Sunday 26 March 2017

Some recipes my mother taught me

My mum’s dishes are very simple but extremely tasty. She sticks to two basic rules in her cooking mode/approach: give it time and don’t make it too elaborate. Here are a few recipes she taught me in my recent visit to Italy.

Pasta e ceci (pasta with chickpeas)
Soak 400 g of chickpeas for 36 hours or use a canned product.  Boil them in salty water for about one hour. Warm some extra virgin olive oil in a saucepan with a clove of garlic. When the garlic become lightly brown remove it and add the chickpeas and the water. Let it boil and add some rosemary, three tbsp of passata and 200 g of pasta (macaroni). Let the pasta cook and serve it warm.

Coda alla vaccinara (oxtail stew)
This is an old recipe typical of Rome. You need about a kilo of chopped oxtail (or better veal tail) and plenty of celery. First boil 3-4 celery stalks in 2 litres stock for half an hour. In a pan fry some pancetta cubes in extra virgin olive oil and add some chopped celery, a carrot, an onion, one clove of garlic and parsley, add the oxtail, salt and let it cook. After half an hour add a glass of white wine, when it evaporates add 4 tbsp of passata. Finally add the water where you had cooked the celery stalks till it covers the oxtail. After half an hour add the celery stalks chopped. Let it simmer and the water evaporate. Serve warm with mashed potatoes.

Carciofi alla romana (artichokes in the Roman way)
The most difficult thing here is to find the artichokes, good tender ones. There’s plenty in Italy in December and my mother can pick the right ones just pressing her fingers on the outer leaves. Once you have them (let’s say from 5 to 10 pieces) you need to get rid of some of the outer leaves and cut the upper part to get rid of the thorns. Ideally only the stem and the most tender leaves around the choke should be left. Once it’s clean, pass half a lemon around it or soak it in water and lemon. Place a piece of garlic (a quarter of a clove) and some leaves of parsley inside, add salt and pepper. Cook in a pan head down with plenty of oil and some water. Cover the pan with a lid and put a paper (kind of bread bag paper) under the lid so the water doesn’t evaporate otherwise the artichokes will burn. It needs about half an hour to cook.

Minestrone soup
You can make this dish with the vegetable you like, my mum uses carrots, courgettes, broccoli, celery, cauliflower, potatoes, spinach and onions. She chops them and boils them in water for about two hours. She adds stock to the water, salt and some passata as well. She usually has it without pasta but you can add some macaroni if you like or you can also puree it if you prefer. She only adds some extra virgin olive oil and parmigiano once she serves it.

Spaghetti ai frutti di mare (spaghetti with seafood)
We had this dish on Christmas Eve when we usually have fish. Cook the sea food (mussels, king prawns and squid) on a frying pan with some extra virgin olive oil and a clove of garlic. Add salt, pepper, chilli, parsley and 3-4 tbsp of passata. Add some black olives as well if you like. Let it simmer for half an hour. Cook 250g of spaghetti in salty water, drain it and mix it with the seafood in the frying pan. Toss it and let it warm for five minutes. Serve it warm.

Torta di mele (cake with apples)
This is a special cake with apples cooked in white wine my mum and I made during Christmas holidays. You need to peel, core and slice the apples (about 800 g), then cook them in 150 g of white wine and 100 g of water with 80 g of sugar. When they are soft set them on a plate and pour the juice of one lemon on them. Let the wine and water boil till it thickens to make a sort of syrup. Prepare the cake by mixing 280 g of flour, 1 tsp of baking powder and half a tsp of bicarbonate of soda, 70 g of melted butter, 4 yolk of eggs, the juice and grated zest of a lemon, 120 g of sugar and the whites of the eggs whipped till stiff. Pour half of the mixture in a greased tin cake, spread half of the sliced apples on it, then pour the rest of the mixture on top and finish with the remaining apples. Bake the cake for about half an hour at 180 °C. When it is still warm pour the syrup on it and let it cool before serving.

Saturday 11 March 2017

What I did on February half term 2017

Finally we reached half term. It was a great relief as the beginning of the term was very stressful due to different reasons, the most testing one was the fact that the international school where both my husband and I are teaching is unfortunately closing at the end of the school year. The consequence is that we are looking for a new job.

Just before the holidays we had the International Languages Day at school to celebrate the different languages and cultures present at our school, that is more than twenty. Students and teachers were encouraged to wear their traditional costumes and parents prepared delicious typical food from all the countries. There was an assembly at the end of the day where all the groups could perform a song, a poem or a dance linked to their culture. It was amazing to see how the students were proud to represent their country in different interesting ways. My Italian colleague and I dressed up in traditional costumes as well (she was wearing a costume from the area of Naples, I was wearing one from Sardinia, which I had made together with my mum last summer looking at some pictures of Sardinian costumes a friend of mine had sent me. It took a long time to complete it but it was worth it). We danced a tarantella with a twist (part traditional, part hip hop) with our Italian students. Pardon my boasting but it was a great success!

During half term week we planned to see all of our children. My daughter came from Edinburgh to see some friends in London so we could spend part of the weekend together. We visited a stunning orchids exhibition at the Princess of Wales Conservatory at Kew Gardens, I had never seen such an astounding display before. The variety of the orchids species and the way they were arranged was absolutely superb. Some were on huge baskets hanging on water, others arranged in columns, or forming a peacock or on display on a cart. Special ones were hanging from the ceiling like floating multi-coloured angels, their brightness standing out from the glass ceiling of the hot-house, the stringy roots coming down like frozen green worms. The soft music in the air helped imagine the dancing orchids similar to unattainable damsels or precious jewels out of hand. There were all colours, from purple to striking pink, all shades of yellow, maculated ones, pure white, blue, burgundy. There were slipper orchids, spiky ones, tiny and big, solitary and in clusters. All of them incredibly attractive. It is such a unique flower, fleshy, sensual, with an unmistakably harmonious shape, a natural beauty. In the same conservatory just before entering the orchids exhibition, there was a display of cactuses and other prickly plants, an extraordinary contrast with the orchids.

During the week we went to Oxford for the Poetry Society annual lecture featuring the German poet Jan Wagner, and saw our son as well. He is definitely absorbed in his Physics studies but could find the time for a pizza with us and have a tête-à-tête on truths in Physics and in Literature.

Jan Wagner’s lecture (The shedding of skins and schemes. A voice of one’s own and the voices of others) was very interesting. It was about the different ways in which poets are influenced by other poets; they imitate the work of their models at first and then develop their own voice. Jan Wagner’s models were the great masters (Shakespeare, Heine, Goethe, Brecht) that influenced him in the first place inspiring love for poetry, his prosody and vividness of imagery. Nevertheless, the continuous readings allowed him to reconsider their legacy and let his originality emerge. This confluence of many voices from different poets and different poems results in the inevitable intertextuality that is present in all texts, an important topic for me at the moment as I am studying intertextuality in Margaret Atwood’s work. I bought two books: Jan Wagner’s Self-portrait with a swarm of bees, translated by Iain Galbraith, and Love Poems by Bertolt Brecht, translated by David Constantine and Tom Kuhn.

We also headed north to spend a few days with my autistic daughter Valentina near Doncaster. She was not well, a flu probably and a lot of coughing, but had enough spirit to take us around the school, showing us a new engaging sensory wall and see the new house where she is going to move into in two-three weeks. It’s a bungalow they enlarged for her, brand new and especially thought for her. I must say she looks eager to move there.

Finally we spent a day with my other son and his fiancée in Leeds. We visited their new apartment and had an update on the wedding preparations.

Coming back home we didn’t feel so well, probably Valentina gave us influenza.