Reading Ban = Limoncello Curd

limoncello and artist's way in Reading Ban = Limoncello Curd by barbedwords.wordpress.com        Lemon Curd in Reading Ban = Limoncello Curd by barbedwords.wordpress.com

So I’m following The Artist’s Way: a 12-week course to discover and free your creativity.  Obviously, that sounds like a right load of New Age tosh but it’s an interesting read and has lots of exercises to get you started on writing, painting or whatever floats your creative boat.  But last week’s task was almost impossible: to not read anything for a week.  A WHOLE WEEK.  As someone who is never more than two feet away from a book, the task was always going to be tricky.  And The Artist’s Way was written in 1993, long before we all became used to reading for most of our waking hours – receiving emails and texts on our phones, checking Facebook hourly and looking information up on Google so we don’t have to bother remembering anything.

The rationale behind the task is that we spend so much time and energy reading the words of others that we don’t have any time left over to create our own.   I can see that.  But it still didn’t help me get through the week.

In the end, I made a compromise where I didn’t read any books (successful!) and attempted to minimise Facebook, email and Internet time to 30 minutes a day (ok, not totally successful!)  I had hoped that the task would force me to open up the document entitled ‘Novel’ and actually add some word count to it…but sadly that didn’t happen.

Instead I used some of the free time to make Limoncello Lemon Curd, which fits in nicely with my mission to fuse English and Italian cooking.  In my opinion any recipe can be improved with the addition of alcohol and this is no exception.  I’m a big lemon curd fan, especially when made with lemons picked from our own little tree, and I can honestly say that this is the best lemon curd in the world ever!!

lemon curd with ladybird lid in Reading Ban = Limoncello Curd by barbedwords.wordpress.com

Limoncello Lemon Curd

 Ingredients – fills 2 small jam jars:

2 eggs

2 egg yolks

125g caster sugar

25 ml limoncello liqueur

The juice of 3 lemons (approx. 100 ml lemon juice)

Grated zest of 1 lemon

85 g diced butter

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!

Whisk the eggs and egg yolks in a large heatproof bowl.  Stir in the sugar, limoncello, lemon zest and juice.  Add the butter and set the bowl over a saucepan of very gently simmering water, making sure the bowl doesn’t touch the water.

Stir the mixture with a wooden spoon for 5 minutes until the butter melts, then use a whisk to continuously stir the ingredients and cook for about 10 minutes.   Do not let the mixture boil.  The lemon curd should have the consistency of custard.  The curd will thicken as it cools.

Pour the hot lemon curd into the sterilised jars and leave to cool. When completely cool, cover the curd with a disc of baking paper and seal with a lid.  Keep in the fridge and use within two weeks.  But believe me, it won’t last that long!

Sunday lunch Italiano style

A long, lazy Sunday lunch is a great tradition in Italy, a time to relax and catch up with friends or family, either at home or in a restaurant.  We were feeling exceptionally Italiano yesterday so we headed out for lunch at Fregene, a small seaside resort about 25 miles west of Rome.  Italian beaches seem odd to us because they are full of ‘stabilimenti balneari’ – closed off sections of the beach where you pay a daily rate to use the sun loungers, toilets, bar and other facilities.  Or you can eat at a restaurant and enjoy the beach that way.

  controvento

We ate at a fairly trendy, modern place called Contro Vento.  It was busy with Italian families enjoying lunch in the hot sunshine but the waiter was very accommodating and had no problem moving a table into the shade for us.  There was no written menu; fortunately our waiter spoke English and reeled off a long list of antipasti (starters) and primo (first course) dishes.  There was a lot of fish featured, no surprise given that we were eating on a beach in an area known as Villaggio dei Pescatori (Fisherman’s Village).

fried octopus          beer glasses at beach

To start we chose fried octopus, a plate of antipasto misto (mixed fish starters including smoked salmon, calamari and anchovies) and bruschetta (tomatoes on top of grilled bread).  This was a pretty risky selection for us as we’re not big fish lovers but we gave it our best shot and managed to eat half of it – not bad going considering that Italian portions are HUGE and easily rival anything you’d get in Florida!

bar at controvento          pasta and fish

For the primo course (what would be the first course for Italians, to be followed by the secondo course when meat or fish dishes would be eaten.  We’ve never been able to cope with all three courses), we steered away from fish, opting instead for ravioli and fettuccine with courgettes.   When the dishes came, the ravioli was filled with…fish and the fettuccine was topped with…what else, more fish!  The food tasted exactly as I’ve come to expect when eating out in any restaurant in Italy – fresh, with very simple flavours.

We couldn’t even think about frutti o dolci (fruit or dessert) after the meal but plenty of other tables were eating plates of fresh pineapple and strawberries. The total bill came to €90 for four of us, including a couple of beers, which is about average for Italy.   I would definitely recommend Contro Vento as a lunch or dinner venue.  The setting was beautiful, the food was fine and it had a laid back feel.

We finished the afternoon off with a stroll along the beach (very Italian) and a dip in the sea (not so Italian, particularly not in April!)

fregene beach

Fregene is a nice resort to visit from Rome with lots of restaurants to choose from, a lovely beach and a tranquil atmosphere.   It is, however, the resort of choice for half of Rome so it might not be quite so relaxing in the middle of August when you can’t walk across the beach without tripping over bronzed, 50-year-old men in very small Speedos…

Marmite Spaghetti – perfect comfort food

We had a huge thunderstorm here a couple of nights ago with the loudest thunder I’ve ever heard crashing over our heads for what felt like hours.   I’ve been surprised at just how many thunderstorms we get in Rome – more in the last six months than I experienced in the last six years in England.   The clouds have almost all gone now and the sun will soon be beating down upon us again (this is a small clue to the fact that I’m not a lover of the heat.  More to come on that subject as the temperature here starts to rise!)

clouds over mountains

So whilst it’s still relatively cool, I thought today would be a good day for some comfort food.  This is a new recipe in my English-Italian blended range that I eventually hope to persuade Waitrose to stock, thus making my fortune… What could be a better mix than traditional spaghetti with a creamy Marmite Butter sauce?  Marmite is one of those ‘must have’ products from England that we force ask all our visitors to bring over for us.  Along with the other ex-pat essentials: PG Tips, Bird’s Custard powder and Shredded Wheat.

Spaghetti with Marmite Butter

 Ingredients – serves 1: 

80g spaghetti

20g softened butter

5g Marmite (according to taste)

Grated parmesan, black pepper and chopped thyme to garnish (all optional)

Method:

Cook spaghetti as per instructions on packet.  Mix butter and Marmite together in a small bowl.   When spaghetti is cooked, coat thoroughly with the sauce.  Garnish, serve and enjoy – buonissimo!

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By the way, I also highly recommend keeping a little tub of the Marmite Butter in the fridge as it is amazing on toast: a perfectly distributed blend with no unexpected overly Marmite areas.   However, in the interest of full disclosure, I will mention that my husband refuses to have Marmite Butter on his toast, insisting that applying them separately is the only acceptable method.  But take my word for it – Marmite Butter is delizioso!  (Yes, that is a real Italian word!)

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Strong stuff

Every time I start to think my Italian is improving, I’m reminded of why it’s really not.  This morning after a cappuccino in my favourite bar, I said goodbye with a casual ‘ci vediamo dopo’ (‘see you later’).  The barista responded by laughing and wobbling about pretending to be drunk.  I then realised I’d said ‘ci vediamo doppio’ which roughly translates to ‘I’m seeing double’!  Maybe I’d had one too many Fragolo Cupcakes…

Fragolo Cupcakes

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I managed to lock myself out of the apartment yesterday, taking my carefully sorted recycling down to the bins.  Major panic as I’d left a pan of home-made carrot soup bubbling on the hob.  It was molto fun trying to ask for help from the old nonna downstairs, who doesn’t speak a word of English (luckily not the same nonna I previously fell out with over a pair of wellies).  It’s harder than you’d think to mime ‘I’ve locked myself out, my husband is at work and there is imminent danger of the apartment burning down’!

Fortunately, it turns out that the landlord’s mother lives in the block next door and has a spare key.  By the time I got into the apartment, I could barely see through the thick smoke and the soup had turned into a blackened solid lump at the bottom of the pan.   After all that, this morning we saw the bin men chuck the recycling in the back of the truck with all the rubbish…

So I decided to cheer myself up making some strawberry cupcakes but with an Italian twist: the addition of Fragolo, the strawberry liqueur from Nemi.   At 30% proof, I think these had better be adult only treats!

Fragolo Cupcakes

Ingredients – makes 12 cupcakes:

8 large fresh strawberries                           2 eggs

200g caster sugar                                      75ml vegetable oil

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract                       200g plain flour

2 teaspoons baking powder                        1/4 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons custard powder                    20ml strawberry liqueur

Icing:

175g mascarpone or cream cheese            30g unsalted butter, softened

80g icing sugar                                           1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

10ml strawberry liqueur                               Pink food colouring (optional)

To decorate:

White chocolate hearts or slices of fresh strawberry

Method:

Preheat oven to 170 C / Gas 3.  Line cupcake tin with cupcake cases.

Place strawberries into a blender and blend until smooth. Pour the puree through a sieve to remove seeds. Puree should equal about 175ml.

In a large bowl beat together the eggs, caster sugar, vegetable oil, vanilla extract, strawberry puree and strawberry liqueur until well combined. Stir in the flour, baking powder, salt and custard powder. Spoon the cake mixture into the prepared cupcake tin, filling each about 2/3 full.

Bake in the preheated oven until the cupcakes have risen and a skewer inserted into the centre of a cupcake comes out clean, about 15 minutes. Allow the cupcakes to cool for at least 10 minutes before icing.

To make the icing, beat the mascarpone and butter together in a mixing bowl with an electric mixer until smooth.  Add vanilla extract, strawberry liqueur and food colouring, then mix in icing sugar to make a lump-free icing.  Ice each cupcake and add decoration of your choice.

Enjoy with a cup of tea and good book.  Or maybe more liqueur…

Cake all gone!

Caffè time

One of the best things about living in Italy is the great coffee. I’m a cappuccino girl all the way and I go against the grain by having it ‘molto caldo’ (‘very hot’ – not luke warm like the Italians do) and I drink it in the afternoon which is also a no-no, as Italians believe it’s not good for you to have milk after a meal. After lunch is strictly caffè (espresso) time for Italians, which they knock back like a shot.

It can be a complicated business going into a bar (cafe) in Italy. Sometimes you pay at the till first, then take your receipt to the bar. Other times you order at the bar, drink then pay at the till. Occasionally, you order at the bar, pay at the till then back to the bar to drink! Italians like to stand at the bar to have their caffè and cornetto (croissant). In some places it costs a lot more to sit down at a table! Luckily my favourite local bar is a friendly place where I can sit for free, listen to a bit of Lucio Battisti and try out my Italiano on the lovely staff.

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Italian living and writing (or not)

Italian writing: living in a new country should provide the perfect inspiration to writing – yes?  New experiences, new people, new language, new food.  However, it doesn’t seem to be working and I’m still halfway through the novel I started as part of NaNoWriMo…in 2011.  Bought Julia Cameron’s ‘The Artist’s Way’ and have started writing Morning Pages each day so at least I’m writing something.  And have done my first blog post in over a year!

Italian living: I recently visited Nemi, a small town about 18 miles away from Rome in the Alban Hills, overlooking Lake Nemi, a volcanic crater lake.  Nemi is known for its miniature wild strawberries grown on the side of the crater, which creates a warm microclimate.  The strawberries are particularly good when topping off custard tarts (a Nemi speciality) or when made into strawberry liqueur (tastes even better with prosecco!)  Nemi is a great place to mooch around for a couple of hours, grab a spot of lunch and admire the wonderful view.

Red chairs at Nemi

Lake Nemi

Flowers in Nemi