Sunday 29 October 2017

Summer recipes

During summer my mum and I enjoyed cooking and my daughter joined us from time to time. In July and August we had friends and family coming and going from Italy so our kitchen was very busy. Here are some dishes we prepared and particularly liked.

Pasta with artichokes

For four people you need: 4 artichokes, the juice of a lemon, 4 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil, two cloves of garlic, salt, pepper and grated parmigiano; optional: 2 tbsp of double cream; 500 g of fusilli or penne.

Clean the artichokes getting rid of the hard and thickest leaves as well as the core. Cut them in slices and soak them in the juice of the lemon adding some water. Warm the olive oil in a frying pan, add the garlic cloves peeled and crushed and the drained artichokes, add salt and pepper. Add water if needed and let them simmer covered with a lid for about 15-20 minutes. When they are soft and ready, grind them in a blender till you obtain a creamy mixture. As an option you can add two tbsp of double cream at this stage. Cook the pasta in water with salt, when it is ready drain it and add the artichoke cream and some oil if needed. Serve with parmigiano.

Pasta with asparagus

For four people you need: 500 g of asparagus, half an onion, four tbsp of extra virgin olive oil, 30 g of butter, two tbsp of grated parmigiano; 500 g of fusilli or penne.

Cut off the white hardest part of the asparagus. Boil the asparagus and the onion in water with salt for about 10-15 minutes. Grind 2/3 of the asparagus and the onion in a blender adding oil, butter, parmigiano and two tbsp of the water you used for cooking. Keep 1/3 of the asparagus tips aside. Cook the pasta in water with salt, when it is ready drain it and add the asparagus cream, the asparagus tips and some oil if needed. Serve with parmigiano.

Sgonfiotti alla romana (pancakes in the Roman way)

For four people you need: five eggs, 50 g of butter, 200 ml of water, 50 g of ham, 30 g of grated parmigiano, six tbsp of plain flour, salt, half a tsp of ground nutmeg, some oil to fry.
Boil the water and the butter in a pan with some salt. Add the flour in one go stirring till it becomes smooth. Let it cool then add the eggs, the ham cut in little cubes , the nutmeg and parmigiano. Mix and let it rest for half an hour. Fry spoonfuls of the mixture in hot oil, they should be puffy and golden when ready.

Sicilian pesto

You need: four big tomatoes, two peeled garlic cloves, 50 g of fresh parsley, 50 g of fresh basil, 100 g of blanched almonds, two celery sticks, 6 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil, salt, pepper and grated parmigiano; 500 g of spaghetti or linguini.

Soak the tomatoes in hot water and leave them for ten minutes. Peel the tomatoes and cut them in cubes getting rid of the seeds. Grind the almonds in a blender then add all the other ingredients. Cook the spaghetti in water with salt, when it is ready drain it and add the Sicilian pesto and some oil if needed. Serve with parmigiano.

Tomatoes stuffed with rice

You need: four big ripe tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil, parsley, 4-6 tbsp of Arborio or Carnaroli rice, 2-3 potatoes, salt and pepper.

Cut the top of the tomatoes and scoop out the pulp. Cut the tomato pulp in small pieces in a bowl. Add salt, pepper and parsley to the mixture, add the rice as well, about a tbsp and a half per tomato. Sprinkle some salt and pour some olive oil in the scooped tomatoes and fill them with the mixture. Cover the stuffed tomatoes with the tomato lid you cut before and place them in an oiled pan. Peel the potatoes and cut them in cubes, add salt and spread them in the pan beside the stuffed tomatoes. Cook the tomatoes and potatoes for 45 minutes covered with a lid. Let them rest for half an hour before serving.

Savoury pies

For the dough you need: 500 g of self-raising flour, one tbsp of melted butter, two eggs, one tsp of salt, 200 ml of lukewarm water.

For the filling you have two options:

1)      500 g of ricotta, one egg, 250 g of spinach or bieda, nutmeg and salt.
2)      500 g of ricotta, two eggs, 2 tbsp of grated parmigiano, 100 g of grated ham, pepper.

Prepare the dough mixing all the ingredients and let it rest for half an hour in a cool place. For filling no. 1, cook the spinach in 30 ml of water with a bit of salt, drain it and cut it roughly. Add all the other ingredients and mix well. For filling no. 2, grind the ham in a blender, and mix it with the ricotta and all the other ingredients. Prepare the pie rolling out half of the dough, line a greased rectangular tin with the dough sheet and spread the filling in it. Roll out the rest of the dough and cover the pie. Bake for half an hour at
180° C.

Rice with nettles

For five people you need: 200 g of nettles leaves, one litre of vegetable stock,  one leek, half a glass of white wine, 30 g of butter, 350 g of rice, four tbsp of olive oil, three tbsp of grated parmigiano, salt and pepper.

Harvest the nettles (only leaves), wash them several times and cook them in some water and salt. Finally grind them in a blender. Pour the olive oil in a pan and cook the leek (only the white part) finely cut for 5 minutes, add the rice and the white wine. Stir for a few minutes then add the nettles and the stock little by little. When the rice is ready add the butter and parmigiano. Let it rest for five minutes before serving.

Melanzane ‘mbuttunate (stuffed aubergines)

This is an old recipe that goes back to my grandmother, who was from Meta di Sorrento, that you will never find on the internet. The aubergines are stuffed with biscuits and dark chocolate so that the taste is a mix of sweet and savoury. My father adored it.

You need: 2-3 aubergines, three tbsp of sugar, one tbsp of vinegar, five ground rich tea biscuits, 50 g of grated dark chocolate.

Cut the aubergines in half lengthwise and cook them for 10-15 minutes in some water with a tbsp of vinegar and three tbsp of sugar. Once soft, scoop them out and put the pulp in a bowl. Add the ground biscuits to the mixture and the graded dark chocolate. Fill the aubergines with the mixture and bake for 20-30 minutes at 180° C.

Aubergines in the Sardinian way

You need: 2-3 aubergines, extra virgin olive oil, ripe tomatoes, oregano, fresh parsley, salt and pepper.

Cut the aubergines to obtain round slices ¼ of an inch thick. Set them in an oiled oven tray. Sprinkle olive oil, salt, pepper, parsley and oregano to flavour them. Add ripe or dried tomatoes cut in small pieces without the seeds. Let it marinate for half an hour then bake for 20-30 minutes at 180° C. 

Saturday 14 October 2017

Poetry stuff

It was a fairly busy year for my poetry. I was in contact with The Poetry School and decided to enrol on a course in London with Myra Schneider, who I knew because of our mutual friendship with Elizabeth Burns. She also introduced me to the Second Light network for women poets
( ) where I attended inspiring workshops and met interesting poets. Moreover, I had some tutoring sessions with Clare Pollard at the Poetry School in London, which were hugely helpful. I think I have understood a bit more about my poetry and about writing in general.

The workshops I attended were led by excellent poets, like Penelope Shuttle, Hannah Lowe, Katherine Gallagher, Myra Schneider and Sarah Westcott; they were all engrossing and stimulating. I wrote a lot of new poems, some of them are promising pieces that may become finished works I will probably send to magazines and competitions. And actually, one of my poems, Pajarita, was accepted in South 56! I read it at the launch of the review on 10th October at Newbury. The evening was inspiring with poems by Patrick Osada, Andrew Curtis, Peter Keeble, Jean Watkins, Sharon Larkin and many more.

I attended other readings as well; the open mic Write Out Loud at the New Inn in Send ( ), organized by Greg Freeman and Rodney Wood, two poets I met at the Woking Stanza group and at the Woking Writers Circle. The Stanza group is a poetry society group, but you don’t need to be a member of the poetry society to join it. We meet every first Wednesday of the month at the Phoenix cultural centre in Woking
( ). Our prep, Jonathan Pressey, is keen to attract more people so  we are coming up with ideas like having more readings, organizing presentations of poets and poetry workshops. What we do at the moment is discussing our own poems, giving feedback and suggestions on how to improve them. I must say I received very good suggestions from my friends at the Stanza and could refine some of my pieces with their help.

Walking to The Poetry School venue in Lambeth from Waterloo station I came across some wonderful works by William Blake, who lived for ten years in Lambeth. They are displayed  in a passageway, Centaur street, under the railway bridge and are reproduced in beautiful  mosaic panels, spots of light glimmering in the darkness of the tunnel. They create an appropriate contrast against the blackened damp walls of the underpass and highlight the apparent simplicity and visionary qualities of Blake’s work.

In September I took part in two events at the Poetry Cafe in London. One was the launch of two poetry pamphlets, Dante called you Beatrice by Rodney Wood and Seal Wife by Kitty Coles; the other one was the reading of the Wayleave poets.

Rodney and Kitty are two poets I met at Woking Stanza group and whose poems I often heard at the open mic in Send.

Dante called you Beatrice are love poems, as the title suggests, but with a twist. The subject of the book refers to the book by Paul Potts with the same title (the author has nothing to do with the Cambodian dictator Pol Pot) published in 1960, which is a memoir of unrequited love. In a way Rodney’s poems remind of Paul Potts’ ironic scorn and mocking understatements. They are love poems, of course, not on unrequited love though, but marital love I guess, nothing transgressive. The tone is often self-ironic and there are frequent repetitions that wittily play with sense and meanings, showing the simplicity of an everyday passion renewed in ‘100% cotton sheet’ and ‘winceyette pyjamas’. I loved reading Rodney’s poems; they are tender and made me smile from the first to the last page.

Seal Wife won the Indigo Dreams Pamphlet prize 2016. Kitty’s poems are very different from Rodney’s; this created an interesting contrast pleasantly diversifying the evening. In her poetry we experience a world of myth and fairy tales where uncanny situations loom. Some beautiful images stroke me, like ‘the air is stiff with stars’ (The Huntsman’s wife), ‘dapples of light’ (The Doe-Girl), ‘the legs of the chair to obliterate’ (A Soul), or ‘my ears against the silence of your breath’ (Widow). And there is a depth in some of her lines I won’t forget. I must say: a brilliant start.

The same night I also picked up Trainspotters by Greg Freeman, an Indigo Pamphlet as well, published in 2015. Trains, train tracks and train journeys are the thread that links all the poems, a travel that brings the reader from England to Thailand, Italy and Zimbabwe. They are memories of past experiences with some literary references (Betjeman and the Brownings) mixed with recollections of his father’s job in the railways and, as a prisoner of war, in Thailand. All routes seem to lead him back to England eventually. A nostalgic tone pervades the poems, a longing for old lost railway tracks (and times) but with a sense of humour, a wish to carry on and a curiosity to know more. And this brings all the dreams and fancies back to normal.

It was a pleasure to meet the Wayleave poets again. I used to see them regularly at poetry gatherings in Lancaster when I lived in the north west and I read most of the books published by Wayleave Press ( ). Many of the poets published by Wayleave are poets from the north west; their poetry is always well crafted and distinctive.

The evening was fantastic. The fourth Friday of every month there is an open mic night at the Poetry Cafe in Betterton street featuring outstanding poets as well. Mike Barlow, founder of Wayleave Press, Pauline Keith, Ron Scowcroft and Marc Carson read their poems after a diversified open mic with ‘voices from the floor’ dealing with love, death, revolution, farting, sheep and meeting your children (‘meet me anywhere’, said the poet). The music was from The National Interest with songs by Sidney Carter, Leon Rosselon, Woodie Gurthrie and Ewan McColl.

All different voices, all interesting,  all important.

Sunday 1 October 2017

My son’s wedding

The preparation of my son’s wedding started more than a year ago when they announced their engagement. For us it was more an emotional preparation than real work, as Lorenzo and Layla did most of the planning and organization. Her mother helped as well so everything was in place when the day arrived. On our part, we had only to think about family and friends coming from Italy and about the bomboniere, an Italian thing we give to guests at celebrations, like for the first holy communion, confirmation, graduation, etc. We put confetti (sugared almonds) in it, fake flowers as decoration and a little silver or porcelain object as tradition. Layla chose all the different parts and I assembled them with the help of the Italian grandmothers. We also booked hotel rooms near Samlesbury Hall, where the wedding took place, for the Italians and spent two wonderful days all together.

The day of the wedding went very smoothly, it rained in the morning but when the ceremony started in the early afternoon it was dry and bright. Samlesbury Hall is an impressive 14th century manor in Lancashire, timber-framed outside and with exquisitely engraved wooden furniture inside. The wedding ceremony in the Great Hall was moving, when Lorenzo and Layla pronounced their vows they were so authentic and looked so happy and in love that I was really touched. Everything was simple, genuine and elegant at the same time, from Layla’s wedding dress to the flower arrangements, the speeches and the guests’ participation. The predominant colours were cream and lilac, that expressed well the overall mood.

After the ceremony we had the photos. At this point my daughter Valentina joined us dressed up for the occasion, thanks to the brave staff of Fullerton house school who took her from Doncaster. She was so happy to be there and stuck to us the entire time. In some way she understood it was a special event as she was keen to be near the bride and appear in the photos.

Before dinner we had the speeches starting from Layla’s father, who evoked Layla’s brilliant achievements and her determination; it was nice and funny. Then it was Lorenzo’s turn; he spoke about the first time they met at Keswick school and how they fell in love. My husband spoke after it and finally I read a poem I wrote specially for them. They are here below in English and in Italian.
What else can I say? It was a perfect, wonderful day. We enjoyed it and that is clear from the photos. We felt so proud of my son and my daughter in law, not only for the wedding but above all for who they are: two lovely earnest young people profoundly in love with each other.

Wedding speech for Layla and Lorenzo (father of the groom)
Let’s start from the beginning. It was a hot hot day the 4th July 1993, and I wasn’t there. I was on a trip with my university colleagues in the Netherlands as the baby was due at the end of the month. When I arrived in the evening, Carla was recovering from a Caesarean in a 40° C hospital room with no air conditioning and Lorenzo was sleeping peacefully. I was flabbergasted to see my copy in him, blond hair, blue eyes, big feet. A much better copy according to the grandparents, definitely the most beautiful baby of the ward.

I must say he learned quickly to cope with his dad, wearing me out playing beach tennis and answering my trick questions. For example one day I found a foam fishing net float on the beach and not knowing myself the name of the object, I asked my two year old son, who promptly said ‘milocco’, creating a new word on the spot. The thing became ‘milocco’ in the family jargon and I still don’t know what the exact name is in Italian.
Another undoubtable talent he showed since an early age was his capacity to memorize. He could learn by heart whole books of nursery rhymes after having heard them only two or three times (at the time he hadn’t learned to read yet) and was able to recite them with confidence from beginning to end. Hours of videos can prove it.
I can’t avoid mentioning his innate capacity of making friends. As soon as we reached a new holiday site, he had new friends in a blink of an eye, busy playing new games while his siblings stalked him close behind.
Growing up we shared more interests:
  • Mathematics
  • A tendency to choose petite, dark haired and brown eyed partners
  • A visceral innate love for sports, especially Italian football
I can’t forget all the times we watched together the Italian team playing at European or World championships at home, supporting the players in words (swear words) and actions (waving at random), shouting our unison roar of victory every time we scored. A passion we share from the bottom of our hearts.
Last but not least his best achievements is having met and married such a clever and pretty girl like Layla.

Discorso per le nozze di Layla e Lorenzo (padre dello sposo)
Cominciamo dall’inizio. Era un giorno molto caldo il 4 luglio 1993, e io non c’ero. Ero in Olanda in gita con i miei colleghi dell’università dato che la nascita del bambino sarebbe dovuta avvenire alla fine del mese. Quando arrivai la sera Carla si stava riprendendo dal cesareo in una stanza d’ospedale con 40 gradi e senza aria condizionata e Lorenzo stava dormendo pacificamente. Fui sbalordito nel vedere la mia copia in lui: capelli biondi, occhi azzurri, piedi grossi. Una copia molto migliore secondo i nonni, decisamente il bambino più bello del reparto.

Devo dire che ha imparato velocemente ad avere a che fare col suo papà sfinendomi a racchettoni sulla spiaggia e rispondendo alle mie domande trabocchetto. Ad esempio un giorno trovai un galleggiante per reti da pesca sulla spiaggia e non sapendo il nome dell’oggetto lo chiesi al mio figlio di due anni, che prontamente rispose ‘milocco’, creando una nuova parola all’impronta. Il coso fu chiamato milocco in famiglia e ancora oggi non so il suo esatto nome in italiano.
Un altro indubbio talento che ha evidenziato sin dalla più tenera età, è stata la sua capacità di memorizzare. Riusciva a imparare a memoria interi libri di filastrocche dopo averli ascoltati solo due o tre volte (a quel tempo non aveva ancora imparato a leggere) e li recitava senza batter ciglio dall’inizio alla fine. Ore di registrazione video lo possono provare.
Non posso fare a meno di citare la sua innata capacità di fare amicizia. Appena arrivavamo a una nuova destinazione per le vacanze, Lorenzo si faceva dei nuovi amici in un batter d’occhio, subito occupato in nuovi giochi e con i fratelli alle scalcagna.
Crescendo abbiamo condiviso alcuni interessi:
  •  La matematica
  •  Una tendenza a scegliere una partner bassina con capelli scuri e occhi scuri
  •  Una passione innata e viscerale per gli sport, specialmente il calcio italiano
Non mi posso dimenticare tutte le volte che abbiamo guardato insieme alla televisione le partite della squadra italiana che giocava ai campionati europei e mondiali, facevamo il tifo a parole (ovvero parolacce) e a gesti (gesticolando a casaccio), urlando all’unisono il nostro grido di vittoria ogni volta che segnavamo. Una passione che condividiamo dal profondo dei nostri cuori.
E infine il suo più  grande successo è l’aver incontrato e sposato una ragazza intelligente e carina come Layla.

On the occasion of Layla and Lorenzo’s wedding
Though life is a chance at sea
in rough and reckless winds
or calm enchanting waters,
may your boat be steady and hopeful
in all the weathers.

The prow on course
the sail upright
through marshes, breakers and shallows,
may the benign star that today shines
keep you warm in days to follow.

May your house be a harbour
full of new voices,
the rooms resounding deeply,
may the future make you proud
as you make us sunny now.

In occasione delle nozze di Layla e Lorenzo
Sebbene la vita sia una scommessa
giocata tra venti barbari in un mare incerto
o in acque tranquille ed ebbre,
la vostra barca proceda sicura e fiduciosa
in ogni clima.

La prora a dritta
la vela tesa
attraverso stagni, cavalloni e secche,
che la stella benigna che oggi splende
vi riscaldi nei giorni a venire.

La vostra casa sia un porto
per  voci nuove,
le stanze risuonino profonde,
possa il futuro rendervi orgogliosi
come noi siamo ora felici.