I am sitting in the hairdressers, wondering what to tell you in this first blog. I am surrounded by short, stout ladies of uncertain age, who, before Angelo works his magic on them are sporting a badger stripe of grey in their otherwise jet black hair.
The talk is of course about food. The making of foccacia and whether to make rascitelli or frizzule pasta for the Easter Sunday feast. Both are types of pasta made in other parts of Italy but have their own special name in our local dialect. What to fill the calzone with and which sauce will go with the pasta are popular topics of conversation.
At least once in my weekly visit to the hairdresser his clients voice will drop and poor Angelo will have explain who the 'straniero' in the corner is...me. 'Ah l' Inglesse'; (the only English person in the village and for at least 20 kms around here). Am thought of as exotic and interesting, particularly as l live alone and support myself. It’s all rather shocking.
This part of Southern Italy has all been all but forgotten by time and we live a wonderful tranquil life, filled with Saints days and sunshine.
Our food is seasonal and from 'due passe' meaning a short stroll away, so we wait with anticipation for our local delicacies to be ready to harvest. After 5 months without rain it all fell in 5 days last week.
At last the tiny delicate tips of wild asparagus can break through the rock hard ground. Wild asparagus is a slimmer more bitter version of its cultivated brother. It grows normally in inhospitable ground and the feathery fronds are full of prickles. It’s not really a pleasant, bucolic past time gathering it, so l have managed to coax a neighbour into harvesting it for me. Mario has a lifetime’s experience and knows all the best off the beaten track places. He gathers wild rocket, capers, figs and oregano as the seasons change and always kindly shares. Genuine, honest food unpolluted even by traffic, these hidden places are seriously away from the small tracks that even the three wheel tuk tuks follow.
Our local recipe for serving wild asparagus is to fold it into scrambled egg and add some lightly fried local sausage, normally homemade. Eggs and asparagus have such a great affinity. I like to make a type of gravadlax; pickled fresh salmon, sliced very thinly, lightly boiled asparagus on the side and scrambled egg on toasted local bread. Nothing is wasted. The asparagus stalks which are too tough to eat (it’s really only the tips that are tender) can be boiled to make a broth, an excellent basis for an asparagus risotto.
A lovely anti pasti is to bunch together 4 or 5 lightly boiled pieces of asparagus, wrap them in thin pancetta, put onto a baking sheet and sprinkle the tips with freshly grated Parmesan cheese. Put them in the oven until the cheese melts and the pancetta is crispy.
Tursi is particularly well known for its citrus fruits, our famous old-fashioned stacc oranges, no longer grown commercially as their skins are too thick to be fashionable, but with a flavour that is intense and complex. Grapefruits, blood oranges, mandarins, cedro and of course lemons. It's wonderful to create dishes with lemons picked from the tree, no wax, no treatment and often no irrigation. The skins particularly are pungent and perfumed. Dragging a fingernail across the peel releases a wonderful aroma, redolent of lazy summer afternoons with a gin and tonic topped up with homemade lemon sorbet.
Recipes are endless of course but my favourites are for this creamy lemon tart, lemon sorbet and limoncello. A new experiment is also conserving them in salt in the Arabic manner. I use them chopped very finely and mixed with fresh breadcrumbs, chopped parsley and olive oil as a stuffing for gratinated mussels.
Some of my favourite recipes this month using the best of what is on my doorstep:
Rub the butter into the flour and icing sugar, add the egg yolks and enough water to make a soft, pliable dough. Cover with cling film and refrigerate for 30 minutes, roll out and line a loose bottom pastry tin, leave some overhanging pastry and also feed well into the corners. Prick with a fork and refrigerate for another 30 minutes. Bake blind with baking beans for 10 minutes, then remove and bake for another 20 minutes.
The filling: 5 eggs 140g caster sugar 150ml double cream 100ml fresh lemon juice 2 tbsp lemon zest
Beat gently all the ingredients, apart from the lemon zest. Strain through fine sieve, add lemon zest and fill pastry case. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes. Leave to cool in tin. Serve when cold, a little fresh strawberry sauce goes well with this tart.
1 cup of water 1 cup of sugar 1 cup of lemon juice 2 tbs finely grated lemon rind
Make a syrup with the sugar and water, add other ingredients when cold. Put into an icecream maker. This is really sharp and tangy and good in summer drinks that ask for a slice of lemon.
Unwaxed lemons Pure Alcohol 95%
Wash and dry the lemons, peel with a sharp vegetable peeler, be careful not to get any of the white pith, only the yellow zest. Put into big Kilner jar and cover with the alcohol. Pick the jar up every day and shake it thoroughly, do this for 28 days. Pour the alcohol into a measuring jug and measure how much is left, some will have been absorbed into the lemon rind so this part is important. For instance for 1 litre of alcohol you will need a litre and half of water and kilo and half of caster sugar. Put these into a saucepan and bring slowly to the boil of melt the sugar. Let it boil slowly for a few minutes so that the syrup becomes a little thicker. This makes the final liquer more unctuous. Leave the syrup to become totally cold, add the lemon infused alcohol and put into bottle. Put in the fridge and drink when totally chilled.
Salt and Sugar Cured Salmon
2 pieces of fresh salmon fillet, matching pieces 4 tbsp coarse salt 4 tbsp brown sugar 3 star anise coarsely crushed 1 tbsp black pepper coarsely crushed 1/4 cup whisky
Wash and dry the salmon, lay skin side down on cling film. Lay them like a book or two pieces of bread for a sandwich. Sprinkle first with salt, then pepper, then sugar, star anise and finally the whisky. Sprinkle as evenly as possible on both pieces of fish. Carefully sandwich together and wrap tightly in cling film. Put into a fairly deep dish and weight the fish down with approx. 4 kilos. Put it into the bottom of the fridge and turn daily for 4 days, in this time liquid will come out each day, pour this off. After 4 days wash very well to get rid of all the curing ingredients, dry and then re-wrap. When ready to serve brush with olive oil and serve with fresh asparagus and scrambled egg. Makes a wonderful brunch or light supper.
I hope you enjoy making some of the recipes. More from me in May when weather being kind l should be picking the first apricots and maybe cherries and showing you my salami making which is scheduled for this Sunday.