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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Seven Words that Strike Fear

We’ve been working on the back garden for the past few days and lunch has generally been a sandwich eaten sat in the sunshine. Today however, as the time approached one o’clock I put a pan of water on the hob and grabbed a few things from the fridge to prepare lunch. Then I heard those seven words, when spoken by an Italian will strike fear into any foreigner. No not, What-a ya doing with-a my wife eh?’ Nor,Touch-a ma car I touch-a ya face’. No, these words chilled the English blood in my veins, more than a visit from five men in black suits carrying violin cases saying, ‘Ya know what-a happen if-a ya squeal?’’ A horses head in the bed appears tame compared to an Italian saying to you, “Can you cook some pasta for me?”

Suddenly what was just going to be spaghetti with pesto becomes a trial. It couldn’t be more nerve wracking if Michelangelo had asked me casually, “Oi, can you just paint the eyes on the baby Jesus for me while I pop to the loo?” So the free pasta we got from the local supermarket gets put back and a fresh packet of maccheroni alla chitarra by De Cecco is removed from the cupboard, after all the Italian in question is from Fara San Martino, so it would be impolite to serve pasta made anywhere else other than Fara. The jar of pesto goes back onto the shelf and the freshly made one in the fridge is retrieved along with the hunk of Parmesan.

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Beads of sweat form on my brow. Questions race through my head; is there enough salt in the water? Is it a rolling boil? How long shall I leave it in for? not to mention the whole al-dente issue that we’re constantly reminded of. Several minutes later it was assembled and served with lashings of grated parmesan on top and I waited for the response from the Italian man sat on the patio. He chewed, nodded, smiled then said, “It’s okay.”

Later that day when breathing and heart rate had returned to normal, he said, “Your pasta today was good.” Result, a smiling straniero in middle Italy.

Prodotto in Italia

When I grew up in the 70’s, ‘Made in England’ was the watchword for anything you needed, it was seen as a mark of quality. However, the UK the marketplace is now flooded with cheap imports and very little of what people buy is manufactured in their own country. I grew up in the heart of the pottery industry and am proud of my heritage. Knowing that the mere mention of the town of Stoke on Trent, anywhere in the world, meant people instinctively thought of top quality china and earthenware, was something to be proud of. Sadly this is no longer the case, the idiots that ran the major china manufacturers became greedy and farmed out the production abroad, weakening the brand, creating unemployment and all for nothing. The increased profit they craved never materialised, and the doors opened for cheap china products from Poland, Russia and the East to flood the market. If only in those greed laden 80’s someone had, had the sense to say, no, maybe the town would still be synonymous with pottery rather than unemployment.

100_6465The Italians are very proud of what they produce, here, you very rarely see anything manufactured outside of Italy. Clothes from China are few and far between, kitchen showrooms boast, loudly that everything they sell is made in Italy. Even saucepans, washing-up bowls and toilet rolls have, prodotto in Italia stamped on the packaging somewhere. And surely this makes sound economic sense as well as keeping people in employment.

Here, prodotto in Italia carries the same gravitas for the Italian people, that made in England once did for the English.

The Italians are fiercely defensive of the heritage of their products, nowhere can a hard cheese made outside Emilia-Romagna be called, Parmesan, if your vinegar doesn’t come from Modena don’t even think of calling it balsamic, and if your curing ham outside of Parma, just call it prosciutto on the packaging.

Italy has more protected foods and wine than any other country in the European Union, and to keep them safe they all have the DOC, denominazione di origine controllata certification. So important is this heritage, that anyone manufacturing and falsely labelling a protected product faces huge fines and even imprisonment.

Sadly, there’s always someone who’ll deceive you and many products outside Italy that claim to be authentic may not be. The most common fakes on the market being olive oil, gorgonzola, parmesan and parma ham, with the greatest number of fakes being sold in China, Australia and New Zealand, Back in the UK, I’ve actually seen olive oil on the shelves of a well-known supermarket that is marketed as Italian. It has a typical Tuscan scene and the Italian flag on the label and the following wording on the reverse; ‘ may contain oil from various sources in the EU’.

Back in the 80’s two well-known pottery manufacturers in Stoke on Trent, had their china produced in Malaysia, it was shipped back to Stoke and there the final decoration was added, be it gilding or lithographing. The back stamp was then added, which led people to believe the product was a genuine piece of Stoke on Trent china. No wonder the industry died, if only we’d fought as hard as the Italians do.

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