Pollo Cacciatore (Hunter’s Chicken)

November in Abruzzo can be confusing weather-wise. For example during the day it can be warm enough to eat outside: Three days ago the temperature was 20 degrees and I sat outside eating lobster at lunchtime. However when the evening comes the temperature drops and with no cloud cover it can be quite cold, so lunch is often light fare with evening dinner being warming dishes.

Yesterday my OH said “You’ve not made pollo cacciatore for a while, so I decided that, that would be this evening’s dinner. Now every Italian nonna has her version of this popular dish, and looking online many recipes vary with there being no definitive one. So I thought I’d share mine.

Ingredients: 6 chicken thighs, 200 ml stock, 2 onions, 4 garlic cloves, 25 g anchovies, 750 ml passata* 50g of sofritto** 150g pitted green olives 40 cl red wine and seasoning.

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First add the wine to a dish and add to this 1 tsp cinnamon, 1 tsp garlic salt, 1 tsp black pepper and a sprig of rosemary. Add the chicken to the marinade and leave in the fridge for a couple of hours.

Next chop the onions and sauté in olive oil, add a pinch of salt to draw out the moisture; I find the salt stops the onions browning too quickly. When translucent add the garlic and sofritto and fry for a couple of minutes then add the stock. I use chicken stock, but a vegetable one is good. Add to this the passata and a good pinch of herbs of your choice; I add fresh rosemary from the lane and dried oregano. Bring to the boil them simmer for 10 minutes then set aside to cool.

After 2 of 3 hours remove the chicken from the marinade and dry it off and coat in flour. Add a splash of olive oil to a pan and fry the anchovies until they break up: these add natural saltiness but no fish flavour. Fry your chicken for a few minutes on both sides to seal it and add to the pot of cacciatore sauce. Add the remaining wine and the olives and reheat on the hob to start reducing the liquid. Let it simmer until you see one defined line of sauce on the edge of the dish. You can then set it aside until you’re ready to finish the cooking.

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It seems quite labour intensive, but as they say, if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well. The pot is finally put in the oven at 180 degrees (fan) for 45 minutes, remove the lid for the last 15 minutes of cooking and serve with vegetables of your choice. Tonight we’re having it with polenta to create that ultimate comfort food.

* I use my own home made passata but shop bought is okay.

** Sofritto in Italy is finely chopped onion, celery and carrot, I buy it frozen.

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City of Secrets

Home or away, summer or winter, nothing beats a good book and I’m currently reading the latest book; City of Secrets by Misha Herwin. It’s a book in which you can lose yourself and become immersed in a tale where dragons and gargoyles gossip. I asked Misha, the author of the Dragonfire trilogy and Clear Gold to tell me more about her new book…

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First and foremost, thank you Barry for hosting me on your blog and giving me the opportunity to talk about my new book “City of Secrets”.

“City of Secrets” is a fantasy adventure aimed at the 8-12 market, but I think that anyone who reads Harry Potter or Philip Pullman will enjoy the book. Like the Oxford of “His Dark Materials” is a place of plots and dark magic, where dragons and gargoyles gather on the rooftops at night to gossip and exchange news.

Making a living in such a city is not easy, but Letty Parker is a resourceful girl who has learned to tread her way carefully through areas ruled by rival gangs and to avoid the Barbary eels who lurk in shadowy corners. Her business, selling pies, is going well − until the street children, who are her friends and customers, start to go missing.

Letty is determined to find out what has happened to them and when the authorities prove less than helpful, for no one about children who are poor, she gets together with her friends, Jebediah Hill, the leader of a gang of pickpockets, and the mysterious Gabriel and they hatch a plan…

This is the first of the “Adventures of Letty Parker” and I’ve had great fun writing it. Bristol is a city I know well and love. I was brought up there and have used some of my favourite places, like The Christmas Steps, in the story. Transferring streets and terraces that really exist to my fantasy world is something I enjoy as I can build on what I know yet make it darker and scarier with a touch of sinister magic.

What I like about Letty Parker is her courage and independence. She might be scared, but she’ll do it anyway and not let any so called authority stand in her way. She comes from a line of great role models, Pippi Longstocking, Anne of Green Gables, the Chalet School Girls, Katniss Everdeen and Captain Nancy of “Swallows and Amazons” to name but a few.

We need more of these girls out there. Girls who are prepared to stand up for themselves, say what they think, yet at the same time have a keen sense of what is right and wrong and a fierce loyalty to their friends. This, I hope is the essence of the “Adventure of Letty Parker” series.

And it is not all about the girls. Letty’s friends: Jeb, his side-kick, Mango and Gabriel, her half-human, half-Nephilim guardian, play their parts.

They are all characters that simply could not be ignored. My first view of Letty is at sunset on the wharf at the Bristol docks. “A dark tangle of masts and rigging was etched against the sky and the setting sun stained the water red.” A faint breeze lifts the hair at the back of her neck…

From that moment she was fully formed. The plot came next and needed refining and working on. Next came a great deal of editing and then, finally, Letty Parker was ready to go out into the world.

If you want to know more about her adventures then “City of Secrets” is available on order at bookshops, in paperback and e book at the following places, click the links below.

Barnes and Noble                                Amazon                                           Booktopia e-book

You can find Misha’s Blog here           For information about Penkhull Press click here

Supermarket Sit-Com

Honestly some days you couldn’t dream it up. If what happened today was put to paper for a TV script no one would believe it.

I’m standing in a queue at the supermarket checkout, there’s three people in front of me and the cashier runs out of change. So he leaves the till to fetch some from the office and the man in front of me shouts out, “Hurry up my friend’s outside waiting for me.” The cashier shoots him a glance but doesn’t respond. Upon his return he gives the lady waiting her change and starts to scan the next customer’s shopping.

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The action is paused again as the apples won’t scan, so the lady offers to fetch some more. She leaves the queue and goes to the fruit section and the man in front of me says, “Where’s she going? I’ll be late.” She returns with a new box of apples and they scan perfectly. The cashier leaves the till to put them aside to be returned later. “Where are you going now?” The man in front says, “I’ve already told you my friend is waiting for me outside.” The apples lady goes to pay with her card and puts in the wrong pin number. This causes more annoyance to the man in front of me and again he’s vocal, making sure everyone in the vicinity knows he’ll be late.

His turn comes and his shopping is scanned, the cashier asks for payment when the man suddenly leaves the queue to go back into the store as he’s forgotten to get ice cream.

Oh the irony.

The rest of us in the line start to snigger. He returns with his ice cream and as it’s scanned he remembers something else he’s forgotten. More sniggering takes place from the now bemused customers behind me. He returns with his forgotten item and as it’s scanned he goes to the exit door and waves to his friend who is pointing to his watch.

The man goes outside to briefly speak with his friend and the automatic doors close behind him. He then waves at the cashier asking him to open the doors. By now the cashier is laughing too and so waves to the man indicating that he must come in through the entrance and walk through the store again.

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The man is not a happy man when he arrives at the checkout again and he literally throws his payment at the man behind the counter, who with a devilish glint in his eyes says, “Wait here please while I go and fetch some more change from the office.” I glance over and can see that he ample coinage in the till, needless to say the man in front, tells him to keep the change and stomps off.

Olive Hiatus

It’s 07:00 on Sunday morning and I’m woken by the sound of tractors in the lane, raised voices in the olive groves and the hiss of portable generators. The olive harvest has started.

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Last year was a very good year with the bars filled with local farmers boasting about their yield and the excellent quality. Sadly it’s very different this year as many are telling me the amount of olives on the trees is low. With so few to collect every fruit is precious, I look from my kitchen window and Nicola is double-checking there’s no gaps in the nets laid beneath his tree before the olives are raked from its branches.

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Sunday is a good day to harvest, it’s warm and dry and the family continue on with their toil until mid-afternoon. Monday arrives and with it rain. Not gentle rain but heavy, leaden drops and it continues all day and into the night.

Tuesday we are welcomed to sunshine again, however the rain has forced many of the olives from their branches and the lane is strewn with them, they lie on the tarmac, many with their precious oil crushed from them by passing vehicles. Nicola tells we need two or three days of good weather as the ground needs to dry out before he can continue to harvest his crop. With so few to pick he’s hoping we don’t have any more rainy days until his olives are safely at the frantoio..

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We Abruzzese Don’t… (2)

Following on from my previous blog post Gli Abruzzese Non…I visited several butcher shops this week in search of meat that’s not readily available. Readily available meat here includes chicken, pork, rabbit and even horse; but my quest was for petto d’anatra (duck breast) in fact I’d even settle for a whole bird as it’s been such a long time since I’ve eaten any.

The first shop keeper told “l’anatra non viene mangiata, solo le uova.” meaning duck isn’t eaten here only the eggs are. The next butcher shook his head and said something similar, so I decided to try my local butcher who has been quite accommodating to my requests previously.

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“Do you sell duck?” I asked.

“Eggs?” came the reply.

“No, duck meat, breast or a whole bird?”

This was followed by the similar response of the earlier butchers. So I gave up and was just about to leave the shop when I turned back and asked if they could get me some pigeon.

Behind the counter she looked horrified, “Piccione?” she questioned, “Piccione?” the second time several semi-tones higher. “The Italian’s don’t eat pigeon.”

To which I replied “The English do.” She exhaled loudly, shook her head incredulously and retired into the back room of the shop, leaving me to exit her shop in silence.

Gli Abruzzese Non…

Living in another country will always mean your diet changes and that there’s some food from your country of origin that you’ll miss. Most of us have that certain something that we wish we could readily buy, but mostly we adapt and just get on with it. My two must haves are black pudding which I have posted to me vac-packed and it’s quickly opened, cut up and frozen and HP sauce: I get through a bottle a month. I can buy it here but it’s pricey at  €4.99 a bottle. I consider myself lucky that friends often bring me a couple of bottles when they fly over. This week Richard and Annie dropped by to deliver me 3 bottles, which are very much appreciated.

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It’s not just certain products that are lacking but the cuts of meat here in Italy are different to the British ones and it took a long time to get used to what I was buying and for which purpose. But there’s one thing you cannot get here and that’s kidneys. I’ve always liked a bit of offal. I was that weird kid in school that liked liver, I’m quite partial to a braised beef heart, sweetbreads are a treat, but my favourite has always been kidney – in a steak and kidney pie it was my preference to have a 60/40 mix in favour of the kidney.

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So yesterday while at the macelleria (butcher’s shop) I decided as I’ve never seen them available I’d ask for some. The look of shock on his face was priceless, this was followed by head shaking and a sharp intake of breath before he responded with, “The Abruzzese don’t eat kidneys, we leave that to the dirty Romans.”

Next week I’ll try to get a duck and see what his response will be.

Lost in Translation

Before moving to Italy I used to enjoy spotting signs that were either spelt incorrectly or were unintentionally humorous. Here in Italy it’s much harder to find them as Italian is my second language and I’m still not fluent enough to spot any errors, so I have to rely mostly on finding translated mistakes. Here’s three pieces of text that have amused me recently.

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I like for this drink that the Italian instructions for use, instruct you store in the fridge and use within 2/3 days, however the English translation says, ‘consume within some days’. So nothing specific there then.

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The second is a photograph of the local Chinese restaurant menu. It’s not the misspelling of prawns or sauce that made me smile, it was the ‘chilly’ sauce. This simple oxymoron of a hot chilli sauce that’s advertised as being in need of a sweater to keep it warm made me smile.

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This final one appealed to my immature side and toilet humour, (no pun intended). It’s from a recent supermarket receipt and makes the two bottles of beer I’ve purchased less appealing. You could say the birra was a bit of a bum deal.

I Fiori

After an hour pricking out sweet William seedlings and winter flowering pansies ready to take over from the summer bedding, I was thinking that this year’s display of flowers has been the best yet since moving to Abruzzo.

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Previous years have seen me pay more attention to the orto and raising vegetables, however this year apart from a few tomato and chilli plants and I’ve not bothered with veg growing and concentrated more on flowers.

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The sunflowers have been stunning and are definitely on the list for next year’s display.

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Choosing what to grow can be a case of suck it and see, things that do well in the UK can be horticultural disasters here in the heat of an Italian summer and I’ve had some failures. Sweet peas start off well but once the temperature climbs they fail to do the same, cornflowers get off to a good start but here the flowers seem to be somewhat smaller than in England.

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My greatest achievement is my hosta box, I love hostas and despite them preferring damp shady spots mine do well here. They only get full sun after 2:30 pm and take lots of looking after which means watering twice a day and a daily ritual of picking snails off the planter to stop the leaves becoming perforated by the greedy molluscs: This year we had only three holes in just two leaves.

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I’ve decided to add some flower beds in the rear garden and have already started to collect seeds in readiness for next year’s display, that I hope will be more dramatic than this year’s has been.

Sagra

Throughout the summer months, posters adorn Italian walls with the word, ‘sagra’ clearly taking prominent position in the advertising, so what does this word mean?

The literal translation is, festival, but the definition of sagra is a local fair and celebration connected with food and local produce; for example on the 24th and 25th of August this year, the local town of Altino hosted its annual, ‘sagra del peperone dolce’, (festival of the sweet pepper). During the celebration the streets are filled with people dressed in medieval costume and Tables are set out to serve different dishes that must include peppers and chillies within the recipe. The dishes vary, so one stall may have a pot of pasta ribbons coated in a piquant sauce and the next one may have a chilli flavoured cheesecake. Once the eating of pepper infused dishes is over the evening culminates in a musical extravaganza.

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The village of Brecciaio, oddly calls their festa, Non é la sagra, (It’s not the festival) with the tag line, ‘but we eat, we drink and we dance’ and the longest local sagra must be the one hosted by the town of Pennapiedamonte, where their cinghiale (wild boar) festa goes on for 27 days.

Attending a sagra is the perfect way to immerse yourself in Italian country life, add to this the opportunity to sample local cuisine as you sit at long communal tables to eat with the local population and you get a real feel for how Italian’s come together to celebrate.

Finding out about a sagra is very straightforward as most of the posters follow a similar format, the main heading will tell you where the festival is held and the date; these are mostly in bold typeface and large enough to read from a passing vehicle. Once you’ve found one that interests you, the poster will give you the start time, destination and other events that will be staged.

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You don’t have to be a local to attend and most towns welcome outsiders and tourists to their celebrations, the lines of parked cars stretching out of the town will indicate that you have arrived at the right place, and those who arrive early are usually the last to leave due to the sheer volume of traffic attending. In fact some sagre (the plural of sagra) are so popular that the towns have a coach service to ferry people in and out of town to keep the streets clear for dancing.

Sagre take place throughout the year, with most taking place during the summer months. So next time you’re holiday in Italy, keep a keen eye on the local posters and find a local sagra, and for one evening become an honorary Italian and enjoy all the town’s hospitality has to offer.

Adapted from my article written for Italy Magazine, April 2014

Property Restoration Rules

Clients often ask me about the rules regarding property restoration, citing that there’s so much conflicting information in the public domain. Often they’ll turn to people on forums who moved to Abruzzo many years ago and although well-meaning; things change and these people may not have the up to date information.

One important thing to say is that the law changed back in April, (22nd to be exact), meaning it’s no longer necessary to obtain permission as long as the restoration you do to your property has no impact on the environment. For example building extensions or another storey will have an impact on the surroundings and will therefore require permission. 

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Below are the main works as listed in the ‘Infrastructure decree’ which you do not need to seek permission from the comune before undertaking:

Ordinary maintenance works:
• Installing, but also repairing or replacing, railing, security grilles or grates.
• Replacing external and internal flooring,
• Resurfacing internal and external plasterwork,
• Renovating gutters and downpipes.
• Changing doors, windows, stairways
• Installing an air-to-air heat pump, provided that it has a heat output of less than 12 kW. These appliances offer also a “green” alternative for air-conditioning houses as they use renewable energy such as air to heat or cool rooms.
• Installing (but also repairing or upgrading) lifts, but only inside buildings and provided that this doesn’t involve altering supporting structures.

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Works to create a comfortable living space outside your door:
• Installing barbecues, tool sheds, fountains, planters and benches, kennels for dogs and cats.
• Installing gazebos and pergolas within certain size limits and when not permanently fixed to the ground
• Create a garden play area for children
• Installing partition walls in the garden as long as they are not masonry walls

Home renewable energy systems:
• Installing, replacing or renovating solar and photovoltaic panels, wind turbines generators or parts of them

Architectonic barriers:
You can remove architectonic barriers, such as stairways and lifts, if they don’t alter the existing structure of the property.

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The only other advice I’d add is, if you’re unsure then ask. A trip to the comune only takes a short time and could put your mind at rest. Also feel free to copy and print out the above infrastructure decree to take with you just in case the person behind the desk has not been aware of the changes.

Buon lavoro.