Butternut and Walnut Ravioli

I’ve only once before attempted to make pasta and it tasted so diabolical that the expensive pasta machine languished in a cupboard for years before being consigned to the bin. So after trying a friend’s home made pasta this week I thought I’d give it another go. But of course not a simple spaghetti for me, no I want to make a ravioli. So I looked through the freezer and found some roasted butternut squash from last autumn’s harvest and in the kitchen cupboard was some walnuts. So I set out making my pasta, which is basically 1 medium sized egg to 100g of 00 flour. I mixed and kneaded the pasta for a few minutes until it formed a nice ball and wrapped in cling film it was popped it into the fridge to rest.

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Next I chopped the walnuts and added them to the butternut which was warming in a saucepan, to this I added some nutmeg and stirred it all together making a bright ball of orange filling. This was put aside to cool.

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I retrieved the chilled pasta from the fridge and set about rolling it out thinly, which is no mean feat on a hot Italian afternoon.

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I cut my pasta into strips and then using a new ravioli cutter I started to assemble the promised pouches of pleasure, however the ravioli cutter broke on the first use and I had to start again with a roller cutter.

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Once I’d made my first ever batch of ravioli, they were popped into the fridge to relax a while and I set a pan of water on to boil and washed fresh sage from the garden.

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With water on a rolling boil they were dropped in with affection as sage butter bubbled on the hob. minutes later they we scooped out and plated up.

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This may not be the most uniform plate of ravioli, or the prettiest, but served with a few shavings of provolone piccante they were devoured with gusto. I don’t think I’m a culinary threat to the local community, but I’m proud I gave making pasta another go.

Summer Out of Season

“Would you like a cup of home made spicy butternut and tomato soup?” I asked my friend a week ago on a damp and dismal January morning. “Yes please,” she replied. then went on to enquire from which shop I obtained the butternut from. “You grew them yourself?” she asked after I told her that they had come from my orto. She blew across the surface of her mug of soup and took a sip before saying, “Wow, this tastes just like summer.”

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In my work I visit many properties and I’ve seen many Italian pantries stocked with jars of blood red passata and others filled to the brim with dried beans. I’ve been inside cool cantine with home made salumi* hanging from the ceiling and inside airy sheds where tobacco hangs drying in the air. Italian’s are ingenious when it comes to getting the most out of their orto and they have an almost religious devotion to processing and storing produce for the leaner months. I’ve adopted this attitude and when the weather’s bad it’s very satisfying to make a meal using an ingredient that months ago was basking in the summer sun.

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My neighbour’s cantina

I was talking about this with my friend who told me she’s not organised enough to do this and doesn’t have a cantina to store things in. So I showed her the contents of my freezer where I have saved the taste of summer for the colder seasons.

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I explained that if you roast and mash the butternut or pumpkin it’s easy to store flat in freezer bags. I then showed her my 2 person portions of frozen passata that line the bottom of every freezer draw and the pots of ready made soups from when there was a glut of one or another veggie in the orto.

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Not only is it about storing what you grow but also making use of everything, I often use the bones or chicken carcass after a roast dinner to make stock, which is stored away in the freezer along with frozen basil and parsley butter. I came here a novice to preserving food and now it’s quite normal to find me making up jars of chilli jam when the plants are aflame or apple and peach chutney.

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“So what’s next?” my friend asks. I explain that this year I dried out my own French beans and have several jars of the tiny black pulses, sat on a shelf alongside sun-dried oregano. “This year,” I tell her, “I’m going to have a go at sun-dried tomatoes.

* Salumi is the Italian word for processed meats like hams, salami and most meats you’ll find in the delicatessen.

Snow and Stew

As most of Europe is currently under attack from Arctic blasts and ‘thundersnow’ we didn’t escape it here in Abruzzo. The snow is finally thawing following a seven-day period of deep deposits. It all looked very pretty, but it was so deep in places that villages were cut off, not to mention water pipes frozen and electricity lines going down.

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So trapped at home until the lane can be cleared I turned to passing the time getting used to induction cooking. We don’t have mains gas in our lane and have used a gas bottle cooker for the past few years, it was sufficient for our needs until in autumn a field mouse took up residence in the back and chewed through the pipe to the oven. Now I have a nice fan-assisted electric oven I thought it may be a good idea to go all electric to remove the need to buy and store gas bottles. I was helping a friend prepare lunch using her induction hob and was so impressed I went out and got myself one. I then spoke with another friend who had a double hob for sale, and so now I am learning to use them and thus far I’ve been impressed with the speed of cooking and the control of the heat.

So I decided this week to use the hob for something more challenging than an omelette or boiling pasta and set to making a stew, as everyone knows snow and comfort food go together really well. So here’s my recipe for a veal stew. (serves 4)

The ingredients are:

400g veal. 2 small onions. 300 ml passata. 160 g mushrooms. 200g carrots. 2 tablespoons of tomato puree. 500 ml home made veg base.

In the late 1970’s people became outraged to discover the veal they were eating was produced by keeping calves in the dark inside boxes to restrict movement. This led to a rapid decline in the UK for veal consumption, even now very few butcher’s shops openly sell it. However here in Italy I purchase what we now call rose veal, its male calves that have been raised until they are 8 months old rather than being culled at birth. It’s not a pale as milk fed veal but tastes very good. If veal still isn’t your thing substitute it for pork in this recipe.

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Cut the meat into bite size pieces and brown it off in small quantities and add to the stew pot.

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Chop the onions and sweat them off in a frying pan for a minute or so, then add the tomato puree and cook it off.This sweetens the onions and helps to pick up the pieces of veal that have caramelised in the pan earlier.

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Chop the carrots: I chop alternate sections diagonally as you get an interesting shape that also has a larger surface area so cooks quicker and evenly.

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Add to the pot a liberal amount of garlic powder, black pepper and a good pinch of chilli flakes. Following this add the passata; shop bought is okay or make your own, it’s so easy. My recipe is here. Following this add 500ml of stock or home made veg base.

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As I hate waste, what I do is add what left over veg I have to a pan of water and boil it all together. This one was made from a couple of cabbage leaves, a carrot, half an onion and a few celery sticks. Boil it all together then blend it and bag it and store in the freezer until you’re making a stew or soup. Much better for you than shop bought stock, full of chemicals and salt.

Bring the pot to the boil and then turn the heat down and let it simmer until the carrots are softening; this took just 15 minutes on the induction hob. Then add a splash of white wine followed by the mushrooms and continue to simmer until everything is cooked through and the carrots still have a little bite. serve with mashed potato and sit beside the log burner watching the snow fall as you eat this comforting stew.

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One other thing – this is also amazing if reheated the following day. Buona cena a tutti.

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.

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.

Spicy Salami Ragù

Ragù is a meat based sauce for pasta which is not to be confused with a sugo which is a more fluid sauce. In the north of Italy ragù is usually made with minced or ground meat while in the south they use more substantial pieces of meat, maybe whole sausages. But regardless of what meat you use, it has to be said that home made ragù beats anything you can buy in the shops.

As regular readers know I’m not keen on shop bought sauces for pasta and prefer to make my own as I always think It’s much tastier and you do away with all of those preservatives and colourings. Today I made one of my favourite home creations and now I’ll share this pasta sauce that I’ve made many times with you.

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This sauce I call spicy salami ragù was originally, just some left-overs. It started out when I opened the fridge and saw half a spicy salami and a courgette looking back at me. I grabbed them and devised this recipe. The ingredients are:

4 inches / 10 cms of spicy salami (similar to Chorizo)

a small courgette

4 gloves of garlic

250g tin of chopped tomatoes (or passata from my worth the work post.

Handful of fresh basil leaves

Chop the salami and courgette in to cubes, slice the garlic and you’re ready to go. I won’t post photos of chopped salami and courgette as I’m sure you can all imagine what they look like. Heat a dry frying pan and add the salami and let it cook and release it’s spicy oil for about 3 minutes then put it aside. Add a drizzle of olive oil to the pan and fry the courgette for another 3 minutes, then add the garlic and cook for a few minutes but don’t let it brown. Add the salami back into the pan and chuck in a pinch of freshly ground black pepper.  Splosh into the pan the tomato sauce/tinned tomatoes and let it simmer for a few minutes before adding the basil. (there’s no need to chop the basil). Take it off the heat and let it cool for a few minutes before pouring the mixture into a blender and switching it on to make a thick sauce.

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Put the pasta of your choice on to cook as per manufacturers directions and reheat the ragù and serve the whole lot in a bowl, cover with a liberal dousing of grated Parmesan and sit down and eat.

The sauce lasts for a week in the refrigerator or can be frozen for use at a later date, but to be honest it’s so quick and easy to make you’re better of having it fresh.

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This is a great way of getting some veggies into children that are stubborn eaters, instead of using a spicy salami, substitute it for 2 pre-cooked sausages.

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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Tranquillo, come domenica mattina

When Lionel Richie was with the Commodores one of their first big UK hits was a song called, Easy, a soulful ballad with the lyric, ‘Easy, like Sunday morning’. Now the translation into Italian may not be literal, and my using tranquillo rather than facile (easy) keeps the sentence within the original meaning.

Why am I referencing Mr Richie and his co-musicians, well because it’s a lyric that perfectly sums up a sunny Sunday here in La Bella Italia.

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This week, Sunday starts with avid activity in the olive groves as farmers finish the last of their pruning. Compressors hiss and odd shaped pruning tools buzz like contented honey bees. In the midst of this activity there’s no real sense of urgency, unlike on weekdays when they work at full pelt before disappearing at lunchtime, today they prune a little and chat a lot.

People arrive in cars and park up and stroll along the lane, two men arrive, their animated conversation a contradiction to their ambling gait, they’re walking their dogs that have large bells attached to their harnesses meaning as they pass through the groves it sounds like farmers moving their goats.

By midday all of this activity ceases and the land around falls quiet again, I’m potting up some pumpkins from a seed tray when Antonio drives past, he waves as he passes the house and calls out, ‘Buona Domenica.’ (have a nice Sunday). A few minutes later, I take my time shaving and making sure my hair is pointing up and to the left; a throw back from my 70’s punk music inspired youth and why the locals affectionately call me, Sonic; a future post maybe. Now I’m ready to go to lunch.

We drive to our favourite restaurant and luckily as we’ve forgotten to book for Sunday lunch they have a couple of spare tables. Jimmy ushers us to a table while Luca fetches wine and water. Despite the restaurant being full there’s no  sense of urgency;  unlike weekdays when they can turn a table around in 40 seconds so as to accommodate the waiting workers that arrive in their droves.

It’s Sunday so the menu of the day contains a lot of fish dishes, from salmon to sea bass and trout. We order and quickly the primi arrive, I have chitarrina alle vongole and O.H has orecchiette broccoli e gorgonzola. At first I’m wishing I’d chosen the creamy blue cheese sauce, but after shelling the clams I’m soon digging into my garlic and parsley infused shellfish pasta. We eat  at a leisurely pace, after all,  è domenica and there’s no rush.

BB16Seconda for the both of us is stinco, or rather to use the plural stinchi. Stinco is a pork shin similar to a lamb shank in the UK that is roasted in the oven. We also have potatoes and green vegetables and again take our time. We finish with coffee then pay the €20 bill – honestly two courses, with coffee, water and a litre of wine for the same price as a Big Mac meal in
the UK. So if you’re in the area drop into… actually maybe I’ll not give you the name and address of the restaurant, just in case one Sunday you take the last table and I’ll have to eat elsewhere.

We arrive home and chill out in the sun with a bottle of Peroni as the dogs laze at our feet as we’re being, ‘easy, like Sunday morning’ regardless of it being past 14.30.

 

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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Asia in Italy

Last week here in middle Italy there’s been somewhat of an Asian influence.

First I spent a day making some spicy chapattis. As around these parts it can get difficult to find wholemeal flour let alone authentic chapatti flour, I make mine with a mix of Italian tipo oo and semolina flour. I first tossed some black mustard, coriander and cumin seeds along with a couple of chillies into a dry pan and heated them until the spices began to dance in the pan and perfume the kitchen air. I then ground them and added them to my flour mix before making the chapatti in the traditional way, even if they are often not perfectly circular.

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The following day I received an email telling me that a local bar was staging an evening of Indian food. Locally there’s been several of these events and despite people’s negativity they have proven quite popular with the younger population.

I open my fridge on this particular day and realise I have still got an aubergine that I haven’t used yet, so in keeping with the Indian theme I chop an onion and several garlic cloves and make a couple of jars of Brindjal chutney, which is a perfect snack accompaniment to a warm spicy chapatti.

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The Asian theme continues on throughout the week with my making a hot Thai green curry, obviously there’s a few ingredients that you can’t find in rural Italy, but with a can of coconut milk from inside the kitchen cupboard, some pureed ginger, a couple of cubes of frozen spinach and my imagination it all came together splendidly.

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The following morning, with the kitchen clinging to the Asian aromas still, I turned on the iPod and the first song to shuffle was, Crazy Kiya Re from the Bollywood movie Dhoom2.

This week it’s felt like Abruzzo has been twinned with Delhi and heve we felt the better for this?… You bet we do.