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.

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

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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.

 

 

 

 

May Newsletter 2016

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Perhaps it was tempting fate with my last newsletter when I confidently looked forward to a warm, sunny Seville. We arrived to a cold, blustery day and it rained on and off most days. My lovingly-packed linen dresses hung like wall flowers in the hotel wardrobe and I had to wear the one warm woolen outfit I had worn for the flight from Rome every day.

Without one of Amanda and Julie’s woolen wraps I would have been miserable. As it was we still had a lovely time and drank enough manzanilla and Rioja to keep the cold at bay. The Seville Fiera was in full swing and the flouncy, flamenco-dressed lovelies and brooding, dashing caballeros did not allow a little rain to dampen their ardour or amour prope. It could be said to be one of those occasions “when it is better to travel hopefully than to arrive” but that is not really true. It was a good trip and we enjoyed ourselves but a little more sun would have gilded the experience.

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Marrakesh was sunny and hot and the linen dresses finally made their entrance, a little crumpled but happily forgiven by someone who had been wearing wool for a whole week. We relished three superb Moroccan dinners, basked in warm nostalgia on the terrace of the Café de la Poste and enjoyed a good Souk cooking lesson. Next year I will pair Marrakesh with Fez and Rabat and bask in the reliable winter warmth. It will take time for me to forgive Spain.

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While I was in Seville Rome was enjoying some lovely weather but I brought the rain home with me. It should have stayed ‘on the plain’ in Spain ! However today is warm and sunny, and daily conversation can return to food and football. Romans were beginning to sound British as every chance meeting started with a weather lament.

The Washington Post had a great article on Procrastination which describes my state of mind since I came home :

“Have you ever sat down to complete an important task — and then suddenly discovered you were up loading the dishwasher or engrossed in the Wikipedia entry about Chernobyl? Or perhaps you suddenly realize that the dog needs to be fed, emails need to be answered, your ceiling fan needs dusting — or maybe you should go ahead and have lunch, even though it’s only 11 a.m.?

Next thing you know, it’s the end of the day and your important task remains unfinished.”

My blogs are non-existent, my website needs updates and the days pass, but today I have jump-started my days. I am working on my web pages and planning next year’s trips. In fact the great distraction has been India. I have booked up Goa for February but I am moving on to Rajasthan to set up the long-promised companion trip to the North. I will be giving full details soon because the interesting heritage hotels needed to be reserved over a year in advance. Let me know if you would be interested. It will be a one-off trip.

India, Bharat, Rajasthan, Travel Destination, Udaipur, Lake Pichola and the City Palace

I will be writing a detailed list of activities for 2017 and mailing them off  later in the month, and I will be running some three-day Roman classes after the summer.

Recipe for the long-awaited Roman summer

Seafood salad (Insalata di mare)

Many years ago I was sitting on a shady terrace, surrounded by lemon trees, looking across the still magical bay of Naples toward Vesuvius, with a glass of chilled Greco di Tufo wine in my hand, enjoying a moment of almost pagan happiness. When I was served “insalata di mare,” which was new to me, it seemed infinitely familiar, and even now the sharp, simple taste conjures up instant hedonism. It is important to use very good olive oil, and it can be made with only 2 or 3 varieties of shellfish if any ingredient is difficult to find.

1/4 lb unshelled mussels, scrubbed and rinsed

1 lb unshelled clams

1 lb small calamari

1 lb unshelled shrimp

2 garlic cloves

1 T fresh rocket (arugula), chopped

1/4 cup good extra virgin olive oil

2 T fresh lemon juice

salt and pepper

 

Put a little oil and 1 crushed garlic clove in a heavy pan. Heat gently and add the mussels and clams and a cup of water. Cover and cook briskly until the shellfish have opened. Discard any that fail to open, shell and place in a bowl. Filter the cooking liquid. Heat the cooking liquid and cook the shrimp for a few minutes. Shell and add to the other shellfish. Heat up the liquid again, adding more water if necessary, and cook the calamari, cut into thin rings and small pieces of tentacle. Mix the calamari with the other shellfish and dress with a finely-chopped garlic clove, rocket, lemon juice and oil. Season to taste. This salad should be served at room temperature and prepared about 3 hours in advance so that the flavors have time to blend. If possible do not store in the refrigerator.

 

March 2016 Newsletter

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My February was unexpectedly busy and started with a couple of sessions with seven delightful chefs from California. We started off with a visit to Volpetti and dinner at La Tavernaccia. The crispy, succulent maialino was a universal favourite and set the mood for a happy couple of days. We met early next morning for shopping in the Esquilino market and continued in Campo dei Fiori. It is depressing how many rubbishy stalls have taken over from the serious vendors, but we carefully steered past the vulgar aprons and obscene packets of pasta to buy fennel and truffle-flavoured salame from Viola and cheeses and prosciutto from Ruggiero.

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My favourite vegetable stalls did not disappoint us and laden down with bags of greenery we struggled on to buy thin pizza bianca from the Forno to enjoy later with our antipasto. In the early evening we cooked an array of dishes then sat to enjoy them with some crisp Pecorino and smooth Sicilian reds. The next day we drove to Ferentino to cook with the chef in Trattoria Consolare and for me the highlight was the boned leg of lamb, stuffed with artichokes, mint and potatoes.

The following week I flew to Budapest and enjoyed meeting up with new friends made during last October’s Gourmet Adventure. I plan to repeat it next year so I felt no guilt as I enjoyed long decadent meals and superb local wines. I also visited the lovely Szechenyi spa but for more hedonistic self-indulgence rather than a forlorn hope of repairing the damage.

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Some of my family joined me in Rome to celebrate my birthday. The weather was bright and sunny and everyone enjoyed leisurely strolls to re-visit favourite haunts. We enjoyed a great lunch at Cesare al Casaletto but even with very full tummies my grandsons went food shopping and returned to England with food parcels full of nostalgia.

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The new kitten, Iffy, is trying to make friends with arrogant, domineering Tasha who at 20 years old is not prepared to give an inch. We had finally persuaded her to acknowledge the new existence although the language got very colourful when Iffy did not respect Tasha’s boundaries. Then poor little Iffy felt the first rush of hormones and the situation deteriorated as she tried to make advances to the only available cat. Tasha, who was not amused. Now Iffy has been spayed and I am keeping them apart until she has made a complete recovery.

Next year I am going to rent a beautiful villa in Sicily for our new adventure. The villa will come complete with staff and a local cook to spoil us when we feel too lazy to drive to a restaurant. She will be on hand to show us local specialities and prepare delicious nibbles for our evening aperitivo. Most of the villas I have been exploring are on the sea with private pools so I will either do May or early October. Please let me know if you have a preference.

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I am getting ready for my March adventure when we will be staying in Bologna and Faenza. We will spend a morning in Modena learning about the real, traditional balsamico and visiting the Malpighi Acetaia. Then we will visit Parma, an elegant city which owes much of its charm to Napoleon’s Hapsburg wife, Marie Louise. When Napoleon was forced to abdicate the Great Powers made Marie Louise the Duchess of Parma. She founded the lovely, pale yellow Teatro Regio with Toscanini as her orchestral director. Today music lovers still come to enjoy superlative performances. The ex- Empress bought Paris fashions with her to exile and there is an amusing story of the local dress-makers feverishly copying the cast-off gowns Maria Luigia gave to her maids to satisfy the local ladies’ pretensions. The clothes shops still prove an attraction and we will window-shop as we sample gastronomic specialities.

In April we are off to Seville and Marrakech but more about that in the next newsletter.

October in Italy is magical and I usually take a group to Sicily to enjoy the sunny days and cooler nights. This year I wanted to return to Puglia, moving further south to explore Lecce and the Salento and again October seemed the ideal month. I planned a week’s break between the two adventures but in the end I decided to relax for a few days in a lovely old Masseria with spa in the countryside near Brindisi. The main Puglia adventure is 16-22 October (2750 euros) but some people will join me for three days from 13-16 to unwind, explore, and enjoy traditional dishes cooked with the Masseria’s own olive oil and produce.This is booked separately.

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 Greece is still on schedule for June and September and yesterday as the wind howled and the rain battered my poor hyacinths I snuggled down in my duvet and dreamed of idyllic days in the turquoise sea.

This month’s recipe

Italian lamb is small and a leg will usually feed two people. The leg needs to be boned, spread out and pounded flat. With larger lamb, outside Italy, it is probably preferable to use a lean fillet and make this version.

Lamb and artichokes

2 x 400 g loin lamb fillets

4 artichokes, cleaned and cut into segments

1 onion, chopped

Flour for dusting

1 T fresh mint leaves, lightly chopped

2 sprigs fresh mint

dry white wine

2 T extra virgin olive oil

salt and black pepper

4 potatoes, peeled and sliced (optional)

Heat a little oil and gently cook the onions and artichokes until soft. You will probably need to add a generous splash of white wine and cover the pan. Peel the potatoes then boil with a little salt and the sprigs of mint. When soft slice finely and add to the artichokes with a little more wine and mint. Allow the vegetables to become very soft. Cut the lamb into slices about 1.5 cms thick, season and dust with flour. Gently brown in a little oil, serve pink, surrounded by the artichokes and potato.

 

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