It’s no secret. My muse is Italy, the country that inspires my language, cooking and reading. Below, the famous headland of Camogli, a small but very busy fishing town in the province of Genova, is one of those siren sights.
We live on top of a ridge. The night, which now descends in the afternoon, fills the valley with blackness. The winds spring up, the loud turbulence filling the black void with a sea of sound. Below and around us, a black restless sea. The house bones creak as it braces itself for a rough night. It isn’t an old house but it likes to complain. The TV commentaries sound hollow, it’s all bad news anyway, and the white wine tastes too thin. On nights like this, I can barely hear myself cook.
Minestra di Ceci e Zucca
Chickpea and Pumpkin soup. A meal in a bowl. For 4
- 2 Tablespoons EV olive oil
- one onion, finely sliced
- two cloves garlic, finely chopped
- one stick celery, finely chopped
- sea salt, ground
- rosemary branch, around 10 cm long, stripped and finely chopped
- 2 cups small diced pumpkin, such as Kent or Butternut
- 2 cup cooked chickpeas and some of the cooking liquid
- home-made vegetable stock ( or chicken if you prefer)
- a drizzle of good oil to serve
I always start with a little soffrito. Heat the olive oil and gently cook the onion slices until very soft but not brown, then add the garlic, rosemary a few grindings of salt, and the celery. Continue cooking until soft, then add the diced pumpkin, stir about, then the cooked chick peas. Cover with stock and a little of the chick pea water. (if you have used canned chickpeas, rinse well and discard the canning liquid as it tastes quite foul, I’m not sure why).
Cook for 30 minutes on low heat. Add a small handful of broken pasta if you wish. I used left over broken pizzocheri or buckwheat pasta. Raise the heat towards the end of cooking. As the pumpkin has been diced, most of it will disintegrate and thicken the soup.
As this is a sweet soup, add more salt at table to counteract this. Dress with a drizzle of good oil. A very sustaining one bowl meal for a dark windy night.
When little people are tired or pretending otherwise, I offer them a “Special Blanket”. They never say no. Adults are quite partial to them too and not only in winter. They are extremely old-fashioned but seem to go well with my eclectic decor. Soft and warm, they wrap, cocoon and protect, like being tucked into bed, and are reminders of a simpler time when people still made clothes and knitting was part of winter and warmth. Security and nostalgia all knitted up in these coloured squares made from discarded skeins.
My special blankets were donated to me after the Black Saturday Bushfire of 2009. Soon after that awful disaster, Australian women from across the country began knitting squares: some did this alone, many more did so in knitting groups. The squares were then collected and sewn or crocheted together by another team, often with an attached hand sewn cotton label and a few kind words. There were thousands of these blankets made and distributed in 2009. Mine are treasured, well used and loved. Although it’s now six years on, they are also symbols of generosity and kindness, values that should never become old fashioned. Thank you dear knitters and crocheters.
Ailsa’s travel theme this week at Where’s My Backpack is old- fashioned. Now, where’s my Special Blankie?
Red and yellow and pink and green, purple and orange and blue, I can sing a rainbow, sing a rainbow, sing a rainbow too.
I first learnt it in Signed English which was taught in Australia up until the late 1980s. After that date, Australian Sign Language came to the fore. AUSLAN is more difficult to learn than signed English and I have struggled to make the shift.
Some people ask me why sign language isn’t international. That question seems rather odd: it’s a bit like asking why English isn’t international. Each country’s own sign language evolved in the same way as spoken language, influenced by different cultural roots and traditions. At last there is an online signed AUSLAN dictionary with video representations of 4515 words. Try this dictionary, pick any word and you could begin to learn Auslan today.
This post was inspired by the Daily Post’s photographic prompt, ROY. G. BIV, a strange acronym which stands for the colours of the rainbow. My rainbow-hued photos were taken in a trinket shop in Sanur, Bali then in Pemuteran, Bali For my son Jack.
As June creeps toward winter solstice and the day’s light compresses at both ends, I consider the good fortune we have had to date. No ‘wrathful nipping cold’ or visits from ‘the secret ministry of frost’ so far. No howling winds straight from Antarctica, winds that rattle the rafters and provoke dark insanity. The Black Dog month of August is still a distant thought. No long, damp windless weeks where the fog refuses to lift and the cold wet air rising from the Diamond Creek invades old bones. No, we have been lucky so far.
I do really like many aspects of winter, the guiltless indulgence of reading in a sunny window or collecting kindling for slow combustion fires. Or looking forward to watching a repeat of a Danish Drama Series in front of the fire, cosy hand knitted blankets strewn about for extra warmth. Big bowls of soup, puddings and cream, parsnips and swedes, slow cooked Indian black lentils, smokey chowder and good bread. Baking. There is a lot to like.
Only in winter does the tiny Red- capped Robin flit about the garden, its shocking red breast startling those behind glass windows. The Petroicidae are not closely related to either the European or American robins although they do go by the familiar name of red robin.
The King Parrots have remembered us, encouraged by a handful of sunflower seeds on a ledge. Sociable and noisy, they don’t mind you getting close.
Unlike the King parrots, the kangas keep a respectable distance, even though this young grey kangaroo appears to be posing with her joey for the shot. The birds and kangaroos draw us outside. On clement winter days, when the sun lights up the back paddocks, the kangas behave just like humans and enjoy sunbaking. My winter pastie dreaming finally came to fruition, thanks to Beck who, with this link, inspired a Cornish method of making pastry. Only in winter do these deep cultural yearnings for pasties resurface, like a Cornish miner returning from the tin mines.
Cornish pasties are not supposed to contain carrots, must be D-shaped and be filled within Cornwall, according to an EU document! I’m thinking about Mr Tranquillo’s great great-grandfather who died down one of those Cornish tin mines. He probably took a pastie to work. So, bad luck Cornish cousins, mine have carrots, no meat, are filled in Australia but are crimped and taste pretty good. Winter is a time to make Crostata. There is always plenty of jam to use up. A little sweet hit goes down well after wood gathering or fencing. Salads of young winter leaves and herbs make a refreshing contrast to heavy winter dishes.
A winter’s hearth is a great spot for warming rolled out pizza dough, then eating the lovely thing by the fire.
The Mezzogiorno, a term used to describe Southern Italy, is “hot, dry and sea-girt, wracked by earthquake and eruption.” It is “the furthest part of Italy from Europe and the nearest to the rest of the world.” So opens Peter Robb’s Midnight in Sicily, a chilling look at the role of the Mafia in Sicily at the end of the 20th century.¹ It’s odd, but when I see Pesce Spada or swordfish for sale at the fishmongers, I think of Midnight in Sicily and then I recall Palermo. These three things are always interconnected in my mind- fish, book, place. Before visiting Palermo in 2000, I had never eaten this species of fish. I do now, but only rarely, when the pale pink slices look seasonally tempting and I know the fish monger well enough to ask him to slice the steak horizontally into two much thinner slices. I like my swordfish really thin, a little like a large flattened schnitzel. They are then fried quickly and briefly and served in the Palermitano way, that is in salmoriglio, with a mere dribble of a sauce made from finely chopped oregano, parsley, garlic, capers, lemon zest and olive oil. In winter when fresh oregano is on the wane, I make a robust sauce of pounded rosemary, garlic, lemon zest, salt and olive oil. Served with a neat pile of lightly cooked spinach, a wedge of lemon and a few waxy potatoes, I’m back to Palermo again.
With the rest of my piece of Swordfish, as one slice is always too much for one meal, I concoct a little Spaghetti Puttanesca. There is much debate about the origin of this dish with its amusing name involving a prostitute. It seems that it was invented in the 1960s, not by the busy whore or puttana of the title, but by a restaurateur on Ischia, who, short of ingredients, threw this dish together, in response to some customers who demanded ‘Facci una puttanata qualsiasi.’ (make whatever rubbish you have).² Some essentials are garlic, some canned chopped tomato, but not too much juice which makes the pasta swim, a few chopped capers and black olives, parsley or basil, and anchovies. Sometimes I start my version with one finely chopped onion cooked down in olive oil, then I add the chopped garlic, and then small cubes of swordfish. When these components are just cooked, the odds and ends are added in order, then in goes the cooked pasta for a quick toss around in the sauce, then the chosen fresh herb. In the spirit of the original, it is thrown together. I am a working girl too, in cucina e nell’orto!
These two fish meals for two were based on 450 gr piece of swordfish (AU$11.00). After it was sliced thinly, the first meal was portioned at of around 135 gr each, and the rest went into the pasta dish the following day. Supermarket pre-cut portions of fish are too large, usually around 220 gr per piece. Fishmongers will usually oblige and cut your fish the way you like it which is another good reason to avoid supermarkets and stores with pre-packaged plastic wrapped food.
- ¹ Midnight in Sicily, Peter Robb 1996
- ² https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spaghetti_alla_puttanesca
The young woman on the left bears some resemblance to La Gioconda, Leonardo Da Vinci’s portrait of the Mona Lisa. She smiles enigmatically while those under the arched portico of the Ponte Vecchio go about their evening business. Ailsa’s travel theme this week is Off -Centre. All my photos tend to be taken in this way, but this one is my favourite.
Have you ever been to Siena in winter? It is beautiful, cold and local. City folk stroll along the cobblestone lanes in the evening, their long woollen coats float by as gentle snow drifts in from the dark cloudless night. Loud whispers and laughter echo along the vicoli, the narrow lanes of the historic centre. It’s never too cold for the passeggiata. Although Siena is well touristed in any season, it is a nightmare to visit during July and August, as well as Easter. Out of season, it is a place of wonder, as tiny dark lanes give way to more and the Centro Storico twists and turns around its own steep hill. Getting lost daily is part of the joy. Visit in the ‘off- season‘ and stay for a long time to understand the real spirit of Siena.
I am rather partial to soup. I make it often and in every season for two reasons: I hate sandwiches for lunch and I find soup restorative. Winter soups often tend to be hearty, loaded with vegetables and added beans or pulses, barley, rice or pasta or they are thick vegetable purées such as pumpkin or celery soup. Each member of the family has their favourite. Noah can eat barley and vegetable soup all day, Mischa is a pumpkin soup girl, and Daisy can smell stock bubbling on the stove from a mile off. Charlotte wants Andrew’s soup, her title for Minestrone and Oliver will only eat zucchini soup.
As the vegetable stock reheats on the stove, I have been reflecting on the contraction of the English language when it comes to soup. We do have other terms for soup but most of them are French in derivation and are not exactly quotidian, reserved only for fine dining restaurants. (consomme´and potage come to mind). Speaking of restaurants, did you know that the word restaurant (meaning something restoring) was first used in France in the 16th century to refer to a highly concentrated, inexpensive soup sold by street vendors, that was advertised as an antidote to physical exhaustion?
The Italian language is more precise when it comes to soup. Zuppa (Soup) is more often called minestra but when it is loaded with a variety of ingredients, it becomes a minestrone. ( the suffix ‘one’ meaning big, large or long which can be added to any noun). A creamy puree´ soup is a crema or crema di verdura , where the vegetable may be named. Pumpkin soup then becomes Crema di Zucca. A light brothy soup is brodo. Pastina are small pasta shapes, often made of egg dough.
As I have some stock left from my onion soup recipe, a light broth with a little egg pasta and parmesan becomes a five-minute lunch.
Pastina in Brodo
- vegetable stock
- egg pasta, small shapes ( Pastina)
- grated parmesan, Reggiano or Grana Padano
Heat broth to boiling point, season, add the egg pasta and cook as per packet instructions, then serve with ample grated parmesan cheese.
A slightly longer version includes beginning with a little soffrito of finely chopped onion, carrot and celery, cook in oil on medium heat until softened, then add the broth and proceed as above. Or heat the stock, add loads of finely chopped fresh herbs and the parmesan.
The beauty of this broth depends on the quality of the stock. Comforting and restorative.
Italian proverbs on soup.
Sei come la forchetta nel brodo, non servi a niente– You are like a fork in the soup, you’re useless.
Gallina vecchia fa buon brodo– an old hen makes the best broth. – Experience is a virtue.
Il brodo di rane fa venir sani– A broth of frogs makes one healthy. Really???This expression must come from Pavia.
Chi ha la mestola in mano, si fa la minestra a suo modo. Who holds the ladle, makes the soup in their own way- Having power to act in their own way by imposing their will.
A Soup Retrospective on Almost Italian includes:
French onion soup- https://almostitalian.wordpress.com/2015/06/01/french-onion-soup-with-vegetable-stock-voila/
Pasta and chickpea soup. https://almostitalian.wordpress.com/2014/04/23/pasta-and-chickpeas/
My favourite soup, Silver beet, cannellini beans and pasta -https://almostitalian.wordpress.com/2014/09/29/my-favouite-soup-an-all-year-silverbeet-recipe/
Turkish red lentil soup- https://almostitalian.wordpress.com/2014/08/09/turkish-red-lentil-bride-soup/
Spring vegetable soup- https://almostitalian.wordpress.com/2013/11/11/spring-soup-tutto-fa-brodo/
Chowder (cullen skink)- https://almostitalian.wordpress.com/2015/01/14/one-smoked-trout-and-two-meals-for-two/
Healesville Sanctuary is a not-for-profit conservation organisation in the countryside of Victoria, Australia. It is dedicated to fighting Australian wildlife extinction. The programme includes breeding endangered species then returning them to the Australian bush, and rehabilitating injured wildlife. Visitors from Australia and overseas enjoy a day at this extraordinary zoo.
Recently we took Alberto, from Pavia Italy, to the Healesville Sanctuary after watching the film Healing. We mainly went to see the Birds of Prey show, hoping to have a close encounter with a Wedge Tailed Eagle, ruler of the sky. Along the way we enjoyed visiting these vividly coloured Lorikeets and Rosellas.
This week the Daily Post goes colourful as it looks at the word Vivid, as Sydney celebrates its 7th Vivid Festival. For the best virtual tour of Sydney’s Vivid light show, visit Fig Jam and Lime Cordial’s post here.