Thursday, 25 August 2011

The perfect meal

Before I go on holiday I always tell to myself, that I am going to take a break from cooking. It is a good thing to miss it and go back to cooking with even more passion. This time it took me four days to be back in the kitchen. What made me to do this? Local produce in place we have stayed, village called Ginestra. 

I cooked really simple yet beautiful in its simplicity dinner. We sat around the table slightly worm-eaten, listen Vivaldi’s violin concert and its melody seemed to mix well with the sounds of everyday village life. I have achieved a culinary nirvana. It is funny how little human being needs to be happy. 

To cook this perfect meal I went 2000km away from Yorkshire, to warm slopes of Central Apennines, I have become much calmer, and I completely forgot that I need two matching sets of cutlery or plates to be happy. I also reminded myself that food eaten from a chipped bowl can be tasty, even if I only have a cheap table wine handy. 

On Tuesday or Friday around 9.30am I sat next to the open window carefully awaiting some dance music coming from the distance. I was awaiting Cessidio who comes in his van and stops next to the bar first, then he drives to the shop and his last stop in the village is near the post office. He does not have wide selection, but his vegetables are always fresh and good quality. I bought 2kg of tomatoes from him. These were nowhere near tomatoes I see in supermarkets. They reminded me of my Granny’s tomatoes that she used to grow on the allotment. Smell of the tomato vines exposed to the sun always reminds me my childhood. 

Good tomatoes are also available from Neapolitan, who comes to the village on Fridays between 10 and 11am. 

You also need some tasty olive oil to cook this perfect meal. The best I had so far is olive oil produced by Gina, one of the villagers. In Ginestra, specifically in village frantoio few producers make their own olive oil. They you a specific mixture of local olives and it gives the oil very distinctive colour and flavour – fruity yet peppery on the finish. Thankfully I have ordered some in April and tin filled with olive oil was waiting for me in Ginestra when I arrived.

Olive tree in Ginestra

It is not difficult to guess while shopping in Osteria Nuova, that fresh pasta (pasta fresca) made locally in Spinacetto – Greccio is very popular. I bought a packet of strozzapreti fresche (it means “priest choker” – I love it!) and few days later I went back to the shops to get some more, because it was delicious. You can also buy this pasta from Fratelli Liberati deli, where you can buy lovely pecorino cheese, which I love even more than parmesan.  

I chopped roughly few washed tomatoes into bite size pieces, placed then in a bowl with finely chopped 2 cloves of garlic and one crumbled peperoncino. Added little bit salt and set aside for a while. Meanwhile I cooked pasta al dente. When tomatoes released their juices I added a generous splash of oil and some roughly crushed black peppercorns.  



I mixed drained pasta with tomatoes in the bowl and shaved some pecorino on the top. We had it with some lovely chilled rose wine and when we finished pasta, we used some tasty local bread to clean the plates. Nothing went to waste. Not even a drop of this tasty juice and olive oil. 

Why recently I obsessively think about my own house in Italian countryside?

Up date, 14th October

Well... I did not win on the lottery recently (nice roll over!), so I will not be buying an Italian house of my dreams, however I can still cheer myself up by going to the restaurant of my choice  and spending some money that I can win entering another exciting competition. This recipe takes part in LoveTheGarden “A Taste for Tomatoes - a recipe blog competition”, so please keep your fingers crossed!

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Where to eat? "Maria Fontana", Poggio Moiano*

I am not trying to say that you cannot have a decent meal in Rome. We only spent two days there and we more focused on history rather than food. We both agreed that we will look for some nice food somewhere else. And to be quite honest -  I was so happy eating in those tiny provincial restaurants that I would be quite happy to stick to them. 

We were planning to visit Maria Fontana restaurant after my friend's recommendation, however we got there earlier than we originally planned because we had to visit the local carabinieri office. We went there on Sunday morning and we were well looked after, however the whole procedure took longer than we expected and we started to feel little bit hungry. And we definitely had to cheer ourselves up. We singed all the necessary paperwork and we took off to Maria Fontana restaurant for a lunch. I am really pleased that we got there earlier than we planned because we had a chance to go back there before we left Italy.

On Sunday afternoon this place was full. Busy, quite laud, most of the tables were already occupied by whole families enjoying their lunch. We got a table and were told there is no menu today also we had a chance to order the drinks and antipasto (starter). We ordered a decanter of water and local unfiltered beer produced in Rieti, called Principessa (Princess).  It had very distinctive flavour, very tasty, sweet and made with kind of wheat popular in Roman times (It,  farro,  Lat. Triticum dicoccum, accoring to some it is spelt, but I think it is something else: emmer wheat).

That day os was only one starter available - selection of cold, cured meats and cheese, but I also asked if they serve coratella.  Waiter just smiled and disappeared in the kitchen, after minute or so he brought 3 little bowls, one of them was filled with coratella. This dish is traditionally made with finely chopped young lamb's heart, lungs, and liver fried in olive oil and finished off with some white wine and lemon juice. This is not typicall dish for this region as some others have their own coratellas i.e. with artichokes. (Coratella d'agnello con  carciofi). Our was very aromatic, I could taste peperoncino and bay leaf. Offal were very nicely chopped, juicy, tender, spicy. We had it with bread and I would be quite happy to have it as a main dish.

In other bowls there was a marinated cucumber  (courgette? I am not sure) and something that I did not know so when we came back next week and restaurant was not so busy I managed to find out what it was. It is calles portulachia (or porcacchia).  It looked like weed or seaweed, and it was left in the sun to dry out on the tables in the next room. It was very tasty - crunchy, little bit sour, very refreshing.

Bread that was served with antipasti was a proper, real bread, cold meats (hams, prosciutto crudo, salami etc) smelled gorgeous and so they tasted, coratella was disappearing quicker that I would expected.  I was gutted when I finished because I realised that I am pretty full already. Thankfully we were given some time to order primi (first dish). Waiter suggested very finely handmade pasta called maccheroncini, that this restaurant is famous for or pappardelle. We both decided we want the thin one - I had tomato sauce with mine, my partner tomato sauce with some meat. That was beautiful! After, what we thought was a real tucking in, waiter asked what we would like for secondi  (second, main dish),  and usually it is fish or meat. Unfortunately we were full and we wanted to leave some space for a dessert. Luckily we had some time to order the dessert and get some rest before having even more food.

For dessert I had panna cotta with some little blackberries which grow locally, just off any road and some cherries soaked in wine. For me it was an ideal dessert: panna cotta was not too wobbly, not too stiff, sweet and sauce and fruits were quite sharp. My partner had chocolate pancake with some ice cream.

Obviously I would not be full Italian meal without strong, aromatic espresso. Also we were offered liqueur or grappa , but we did not want any. 

For all of the above the bill came to 46 euros. We knew we were coming back to this place very soon.  We had to try their secondi

Second time we did not take any antipasti and for firsh dish we ordered ravioli with ricotta and herbs in tomato sauce and pappardelle with tomato and rabbit (if  I understood correctly...). Those large and very broad pasta was a brownish in colour and tasted little bit nutty, it was certainly made with some farro wheat, that I mentioned above. Ravioli was very tender and the dough was thin and lovely, filling - very creamy. Do I have to say it was delicious? This restaurant run by one family since 1966 is very famous by their handmade pasta, an absolute must try when you there.

It was a  time for second main dish and I ordered veal schnitzel and my partner decided to go for the pork escallops with mushroom sauce. We also ordered a plateful of coratella that we were (and we are!) dreaming about since our first visit. This time main dishes were listed on a piece of paper that we were given together with a pen and asked to my our choice. We also were given this tasty bread and offered contri (side dish) of salad, or tomatoes, or beans or cicoria - don't mistake this with a chicory - this is something else. We had it before elsewhere and enjoyed it's flavour so we both decided to go for it again.  I was searching Google to find out how you call it in English but I could not figure this out. It is probably a part of curly endive, family but is it more similar to common dandelion. Anyway it was fried in olive oil with some peperoncino and served warm. We also had some white house wine (vino della casa) in a jug and water.

This time for a dessert we both had really nice fluffy and light chocolate cake, then two strong coffee shots and again would did not want any grappa to finish off, but the waiter (and the chef and owner I believe) brought some homemade liqueur called  ratafia oi rose.  It was very tasty and I believe it helps to digest the whole meal unfortunately my Italian is too poor to understand what it was made with (rose perhaps?). Traditionally it is made with cherries, walnuts or plums. We had over two hours feast and this time paid 50 euros.

Why to eat there? First of all because they serve very tasty food - fresh, homemade, no fuss, using local ingredients. Also because sometimes it is nice not to have a menu and eat what you are given, it is fun to trust the chef, when there is no written menu and two dishes are being served, so there is not much choice. And perhaps because this is such a nice place and even this is restaurant and you are given real napkins instead of disposable ones and white table cloths the atmosphere is very informal. And the prices are very reasonable.

I highly recommend this place!

Ristorante Maria Fontana 
Viale Manzoni 13 
02037 Poggio Moiano 
 +39 0765 876169

Closed on Mondays, open for a lunch rest of the week, please ring for opening time for the dinner as sometimes they are closed at night too.

* province of Rieti, region Lazio

Saturday, 20 August 2011

The bag

I am still little bit confused after comming back from holiday. I am in the middle of my next note and hoping to finish it off by the next week. Awaiting new post please let me introduce: our plastic bag, a journey companion.

Companion in our struggle, or on the road with plastic bag

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Souvenirs from Rome made in China


“My boyfriend comes from here and he is not happy with how Rome has changed in last few years” – said American girl who we randomly met in Ginestra. She was playing with her long curly hair, dark one with a hint of grey and she asked how long we have been here. She was rather surprised that we already spent two weeks on a village and asked what actually we were doing here. Well… You can do many things in Ginestra. For example you can sit, like Maya does.

I am not surprised at all because to sit in Ginestra is a fantastic thing to do. You can sit on the red plastic chair against the wall outside the village bar, having great cappuccino and pastries. You can sit on a bench opposite car park, where Padre Pio in a shelter made of bricks watches over the place. And from there you can see local gangs of cats, having a sun baths on the front of the cars. Even when you want to say good bye to locals they may ask you to sit down for a while with them. 


Obviously you can leave Ginestra and take a trip to Rome. It is only 50km away north-east and it easy to reach by the train. To do it you have to travel to one of the local train stations, let say Fara in Sabina. The building looked abandoned, information and selling points were shut, ticket machine did not work. You could still hear the voices of people, probably Trenitalia employees, coming out of the windows. Knock it and do not be tempted to ask them in Italian if they speak English. “I am Italian, I live in Italy, why should I speak English?” Eventually you manage to find out that they do not sell the tickets. Right – we decided there must be the opportunity to buy tickets on a train to Rome. So we jumped into a train and awaited a ticket inspector. He came after few minutes, and we even managed to say in really poor Italian that we would like to buy tickets to Rome Tiburtina station. He looked at us like we were total idiots and said that he does not sell the tickets. He left us and when my partner came to him to insist on paying for the trip, he just said: “Si! Si! Roma Tiburtina!” and he left and we never saw him again. And that was it. So apparently you can go to Rome by train for nothing. 


You can also stay in bed 5 minutes longer than usually on lovely sunny Saturday morning, perhaps have one more slice of tasty bread for you breakfast, say good morning and have a chat with the lady who does not seem to remember that she had met us before and we had a sort of interview on Tuesday, so she had to ask again who we are, and where we live. And then you can have a cappuccino in bar called “Sport” and finally go to the station only to find out that you have missed your train and the next one is n about two hours.  So you can decide to go to Rome by car. Pay for you parking space on the parking in town centre (Roma Centro), have a romantic walk with somebody you love, buy a fridge magnet for somebody who collects them from all over the world, sit on the Spanish Steps and do things that you do in Rome.  Then you can come back to you car and see that somebody broke into it and the window on the back seat is totally smashed. Ironically there was nothing left in the car, so the bloody robber did not make a great deal out of it, however it took him fifteen seconds to do it and it took us days to sort the problem out. We had the opportunity to meet carabinieri (type of police) in Rome and small village near Ginestra (Poggio Moiano) and find out that they are very reasonable and helpful. I can’t really say as many warm words about the garage in Rieti. OK, OK, there we quite busy before summer holidays, and the secretary seemed to be very excited about her upcoming wedding. It seemed like “Lost in Translation” scene, when I was trying to say that glass should have been fitted in one rather than three hours, as promised (eventually it took over five hours…) and she was showing a gesture of putting a ring on her finger and singing Mendelssohn's "Wedding March”. At the end of the day the glass fitted after four days is better than a piece of plastic bag that was kindly fitted by locals of Ginestra and my partner on Saturday night outside the local bar, on our way from Rome. Every time we reached 30mph it started to move, make noise and eventually tear off – what a struggle! I think it was a top story in Ginestra that week – our missing glass. If the locals are going to remember us it will be due to that window and probably our poor knowledge of Italian language.  



How about Rome? Rome is Rome. Packed with historical monuments, that are definitely worth seeing and probably you will have to spend a month there and still not see everything. We only managed to spend two days and did not feel like coming back due to the incident with our car… Rome is also packed with people. However there is something about Rome that you only have to go two streets away from Colosseum or Fountain di Trevi to get a peace. And find old buildings of which the old paint is peeling away, shabby benches and silence disturbed just by some everyday sounds: commanding voice of some housewife probably preparing a meal, noise of cutlery jingling against the plates, oh-oo-oor-ing of the pigeons, joy of wedding guest awaiting a bride outside the church or a sound of high heels against the pavement made by a blond bunny girl carrying little dog and the shopping bags from a top designers. 


Rome fascinates and tires. People tire. Huge amount of Americans making silly comments and being sure of their own supremacy, that obviously only they have a right for. Huge amount of Indian guys or Africans trying to sell you crap or convince you that their Polaroid photo will be much better than the one from you own camera. Massive amount of souvenirs made in China. Waiters outside the restaurants and trattorias trying to catch you on the street and make you eat at their place. Again many Americans and Brits who order chips (French fries for Americans) and coke for a dinner. How about food? Well. We did not have a fabulous meal in Rome. It was average and overpriced. Or not good and overpriced. You probably ask me: where to eat in Italy? And I will tell you: on the province. I will write about this in few days.