One Tree

Today my car is blocked in by a tractor and there’s an olive net across the road where three people are harvesting the olives from the tree that they own. The three people are friends of mine and they live up in the main town of Casoli and have driven down in their tractor to collect the olives from this solitary tree.

Tractor

I’m chatting with Maria, (the lady who used to own my house) as she rakes olives from the branches her husband has pruned out of the tree’s centre to open it up. I’m asking why they have travelled so far to come to just this one tree. “It’s been a good year for the olives so it’d be a waste not to harvest them,” she tells me. “How many trees do you have?” I ask and am then corrected; “Piante non alberi.” Italian’s don’t call olives trees, they’re plants.

Ladder

They tell me they have over 300 olives to harvest before the end of the month, as you should never collect them after November 30. Maria explains that when she sold me the house they didn’t sell the tree because she didn’t think I’d want it. I agree that I wouldn’t as I’m not interested in cultivating olives as there’s just far too much work involved. She explains how the family have about 50 olives further along the lane, 20 or so behind the hill and 5 further on up the hill. The main ones are the other side of Casoli where there’s two large groves. The collection is made up of plots of land that they have inherited through Italy’s complex inheritance laws and this particular tree was part of a share of the estate split between her husband and his relatives after an uncle passed away many years ago.

Olives

Last year was a bad year and most of the crop here was infected by the olive fly. Maria explains it’s because we had a humid spring and a cooler summer in 2016, whereas this year we had a long summer with many days over 30 degrees. It’s the heat that controls the fly population apparently. I leave them to carry on with their toil and as I’m leaving Maria calls to ask me if I’d like the wood they’ve pruned out for my log burner. I say thank you and walk down towards my house to look for my hand saw.

The price of olive oil has risen again this year, so when the crop is good like this one it makes sense to collect every available olive, even if you have to drive several km in a slow moving tractor to just one tree (plant).

Advertisements

Fusion Hot Pepper Sauce

Each year I grow hot Italian chillies and as I harvest them I sun-dry them in batches for use throughout the year. Once dried they store in an airtight jar for a year or so. Just make sure when you pick some out that your fingers are dry, a tiny drop of water in the jar will spoil them. As my chillies in the orto are almost ready to harvest I decide to use up some of last years to make way for the new crop.

I’ve also been growing some Jamaican Scotch Bonnets, the plant is in its second year and after a not so good season last year, I took advice and potted it up to restrict the roots and it’s bearing lots of bright orange fruits this year. So using these two varieties I thought I’d create a Caribbean-Italian fusion hot pepper sauce.

The ingredients I used are:

8 sundried cayenne chillies, 5 fresh Scotch bonnets, 5 garlic cloves, 230 ml white vinegar, 2 teaspoons malt vinegar, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp sugar,  2 tsp red wine and a tsp of tomato puree.

DSCF9284

First boil a kettle and soak the dried chillies to rehydrate them. While they’re soaking trim the stalks off the Scotch bonnets and peel the garlic.

DSCF9288

Once the chillies are rehydrated take their stalks off and add everything into a blender and blitz until smooth. NB: The tomato puree is used purely to add colour to the sauce as the orange Scotch Bonnets have very little colour.

DSCF9290

Transfer to a pan and simmer the liquid until reduced by a third. OPEN A WINDOW and don’t stand over the steam and breathe it in as it’ll cause you to cough and can irritate the eyes.

Remove from the heat and using a jam funnel decant it hot into a sterilised jar and seal.

DSCF9295

The consistency of this sauce should be loose, very similar to Tabasco rather than a gloopy sauce. If you don’t want seeds in the sauce then it’s okay to sieve it. Like similar sauces the salt and the vinegar are excellent preserving agents so should keep in a dark cupboard for around 3 months and in a refrigerator for 6 months.

DSCF9300

So how was the taste test? It was hot but the sugar took away the harshness. I think it’s ideal for adding into stews, soups and sauces and good for drizzling over pasta dishes. I may even try a little on a pizza turning Margherita in la Diavoletta.

Zuppa di Zucchine e Parmigiano

OH NO!!! Not another courgette recipe.

I was in the orto this morning and the harvest included some ripe tomatoes, several cucumbers and another load of courgettes. So after sending friends messages on Facebook asking them to collect a cucumber and courgette when passing to save them going to waste, I decided to make something else for the freezer for the winter months.

I had given an Italian friend of mine my recipe for courgette and mint soup and she told me she often makes zuppa di zucchine e parmigiano. (courgette and parmesan soup). So I recalled the ingredients she told me she used and thought I’d have a bash at it.

The ingredients are:

1 kg courgette, 1 small onion, bunch of fresh basil, 2 litres of water, 200 ml cooking cream, 50g grated parmesan, 200 ml chicken stock, salt and pepper to season.

DSCF9264

Add the chicken stock to the water; I use it straight from the freezer. Vegetable stock can be used if you are a vegetarian/vegan, and bring it to the boil, Meanwhile, chop the courgette and fry it with the onion and basil until it starts to soften but not brown, then add to the pot of water and simmer until the pieces of courgette are soft.

DSCF9271

Once the courgette is soft remove from the heat and let it cool down. Once cool blend until the soup is smooth and transfer back into the pot.

DSCF9276

Add the cream and parmesan and stir as you reheat it slowly. Pour into bowls and eat straight away and enjoy. I expected it to be a much more robust flavour but it’s actually a very light soup, ideal for summer lunches.

DSCF9279

As this is the first time I’ve made this soup I’m guessing it’ll keep for a week in the refrigerator and if frozen last for 2-3 months.

This Basil wasn’t Fawlty

Last year at this time of the year we were suffering a heat wave, so much so that the orto struggled. My tomatoes were burnt off by blazing sun, the cucumber ran to seed and everything suffered apart from the pumpkins. This year is a much different story, the weather has been kinder, we’ve had oodles of early summer rain and things are flourishing.

DSCF8724

I’ve already picked several courgettes and cucumbers and my tomatoes are putting on some good growth, so there’ll be plenty of passata made this year. Confidence in the harvest can be seen everywhere. Piero at our local restaurant has a sign up advertising his tomatoes for sale; Well he does have over 3,000 plants.

DSCF8723

Once again my pumpkins have got off to a good start with them taking over the orto like something from a 1950’s B movie, they’ve swamped the butternut squash, but I think that’ll do it some good as it doesn’t like it too hot. I’m pleased that I took advice to dig up my Scotch Bonnets and put them in a pot. They’ve over wintered really well and now have lots of small fiery chillies coming. The French beans are doing their thing in a small bed and I’ve a handful of cabbages growing merrily away.

DSCF8721

The thing I’ve been really pleased with is the Italian basil. Over the past few years I’ve tried all sorts of basil and it either takes forever to germinate and grows into spindly little plants or just sits beneath the surface refusing to pop up. I had purple basil a couple of years ago and it was disappointing, as was many other varieties. But this year I bought a packet of Italian basil seeds and hey presto they were poking out of the soil in days and so far I’ve already cropped 4 bags full and am storing it in the freezer.

DSCF8727

I’ll be cropping again today, cutting it back quite harshly, but there’s no need to worry as it’ll send out side shoots and very soon there’ll be more basil for caprese salads and chopping up and adding to passata. Because of the risk of botulism I don’t make infused basil oil and store it in the cupboard, what I do is make it fresh, by heating basil leaves in oil and then letting it go cold and using it that day.

DSCF8733

Freezing is a good way to store basil, chop and wash then pat dry and freeze in a plastic bag, a day or so later crush the contents in the bag and you have flaked basil ready to add frozen to sauces later in the year. Maybe I’ll have a go at turning the next cropping into basil jelly.

DSCF8732

As a extra note having had 2 messages from non UK people thinking I’d spelt ‘Faulty’ incorrect. Fawlty was a UK named hotel owner in a British TV comedy series played by John Cleese.

Earth Wind and Fire

Monday: I’ve been working on getting my orto (vegetable garden) sorted out, following the lands many years as a wilderness. With the eventual sorting out by, Seppe of the carnage that the previous builder and his digger driving friend Toto left behind I now have a fenced off little patch to grow my veggies in. It’s about an fifth of the size of my old allotment back in the UK, but as I wont need to have greenhouses in Italy, I’m sure I can cope with less space. That said I will have a much longer growing season, and also have to adapt to what will and will not grow over here.

I have a small portion of wall dividing my orto from the land owned by my neighbour, so my first job has been to set up a walled-bed and a path, in this bed I shall start they year off with my broad (fava) beans and they’re already getting off to a good start; three sowings have taken place, five weeks apart for, hopefully  a nice amount of beans during the harvesting season. Also beans add a good deal of nitrogen to the soil so they’ll be helping to condition the earth for the following year.

100_8539

 

I planted a dozen garlic around the raised salad bed I built a few weeks ago and they’ve now pushed through and are growing well, taking advantage of the early sun we’ve been having.  My orto is south-west facing and after the sunrise gets the early morning sunshine and as that golden orb moves across the sky it gets the heat in the afternoon but none of the direct  sunlight, which will be ideal for water conservation and tomatoes and chillies that can split in direct sunlight.

100_8534

Tuesday: I had meant to go and cut some canes from the bamboo that’s growing down from the orto today, but I think mother nature is having ‘that, time of the month. The month being February. The wind is whipping the bamboo and the dry canes sound like witchdoctors rattling bones as they curse the elements. February is a windy month here, some say its the sirocco; which I know they get across the Po plains up north. I’m not sure we get it so far down here, but as I don’t know I couldn’t say for sure. What I can say is they’re jolly blustery and I fear for the roof tiles. I’ve just spent an half hour collecting plant pots, dog toys and various other items that have been picked up by the wind and deposited elsewhere.

Wednesday: Today the wind has dropped, so as Time Bomb by Jamie Tracy plays on the iPod, I start to build a fire on the land at the side of the house. I love a good fire, as my friends on Facebook can verify as there’s always a photo of me with some bonfire throughout the year. My neighbour Domenico has pruned the two olive trees he owns next to my house and has stacked the trimmings neatly. I asked if he wanted them and he said no, so I thought I’d tidy up and burn them. Now I have never burned olive before, but as others around are burning their pruned branches I know the green wood burns… Oh boy does it burn, it goes up like someone has thrown petrol onto the flames. What is normally a gentle campfire becomes an inferno with the addition of olive wood. The smoke is noxious. black, choking stuff which surprises me, you’d expect it to smell nice like pine does when it burns. I guess the tree’s natural oils must be like throwing cooking oil onto a fire.

100_8471-horz

O.H. hands me a glass of fizz and the iPod shuffles and Toni Basil starts to sing, Time After Time as the latest addition of wood crackles, and sparks dance like malevolent imps in the evening air.

Olives

David Sylvian’s distinctive voice fills the kitchen as, Japan play Deviation, and I wait for the kettle to boil. Suddenly the morning is punctuated with the sounds of people calling to each other over the rattle of ancient tractors and the hiss of pneumatic tools. Our neighbours have come to harvest their olives. Two days ago with strimmers buzzing they trimmed the land beneath the Olive trees. (The Italians call olives, plants not trees). Now the trimmed land is covered with nets and people start to collect the precious bounty.

100_7927-crop

Three years ago I helped a friend harvest her olives, it was a cool November day and with olive combs we stripped the fruit from the trees. It was back-breaking work making sure every little green, purple or black olive made it into the sacks. My neighbour’s harvest is on a much bigger scale and is so far removed from the Bertolli TV advert where the people are picking olives by hand, one by one and smiling as the summer sun beats down. They have a noisy machine powered by an equally noisy petrol generator that they clamp to the tree and it literally shakes the olives from the branches. After the tree has been vigorously shaken, a human combs off any remaining olives and stamps around the base to tread-in any soil that’s been disturbed by the shaking machine.

In a week or two we’ll be helping with the harvest up at The Olive House so we’re hoping we’ll get a donation of the oil once it’s been pressed. The Olive House has many more trees than my neighbour so I envisage we’ll collect more sacks than we did back in 2010.

100_46474

Giornata dei Donativi

We’ve just had our October festa here in Casoli and an enjoyable three days it was too. On the first evening we enjoyed a stroll around town taking in the lights that festooned the streets before settling down for a few drinks at the borgo. There was a music system set up in the corner and a young man sang a mix traditional and modern songs and the piazza outside the post office became an open-air dance floor, as previously mentioned in https://intheflatfieldidogetbored.wordpress.com/2013/10/15/dancing-in-the-street/.

 100_7611

The second day is Giornata dei Donativi, (day of donations) the traditional parade to celebrate the Feasts of S.Reparata and S.Gilberto. Tractors have been cleaned and flat-back lorries are bedecked with decorations and to give thanks for the harvest, people attired in traditional dress march through the streets handing out samples of oil, porchetta, mortadella and wine. Music plays and small children squeal with delight as the whole town lines the main street to watch. The evening is taken up with a rock band playing in the piazza while fairground rides entertain the teenagers.

100_7649

The third evening again has musical entertainment as a singer/impressionist entertains the crowds as he takes off popular Italian singers, as he changes costumes various other artistes entertain before we slope off to the borgo again, I toast the end of the festa with a grappa before making the steep climb up to Christine and Bill’s house on Via Gianino, for chicken curry and to watch the end of festa fireworks from their fabulous roof terrace.

Here’s the link to my video of the three days edited down to ten-minutes: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=10151647308362187&l=7102226553622154958