Posts filed under italy

An Ode To Venice

August 2013

Dear Venice,

I'd like to start off this message by thanking you for choosing me all those years ago when I was coming to Italy to study on my year abroad.  I actually chose Rome, but then you chose me.  And when I insisted on being in Rome by applying as an English teacher with the British Council, you stood right by me and said, "Hey Abi, I'm still here." So when the British Council gave me Milan as my location,  I thought, you know what Venice?  You've already stuck by me.  I'll go with you.

And I went to you.  And I found friends the first night I went.  I phoned a number on a room rental website.  The guy on the phone said, "When you coming, girl? You can stay here until you find a place."

With two suitcases and a couple of bags, I got on a vaporetto boat from the airport.  I phoned the stranger up and on the phone he said "look to your right."  On my right was a topless man in a motorboat, waving and smiling as he called "get off at the next stop!"

And when I got off at the next stop I said to him, "that's incredible! You have your own boat?"

"We have a boat."  He smiled a warm smile. "Wanna drive her?"

So I drove her through your lagoon and into your small canals as tourists looked on and stared.  That is when I met you.

I was the queen of you, Venice.  You looked on and smiled at me.  You said, there are many more adventures to come, my dear. And there were.

You gave me a man who took me to Indonesia and the Caribbean when you provided long winters, Venice.  And you said "Damn, girl, come back soon!  Send me a postcard!"  I didn't leave you too long did I?  I rushed back to have fritelle, those delicious fried donuts you generously hand out in February.

I met the greatest people ever known to walk this earth.  People who greet you with arms wide open when they don't even know who you are.  People who ask you questions and not only genuinely care but are fascinated.  People who shower you with love, kindness and generosity.

But now, I've had to say goodbye to you for a little while.  I thought I'd stay with you for a little longer and that is why I did not write sooner.  But I could not conquer you in the way I would like to one day.  But as the city that conquered my heart, I would like to thank you.

Abi x

Posted on July 2, 2014 and filed under venice, italy.

Rome, you've been wonderful.

You just start getting to know somewhere, and then you gotta leave.

 I arrived in Rome exactly a week ago and was welcomed with a homemade spaghetti alle vongole.

Over dinner, we talked about Rome and Sicily where house mates Alessandro and Felice and Maria Vittoria are from.  

Alessandro is a passionate foodie. His taste buds are adapted to only the freshest and finest ingredients.  Even his mineral water was transported with him from his village to Rome.  

I walked out onto the patio and breathed the Roman air.  It was an air of comfort and welcoming.  

I'd really missed the words buonissimo and bellissimo.

I got lost in Rome.  And found again. I learned that it is only when you get

truly

lost in a city that you begin to understand it. You wander down roads, insisting that the gelateria with the insanely good walnut gelato was to the left of the corner, only to look to the left of that corner and to see that it is not there anymore. 

I moved in with my host family after a few days, a family that had accepted on hosting an English teacher/ animator in a summer camp in Monteverde.

And English camp happened.  We danced and sang like lunatics.  We made plays about James Bonds. Kids died. Kids were revived. 

Roman artichoke salad with ricotta and hazelnuts was had.

On Friday I had a nutella croissant for breakfast. I had a nutella pizza for lunch.  I had nutella ice cream for five o'clocks.  If you asked me my name I'd say Nutella.

(nutella mille feuille) 

Croissant are somewhere between brioche and croissant in Italy.  They have a lot less butter and are more dense. Often they are lightly flavoured with lemon which makes me keener on french croissants but they are more dense which means after one, you're good. 

I write this blog post and reminice about my week with this family.  How the mother took me to a Brazilian street dance show at Hadrians Villa.  The beauty of this archaeological site was  breathtaking. 

I asked about pastry in Rome.  My host father went to talk to the pastry chef of his favourite coffee bar/ pastry shop.  Today I walked there. I saw the pastry chef making apricot filled croissants and raisin brioche.  I talked to the owner and told her why I was taking so many photos of everything. I told her I was tasting. And I was thinking. I said my chef will want a recap of everything I ate when I get back to Paris.  The owner asked me if I could teach them to make macarons when I'm next in the area.. 

Nutella and whipped cream tartlet with nougat. 

Sacher torte with dark chocolate cake, apricot jam.(pasticceria Fiorini)

I said I'd be back.  Not in the terminator voice though. Rome has been good to me. It's fast but not too fast, its friendly but with a little distance, its warm but not stifling.  It's just right. 

Posted on June 28, 2014 and filed under italy.

Dinner on a gondola

Venice, Italy, 2 July 2013

Last night I made dinner on a gondola for an elderly german couple who were touristing in Venice. And they loved it.

It all started when my friend Tiffany and I were mind-mapping quick money ideas at the beach.  It is quite difficult to find a job in Italy, especially when you don't really want one.

"We could do supper clubs," she suggested, to which I nodded enthusiastically.

In the meantime we had a mojito and called our friend to ask if he had any contacts or foodie ideas we could get hold of.  To which, he asked, "would it be possible for you to make dinner for two on a gondola?"

"Of course," I replied, mojito in hand.  Tipsy, we thought of an easy and typically italian meal that could be enjoyed on a moving gondola.

To start with, we made some cichetti, which are typical Venetian bar snacks. (These are great ideas if you're having a dinner party because they keep people entertained and drinking their wine faster.)

Fresh bread sliced with different toppings: ricotta, sun-dried tomato and basil/ cream cheese, prosciutto cotto (ham) with artichoke/ cream cheese, prosciutto cotto (ham) and emental cheese drizzled with balsamic glaze/ ricotta cheese, grilled crushed walnuts and balsamic glaze.

The cichetti with caprese salad: Fresh tomatoes, burrata cheese (but mozarella is great too) and fresh basil leaves.

Figs rolled in prosciutto crudo (parma ham)

Rocket salad with beef carpaccio, lemon dressing and parmesan

Tiramisu for two (recipe to follow)

A tiramisu that will really pick you up..(Tira-mi-su= Pick-me-up)

This recipe is slightly adapted from my mum's tiramisu and the classic italian recipe.  The yoghurt adds a lightness that will bring you right to the clouds.

Tiramisu':

4 Eggs, separated

1 packet Savoiardi (ladies finger biscuits)

1 cup strong Americano coffee (preferably NOT instant coffee)

2 tablespoons rum

2 tablespoons sugar for the coffee

100g icing sugar

20g Cocoa Powder (to powder at the end)

250g Mascarpone Cheese

100g or 1 small plain yoghurt

Pinch of salt

Start by making your coffee.

Add the 2 tablespoons of sugar to the coffee.

Add the rum.

 Put the coffee a large bottomed bowl, large enough that there is enough space to dip the savoiardi biscuits in.

Take two large bowls.

Separate the eggs yolks from the whites, making sure there is absolutely no yolk in the eggs whites. Put the whites in one bowl and the yolks in the other.

With an electric whisk, beat the egg whites until they are firm.

Add the mascarpone, the yoghurt and the icing sugar to the egg yolks and beat with the electric whisk until well combined and fluffy.

With a large spoon, at the beaten egg whites to the mascarpone mixture.

Take the dish you will use for your tiramisu.

Dip the savoiardi biscuits in the coffee until just absorbed (not too mushy but still quite drenched in coffee, that way the tiramisu is not too wet nor too dry) layer on the bottom of the dish.

Layer the mascarpone and egg mixture.

Do another layer of the biscuits and the mascarpone mixture.

Continue until you have no space left.

(If there is any mixture left, it is always nice to make mini tiramisu's for everyones breakfast the next day using glasses or any other container you wish)

Leave to refrigerate for at least 4 hours before serving.

Just before serving, thoroughly dust cocoa powder on top.

Posted on July 2, 2013 and filed under venice, italy.

Welcome, April.

Today it rained and snowed at the same time.  It rained and then it snowed and then it did both.  

It snained.  

They say spring is on its way. 

There are better things out there.  The sun does still exist.  As does Ryanair.  And British Airways.  They had a sale on actually, British Airways did.  Extra Cheap Business Class Seats.  They did not advertise it exactly as that, but that was the jist.  I bought one.  I needed to see the sky again and see the italian 'moroso [lover]. 

 On the flight I kindly got asked what  I would like to drink.  "Coffee" I replied.  The air hostess was particularly kind to me since I had given up my seat to a gentleman who wanted to be next to his wife (ah, love,) so I got some delicious shortbread biscuits with the coffee.

  I started to look over the clouds.  "Would you like some tea," the air hostess disturbed.  I had just had some coffee but I said ok anyway.  "A drink with that?"  She persisted.  "Erm, yes what do you--" but she rudely interrupted my question with "white wine, champagne?"  Large grin.  

"Could I have some champagne?"  I awkwardly replied, hesitantly, as if she would say "oh no actually you can't, that was a JOKE!"  ...  Champagne with finger sandwiches of egg & cress and smoked salmon & cream cheese. ...... Warmed scones with clotted cream and strawberry jam ...... chocolate tiffin. 

 I ate everything and then the air hostess returned.  "Would you like some tea?"  She asked again. "Yes please" I said, wondering how on earth the word "tea" could have so many endless possibilities.  I got an actual cup of tea this time, to drink after my champagne. Is it just because we're in the air that its ok to have coffee then champagne then tea,  I wondered.  There are no cultural rules to determine the order, I supposed.

Cichetti [bar snacks] by the canal 

On Return to England.

I came back to the snain and I told a fellow student my opinion on British weather: "I think God is just pouring us with all this weather to tell us to get out of this country and go somewhere else.  "Splash," he's saying, "don't you get it?  IT IS NEVER EVER GOING TO GET ANY BETTER AND YOU'RE JUST GOING TO KEEP TALKING ABOUT IT FOREVER AND EVER AND NEVER TALK ABOUT ANYTHING ELSE APART FROM THE WEATHER SO JUST GET OUT OF HERE.""

 I said that to her. 

 At first she was bewildered by my sudden dramatic outburst of what God is telling us to do.  She did not mind too much since it was a Jew-to-Jew conversation so no religious politics there.  But some historical politics came up instead.  With calmness, she said: "we should just all transfer to the south of Spain where it's nice and warm."

The Rain in Spain Stays Mainly on the Plain.

I remembered colonisation.  The British rule of India.  The British in America, in Australia.  Poor Spanish, surely they've got enough on their plate with the economic crisis.  Obviously not.  Some Brits are thinking of colonising Spain now because the snain is getting too unbearable.  

Lets just have some spaghetti and close the blinds.  

Peppery Carbonara time:

2 Hungry People, 3 Normal

250g Spaghetti

5 Rashers of Streaky Bacon

2 Eggs

100 ml Single Cream

1 Garlic Clove, crushed

30g Parmesan or Grana Padano, finely grated

Little Salt and Pep.

Put a large pan of water to boil and put in the spaghetti (according to times indicated on the spaghetti)

Meanwhile, with a splash of olive oil (2 tablespoons) fry the bacon with the crushed garlic clove.

In a bowl, mix the eggs with the cream, nearly all the parmesan and the salt and pepper.  Add the bacon.

When the spaghetti is cooked, drain the water then put it back in the pan.

Off the heat, add the cream mixture.

Serve with the rest of the parmesan and a grinding of black pepper.

Posted on April 6, 2013 and filed under dinner, italy, london, venice.

Seafood Linguine

Small Razor Shell and Cockle

I become quite nostalgic when I think of seafood in Italy.  I think that seafood is one of those typical foods you crave when you go somewhere exotic.    

In Venice, the best way to get around is by boat (this would seem logical as the island is made up of 150 canals.)  For this reason, many Venetians own boats and on sunny days go out fishing or go out to get fresh seafood.  

An increasingly common hunt is the 'cappelunghe' which are called 'razor shells' in English.  These bastards live below the sand and leave a tiny hole behind them which helps you to catch them.  The way to catch them is by sprinkling some salt onto the hole in the sand and waiting until you see the creature appear.  Once it has, you pinch it's shell until the sea insect lets go.  

The 'cockle' on the right hand side is the name given for these salt water clams which are very pricey and extremely delicious.  'Spaghetti alle Vongole' is a common pasta dish made out of clams and cockle are it's smaller brother (or sister.)  Similarly to razor shells, they live in the sand and leave a mark whereby you can dig in the sand with your fingers and pull them out.  They are commonly collected by raking them from the sands at low tide when you buy them from the fishmonger but it is a  lot funner to catch them yourself.

Uncleaned mussels at the back of the boat

This recipe is extremely versatile.  

We actually had mussels as well that we caught and cooked separately.  If you would like to use mussels, I suggest cooking them separately first because a lot of water comes out.

  You need to wash them and remove any 'beards' they have (these are small and thread like dangling from the mussels- just pull them off.)  

Heat 2 chopped cloves of garlic in a pan with a tablespoon of olive oil and add the prepared mussels.  Add a large splash of wine, allow to heat and then cover for 5 -10 minutes until the mussels have all opened up.  

Seafood Linguin

2 Tablespoons:  Olive Oil 

3 Garlic Cloves

1 Small Fresh Chilli Chopped (Optional)

OR a tsp. paprika (Optional) 

1 Glass of Wine (175ml- think a small glass in a pub) 

Large Handful of Parsley, Roughly Chopped

250g Cherry Tomatoes

OR

2 cans chopped tomatoes

600g Clams

600g Small Razor Shells

OR

Other Seafood: such as King Prawns or squid

Salt and Pep.

In a large pot, put your water on to boil for your pasta and add a large pinch of salt to your pasta water.  Once the water has started boiling, add the linguine.  

Separately in a large pan, fry your garlic and chilli, then add your seafood.

Add the chopped parley

Add the white wine and allow to cook for a short while.

 Once you notice that you clams start to open up add the tomatoes and allow to cook for a further 5 minutes.  Season to taste.  Lots of salt and pepper.

Add the pasta to the seafood deliciousness.  And also add a small splash of olive oil if feeling generous.

Feel happy to devour one of the most beautiful pasta dishes...

Posted on March 26, 2013 and filed under venice, italy.

Baked scallops with béchamel

                                       The Sun Sets in the Venetian lagoon

Traduction: Coquilles saint-jacques gratinées

Traduzione: Gratin di capesante

I've been meaning to write about this recipe which came to me when I thought of my grandmother and how she serves us scallops with an ever so delicate béchamel.  We are extremely spoilt because these scallops are so delicious that is completely understandable that she buys them from her favourite supermarket 'Picard', a luxurious frozen foods brand.  I had always saw them at the Rialto fish market in Venice and thought, these would make a really special dinner party.   

Ingredients:

10 Scallops in their shell (or 2 per person, depending how many you're cooking for) 

1 Lemon

For Béchamel sauce:  3 tbs butter, 1 and a half tbs flour, 3 cups of milk, half a tsp of ground nutmeg, salt and pepper

To gratinate:  Breadcrumbs and parmesan  

To start, turn your oven on to 180 degrees C.  Place your scallops in a large oven tray and then preapre your béchamel:  in a medium sized sauce-pan, melt the butter on a low heat and once it is melted add the flour, stirring continuously to make sure no lumps form.  Little by little add the milk.  Add in the nutmeg,  yet never stop stirring the milk.  Once the béchamel has thickened, add a large pinch of salt and pepper.  Taste your sauce and see if it it to your taste.  Put some béchamel in each of the scallop shells and then sprinkle with breadcrumbs and some finely grated grana padano or parmesan.  

These make a very beautiful starter, serve on a bed of rocket and a very cold glass of white wine. 

Posted on October 23, 2012 and filed under venice, italy.