of cooking small octopus. The “real” polpetielli have a double row of suckers on their tentacles and are full of flavor because they feed off the rocks. Octopus with only a single row of suckers is considered inferior. The fishermen used to seal in the flavor by tying paper under and over the lid with string, but a soft flour and water dough is more effective.

800 g small octopus or calamari

4 very tasty red tomatoes, or 4 canned Italian plum tomatoes

4 T extra virgin olive oil

1 T fresh parsley, chopped

1/2 dried hot chili pepper

3 garlic cloves

salt

Put the cleaned octopus or calamari into a terra-cotta pot with the oil, chopped tomatoes, garlic, salt and chili pepper. Seal on the lid with a dough made of flour and water and stew slowly for 2 hours, or half this time for calamari. Remove the lid and stir in the chopped parsley.  Serve hot or at room temperature directly from the terra-cotta pot.

 

 

August Newsletter

4600362895 Carcassonne

I spent two weeks in Languedoc and Provence enjoying good food and wine, and even better company. First I stayed with Michael and Lawrence in their beautiful house in a small village near Carcassonne. We talked, cooked and drank good local wine  – it was so relaxing. Lawrence fed us when we were at home and Michael kept the glasses topped up. We has a good Sunday lunch at the Chateau  de Cavanac and the next day Michael drove us to a small fishing town near the Spanish border, Collioure, to meet some friends from London. I bought the local speciality, a jar of anchovies preserved in salt, and we had a delectable lunch in the garden at Le Neptune with good food and a lovely sea view. I had forgotten how France still offers very interesting set menus that are excellent value. In Italy I always feel it is better to eat à la carte.

In Michael’s house I slept in the Napoleon room and amused everyone by confessing that over forty years ago, when left alone in Napoleon’s house in Elba, I hopped over the rope to perch on the ‘little corporal’s bed. I had my knees under my chin because he was obviously very little if he managed to sleep in that bed.

The following week Joe and Dallas flew in to Carcassonne and we spent a week exploring Provence. We stayed in the small medieaval town of Uzes which has not been spoiled by the mass tourism you see in places like Avignon. I loved the central Hotel Entraigues but I found the small, cobbled lanes a challenge and I was very grateful for Dallas’ strong, supporting arm. As always he drove superbly on the congested roads en route and Joe kept us happy with his moveable feasts.

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This week I am in Ferentino doing a little work before I leave for my Greek gourmet adventure. I recently re-read D.H.Lawrence’s “Sea and Sardinia” and his occasional, somewhat tetchy comments made me think of the good times I have spent on the island when working on Italian food consultancies. In the mountains there are succulent meat dishes cooked with wild herbs like ‘mirto’, and by the sea the fish dishes are out of this world. Added to this are interesting wines and the heart-stopping liqueur known as fil’a ferru, which gets its name from the habit of hiding clandestine stills overboard or underground at the end of a wire, to make retrieval easier. The sea is the stuff of dreams and away from the hype of the Costa Smeralda there are beautiful, quiet coastal villages to explore. I plan to do this in June or September 2017 but I will not be able to get it on my website until the end of September so please let me know if you are interested.

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I am accepting bookings for Bologna and Ravenna in late March and Morocco’s ImperialCities in April.

 Recipes for August

 Spaghetti with anchovies and orange­ sauce  

           (Spaghetti con acciughe in salsa di arancia)

  I cooked this yesterday with my anchovies from Collioure

 500 g spaghetti

200 g anchovy fillets in salt, cut into small pieces

2 oranges, peeled and cut into small cubes

50 ml orange liqueur

1 tablespoon fresh mint

1 tablespoon fresh breadcrumbs

1 garlic clove, finely chopped

30 ml. olive oil

Salt

 

If you are using anchovies in salt you need to wash well and remove the central

bone.. Heat the oil and gently cook the garlic until it begins to change colour.

Now add the anchovies, pushing them down with a wooden spoon until they

‘melt’ and form a thick cream.

Add the orange to the anchovies, together with the breadcrumbs and the liqueur,

Taste to see if more salt is needed.  Cook the pasta in boiling salted water, drain and

stir in the sauce. Sprinkle with chopped mint and serve at once.

Pesce in cartoccio

 This is an easy way to cook fish and I love all the many variations of this recipe. I usually make it with fillets of John Dory. In Italy this fish is called “San Pietro”. The fish has two marks, one on either side, like thumb prints, and legend has it that these are the marks left by St. Peter’s fingers, when he took pity on the fish he had caught, and threw it back into the sea.

 

6 white fish fillets

2 T fresh parsley and mint, chopped

A few fennel seeds

3 T lemon juice

6 T extra virgin olive oil

salt

black pepper

Heat the oven to 180 C. Cut 6 large rectangles of cooking parchment or kitchen foil. Brush the paper with oil and arrange the washed and dried fillet on top. Season with a little salt and pepper then scatter on the parsley, fennel seeds, and lemon juice, and dribble a little oil over the top. Fold in the edges to make a good seal. Prepare all the fillets in the same way. If using parchment brush the outside with water before putting all the packets on a baking tray into the oven. Cook for about 10 to 15 minutes. Serve each person with a packet which is then slashed open with a pointed, serrated knife.