Grazie, Nadiya Hussain

I’ve said it many times before and I’ll say it again, Italy has some great food. I love the fact that there’s a wealth of great eateries and restaurants around here. I love the fact that it’s mostly seasonal and that our supermarkets haven’t succumbed to the need for all fruit and veg to be uniform. I love Italian food and always have, be it pasta, polenta or pizza but I also like other cuisine. I was introduced to Japanese food by a friend and love it now, I’ve travelled and eaten authentic Indonesian and Malaysian food. I like Thai cuisine and the occasional Chinese meal. But the one thing I miss living in Italy is a good curry.

I went to school with a friend who’s family hailed from Bangladesh so experienced their food and culture, his mother taught me how to make ruti (chapati) and often fed us as hungry teens on homemade pakora or sweet malpua. Living in England there was no need to make a curry at home as there’s a plethora of good takeaways and restaurants, and anyway homemade curry always tastes like homemade. That was until I saw Nadiya Hussain make her 30 minute bhuna on TV and it’s the only one I’ve made that tastes like it was cooked for me not by me. If that makes any sense?

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For Nadiya’s recipe Click here

The only difference to Nadiya’s recipe is, I use red peppers rather than green as I’m not keen on the taste of green peppers, also it gives the sauce a more reddish colour. The recipe makes enough sauce for 4-6 people so when I make it I store half in the freezer, for those days when the desire for curry strikes.

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And strike it did this week, so out of the freezer came a bag of sauce and once defrosted the spices were cooked and chicken was added to create an authentic dinner. This sauce works well with lamb, goat and also veal. I cooked some rice the same way I’ve always cooked it, the way an Afghan friend showed me.

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Many people struggle with rice so I’ll share his method with you as it never fails. Add cold water to the rice to just cover it and bring to the boil, let it boil for 3 minutes then cover the pan and turn off the heat and let it stand for 10 minutes and the rice will perfect as it’ll absorb all the water.

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I added some flat leaf parsley to butter and garlic salt and smeared it onto some Italian flatbread and wrapped it in foil and popped it into the oven for a few minutes as I served up Nadiya’s bhuna and rice and once it was all assembled on my plate I sat down and devoured it with gusto.

So I’m taking this opportunity to say Grazie, Nadiya Hussain for sharing your recipe, now I’ll always be able to have a taste of Bangladesh here in Italy.

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Sunny Saturday Stroll

It’s 29 October and the sun is shining, there’s not even a whisper of a breeze. I’m in the town of Bomba; pronounced Bom-ba and not as I heard one Englishman once call it Bomber. So what can I do on such a lovely morning but take a stroll through the town.

The town of Bomba dates back to 1115 AD with documented proof being housed in the local council offices. It’s a small town, just 18 km2 (7 sq mi) and enjoys an elevated position over the river Sangro valley meaning from almost every part of the town you can enjoy amazing panoramic views .

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The town is divided by a main street, at the top end it is called Via Roma, and my stroll starts here. I stop and look down over the tiled roofs of houses that have a view of the lake, it’s around 11.20 and the streets are already filled with people going about their daily business. Looking down I watch as a small Piaggio: a 3-wheel Ape (a-pay) chugs up the winding hill with several crates of freshly picked olives. I turn and walk as slowly as the ginger cat that’s taking it’s time to cross the road. Local people wish me good morning as they pass me; some possibly wondering who the stranger with a camera is. I stop and pass the time of day with a man who has arrived in a small reddish-orange pick-up filled with wood.

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He’s unloading the wood and stacking it neatly inside his cantina, he tells me he’s done this every year since he was a small boy over 70 years ago helping his father replenish the family’s wood pile. I tell him my own wood pile is growing in preparation for the winter ahead and we both agree that there’s nothing better than the smell of a wood fire on a crisp winter’s evening.

I continue along Via Roma past the water fountain where locals buy their sparkling or still spring water for just 5 cents a litre – just bring your own bottle. I see a lady I’ve met previously and we pass the time of day, she comments on my lack of a jacket and I tell her the temperature this morning is quite similar to an English morning in May, to which she responds with, “Those poor English people having to live in the cold.”

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Via Roma changes to become Cso S. Spaventa and it’s flanked on both sides by tall buildings. Three storey houses and apartments keep this portion of the street in shade and there’s a sudden dip in temperature out of the sun. Entrances with steep steps lead to front doors and it again it amazes me how the aging Italian population take all of these steps in their stride. (no pun intended).

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To my right are streets with sharp inclines that make their way upwards away from the corso while on my left narrow streets become entwined with vici (alleys) in the historic part of town; here in this labyrinthine part of town small dogs bark at strangers who pass by and disturb their sunbathing.

 

One of the town’s churches sits in an elevated position and the road leading up to it is as slender as a wasps waist, yet still cars have managed to make their way up here; some with their wing mirrors pulled in so as not to damage them in these narrowest of streets.

 

I’m again amazed at the skill of these people to navigate these streets and their parking may look like a nightmare for some, but I’m certain there’s some pecking order / unwritten parking system here.

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I continue my walk, stopping occasionally to admire wood piles that are constructed with great precision, one house has what looks like an unused door to its cantina and here are stacked olive branches, each one cut to the same length so as to fit into the space exactly.

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My journey brings me along an alleyway where a scooter stands outside a house with an open front door where the aroma of cooking spills out infusing the air with a the rich tang of tomato sauce and basil. This scene is as Italian as it can get and again reminds me how the Italian way of life is so close to its perceived stereotype.

The alley opens up to the main piazza and here is an image of Italian life as it has been for centuries. Men fill the benches and sit around gossiping while the women see to the chores. One woman hands her husband a couple of euro to buy his coffee with as she steps inside the baker’s to buy their daily bread. There’s no expectation of change here, it’s not a misogynistic society, it’s just the traditional way of life here in central Italy that remains unchanged.

In truth if you asked most of the women if they’d like their menfolk to help with the daily shopping and cooking, you get a resounding, no. “Why let the men make a mess of things,” one lady once told me, “The wife would have to clear up her husband’s mistakes while making sure not to hurt his feelings.”

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I turn back towards Via Roma and make my way back to my friend’s house where again the aroma of cooking is carried upon the air, however this kitchen smell is very alien to this ancient town, as it’s chicken curry. I look across as a neighbour uses an electric winch to lift her shopping from the street up two storeys to her apartment and think to myself what a perfect way to spend a sunny Saturday morning.

Asia in Italy

Last week here in middle Italy there’s been somewhat of an Asian influence.

First I spent a day making some spicy chapattis. As around these parts it can get difficult to find wholemeal flour let alone authentic chapatti flour, I make mine with a mix of Italian tipo oo and semolina flour. I first tossed some black mustard, coriander and cumin seeds along with a couple of chillies into a dry pan and heated them until the spices began to dance in the pan and perfume the kitchen air. I then ground them and added them to my flour mix before making the chapatti in the traditional way, even if they are often not perfectly circular.

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The following day I received an email telling me that a local bar was staging an evening of Indian food. Locally there’s been several of these events and despite people’s negativity they have proven quite popular with the younger population.

I open my fridge on this particular day and realise I have still got an aubergine that I haven’t used yet, so in keeping with the Indian theme I chop an onion and several garlic cloves and make a couple of jars of Brindjal chutney, which is a perfect snack accompaniment to a warm spicy chapatti.

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The Asian theme continues on throughout the week with my making a hot Thai green curry, obviously there’s a few ingredients that you can’t find in rural Italy, but with a can of coconut milk from inside the kitchen cupboard, some pureed ginger, a couple of cubes of frozen spinach and my imagination it all came together splendidly.

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The following morning, with the kitchen clinging to the Asian aromas still, I turned on the iPod and the first song to shuffle was, Crazy Kiya Re from the Bollywood movie Dhoom2.

This week it’s felt like Abruzzo has been twinned with Delhi and heve we felt the better for this?… You bet we do.