Al Fresco Dining

One of the best things about living in a country with a temperate climate in early autumn, is the ability to still eat al fresco. In summer eating outside can be plagued with all manner of problems, flies, mosquitos and ants to name a few, but in autumn when the dreaded mozzies have faded away outdoor eating is a pleasure. A few weeks back when we finally had our cooker fitted we had friends around for a traditional (English) Sunday roast dinner. The weather was good, and as we sat tucking into roast potatoes and chicken it was hard to believe we were in the tenth month of 2013.


A couple of weeks later I decided to invite a few people over for an afternoon of al fesco dining, and as my mate: partner in crime so may say, was over from the UK it seemed a good idea. I checked the weather forecast and it all seemed okay, until a week before the proposed date, when the forecast was for thunderstorms and torrential rain. “Oh well,” I said the the OH, “Looks like we’ll have al fresco, inside. If we have the door open we can call it in fresco.” My attempt at humour instigated just a reedy snigger from OH and a roll of the eyes.


So al fresco day was upon us, I spent the previous afternoon prepping, and the morning; with my OCD in overdrive making canapes and antipasti. The mini porchetta were in the oven as was the Sicilian lemon chicken and the Abruzzi green torte was cooling. All this kitchen activity is of course accompanied by the shuffle of the iPod, and as I take the riccotta torte from the fridge the excellent new single, Loud Like Love by Placebo is replaced by Bauhaus’s, Kick in the Eye B-side, Satori. The rain has been continuous all morning and as the final dishes are finished people begin to arrive, then as the last of my guests park their car, the rain stops and the sun peeks out from behind a grey cloud. It’s still a little chilly but everyone gathers together, half of us are standing on the patio outside the front door while the rest are just inside the kitchen.

The weather may not have been perfect for out gathering, but as the last of the guests leave we give ourselves a self-congratulatory pat on the back, and vow next time to do any group gatherings in the summer, and to hell with the mosquitos.



For F’s Sake

It’s all about the letter F today. Everything that has given me pleasure or annoyed me has began with this letter.

Foraging. There’s nothing finer than an early morning walk with the dog. At 06.30, I took Alf out for his morning constitutional up the olive grove, The morning was almost silent, the occasional birds’ call filtered through the branches of the gnarled ancient trees and Alf  peed in the same spot he always pees in. He’s getting better at walking beside me without his lead on, he will still bolt sometimes and I have to wait for him to realise he’s too far away and come running back, tongue like an unrolled carpet flopping out of his mouth. Today we play zombies, a game he likes best, he runs back and forth to and from me as I pretend to be a zombie and try to catch him, when I do catch him I have to pretend to eat his brains. (How pleased am I that there’s no one around whenever we play this game. Just how the Italians would interpret a fifty-one year old man, arms outstretched, groaning and walking rigidly as a dog jumps and runs at him doesn’t bear thinking about.) After a few minutes of our game we begin the walk back, foraging as we go. I pick a couple of ripe black figs and we share them as I pick some wild marjoram and collect a handful of fallen walnuts.

Frank Chickens.The first song of the day to shuffle as the kettle boils is We are Ninja by Frank Chickens, a Japanese duo that had a couple of hit singles back in 1982. I check my email and have a quick look at who’s doing what on Facebook before continuing with my research for a couple of magazine features on Italian cooking. The iPod is still playing and another Frank Chickens song plays, this time it’s Cheeba Cheeba Chimpira.

We are Ninja


Figs. Yesterday a friend dropped off some figs from his garden and we had them roasted, stuffed with Gorgonzola and wrapped in Prosciutto di San Danielle; in my opinion much nicer than Parma ham. There’s a few left and they seem to just appear in my hand before disappearing inside my mouth. It’s been a good year for produce, I’ve not purchased any tomatoes for weeks, having grown my own. We had a plentiful supply of courgettes and chillies and three large pumpkins on the solitary plant I popped down at the side of the house. I’ll be clearing a patch of land in the autumn to get ready for next years planting of the orto.

Flies. This week there’s been more flies than normal, as the kitchen cupboards were being fitted the room seemed to buzz with them. The bathroom has also seemed to attract them, every time I go inside there’s two or three flitting from surface to surface. I’m constantly spraying the air with fly killer and the dogs are trying to catch them as they bother them too. Sitting outside is a nightmare at the moment as there’s so many of the things. Occasionally a dreadful smell wafts up from down the bottom, where a stretch of unkempt land lies, and we begin to wonder if there’s some rotting carrion down there; it would certainly account for the plague of bluebottles.

Food. For part of my research, I’m reading Italian Food by Elizabeth David, published in 1952, it’s a seminal work that paved the way for other writers’ of foreign cuisine. Lunchtime comes around and as I’m focussed on antipasti, I decide a plate of such will be nice. I think if you’re going to prepare antipasti it’s best to use good quality ingredients and take the time to prepare it. I start off making a cucumber, caper and tuna salad flavoured with lemon juice and olive oil; unfiltered extra virgin of course. The second salad is simple, just finely chop three average sized tomatoes, season with white pepper and a pinch of salt, crush one raw garlic clove into the tomatoes and slosh on some olive oil. These salads are served with some Prosciutto di San Danielle, some chicken and spinach roll, another fig, olives, cippoline and a wedge of Gorgonzola and a dollop of fresh ricotta seasoned with black pepper and anchovies. As I tuck in, I think of another thing beginning with f that would go well with my lunch, focaccia.


Funkadelic. As I wash up the lunch things, the iPod shuffles and Funkadelic play their ridiculously long-winded ten minute and forty-four second track, with an equally long-winded name, Promentalshitbackwashpsychosis Enema Squad (The Doodoo Chasers).  Dishes washed, I return to my research, life in Italy is far from dull.