Author Archives: The Napoli Alert

In My Kitchen, August 2019

Well after over eighteen months, last month we finally moved back into our house.  There’s a lot that isn’t finished, frankly I’m not sure we will ever be finished, but at least we are home. And it’s wonderful to be back.  The Small People – who these days aren’t that small and are about my height – initially dubious about how it would all turn out, are loving it.  One of them has taken possession of the attic and set up a bedroom there.  They love its quirky rooms, the sloping ceilings, the nooks and crannies.  Hearing their chatter and laughter trickle through the house is the best bit of it all.

It was great unpacking things I’ve had in boxes all this time away, many of them wedding gifts.  I still remember who gave me each one, and I think of them each time I use them.  Yesterday I messaged a friend because I was folding the placemats she sent me from Ireland almost eighteen years ago when she was living there.  It made her smile that I remembered, likewise she remembered buying them in Dublin.

My bell from the early 1900’s is back in commission.  I need it here – if the Marito is in a corner of the garden, and the Small People are on the opposite side or in the attic, calling out is futile.  The bell is a very effective summons (“I think they can hear it across the river, mum” one of them quipped) as the Small People know it means food, which always results in quick appearance.

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We’ve also finally been able to unpack and use the giant coffee “bowls” we bought in Puglia last year (a regular coffee cup next to them for reference!) – we love them.

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In my kitchen is a pot filler. These nifty little taps sit above the cooktop for pasta pots, soups, braising.  They’ve been in the USA for years and years and I’ve always thought they were such a good idea.  While I bought a lot of door, window and cabinet hardware from overseas (way more choice and much cheaper), taps is one thing you can’t due to Australian standards. But finally last year a local company started making pot fillers.  It’s funny seeing people walk into the kitchen and look at it somewhat puzzled.  “What’s that?”.

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Behind the kitchen is what I call my “prep kitchen” with a long stainless steel bench.  Chopping, pastry, pizza dough – I’m going to have fun here.  The servery doors face the dining room (which doesn’t quite exist yet), so when there’s a dinner party on all the mess can be thrown straight in here.

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There is also a long rack of hooks.  So great to be able to hang bags for shopping here so that I won’t forget.  There a collection of aprons – most of them are a memory of some sort.  Among them is one was given to me by a restaurant patron in Florence, another by a friend when we got together for a girls cooking night, another from Christmas volunteering with OzHarvest.

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The pantry is well stocked, though with two incessantly hungry teenage boys, nothing ever seems to last long – the Open 24/7 sign is pretty accurate.

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In my kitchen are these gorgeous brass measuring cups.  My sister in law saw them at this cute homewares shop when we were down the coast many months ago.  I went back to get a set but they had sold out.  She’d actually bought me one and put them away for the new kitchen. Love them!

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It’s been a while since I’ve joined Sherry’s Pickings In My Kitchen series – take a peek at kitchens around the world.

In My Kitchen, February 2019

It has been a scorcher of a summer here in Sydney, with almost unbearable levels of humidity.  With no air conditioning in our temporary home, we have felt every degree of it.  The chooks have come through it ok, though they stare curiously at the ice blocks I add to their water on the worst days.  The press on the hardship facing farmers seems to have dried up since last year, replaced by inane pre-election political jousting articles,  though I imagine they continue to do it very tough.

Turning on the oven in our furnace of a house is a trial, but cook for the family one must.  Here’s what’s been happening in the Napoli kitchen of late.

The (ever growing) Small People received this very cute Christmas gift from one of their aunties.  The doughnut pans worked really well.

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We’ve been really enjoying some gorgeous floral honey from some friends who have started keeping bees.  I don’t do supermarket honey, I don’t like it.  This stuff is a different proposition all together.  It reminds me very much of a giant jar of wild honey we bought back from a small island in Greece.  The Marito and I have been putting a dollop on our yoghurt, the Small People on their oats. Our lovely friends have earmarked another jar for us from their “harvest” last week.

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imkfeb19 (7)In my kitchen is Ottolenghi’s SIMPLE.

I’ve been making quite a few recipes from it of late.  It is certainly one of his better cookbooks, and plenty in there for my vegacquarian Marito.  The prawns with risoni (or orzo as they call it in the UK) and marinated feta was just delicious, and the other day I tried the hazelnut and peach cake, loved it.

 

I’ve also been looking at his weekly column in The Guardian.  This pastis garcon, a French apple tart made with filo, was also a hit.

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I read somewhere that you could preserve basil with salt and olive oil.  Mamma Rosa has a ridiculous abundance of basil at the moment, so I tried doing it.  The oil seems to have solidified so not sure if I did it right.  If I did it will be good to have during the winter months.

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The reno site is starting to look less like a mess and more like a house.  Having resolved all the structural, insulation, electrical and plumbing problems that come with a 125 year old house, we are now getting to the “fun stuff”.  There are samples everywhere around the kitchen and dining table.  While my kitchen hardware is from the UK, all my bathroom hardware was made right here in Sydney, the door locks are from Tasmania, the fireplace from South Australia. There is still some fine local manufacturing going on. There will be a lot not finished when we move back in, I won’t even have a proper laundry, but I really don’t care, I just want to be back home.

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Thanks to Sherry from Sherry’s Pickings who hosts the IMK monthly link up, take a peek from kitchens around the world!

 

Today’s cake – peach and hazelnut cake

Hello. I haven’t written any thing here for quite a while (though I have been posting a few things on my Facebook page). In my little “tribe” of bloggers that I’ve gotten to know over the years, some who I have met in person, at one point or other the blogging mojo is lost and it’s pens down. So I guess it was my turn.  But back now, sort of, from my hiatus.  “Where have your cakes gone?” asked my blog mother.  So Signora, this one’s for you.

Recently, I’ve been trying quite a few recipes from Ottolenghi’s SIMPLE.  There is plenty in there that appeal to my vegacquarian Marito.  This is one of the desserts, though I did modify it as it contains raspberries which I don’t really like, I’m more of a mulberry and blackberry girl.  While we have all these lovely summer peaches, I definitely recommend making this one.  It’s making the cut in my very old “yellow book” where I have scribbled recipes I like over the years.

Ingredients
3 large peaches (ripe but not squishy)
300g caster sugar
130g blanched hazelnuts
200g unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
3 large eggs
125g plain flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
Icing sugar for dusting (optional)

Making it
Pre-heat the oven to 170 degrees fan forced. Grease and line a 23cm cake tin with baking paper.

Peel the peaches and cut into eight wedges. Place in a bowl with a tablespoon of sugar, gently stir and set aside.

Place the hazelnuts into a food processer and blitz until coarsely ground.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, place the remaining sugar and butter and beat until well combined. Add the eggs one at a time and beat till combined, then and the hazelnuts, flour, baking powder and salt and continue to mix till all combined. Pour the batter into a cake tin and smooth it so that it is level. Arrange the peaches in a single layer on top, then place in the oven for 70-80 minutes, testing with a skewer at about 70 minutes. If you notice the top getting too brown you can cover with foil during cooking.

Remove from the tin and allow to cool for 20 minutes before turning out. Once cool, dust with icing sugar and serve. Seriously yum!

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In my Spring kitchen, October 2018

How lovely that Spring is here, which means there is a lot more going on outside the kitchen.  The chooks are past their winter slow down, and laying up a storm, and lots of planting is going on.

Outside my kitchen is a collection of fruit trees.  A couple of months ago I pre-ordered some rootstock from Yalca Fruit Trees – a dwarf pear, dwarf apple, dwarf peach and dwarf plum, which we plan to put in the courtyard once the renovation is done, as well as a fig and two mulberry trees. Two months later and they are thriving! I can’t wait till we pick our first fruit.

I’ve also planted several tomatoes and zucchini which are coming along nicely.  Everything has to be carefully netted at our temporary home as it’s a possum festival at night.  The chooks also adore tomatoes.

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I still have to plant a few more things, having bought an interesting collection of seeds from The Seed Collection.

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Back inside, recently I took a look at Jamie’s new book, Jamie Cooks Italy.  I don’t buy too many cookbooks these days, partly because at the moment I have nowhere to store them, but also because our local library has a rather amazing cookbook section.  There are some nice recipes in this one.  I tried his vegetables al forno (before and after shot), which is really a cross between a zucchini parmigiana and an eggplant parmigiana.  It was very tasty. There are a few other recipes I have bookmarked.

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The (not so) Small People had a birthday and it was baking time for a family afternoon tea.  I made an apple cake, a blueberry crumb cake, some M&M cookies and a lemon ricotta cake.  It won’t be long till they are taller than me, but they will always be my Small People.

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Have a lovely Spring! Have a peek at other kitchens on Sherry’s Pickings, our lovely IMK link up host.

 

Critabianca, Cutrofiano

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During the second half of our time in Puglia, we stayed in a farmhouse (“masseria”) in the small town of Cutrofiano.  Set on seven acres and built in the 1700s, Critabianca has been beautifully restored by a delightful family from Torino and opened it’s doors in 2016.

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Throughout Puglia several masserie were built in the 1700s, often by the wealthy and arisocrats.  Over time, many were abandoned.  But with the growth of tourism in Puglia, many have been restored and turned into boutique bed and breakfast accommodation. What I loved about Critabianca was that it felt private and tranquil, yet it is cleverly located making it an easy drive to much of what we wanted to do and see. And Roberto, Roberta, Nicoletta and Alessandro will do everything possible to make sure you have a lovely stay. How gorgeous is the front door!

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The six rooms feel tranquil and luxurious with lovely antique pieces throughout mingling with modern requirements.  You can see hints of the original frescoes on the carefully scraped back walls.  Our family room (note children over 11 years only) was very spacious and comfortable, with a large outdoor terrace. And the pool was great for a refreshing dip after our days of sightseeing and exploring.

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Around the pretty grounds, you’ll find plums and figs, which Roberta turns into gorgeous jams for breakfast, and plenty of olive trees.   Breakfast is served in an outdoor courtyard on beautiful locally made ceramics. As well as making the jam, Roberta sets her own yoghurt, and Roberto is a dab hand at focaccia and cakes. The bread, cheese and eggs are from down the road, and I also had some of the best ricotta I’ve ever tasted. One morning we devoured a juicy melon, and not long after we saw Moussa, the cook, go out to the garden and grab another one.  Yes, the breakfast is about as fresh as it gets.

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Cutrofiano town itself is small, but on Wednesdays there is a good size local market with food, homewares and clothes.   You could put together a nice lunch.  The olive guy, bread and cheese guy were doing a roaring trade, and in another truck the chooks being slowly roasted smelt delicious.

Having seen a taste of beautiful ceramics in Grottaglie, I’d heard that in Cutrofiano town there was a large ceramics studio called Fratelli Coli.  And this is where much of Critabianca’s ceramics at the breakfast table are sourced.  There are huge outdoor pots and lots of beautiful homewares (I tried to take some photos inside but they said no).  We bought some fantastic oversized coffee mugs here, some small trays and the Small People also bought Pomi, the Puglian good luck charm.

We really enjoyed our stay here with this lovely family.

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Critabianca, Cutrofiano http://critabianca.com/en/
Fratelli Coli, Cutrofiano https://www.coliweb.com/en-gb/home

Matera and Alberobello – UNESCO World Heritage sites

A short drive from where we were staying in Monopoli is the town of Alberobello. Alberobello has always fascinated me and been on my visit wish list for a long time.  I’m intrigued by the fact that these unique conical structures, trulli, appeared in this one area and nowhere else in Italy.  You’ll see the occasional trulli (trullo for singular?) in a field somewhere when you are driving around, but Alberobello is a concentrated town of them, with over 1,000 trulli.

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Folklore has it that originally the trulli were built without mortar for the purpose of disassembly when the tax collector came around, as tax had to be paid on permanent structures.  If this is true, then the Italian penchant for tax evasion goes back very far indeed.  These days they are all permanent structures, many turned into shops, some into hotels, though some are still individual homes. I just love the uniqueness and gorgeousness of it.  It was named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1996.

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We came across the workshop of these two gentlemen who were making small replica trulli by hand.  Some were out of random stone and then painted, but some were made out of actual trulli stone.  One of the Small People was particularly enchanted by Alberobello and used some of his trip pocket money to buy one.  Once home, the trulli were used for a design project assignment he had at school.

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We went in the morning and found it ok – apparently it does get quite busy and crowded from lunchtime onwards.

While in Puglia we also drove to the neighbouring region of Basilicata to visit Matera, another UNESCO World Heritage site.  The drive was about an hour and fifty minutes, allowing for a little confusion from our GPS; she wasn’t having a great day that day. But the roads were good and it was a pleasant drive.  It is fairly inland so was about 8 degrees (Celsius) hotter than the Puglia coast – so again a morning visit is recommended and I was glad that we had set off early. It is also quite hilly and needs a good amount of walking so a fitness test as well as a cultural eye opener.

So what is special about Matera?  After Petra in Jordon, it is believed to be the second longest continuously habited place in the world.  But it’s not only this, it’s the fact that the homes of the town – or rather caves –  were carved into the limestone rock.  The Passion of the Christ and Ben Hur were both filmed here.

The extraordinary church at the top dominates the landscape and a walk up there is inevitable.

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One of the homes had been replicated as per the 1700s.  It was quite fascinating to hear about how they lived; we could certainly learn a thing or two about waste which was hugely frowned upon.  Large families (six or more children was not uncommon) lived in these small spaces, some of them even housing animals, largely horses, which would be a source of warmth in the winter.  The horse excrement would go down a hole, which was also used to create heat.  If a plate cracked, it was repaired rather than thrown out.  And at mealtimes the entire family would eat out of one large platter.  While each family would prepare their own bread dough, it would be taken to a central baking spot for all to be cooked, each family having their own unique stamp so their loaf could be recognised.

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There are also a few churches scattered throughout.

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Throughout the 1900s, Matera was known for extreme poverty and also disease so the government gradually re-housed many of the inhabitants.  Gradually the area was re-generated, and people began to move back in.  Like Alberobello, in the 1990’s it was named a World Heritage site, attracting tourism and helping the area’s revival.

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We really enjoyed both of these special places.

 

Foogoo, Lane Cove

(August 2018) Lane Cove food is on the up.  There’s been a spate of new openings in the last twelve months, prompting even the likes of Terry Durack to venture to this side of the bridge.  Foogoo, a modern Chinese diner, is among them and we’re here to exchange some post Europe travel stories with some friends.  A rustic style clock with French text gives away the venue’s previous incarnation, and it’s simply but pleasantly decked out.

And as we marvel with our friends over the fact that we bumped into each other in the Vatican, where some 25,000 people set foot each day, we enjoy some very tasty Chinese.  The ingredients are very obviously fresh, the quality good, and the service quite pleasant.  And we love that it is BYO. Pricing was very reasonable, though the serves are on the smaller side and we could have ordered a couple more dishes for our bottomless pit Small People, but even then it’s a good value meal and you can eat here for $30 a head or less.

The crispy soft shell crab is exactly that and not at all oily as it often is at many restaurants.  The chilli and lemon salt give it a lovely flavour.

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And we were very happy with our soupy xialongbao.  There are plenty of dumplings on the menu if you’re in the mood for pure yum cha.

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Also on the menu:
Delicately steamed barramundi with ginger and shallot

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Kung pao chicken with a pleasant but not overpowering amount of heat

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Wok fried black pepper fillet with oyster mushrooms and blackbean – I loved this

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We all really liked the Shanghai style dry noodle with shallot oil, sweet soy and crispy shrimp

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And there was a good amount of tasty BBQ pork in the special fried rice.

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The steamed Asian greens were so fresh.

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It’s a good addition to the ‘hood, and we’ll be back to try the rest of the menu.

Foogoo, 94B Longueville Road Lane Cove, Ph (02) 7900 7081