Author Archives: The Napoli Alert

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

Puglia, part 2

Something you’ll see a lot of in Puglia is olive trees.  Everywhere.  Some really young, and some, revealed by their oversized, gnarled,  and intricately twisted trunks, really really old.  The oldest ones, clocking up some 3,000 years, are deemed archaeological monuments.  We passed a sign saying “olivari monumentali” (monumental olives) – I guessed some of those ones were there.  Anyhow, it turns out that Puglia is Italy’s biggest olive oil producer, cranking out some forty percent of the nation’s production, explaining their dominance in the landscape.

Something you’ll also see as you drive around Puglia is a multitude of towns you want to stop at or unusual buildings. “Stop the car!” I’d yell at the marito, which sometimes got a positive result, and sometimes didn’t.  Oh for more time.  So many more places to go back and see.  This little town, from a distance, looked like some kind of Disney fortress holding a princess.  Not as much close up, but I want to see what is behind those walls next time.

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Once we checked out of Don Ferrante in Monopoli, we had a few hours before we were due at our masseria, Critabianca.  I thought it was the perfect opportunity to detour to Grottaglie, a town renowned for it’s ceramics.  The Fasano family, the best known studio, have been in operation since the 1700’s.  There was plenty to like as we wandered from studio to studio, a few little things we bought home and others we bookmarked with photos – they happily ship to Australia.  By the way they all shut down at 1pm for the afternoon siesta, so do come in the morning or after 5pm and stay for dinner.   After a wander we headed to Cutrofiano where our beautiful farmhouse awaited (post on that coming soon!).

The next morning we headed to Grotta Zinzalusa.  The photos here completely understate the magnificence of this rock formation.  You can go in the cave for a wander, or hire an umbrella and chair for a day, or just lay your town on rocks and some did and jump into the sea from there.

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But we were after a sandy beach and headed further to Baia dei Turchi (Bay of the Turks).  You park your car and then walk a few hundred meters through thickish foliage down a narrow path, eventually emerging to a large stretch of sandy beach with a bit of wave.  There are chairs and umbrellas for hire, but a large public stretch if you prefer not to.  Beautifully clean and very enjoyable.

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That night we headed to the nearby small town of Galatina.  Like almost every Italian town, there is a piazza of sorts.  This one has some pretty greenery and lots of benches, where armies of Nonnos were gathered for a post siesta chat.  I came here to try the pasticciotti at Pasticceria Ascalone, the supposed inventor of the treasured Puglian sweet, back in the 1700’s.  And the pasticceria has been owned by the same family all this time, handed down generation after generation.  And it was a damn fine pasticciotto, but my favourite was still the one at the Gran Forno Santa Caterina.

We asked the lady behind the counter where we could head for a pizza, and she sent us to a place nearby called Goji.  I was a little dubious with a name like that, but it was great food with an even better ebullient owner who made us feel so welcome.  The Small People demolished everything.   There were also some expert dough throwing skills on display.

One night we went for a wander in the town of Nardo’, where we ate at a pleasant trattoria who’s name escapes me (and there was a great gelato shop and pasticceria nearby too).  Here I had to have orecchiette with cime di rapa (chicory), a signature dish of the region.  But this one came with some beautiful silky burrata which balanced out the bitterness.

We stopped by Santa Maria di Leuca, the very bottom tip of Puglia.  It’s a pretty little town too with some luxe day beds to spend the day if you like.

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But we were headed to Pescoluse, a lovely stretch of coastline.  It’s a large sandy beach where you can walk and walk quite far out, the water remaining shallow.  We relaxed here quite happily.

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That evening we headed to Otranto, another seaside town.  There is a huge castle and some lovely churches, but the laneways were very crowded and it was the one place I found rather touristy with an overload of gift and food shops and spruikers out the front.  I’m sure there are some good places to eat here but I think you need to do your homework beforehand.

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So we hopped back in the car and headed to the town of Maglie where we stopped at Il Fusticino.  The Small People happily devoured pizza daily, whereas my standard order was whatever fresh seafood pasta was available, not yet over the fact that I could get a pasta with a generous amount of seafood for 10-12 euro.   After dinner we popped in at the pasticceria next door (completing my daily pasticciotto fix) and handed over an embarrassingly small sum of money for four sweets.

I did really like Gallipoli (yes Italy has one too) a charming fishing village.   There was a seafood market here where the fish was so fresh that most of it was still alive.   Plenty of lanes and buildings to wander here, restaurants and cafes and market stalls. We stopped at a hole in the wall which was part deli and part bakery, where several locals were packed in buying stuff to take home for lunch.  We figured it had to be good and squeezed in to get some panzerotti.  So good.

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Lecce, often called “the Florence of the south” was also on our visit list.  Though our time here was shorter than we wanted with the GPS sending us around in dreadful circles.  Near the large piazza you’ll find some Roman style ruins, a castle or two (castles are du jour in Puglia, no town is complete without one), a lovely park, a good bit of shopping, and sweet shop after sweet shop!  The tools made from chocolate were very cool indeed.

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For dinner we went to Trattorie Le Zie.  This was one of those places where the simple appearance of the food totally belies it’s taste.   Absolutely delicious.    I finally ordered a “tiella” which is another local dish of baked mussels, rice and potatoes (I had tried to make thiss before our trip and failed miserably) which was just so flavoursome, I did email them and ask for the recipe but didn’t have any luck.  I must try and make this dish again.

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It was unfortunately at the end of our stay when we discovered the beautiful Melendugno coast.  The stretch here from Sant Andrea to San Foca is gorgeous, which beach after beach and stunning rock formations.   The area around Grotta della Poesia (Poetry Grotto) is particularly beautiful.

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Here you’ll see lots of mad Italians jumping off a cliff several stories high into the grottos (there is a smaller one for the less adventurous!).

More Puglia to come!