Etna Sauce

Yesterday I made three jars of what I lovingly call Etna Sauce. It’s a chilli sauce that’s sweet like Thai chilli sauce but as hot as the lava from Mount Etna. Because it’s so hot I only make it in small batches because not many people like the intense heat – I do.

I posted an image on Instagram and Facebook and Alexandra asked me for the recipe, so here it is:

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Ingredients: 400 ml white wine vinegar. 650 g white granulated sugar. 60 g dried chillies. 150 g red pepper (de-seeded) 120 g fresh red chilli (de-seeded) I use the small hot red chillies rather than the larger sweeter ones. I also think it’s the addition of the dried chilli that gives the sauce it’s intense heat, but if you can handle it do feel free to add an extra 10g of them. (If you can’t get fresh chilli use 160 g of dried ones).

Put the vinegar and sugar into a large saucepan over a medium heat and let the sugar dissolve. Meanwhile add the chillies to a blender/processor and blitz until fine. Once the sugar has dissolved add the chilli and pepper mixture to the saucepan and bring to the boil. Let the liquid boil for 12 minutes then turn it off and take off the heat and let it stand for 25 minutes.

Sterilise your jars in hot water and let them air dry before filling with the sauce.

The sauce has a consistency between jam and sauce and can be spread on cheese sandwiches, bacon or sausages and goes great if warmed in a pan to make it more liquid and added to chicken or ribs.

For my apple and chilli jam click here NB: most people who’ve tried this say it’s a tad hot so reduce the chilli down to 150g.

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Plans And Plants

I love this time of year, there’s so much to look forward to, sunshine, days at the beach and a riot of colour in the garden. Being in Italy means I can start off my seed sowing earlier than if I was in the UK, but first I like to be organised and have a plan: some would say it’s OCD, but whatever, it works for me.

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The best time is when I have sorted the seeds and decided what I’ll be growing and at the end of January out of storage comes the electric propagator. Seeds trays are washed and disinfected and two trays of compost are popped in to warm overnight.

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Not everything works here in Italy though, some plants just don’t thrive in the summer heat, but it’s fun trying different ones. Despite being native to Sicily, Sweet Peas have failed every year for me and this year is my last attempt, so I started them off in November so they’ll be bigger and stronger when they go outside: I have some outside already in a pot which I can bring in if we get a forecast of snow.

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Space is limited in the propagator and with marble windowsills that can be too cold for seeds once they’ve been removed. I had to come up with a way to keep the seeds insulated. So I started to save polystyrene food trays and I drop the young seedling into these to keep them warmer. I’ve found it works really well and promotes good root growth.

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I also enjoy the preparation that seed sowing and gardening brings, above is one of my sunflower trays. I scrounged the polystyrene trays from the local butcher and the growing pods are toilet rolls cut in half. This system keeps the roots contained and can be planted direct into the ground once the plants are large enough. It helps when you’re planning on sowing 70+ sunflowers.

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Finally, the joy of pricking out. Above is a tray of 15 Coreopsis, I only want six plants for the garden so this means there’ll be nine left over to donate to friends. I’ll no doubt during the summer be sharing photographs of the garden with my readers here. Until then, happy gardening everyone.

Power Of Attorney Explained

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So you’ve decided to go ahead and buy a holiday home in Italy but it’s not possible for you get over to sign the contracts at the final act. What can you do?

Set up a power of Attorney to give another person the chance to close the deal for you. Sounds simple and I’m often asked how this is achieved. So here’s a post to answer questions about using a PoA to buy or sell a property in Italy.

What is a power of attorney?
A Power of Attorney is a written permission given by you ‘the donor’ to a third party known as ‘the attorney’ which legally authorises the attorney to carry out certain acts on your behalf.
Most people grant the Power of Attorney to their legal representative, but it need not be a lawyer, you can give the power to a friend, your agent or a relative; the only stipulation in Italy is that the person acting upon your behalf must be an Italian resident.

Is it risky?
As you are essentially giving someone the legal right to act on your behalf it does involve an element of risk. It is vital that whoever you instruct to act upon your behalf is reliable and reputable as you are ultimately responsible for all acts that your attorney does on your behalf  as if you had done these yourself, (provided they are within the scope of the Power of Attorney). In the case of signing the documents for your property purchase the risk is low as you are in effect only giving them the power to sign the final act in your absence and nothing more.

How do you arrange a Power of Attorney?
You can set this up after your viewing trip before you leave Italy. Your overseas lawyer will prepare a bilingual Power of Attorney document, this must then be signed by you in the presence of a notary here in Italy.

If the power is signed in the UK it will need to be signed in the presence of an appropriate notary. A quick call to the Italian consulate should tell you where the nearest notary is to you. (Remember to take your passport and other documents of identification). After the document has been signed in the UK you’ll need it to be legalised with a Hague Convention Apostille by the Legalisation Department of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in order to be valid for use in Italy.

How much does it cost?
English notary charges are between £100 and £150 per document, but do check the fees in advance and shop around you may get a better price from another notary. The fee for the apostille is currently £30 per document if paid for online and slightly more if paid by another method.

Stock: The Cook’s Best Friend

I’ve just put two tubs of homemade chicken stock inside the freezer as it’s the best thing to have in the kitchen. It’s great for risotto, polenta and soups and much nicer than the powdered stocks with chemicals and added salt. It’s simple to make and currently in my freezer there’s beef stock, chicken stock and roast duck stock. It’s so simple to make, it’s literally just the bones, bits of leftover meat and the meat juices added to a pan of water, bring to the boil and simmer for about 40 minutes. Strain through a sieve, let it cool and freeze it – job done.

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One thing I’ve learned is homemade stock is good for is gravy. Here in Italy no one makes gravy, occasionally a red wine jus but for us Northern English people, gravy is the ambrosia of the gods.

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I’ve been on the earth for numerous years now and in this last month I’m been proud to say I have learned the art of making good gravy. This is all down to the acclaimed chef Paul Ainsworth. I’ve attempted gravy in the past and it’s always been a horrid brown mess, but Mr Ainsworth was on the TV in December showing how to make the perfect Christmas gravy. I took his advice and since then there’s been no stopping me.

Last evening we had roast chicken, with red cabbage and potatoes and my chicken/garlic gravy. To make the gravy I used: 1 pot of chicken stock from the freezer about 450 ml, some frozen sofritto ( cubed onion, carrot and celery) 4 garlic cloves the meat juices from the roasted chicken and a splash of white wine.

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Add all the ingredients into a saucepan and simmer for 10 minutes, I take the wings off the bird and add them into the pan too. Season with white pepper and let it simmer for a further 5 minutes then pass through a sieve. Add the liquid back into the pan and add a spoonful of flour to thicken it, stir until there’s no lumps and that’s it, all done, chicken and  garlic gravy.

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The next day I just add the bones and left-over meat to water; after picking a few titbits off for the dogs and simmered, sieved and stored in two trays until it’s needed next time.

Dawn Chaos

Not sure if this merits a blog post or it’s just a rant to appease myself.

I like to sleep with the bedroom window open: There’s something pleasing about being warm under the winter duvet with a crisp breeze dancing across the face as you sleep. Normally I wake up to the dawn chorus however today was dawn chaos.

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I was woken by wild boar crashing about in the land below, with their young squealing, this in turn startled many birds who cried out in anger at also having their sleep disturbed. This then became a cacophony of shrieks and whistles with one particular bird screeching like a demented loon.

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By now I’m properly awake as the boar have now reached the farm down the lane and their four dogs are barking adding their noise to the morning din. So all that’s left is for me to get up, let our two dogs out and let them add to the orchestra of animal voices.

It’s Snow Good

One thing the Italians excel at in comparison to their British counterparts is excellent snow management. Back in the UK when there’s a hint of impending snowfall the local council will get out the gritters and coat the roads in a mix of salt, sand and grit in an attempt to keep the roads clear and traffic moving.

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Here in Italy the council take a more pragmatic approach to snow. They let it fall then get out the snow ploughs and move it, thus clearing the roads and keeping the traffic flowing. Add to this no grit to cause corrosion to your car and you’re winning on all fronts.

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Here they clear all the roads that the school bus will travel on first, then they come to clear even the lanes where only a handful of residents live, like myself.

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So it’s thumbs up to the Italians and their super snow management.

Coffee First

It’s a Saturday morning and I’ve agreed to meet someone so they can show me their property for sale. We meet at the agreed point and I ask where the house is, to be told, “Coffee first then we work.” My contact gently places his hand in the small of my back gently steers me towards the nearest bar. We enter into the hub-bub of conversation and the hiss of coffee machines. He approaches the counter then turns to me to ask my preference. ‘’Caffè.” is my response. He looks at me quizzically and to make sure he gets the order correct asks, “Italian coffee, not a cappuccino?” (I guess the local population are used to the Brits wanting their coffee with milk.) “Senza zucchero.” I tell him, he smiles but looks at me suspiciously, I can read his mind – ‘Does this English man really want a thimbleful of strong black coffee without sugar?’

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Italian bars are very different to the American style coffee shops where people languish over a huge mug of coffee, the Italian bar is busy in the morning with people on their way to work, they drop in and order a coffee and stand at the counter and drink it quickly and leave making space for the next person.

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The barista places our coffees down on the counter and we’re mindful of the people waiting behind us to be served. The creamy surface of the coffee is stirred before it’s swallowed in one gulp followed by the water provided to cleanse the palate.

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NB: Italian’s never order an espresso, it’s always Caffè. You can read more about Italian coffee culture in this article I wrote a few years back by clicking the link Coffee Culture

Pallotte Cace E Ove

Pallotte cace e ove sometimes called pallotte cacio e uova are an Abruzzese traditional food coming from leaner times, now referred to as, cucina povera. I’ve eaten these many times at many different places but until today I never tried to make my own. So with the rain making the day a dull one what can be better than something warm and comforting.

For this recipe which makes 16 good sized pallotte (balls) the ingredients are:

4 eggs. 100g parmesan cheese. 250g pecorino cheese.* 2 slices of bread. 1 teaspoon of garlic powder, salt, pepper and a small bunch of parsley.

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The bread should be at least 2 or 3 days old, soak it in a little water for a few seconds and squeeze it dry and crumble it into the eggs, add the cheese, chopped parsley, garlic powder (or a fresh clove finely chopped), season with a little salt and pepper and mix together. It’s best to do this with your hands, if the mixture feels too crumbly add some more bread. Once well mixed portion out into 16 evenly sized balls.

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You can then choose to shallow fry or deep fry, I chose to deep fry in batches of 4 until golden coloured, this takes about 5 minutes each batch. You don’t need to cook them all the way through as they will be cooked again in the tomato sauce. Take care as they will stick so you need to keep them moving in the oil. I chose soya oil as this has virtually no flavour.

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These cheese and egg balls are very filling so I’d recommend three per person as a starter, so you can freeze any extra to use at a later date. Now it’s time to think about the sauce, I make my own passata and you’ll find the method here: Sauce for the Year If you’re not inclined to make your own tomato sauce then a good quality shop bought one will suffice.

For our lunch today I put 600 ml of sauce into a saucepan, added 2 whole garlic cloves, salt, pepper and a sprinkle of dried oregano and finally a teaspoon of English mustard. I brought the sauce to the boil then turned down the heat to let it simmer for 10 minutes: You’ll see it start to thicken. Add to this the pallotte cace e ove and let them cook in the sauce for a further 10 ti 15 minutes until the balls are cooked in the middle.

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Serve and enjoy. * Any sheep or hard cheese will do, don’t stress about not being able to find an Abruzzese pecorino, after all this is cucina povera so any leftover cheese will suffice even a mature cheddar. Remember it’s all about the flavour, maybe I’ll try making them with a blue cheese next.

What a Great Find

I’m always happy to discover something new, and walking around Lanciano yesterday I stumbled upon a new gem, a find that made me very happy. It was nearing lunchtime and I spotted a new shop that sold a variety of handmade piade,(piade is the plural of piada).

A piada or piadina is a thin Italian flatbread that is often filled with cheese, slices of meat and even that ubiquitous children’s favourite, Nutella. Situated at the bottom of Corso Roma, just down from the church of San Francesco that houses the Eucharist Miracle is Massi Piada a new shop that enticed us inside out of curiosity.

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With 56 variations to choose from on their menu we stood for more than a few minutes deciding what to have. Eventually we decided on one called Tartufata and a crescone, (stuffed piada) called a Torinese.

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After we’d ordered we waited as the piade were made by hand and the fillings were cooked to order. The open kitchen means you can see your food being prepared and the high standards of hygiene. There are tables in the shop if you fancy eating in but we choose to take away our hot filled piade when we were handed them presented well in a paper sleeve, meaning there’s been some thought put into the waste and the environment.

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The tartufata was filled with melted fontina cheese and mushrooms flavoured with truffle cream and my stuffed flatbread was filled with soft warm potato flavoured with Gorgonzola cheese and slices of pancetta. We sat on  a bench near the cathedral and devoured our lunch with relish. The day had turned cold and the warm potato, cheese and bacon filled bread was welcome and warming.

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The menu is extensive and to help non-Italian speakers there’s a printed one to take away that is in both Italian and English. I know now with the exception of the sweet recipes I’ll not stop visiting until I’ve tried most of the remaining 50 savoury ones.

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The tagline on their menu reads, ‘Vieni a provare la mia piada. Semplice, buona e fatta a mano’ meaning, come and try my piada, simple, good and handmade; although it was a simple take away lunch it was flavourful and made with care. We were more than happy with with our lunch and I’d say to anyone passing through Lanciano to pop in and give your custom to Massi Piada, you won’t be disappointed.

Massi Piada. Corso Roma 10, Lanciano.

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.