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

Counterfeit Porchetta

Last week my cousin came to stay with us, it was his first trip to Abruzzo and we tried to fit as much as we could into his 7 day stay. We enjoyed trips out, seafood by the sea and a day in Rome too. One of the pleasures was introducing him to the joy of aperitivi and it was during an early evening Aperol spritz that the aroma of Italian porchetta wafted across the street to the bar.

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  Parked across the road was a mobile porchetta van, I checked that it was the local one that supplies the best Italian pork in the region. Happily, it was the one I hoped for, so I wandered over and purchased a tray, stealing a slice before joining the others and returned to my drink.

  The aroma drove my cousin wild and we informed him that it was out of bounds until the following day when were planning a beach picnic. Not being thoroughly rotten I allowed him a small morsel for tasting, this however went from a polite gesture to torture, as he had to endure the 14 hour wait for the delicious meat inside the parcel.

I love porchetta, the blend of herbs and slow roasted pork with crunchy crackling is the best street food when simply served between two slices of bread.

So thinking back, I thought I’d share my recipe for what I call, counterfeit porchetta. It’s my take on the dish and suitable for both a snack or dinner with friends.

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For my recipe I start with the following herbs and spices, as shown opposite. Fresh rosemary, sage, thyme and mint. Dried chillies, fennel seeds and star anise and some fresh garlic cloves.

Take a mortar and pestle and add the fresh herbs into a the bowl with a tablespoon of sea salt. Using the pestle crush and grind the leaves and garlic*, then add the remaining spices and continue to grind them. add a little olive oil and continue until you get a rustic, but not too smooth paste.

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Take your piece of pork and place it into an ovenproof dish; I’m using a 1.25 kg piece of fillet here. Smear the paste all over the meat: the only way to do this is with your hands as you can massage it in to the pork. Add two tablespoons of water to the dish, return the pork and cover with foil and let it sit in the fridge for eight hours absorbing the flavours of your paste.

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    Italian butchers tend to cut most of the fat from fillets of meat, so this recipe won’t have crispy crackling like porchetta should have but it will have the flavours, hence my calling it counterfeit porchetta.

  Preheat the oven to 190 degrees and roast for 45 minutes.

 

When roasted, let it rest for 10 minutes before cutting into thick slices and serving with roast potatoes and vegetables or hot between two slices of crusty bread with a drizzle of olive oil.

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* There’s no need to peel the garlic as the paper coating will burn away during the roasting process.

Limoncello II

Back in 2014 I posted my (then) favourite recipe for making home made limoncello. As the years have passed I’ve been re-educated by an Italian lady who’s family know how to throw together a good lunch with them all cooking up a storm and providing fabulous food.

There’s a few subtle changes to the previous recipe but the most obvious difference is that this recipe takes just 7 days rather than the 40 days for the previous Teramo recipe I was given.

The ingredients are:

5 or 6 large Italian unwaxed lemons or 10 average sized supermarket ones

1 litre of alcohol 95% proof

750g granulated sugar

1.25 litres water

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If you use the small supermarket lemons you’ll need around 10, but the large pale lemons that they sell here are the best as they have more oil in the peel.

You’ll need a large container with a lid in which to make the limoncello and a knife or potato peeler. Once you have everything to hand it’s time to put it all together.

Take off the outer skin of the lemon; I find  using a potato peeler is most effective as you don’t get too much pith, as this will make the liquor bitter.

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You will only need the peel but there’s no need to waste the lemons, they’re still good for cooking or in a G&T or my top tip is juice them and freeze in trays for lemon ice cubes which are perfect on a hot day in your drink.

 

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Once you have all your lemons peeled, add the skins to your container and add the alcohol. Give it swirl around to make sure all the peel is in contact with the spirit, then screw on the lid and put it to one side for 7 days.

You’ll notice after an hour that the spirit has become pale yellow, this is the oil from the lemon peel being absorbed.

 

There’s no need to shake it or stir, but you will notice as the days pass the peel will lose all of its colour until 7 days later when it will be white.

After 7 days it’s time to make the sugar syrup, add just over a litre of cold water into a pan (I use around 1.25 litres), then pour in 750g of white granulated sugar and put a medium heat under it dissolve the sugar. Don’t be tempted to stir it as it’ll make the syrup stringy and will look unattractive in the bottle. When it’s all dissolved allow it to cool down completely. Do something else to take your mind off it, I’m writing this as mine cools and as usual the iPod is on shuffle and Happy People the classic track by jazz/funk combo Brass Construction has started to play.

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Once cooled drain the spirit, you notice that the lemon peel, now devoid of oil has turned white and is quite brittle.

Mix the sugar syrup and spirit and it’ll turn the more recognisable yellow colour that you’ll see in the shops. (I’ve only got coloured glass bottles so for the final image I’ve poured a little into a clear glass jar).

Decant into bottles and store in the fridge. I always keep a small bottle in the freezer to drink it completely chilled. Have fun making this and remember to drink responsibly. By responsibly I mean be sure to share it with friends.

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Italy’s Inept Officer

After yesterday’s mammoth Italian Easter feast we thought we couldn’t eat another thing for at least 48 hours, but an invite to drop by at friends for lunch had us pootling upwards to the mountain town of Roccascalegna. As we waited for other friends to arrive we sipped glasses of fizz in the sunshine, and I wondered how considering the temperature difference between us valley dwellers and the mountain men the annual flowers seemed to be at least a week or two ahead of ours.

We ate a fabulous traditional roast washed down with some wine, although I was driving so was on the water, until Graham opened an expensive bottle of Grappa that Kate had brought along; it would have been churlish not to sample it.

Post lunch we sauntered into town and perched ourselves on a table beside the castle for a brief glimpse of the birds taking part in the falconry display. We were about to get tickets to enter the castle for the medieval show, but when we saw there was a queue of people waiting for others to leave before they could go in, we assumed the audience was at its maximum.

So we sat at a bar in town and watched as a large coach navigated the narrow streets: It never ceases to amaze me how they get these huge coaches up these snake-like roads and how the drivers are able to turn them around in less space than I need to do a three point turn in a standard car.

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Because of the celebrations, the volume of traffic is immense for this little mountain town; people have come from the surrounding villages and the roads up to the town have become a temporary car park, with Fiat’s double parked on hairpin bends and Ape’s abandoned at odd angles.

AS the celebrations are winding down the coach has arrived to drop off revellers and pick up another load to transport down the mountain. Cars full of occupants are heading home, fifty per cent of the visitors are heading out of the town in the direction of Gessopalena with the remaining travelling towards Altino.

To prevent a bottleneck near the coach a policeman decides to direct traffic, he’s stopping the flow one way to allow the cars travelling in the opposite direction to pass through. This seems a simple solution, but no, as he stops one car another sneaks through, then three sidle over and skirt around the policeman. Very soon chaos ensues, horns honk and he’s struggling to bring some order to the gridlocked street; we on the other hand sit sipping our drinks and watch in amusement.

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Suddenly there’s a distraction and someone over by the coach falls over: Yes I know you shouldn’t laugh when folks fall in the street, but I can’t help it.

The policeman rushes over and we see that the man who has fallen has nothing damaged but his pride, suddenly with no one to direct them, the drivers sort themselves out and the traffic flows smoothly until there’s only a handful of cars left on the street. The policeman returns from the fallen man and scratches his head, wondering where all the cars have gone. We however laugh loudly at his ineptness and order another drink.