Monday, August 27, 2012

Food in Italy - Summer

Here’s one for the foodies ………

What’s in Season?

It’s the height of summer, as we’ve been boasting and the markets are full of some of the best produce I’ve seen. An amazing variety of plums, beautiful big peaches, and as many different lettuces and tomatoes as you can imagine. We are fortunate to have a local Farmers Market on the outskirts of town as well as the local street market (literally on our doorstep) both twice a week.

We’ve recently been indulging in plump fresh figs and prosciutto, an idea I copied from a local osteria. Mmm ... delicious. The figs are cheap and getting cheaper, last week I paid €9.50kg and today only €6kg. When we tire of the figs there’s melon to move on to, another great  accompaniment to prosciutto which is now in season.

 Also, there are plums and peaches a plenty. I’ve been stewing them and having them with yoghurt gelato (more on that later), making jam as requested by Marino (in 30C+ heat!!) and of course eating them fresh – YUM!

We’ve been eating a bucket load of salad, I buy 4 different varieties twice a week and make a simple ‘insalata verde’ with every meal (breakfast excluded).That’s 8 lettuces a week!

Can’t imagine why Marino’s getting sick of the sight of them....

What I’m cooking at home ….

They say that one of the best ways to learn a new language is to focus on an area of interest. So I’ve purchased a secondhand Italian recipe book in order to help with my reading skills …..

One of my challenges for our time here in Italy is to master the art of fresh pasta making. I’ve made pasta at home in Melbourne but somehow I’ve always found it a chore! So I am pleased to advise that I’ve purchased a pasta machine (another one) and can now single handedly whip up a batch and have a bowl on the table within an hour. One of my more recent masterpieces was Spinach and Ricotta Ravioli al Pomodorini (cherry tomato sauce). It was delicious! Marino thought it was restaurant quality.


I think he just wants me to make it again!

We’ve also found a great butcher (Macelleria) and chicken man (Polleteria) who also sells rabbit. Marino had quite a discussion with the Polleteria, whose name we now know is Piereluigi, and returned with a photo of my dish, Coniglio Cacciatore (senza olive). Both he and another local signora added, ‘Did you use olives? You’ve got to use olives!’ Of course I hadn’t …….. 

Oh well there’s always next time.

By the way it was bloody delicious without the olives!


What and where we’re eating ……

As you would know by now we are quite fond of eating and drinking – who isn’t? However, one of the fun challenges of being in Italy is to eat as well as you can for as little as you can. There is a local establishment we ride past each day where the padrone (or chef) is always sitting out the front on a wooden bench, a big round guy with a big fuzzy beard. We see him so often we are almost on first name basis (and we hadn’t even eaten there). This establishment ‘La Bottega delle Cose Buone’ (try saying that 3 times quickly) offers a special 2 course menu which includes a pasta course, secondo or main course as well as wine, water and coffee all for €15. So needless to say this has been on our list for some time. We finally got around to enjoying a lazy long lunch here. A tiny cramped room at the rear with half a dozen tables, no menu to speak of just the daily specials but the food was delicious!! WOW what a find. We had a different homemade pasta each then both enjoyed the Coniglio Cacciatore, this however did have olives and I’ll definitely be adding them next time! This was the best rabbit dish I’ve had (sorry Mela). La Bottega delle Cose Buone will definitely be a regular for us.

Another favourite is Spaghetti allo Scoglio that we have at the beach. We mentioned earlier that we’d been in search of a good Spaghetti alle Vongole on one of our beach journeys, well this has surpassed all others. We’ve become quite attached to the ‘free beach’ at Lido di Camaiore, ie it's not a 'bagno' (beach club), therefore no umbrella and no sun lounges. However the emphasis is on the word ‘free’ – no charge! So we mingle with all the other free loading Italians (there is an economic crisis here you know!) which means we can afford to indulge in lunch out. Only 100m up the beach is Bagno Alberto which has a very simple café on the sand which serves a fabulous Spaghetti allo Scoglio (mussels, pippies, and small prawns). It’s the perfect size pasta, with the right amount of oil and garlic and thin angel hair pasta all for €8. You can’t get better than that!

Carignano Cooking School

In an attempt to assist my pasta making challenge, I decided to do a one day cooking class at a nearby hotel named Carignano. I picked the class that focused on Lucchese specialties as we are of course living in the beautiful Lucca. This consisted of Panzanella a Tuscan bread salad, Crostini ai Fegatini a chicken liver and caper pate, Crostini alle Melanzane a roasted eggplant dip – and that was just for starters! 

We then made Ravioli, which the Lucchese call Tordelli and the best Ragu di Carne alla Lucchese (not Bolognese as we are not in Bologna!) – sorry Dad you’ve been beaten!

Following that; Arista di maiale alla Toscana, roasted pork with pancetta, rosemary and sage and Patate arrosto, roasted potatoes.

But wait there’s more ……

Finally to finish, one of my favourites Cantuccini, the famous biscotti from Prato (not really sure why they're famous) but they are delicious served with a glass of Vin Santo (a sweet desert wine) for dunking.

We then all sat down and enjoyed the fruits of our labour, along with a cooling glass of white wine – it was another 30C+ day!


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