Inside Italy: Mad Dogs and Englishmen

box by barbedwords

At work the other day, my husband (HeWhoWorks) found a couple of large cardboard boxes that were to be thrown out.  They were just what we needed to store our little used (ok, never used) camping gear so he thought he’d rescue them.

As he left work with the boxes that evening, the security guard on the gate asked him what they were and what precisely he was doing with them.  HeWhoWorks explained, in his best Marcel Marceau impression, about the camping gear and how perfect these, otherwise totally useless, boxes were.  The security guard – imagine Donatella Versace with a large beer belly and moustache – nodded encouragingly before pointing at the boxes and barking “Paperwork?”

HWW again tried to explain that the boxes were rubbish and of no use to anyone but him.  The security guard again barked “Paperwork?”  HWW winked and suggested the security guard could just look the other way whilst HWW walked through the gate with them.  Gasp of horror from the security guard: allow something to happen without completing the correct forms?  In triplicate?  HWW was obviously deranged and uno straniero (a foreigner) who had no idea of the correct way things should be done.   Needless to say, HWW lost the battle and sheepishly returned them to his office where his Italian colleagues laughed at his stupidity for even attempting such an operation.  And the boxes were consigned to the “recycling”…

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Arrabbiato Chilli Jam: Some Like it Hot

One of the things I really miss about England is the fantastic range of chutneys, pickles and relishes.  I love them so much I even add pots of piccalilli and jars of pickled onions to my Christmas list.  But it’s often hard to find something spicy, tangy and tasty in Rome; Italians don’t seem to go in for those strong tastes that us Brits enjoy so much.  So today I made my first batch of chilli jam which is just perfect for livening up sandwiches, crackers or cold meats.  The amount of fresh chillies I used resulted in quite a kick, so maybe cut them down by a quarter if you don’t like it too ‘arrabbiato’ (literally angry!)  I added a handful of rosemary to the recipe for a more Mediterranean flavour.

chilli jam on bread by barbedwords.wordpress.com

Arrabbiato Chilli Jam

 Ingredients – fills 2 small jam jars:

75g fresh red chillies (deseeded)

75g red peppers (deseeded)

Handful of fresh rosemary

500g jam sugar

300ml cider vinegar

Method:

Sterilise the jam jars – wash the jars in soapy water and rinse in clean warm water.  Preheat the oven to 140C/275F/Gas 1. Dry the jars, upside down, on a rack for 30 minutes.  Leave to cool down a bit before removing them from the oven!  chilli jam barbedwords.wordpress.com

Either put the chillies and peppers into a food processor and pulse until finely chopped or (if you were daft enough to leave your food processor in England) chop finely by hand.

Finely chop the rosemary.

Dissolve the sugar in the vinegar in a medium pan over a low heat.

Add the chopped chillies, peppers and rosemary to the pan.  Bring to a boil and gently boil for 10 minutes.

Take the pan off the heat and allow to cool.  The mixture should become syrupy and thicker as it cools (it really will, even though it seems too runny at first).

Give it a stir before ladling into your jars.

When completely cool, cover the jam with a disc of baking paper and seal with a lid.  Use within a month.  (Don’t keep in the fridge – I put mine in overnight and it came out with the consistency of tar!)

Inside Italy: Let It Be…

We had a problem with a leak in the bathroom that was dripping into the apartment below so a couple of idraulici (plumbers) were called in.  The leak came from a pipe beneath a tiled floor and two feet of solid concrete, so a pneumatic drill was used to dig a huge hole, which was just as loud and messy as it sounds.

The plumbers, who barely spoke a word of English, geared each other up to ask me, in the universal language of mime and lots of pointing, if it was true what they’d heard: English people don’t have bidets?   I confirmed this was correct and then, by the use of some very graphic mimes apparently involving handstands in the shower, they demonstrated how they thought we would ‘freshen up’ after using the loo.  They found this hilariously amusing and much merriment was had laughing at the funny, disgusting ways of foreign English folk!

Bidets certainly are very important here.  An American friend, who owns an apartment in Rome, wanted to remove the bidet when refitting her bathroom but was told in no uncertain terms that she would never be able to sell the apartment to Italians without a bidet.

Actually, it’s not quite true that we don’t use the bidet – it does come in very handy for chilling beers when I’m taking a long bath…

beers in bidet by barbedwords.wordpress.com

Parmesan e Patate al forno (Good ol’ cheese and potato bake)

The weather was wet and windy here in Rome yesterday so comfort food was called for.  This is a simple, yet very tasty, dish that can be prepared in advance and thrown in the oven at the last moment.  Add some crusty bread, a green salad and, voila, Roberto’s your uncle.

pancetta and potato bake by barbedwords.wordpress.com

Ingredients – serves four:

1 kg peeled potatoes, thinly sliced                           1 onion, finely sliced

100g pancetta or bacon                                          400ml chicken stock

200g mascarpone cheese or cream cheese             2 cloves of garlic, crushed

Handful of thyme, finely chopped                            50g parmesan cheese, finely grated

Salt and pepper

Method:

Put a layer of the potato slices in the bottom of a large baking dish (about 20 x 30cm).  Sprinkle with onion and pancetta.

Mix together the chicken stock, mascarpone, garlic and thyme to form a creamy sauce.  Pour enough sauce over the layer of potato, onion and pancetta to just cover them.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Add another layer and cover with the creamy sauce again.  I usually get three layers.

Finish with the sauce, topped with parmesan cheese and plenty of black pepper.

Cook in a preheated oven 200C / Gas 6 for approximately 30-40 minutes until the potatoes are cooked (a fork should slide in easily) and the cheese is golden brown.   Smells delicious and tastes even better!

And the thing I like best about this recipe?  If there are any leftovers – and I hide the dish halfway through dinner to make sure there are – I simply stick them into my blender with a little water, whizz it all up and reheat for the best soup ever for lunch the next day!   (I may have gone a bit crazy with the black pepper in case you’re wondering why the soup has freckles…)

potato and pancetta soup by barbedwords.wordpress.com

Lemon curd + Suffolk rusks = Delizioso

Ok, I admit that I may have become a bit obsessed with the limoncello lemon curd.  As well as having it on toast for breakfast, I’ve also been using it as a topping for cheesecakes and ‘desserts in a jar’, swirling it into butter icing for cupcakes and, of course, eating it straight from the jar.  But I remembered that I like it best when thickly spread on top of these crumbly rusks.

Rusks are a cross between a scone and a biscuit, originally cooked for storage or transportation.   They are a traditional dish from Suffolk so a little tricky to get hold of in Rome.  My mother-in-law, Suffolk born and bred, tells me that you should gently break the rusks apart when you split them (instead of using a knife) as this gives a nice rough, rustic finish when dried in the oven.

lemon curd selection by barbedwords.wordpress.comIngredients – makes 16 rusks:

225g self-raising flour

1 egg, beaten

85g butter

25ml milk

Pinch of salt

Method:

Preheat oven to 230C / Gas 8.  Sift the flour and salt together into a bowl and rub in the butter until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.  Stir in the beaten egg and the milk to make a smooth dough.

Roll out on a lightly floured surface to about 2.5cm (1 inch) then cut into 6cm  (2.5 inch) rounds.  Line a greased baking sheet with baking paper and place the rounds on the paper.

Cook for 10 minutes.  Remove from the oven, split in half and place back on the baking sheet, cut side upwards.  Reduce the oven temperature to 190C / Gas 5.  Return the rusks to the oven and cook for another 10-15 minutes until they are crisp and golden brown.   Cool on a wire rack.

Store in an airtight tin for up to two weeks.   The rusks also taste amazing as a teatime treat with butter and jam or as a savoury choice with cheese or paté.

Inside Italy: Girls Just Wanna Have Fun

Inside Italy isn’t exactly an official guide to visiting Italy, so please don’t use it to plan a holiday!  It’s just a series of random ramblings about things here that catch my eye.  

bad cleaning by barbedwords.wordpress.com       caffe good by barbedwords.wordpress.com

Now I’m definitely with Joan Rivers when it comes to housework:  ‘I hate housework. You make the beds, you do the dishes and six months later you have to start all over again’.  And I’d be the first to admit that I’m not the world’s tidiest person but I do have a slight disadvantage here in Italy.   I was amazed to discover that almost all of our Italian friends have a live-in colf (domestic help) or tata (nanny), usually Filipino, to do the cleaning, dusting, dog walking and all the other domestic chores that get in the way of having fun.

Our apartment has the tiniest maid’s bedroom and bathroom leading off the kitchen where the colf would be expected to live; we use it to store boxes and hang my husband’s Kylie calendar!  The bathroom is so small that you have to actually climb over the toilet to get into the shower.

We’re the only family in our apartment block that doesn’t have one of these maids.  When I’m relaxing with a cappuccino on my terrace, a sea of checked uniforms surrounds me, beating out carpets or hanging out washing.  It’s almost enough to make me put down my book, leap out of my chair and join them in a spot of frantic scrubbing.  Almost…