Fusion. Not Confusion.

Another food post I’m afraid.

This week I was wondering what to make for lunch and a quick look in the fridge revealed a cauliflower, chicken thighs and some caciocavallo cheese: Caciocavallo meaning ‘cheese on horseback’ is a sheep or cow’s milk cheese that is good for melting. I’m not keen on it melted on toast, I still prefer a mature Cheddar, but it’s good melted on pizza or as I’m about to find out, on cauliflower. I set the iPod to play and Poly Styrene’s album Translucence starts to play, the opening bars of Essence give me an idea so I grab a little packet of Moroccan spices I got a few months back and my mind starts to go into creation mode.

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First I separate the cauliflower florets and pop them into boiling water to blanch for 5 minutes. Next the chicken breasts are placed into an oven-proof dish and have a dusting of black pepper, cinnamon, Himalayan salt and garlic salt followed by a drizzle of olive oil. Next I make a spiced paste for the cauliflower. To a bowl I add a tablespoon of honey, 3 teaspoons of the Moroccan spice, 1 teaspoon of fennel seeds and the juice of half a lemon.

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The oven is set at 180 (fan) and the chicken breasts are covered with tin foil and popped inside. The cauliflower is drained and covered in the spice mix and then placed into an oven-proof dish and placed inside the oven to roast alongside the chicken. After 20 minutes I remove the chicken and drain off any juices and put these aside to freeze for a tasty base for a brodo, soup or risotto.

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The chicken needs just 7 minutes cooking uncovered to crisp up the skin, so I slice some of the cheese and place it on top of the cauliflower and return it to the oven.

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After resting the chicken for a couple of minutes the cheese has melted into the cauliflower so the final job is just plating up, sitting down and eating it. It made a great midweek lunch with enough cauliflower left over to freeze or to have the following day.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

Agriturismo Abruzzo

Italian cuisine is rated highly throughout the world and living in Italy means I’m never far from an excellent restaurant. Last week a party of us went to a local agriturismo for dinner to celebrate a friends birthday.

The word agriturismo comes from the combination of agriculture and tourism. Agriturismi (plural) receive tax incentives and must therefore qualify for these. According to national law: Legge 20 February 2006, n.96, to qualify 51% of your income must come from farming with the remaining 49% made up from holiday letting, providing recreational or educational farm visits and of course catering.  If meals are offered, foods must include products produced by the farm or by local cooperative of which the farm is a member.

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In 2015 we visited Agriturismo Travaglini which is near Casoli and since then have tried many others in the local area. When we were talking about which one to go to, we all agreed that it was at the Traviglini family’s agriturismo where we had eaten the best food previously, so without hesitation we booked a table.

We arrived to a warm welcome from Claudia, who then introduced us to her parents Antonio and Maria and then explained to us how she’d be cooking the main course on the open fire. Which is a round dish placed under a cover and the charcoal and wood placed around it and on top.

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We settled at the table and after wine and water had been served the dishes started to arrive. Antipasti comprised of home made salami, cheese and cured meats, toasted cheese and other goodies also arrived. We were delighted with the polenta with sausage; most of our group don’t usually eat it as it can be grainy but this was as smooth as a perfect mashed potato. Cheese and egg balls with aubergine arrived and we chatted as we ate from this menu of many treasures, before the pasta with a broccoli sauce arrived.

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Our main course of potatoes and pork was served with crisp green beans and aubergine and as we ate the conversation stopped and the room fell silent. The potatoes were fluffy on the inside and roasted perfectly and the meat just fell away from the bone. It was perfection in a roasting tin.

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Fruit followed for dolce and then Claudia arrived with a birthday cake and a bottle of Prosecco. At the end of the evening we had enough space left to fit in a grappa and a coffee before we left feeling full and completely satisfied.

If you’re in the area and want to experience real Abruzzese cooking and hospitality then I can whole heartedly recommend Agriturismo Travaglini, you won’t be disappointed. But call to book a table first and make sure you’ve an empty stomach.

Agriturismo Travaglini. Via Piano delle Vigne 65, 66043 Casoli

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.