Gnocchetti con Zucca e Gorgonzola

Last week at our favourite restaurant we were served a dish we’d never tried before;  gnocchi with a pumpkin and Gogonzola sauce, so for lunch today I thought I’d have a bash at making it myself.

The ingredients were: 200 ml cooking cream, 200g gnocchetti (small gnocchi), 100g Gorgonzola and 150g of frozen pumpkin.

The pumpkin was from my orto last year literally chopped into cubes and frozen, I defrosted it in a pan over a low heat and it just dissolved into a fine puree. I guess if using fresh you’d need to roast or boil it then puree it. To the pumpkin I added the cream and stirred it until it turned a lovely peach colour.

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I set a pan of water on the hob to boil for the gnocchetti and added the Gorgonzola to the cream and let if slowly melt over a low heat before adding a little black pepper.

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Once the gnocchetti were cooked, takes about 2 minutes I added them to the creamy sauce and ate this quick and easy lunch with relish.

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It’s quite rich but a nice change when you fancy something different with your lunchtime glass of frizzante.

Funghi Ripieni

I had a handful of mushrooms sitting doing nothing in my fridge so I thought I’d share with you my recipe for funghi ripieni.

I first fell in love with these delicious bite size treats many years ago. They were a very popular starter on the menu at Roberto’s Pizza House, in Hanley, Stoke on Trent. I never got the recipe for them so here’s my own take on the little stuffed mushrooms.

The ingredients are simply, mushrooms, parsley, garlic, breadcrumbs and dry vermouth.

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Remove the stalks from the mushrooms and retain half of them, (pop the others into the freezer for adding into soups and stews). Finely chop the stalks with 2 or 3 garlic gloves and fry in a little olive oil.

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Add to this breadcrumbs and fresh chopped parsley, then add a good splosh of dry vermouth and keep on the heat for a couple of minutes until the breadcrumbs have browned a little.

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When the mixture has cooled use it to fill the mushroom caps. Don’t over-fill them as they’ll shrink during cooking. Pop them into an ovenproof dish with a drizzle of olive oil and bake for 10 minutes at 180 degrees.

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This may seem to be a lot of effort for a bite size nibble, but believe me they’re well worth it and only really take a few minutes to prepare. I serve them as a canapé with a buffet or 10 of them make a good sized starter for a dinner party.

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Polyglot Lane

I always expect to be speaking two languages when I’m in the office dealing with my Italian colleagues and speaking with our English clients, but not very often is it a requirement of dog walking.

Today I’m taking our youngest dog, Alf Alf for his walk and the first person I see in the lane is the English builder working on my neighbour’s house, I stop and we pass the time of day. I continue on down the lane when driving towards me is my friend Nicola and we have a quick chat in Italian.

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The weather’s good so we walk further down the lane than usual and I spot a couple from a nearby village who have a holiday home here and we converse with a few English pleasantries before my friend Giuseppina calls to me. She only speaks dialect and we manage a short cobbled together conversation before it’s time to turn around and walk Alf Alf back home.

I’m sure moments like this are quite common for anyone living in another country where the language is different from their own.

And it’s moments like this that make living abroad special.

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.

Loose Women and Feta Cheese

I arrived home from a morning in the office where I was split between my Italian colleagues and my English clients. Three and a half hours of swapping business style and language can really be quite taxing. The English way is calmer and quieter whereas the Italian style, albeit laid back has lots of physical gestures and elevated vocal intonation. So after the 20 minute drive home, I kick off my shoes and decide to have a chilled out lunch.

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Being Britalian can often crop up unexpectedly as it did today. I hate food waste and there was a pot of sauce surplus to requirements from a cauliflower cheese we had a week ago, so I retrieved it from the freezer before leaving for work and it was now defrosted. I put some pasta on to cook and added the cheese sauce to some chopped speck, creating a British-Italian fusion. I open the fridge and notice the Greek feta that’s sitting there and so I crumble some into the sauce and let it just start to melt before adding it to the pasta.

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So with a bowl of hot cheesy pasta in my hands I switch on the television and eat. A UK programme plays. Loose Women; a show where four celebrity women chat about a range of topics from gun crime to weak bladders is the background hum as half molten feta adds lovely salty pockets of flavour to the dish and my brain takes a back seat as I eat my Italian-English-Greek fusion lunch.

Zucchine Sott’aceto

At this time of the year courgettes (zucchine) are in great abundance, I’ve already used some from my orto to make spiced Indian chutney and have a few cubed and stored in the freezer for use later in the year. Two of my favourite things to make with courgettes is courgette and mint soup which is delicious hot or cold and zucchine sott’aceto, which translates as courgettes under vinegar.

I was given this recipe by a lady from Naples and it’s so versatile, it can be served as a condiment, as a side vegetable, (goes really well with griddled pork) or as a part of an antipasti platter and it’s great in a cheese sandwich.

It’s so easy to make and has just three ingredients: 1 medium sized courgette, 6 garlic cloves and white wine vinegar.

First slice the courgette into thin strips, if you have a mandolin this will be easy but if not use a sharp knife and don’t worry if they are not uniform, you’ll be eating them not entering them in a beauty competition.

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Splash them with just a drizzle of olive oil, then rub the oil into the slices.

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Heat a dry griddle pan and once hot add the sliced courgettes but don’t crowd them as the water content needs to evaporate and if there’s too many in the pan they’ll steam.

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Once they’ve been charred on both sides add them to a bowl and add a pinch of coarse sea salt.

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Chop the garlic cloves and add to the bowl then cover with just enough vinegar to touch the top layer, then set aside in a refrigerator. After a couple of hours turn them over so the top layer is now in the bottom of the bowl, this means all the slices will absorb the same amount of vinegar.

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This is best made the day before you’re going to use it as it lets the flavours develop. It keeps for up to a week in the fridge, but I’ve found at parties and barbecues it tends to only last a matter of minutes before my guests have devoured it all.

Are You One of the 25% (part two)

As promised here’s part two of the six things that I think people should consider before moving abroad to live. The first part can be found Here. The first part focussed on language learning, not making assumptions and not using the move as a form of escape.

Do bear in mind these are only six of possibly many more things that need to be considered, but with these two blog posts I’ve tried to address some often overlooked things to think about before making that move. So without further ado, here’s my final three things that I think you must think carefully about before you pack up your possessions and drive off towards a new life in foreign parts.

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Downsize: Before you pack away every last thing that you own it’s a good idea to think about what you have and what you are likely to need/use in your new home. If you’re moving into an apartment then sell the lawn mower and other garden related things that are superfluous. Believe me I know someone who moved to a new apartment that had a communal garden tended to by the condominium and he paid to ship his gardening tools to Spain only to have to get rid of them once he was there. Books and DVD’s are heavy and can take up valuable space when paying for shipping. If you really can’t live without your film collection then invest in a disc holder and get rid of the plastic cases that will take up room and ship mostly air in the long run. Books are precious to some people and if that’s you, then take only those that you know you will read again or can’t bear to part with, books that will move from a shelf in one country to sit in boxes in an attic in another is a waste of money.

Think about furnishings, are they suitable for the climate you’re moving to? I shipped two large leather sofas only to discover that leather is horrid to sit on in the Italian summer. If you are packing up and discover towels that have seen better days and rugs that you can read a newspaper through, bin them. And while you’re packing up the kitchen, with every utensil you pick up, ask yourself when you last used it, if the answer is a year or so ago then put it into the charity shop pile.

Go through you’re wardrobe and donate all of those clothes that you’ll never wear abroad. If you’re going to be in rural France on a self-sufficiency drive then get shot of the dinner suits and evening dresses, the pigs and chickens won’t care what you wear. Before moving to Italy I sold all but eight of my 79 pairs of shoes, and since moving here I’ve worn only two pairs of the saved ones.

It makes perfect sense to downsize and pay to ship, only what you will need and use. Don’t fall into the trap of buying things to take that you assume you’ll not be able to get in your newly adopted country; unless of course you’re moving to the central plains of Mongolia, and then will you find anywhere to plug in your newly acquired wireless iPod docking station?

Remember, what you don’t take can be sold to go towards your shipping expenses or go to help others either in a charity shop or at a furniture/household charity bank.

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Dispel Belief: We’ve all watched movies like, Under the Tuscan Sun and watched TV shows like, A Year in Provence, that’s cool and I say watch and enjoy, but don’t believe a word of it. There’s nothing more sure to get our wanderlust rising than a well shot film with gorgeous vistas and a bevvy of beautiful people to temp us into falling in love with them. Even if you are partial to conversations with the kitchen wall, chances are you’ll not find yourself, like Shirley Valentine did. The reality is very different. Instead of falling in love with a hunk from Positano and riding on the back of his Vespa with your hands around his toned midriff, you more than likely find yourself on a cramped bus that smells of diesel next to an old contadino with armpits riper than his watermelons. In short if you think your move will be like a film plot or the narrative from a Spanish best seller then don’t move as you’ll be sorely disappointed.

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Don’t Rush: Think carefully about what time of year you’ll be moving, an Italian summer can be oppressive and not best suited to lugging furniture out of a van. Italian winter’s although relatively short can be cold so it’s best not to be moving into a house with no means of heating if there’s a chance there’ll be a metre of snow overnight. Think about the property you’ll be moving too carefully and plan to move at a time best suited to your needs. Also check dates; will it be a bank holiday or is there a festa in town? Nothing will spoil the move if the shops are closed and you can’t get milk for your tea or the streets are shut off for dancing so you can’t pass with your possessions. If you’re planning moving to Italy remember most of the country shuts down in August and never: I repeat. Never plan to move during Ferragosto (August 15) always leave a couple of days either side as the whole country, (including me) will be celebrating.

Once you’ve moved into your new home there’s another, don’t rush, that applies. Don’t rush into remodelling the house, if you can live in it, then do just that. Live in it and you’ll discover on a daily basis what works for you and what doesn’t. Obviously this doesn’t apply to major restorations. However if you can live on a building site it can be very helpful. I moved into my house the day after we evicted the rats and lived in one room as we did the planned work, this enabled us to make changes as we discovered what was right for us and the end result was very different from the original plan.

Also don’t rush into making friends with every person that speaks your language. It’s beneficial to have friends that share your native tongue and understand where you’re culturally coming from. But back in your native country you’ll have been selective, so don’t stop just because you’re an ex-pat. There’s nothing worse than having lunch with a table full of ex-pats that back in your birth country you’d have avoided in a heartbeat. Friendships will come and the best ones take a little time, but are best waiting for.

Are You One of the 25%? (part one)

According to industry figures, various random polls and statistics, 38% of people dream of buying a property abroad and in that figure 25% dream of starting a new life in another country.

The top four EU countries for relocating to are, Spain, France, Italy and Portugal. Spain is still the largest draw with the largest portion of the market; however compared to the other countries Spain gets more retirees followed by Portugal, while France and Italy have the highest portion of people looking to build a new life.

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Now there’s nothing wrong with wanting to build a new life, I’ve done it myself, so I know a little about the ups and downs and the highs and lows of it. Thankfully for me and mine the transition has been a case of more soaring highs than plummeting lows.

Due to my work I have daily conversations with people looking to find their dream property and I’m happy to give advice when people ask for it, but there’s always those few who remain blinkered by those rose-tinted glasses. Now I don’t say this to sound judgemental and rude as most people do throughout the process of viewing and buying realise that the dream and reality can often be polar cousins. So after a long conversation today with a lady wanting to relocate with her family to set up a business I thought I’d give my six top tips for anyone in that aforementioned 25%.

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Language. It seems a simple concept that if you plan to move to a country that speaks a different language that anyone wanting to relocate would learn the mother tongue. Sadly this isn’t always the case and some people move and never learn the language. This has in my opinion two major flaws, the first is that without even the basic skills you miss out on so much of what being in an Italian community is all about. The other is that without language you can feel very isolated. Now I’m not saying that everyone should be fluent and leave their place of birth with a doctorate in linguistics, but just a good basic knowledge is a good starting block and will help make the transition from outsider to insider easier.

Assumptions. Many people make assumptions without doing research. The amount of times I’ve heard someone say, “I’m going to move out and then get myself a little job.” With Europe in what seems to be endless economic difficulties, the chance of getting that ‘little job’ seems less of a prospect once you have moved to your new country. As already mentioned without the language even a job serving behind a bar would be problematic. Maybe working in an English/English speaking bar in Spain could be more achievable but a local bar in rural Italy where the patrons speak dialect would be nigh on impossible.

Never make the assumption that life will be easier, life will be better and life will be more sedate. In reality, initially your life becomes harder; days are filled with language and cultural lessons and as I always say it’s not a better life, it’s a different life.

While we talk about people making assumptions, here’s one I hear all the time: “I want an olive grove where I’ll farm it and sell the oil to live on.” And as the River City People said with their first single back in 1989, What’s Wrong with Dreaming? The answer is nothing is wrong with dreaming as long as you’re in possession of the facts. It’s costly to farm olives commercially, the set up fees alone can be prohibitive and then there’s years of experience and knowledge to acquire before the realisation of the amount of physical work required. People often cite a well know UK couple that created an adopt-a-tree business and turned over €100,000 in their first year. After a short period they sold the business to an Italian company and returned to the UK saying that the hard work destroyed the dream. People often say they can sell their oil locally, my response is, “Who to?” Everyone local has litres of their own oil from their own trees.

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Escaping. Sometimes people will say to me that they’re escaping their old self to find the new person inside. Sadly just because you move to another country you don’t get given a new personality at the border. If you’re a person that wakes with the first chirrup of birdsong and leaps out of bed to embrace the day with vigour, then why would this change. Equally if you prefer your own company and there’s nothing finer than plodding around town mumbling to yourself then to be brutally honest no amount of, la dolce vita or joie de vivre will change this. You are what you are. Okay some of what we do and who we are is dictated to by our surroundings, but most of us remain the same, despite our new hobbies and interests in another land.

If you’re using the move to escape something physical like a relationship or other troubles, then think hard. These things will still remain where you left them and therefore will never be resolved. I’m not qualified to dole out advice in these cases, but surely to attempt to resolve issues before you move on can only be a good thing and is one less piece of baggage to carry overseas.

Moving abroad can be a blind stride into the unknown but with a little knowledge and lot of preparation it needn’t be a step into the dark.

Part 2 coming soon.

Eating Your Greens

One thing about living abroad means you get to eat things that you didn’t have available in your native country. I was making lunch today and made a variation on an Italian classic called orecchiette con broccoli, pasta with a broccoli sauce. Orecchiette originates from Apulia (Puglia) and takes its name from the Italian word for ear, orecchio  with orecchiette meaning, little ear, hence its shape; although to me it always looks like eyeballs staring up at me through a sauce.

Since I’ve moved here I’ve noticed my eating habits have changed and I now eat more fish than I previously did and have developed a real liking for calamari and a local restaurant nearby serves a fantastic octopus carpaccio.

Someone once said to me that Italian food was quite basic, that it’s all pizza and pasta, I think that’s an unkind remark; okay most of it isn’t as sophisticated as some of the French cuisine, but Italian food is steeped in history. The nation’s diet comes from two movements, povere cucina (poor food) and la cucina stagionale (the seasonal kitchen). So my point is that although it may not appear as refined as the French cuisine, it takes great skill to create a simple sauce that explodes with the taste of summer as you eat it, and you take your life in your hands in Bologna if you dare to infer that bolognaise sauce is simple to make and contains tomato.

A few days ago my good friend Jan Edwards and I were talking about food and she commented that in Italy at least it’s all, good food. I agree, the food is good  because of  the the care that is taken in the preparation and the fact that most of it is seasonal produce. It’s this that has led to the abundance of new vegetables that I’ve tried and liked since moving here.

There’s two noticeable differences between the English and the Italians. The English boil pasta until it’s soft enough to use as glue, while the Italian’s prefer it al dente. The English like their vegetables al dente while the Italians will boil the life out of them and mostly serve them lukewarm.

Some of the new vegetables that are now included in my diet are, bietola an Italian variety of chard, cicoria a bitter descendant of the humble dandelion and a plant with its roots; pardon the pun, in ancient Rome. But my favourite new green vegetable is cimi di rape which in the US is often referred to as turnip tops as it’s closely related to both turnips and broccoli. This leafy veg has a slightly bitter taste and was perfect for my lunchtime variation on a classic, when I made calamarata con rape e Gorgonzola.

To make this delicious dish is simple and you can use any pasta that you like, I used calamarata, which is often served with calamari and other seafood as it was the only fresh pasta I had at the time. So here’s the recipe:

200 ml of panna di cucina (cooking cream). 100 g of crumbled Gorgonzola. a good handful of cimi di rape. 300 g of pasta. A pinch of black pepper. Serves 2

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First chop and wilt the rape in boiling water and set aside. Add the pasta to boiling water and when almost cooked, pour the cream into a large frying pan and add a pinch of black pepper. When the cream is heated through, add the wilted rape and Gorgonzola and stir together until the cheese is incorporated into the cream.

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Drain your pasta and add it to the sauce and let it stand on the heat for a minute or two. (Always add pasta to sauce, never sauce to pasta – that’s the Italian way).

Serve in deep bowls and enjoy. I think the bitterness of the rape and the saltiness of the Gorgonzola work well together.

Give it a try, I’m sure you like this quick and easy lunch.

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Everyone knows that the Italians are an expressive race of people who talk loudly whilst waving their hands about furiously. This isn’t a stereotype it’s true.

Now I’m also working in an Italian office I get to see documents and I noticed that there’s quite a prolific uses of exclamation marks, especially in English translations.

Seems like the Italian people write as they speak, expressive and waving their hands wildly in print form.