April 25, Resistance and Bella Ciao. A Musical Journey

Australians and New Zealanders will be celebrating ANZAC Day today, a national holiday which commemorates all Australians and New Zealanders who served and died in wars and conflicts, with a particular focus on the landing of the ANZACs at Gallipoli, Turkey on April 25 1915. Coincidentally, April 25 is also significant in the Italian calendar as it marks the Festa Della Liberazione (Liberation Day), also known as Anniversario della Resistenza (Anniversary of the Resistance), an Italian national holiday. Italian Liberation Day commemorates the end of the Italian Civil War, the partisans who fought in the Resistance, and the end of Nazi occupation of the country during WW2. In most Italian cities, the day will include marches and parades. Most of the Partisans and Italian veterans of WW2 are now deceased: very few Italians would have first hand memories of that era.

One of the more accessible documents from the partigiani era of the 1940s is the well-known song, Bella Ciao, which has been adopted by resistance movements throughout the world since then. The original Partisan version is included here. Open this clip: you can find the lyrics in English and Italian at the end of this post.

Many Italian versions, including this modern rendition by the Modena City Ramblers, have appeared over the years, while international adaptations include punk, psychedelic and folk versions in many languages. A Kurdish version was revived after an ISIS attack in 2014, and the Anarchist movement has also appropriated the song. Popular folk songs are often derivative and evolutionary: the history of Bella Ciao makes a fascinating study in itself. There are two threads to follow here. The original version of this song dates back to the 1850s: the first written version appeared in 1906 which was sung by women workers in the risaie, or rice paddies of Northern Italy. The lyrics concern the harsh working conditions of the Mondine. The fascinating rice workers version can be heard here, sung by Giovanna Daffini, recorded in 1962.¹

The Mondine or Mondariso were female seasonal workers employed in Northern Italy’s rice fields, especially in Lombardia, Piedmont, Emilia Romagna and Veneto. Their task was to remove weeds that could stunt the growth of rice plants. Working conditions were extremely hard, as the job was carried out by spending the whole day bent over, often bare-foot, with legs immersed in water; malaria was not uncommon, as mosquitoes were widespread. Moreover shifts were long and women were paid significantly less than men. For these reasons since early in the 20th century, mondine started to organise themselves to fight for some basic rights, in particular to limit shifts to 8 hours a day.’

From Mondine di Bentivoglio . “Il capo in piedi col suo bastone, E noi curve a lavorar”. The boss stands with his stick and we bend down to work. Line from the Mondine version of Bella Ciao.

The other thread concerns the euphony of the song itself. The much older women’s version, a slower folkloric piece, reflects the plight of the women rice field weeders in their struggle for better working conditions. The 1940s partisan version became more masculine and heroic, despite the sombre sentiments expressed in the lyrics. Most of the modern versions sound Russian, revolutionary, or defiant. Slower versions suggest Yiddish as well as gypsy roots, which may indicate the melodic path of this song during the 19th century. I’ve selected two more versions which reflect these latter impressions. They can be heard here and here.

An Italian partisan in Florence, 14 August 1944. Signore Prigile, an Italian partisan in Florence. Tanner (Capt), War Office official photographer.This photograph TR 2282 is from the collections of the Imperial War Museums and is available for use, with recognition.

The partigiani make fitting heroes for Liberation Day: no one would deny that their struggle was courageous and honourable. However, one might question the level of mytholgising when it comes to patriotic days such as Liberation Day. The day was initiated by Alcide De Gasperi, the Prime Minister of Italy between 1945 to 1953. It could be seen as a very astute political move to create a national holiday centred around liberation.² It signified a break with Italy’s fascist past, an era spanning 25 years, as well as assisting the new Italian government establish a stable democracy.

Parallels may be drawn between the idealisation of the Italian Partisans and the Australian and New Zealand soldiers of World War 1. The stories and the images of those struggles are often used to boost a sense of national identity and patriotism in both countries.

Anzac soldier at sunset, Invergargill, New Zealand

See also my previous posts on April 25, Anzac Day.

Notes

¹ Giovanna Daffini (22 April 1914 – 7 July 1969) was an Italian singer associated with the Nuovo Canzoniere Italiano movement. Born in the province of Mantua, she started associating with travelling musicians from an early age. During the rice-growing season she worked in the rice-growing districts of Novara and Vercelli where she learnt the folk-songs that afterwards made her famous. In 1962 she recorded the song “Alla mattina appena alzata”, a version of Bella Ciao, for the musicologists Gianni Bosio and Roberto Leydi.

² http://www.informatore.eu/articolo.php?title=il-25-aprile-da-pia-illusione-a-volgare-a-menzogna

In the 1960s, the tune, with new lyrics, became a revered song of the Lotta Femminista, the Italian Feminist struggle.

Lyrics.

Partisan Version in Italian and English

Una mattina mi son alzato
O bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao ciao ciao
Una mattina mi son svegliato
Eo ho trovato l’invasor

One morning I woke up
O bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao ciao ciao
One morning I woke up
And I found the invader

O partigiano porta mi via
O bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao ciao ciao
O partigiano porta mi via
Che mi sento di morir

Oh partisan, carry me away,
O bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao ciao ciao
Oh partisan, carry me away,
For I feel I’m dying

E se io muoio da partigiano
O bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao ciao ciao
E se io muoio da partigiano
Tu mi devi seppellir

And if I die as a partisan
O bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao ciao ciao
And if I die as a partisan
You have to bury me

Mi seppellire lassù in montagna
O bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao ciao ciao
Mi seppellire lassù in montagna
Sotto l’ombra di un bel fiore

But bury me up in the mountain
O bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao ciao ciao,
But bury me up in the mountain
Under the shadow of a beautiful flower

E le genti che passeranno
O bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao ciao ciao
E le genti che passeranno
Mi diranno: “Che bel fior”

And the people who will pass by
O bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao ciao ciao,
And the people who will pass by
Will say to me: “what a beautiful flower”

È questo il fiore del partigiano
O bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao ciao ciao
È questo il fiore del partigiano
Morto per la libertà

This is the flower of the partisan
O bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao ciao ciao
This is the flower of the partisan
Who died for freedom

Bella Ciao, Versione Delle Mondine. In Italiano
Alla mattina appena alzata, O bella ciao bella ciao bella ciao, ciao,ciao
Alla mattina appena alzata, In risaia mi tocca andar
E fra gli insetti e le zanzare, O bella ciao bella ciao bella ciao ciao ciao
E fra gli insetti e le zanzare, Un dur lavoro mi tocca far
Il capo in piedi col suo bastone, O bella ciao bella ciao bella ciao ciao ciao
Il capo in piedi col suo bastone, E noi curve a lavorar
O mamma mia o che tormento
O bella ciao bella ciao bella ciao ciao ciao
O mamma mia o che tormento
Io t’invoco ogni doman
Ma verrà un giorno che tutte quante
O bella ciao bella ciao bella ciao ciao ciao
Ma verrà un giorno che tutte quante
Lavoreremo in libertà.
Mondine Version in English.
In the morning, just arisen, Oh beautiful ciao……
In the morning, just arisen, In the rice field I’m going to go.
Amongst the insects and the mosquitos, oh bella ciao….
Amongst the insects and the mosquitos. I have hard work yo do.
The boss is standing with his stick, oh bella ciao….
The boss is standing with his stick and we bend down to work.
Oh my mother what torment, oh bella ciao….
Oh my mother, what torment, that I call you every day
But the day will come, o bella ciao..
But the day will come, when we will work in freedom.

Rewriting Tradition, Part 2. Easter in Naples

If we were in Naples today, I would take you to lunch in a family trattoria, set in an un-touristed part of the city. I would lead you through the dark lanes around Spaccanapoli, passing the eternally grieving Madonna statues sitting snugly in niches along white washed walls, each with their own red or pink glowing light and plastic flower bouquet. We would pass beautiful desanctified churches, graffitied, bombed and derelict beyond repair. Turning down the busy Vin San Gregorio Armeno where craftsmen carve and paint wooden presepi, a street dedicated exclusively to the Nativity, we would later exit onto the main thoroughfare at Via Duomo. On the opposite side of the road, we would gaze up at the ornate Cathedral of Naples, Cattedrale di San Gennaro, and then notice the 20 foot high advertising poster of a young woman in skimpy lace underwear right next to it. As we walk to lunch, we might speculate about a country that in recent times enjoyed the depraved antics of a corrupt Prime Minister, Berlusconi, and a society that feasts upon evening game shows hosted by middle age men in suits alongside young women sporting bikinis and stilettos.

After much banter, we’d find our lunch venue down an unattractive street still bearing the scars of the second world war. There’s no written menu here so we order a lunch of three courses, senza carne, without meat, a lunch of the house. First comes a little antipasto of acciughe, anchovies lightly dressed in oil, a generous ball of mozzarella di bufala, with a pile of Pane Duro, sliced from the ringed shaped loaves on the counter. Next follows a simple Pasta Napoli, then some contorni or sides, a cooked tangle of spinach slicked with good oil, some roasted potatoes which emerge from the focolare set in the wall, and a mixed salad. Finally, and because it’s the week following Easter, we are served a large slice of Pastiera, the famous wheat studded ricotta tart of Naples. The vino di casa, a light red wine, is included in the 10 euro per head price. We remark on our good fortune to have found such a place.

Di’s Beurre Bosc pears poached in Vincotto and Vanilla

Pastiera Napolitana is a pastry lined tart filled with citrus flavoured ricotta, lightened with eggs, containing softened wheat berries, then covered with latticed pastry on top. It has pagan and mythical origins, but the modern version of pastiera was probably invented in a Neapolitan convent.

“An unknown nun wanted that cake, symbol of the resurrection, to have the perfume of the flowers of the orange trees which grew in the convent’s gardens. She mixed a handful of wheat to the white ricotta cheese, then she added some eggs, symbol of the new life, some water which had the fragrance of the flowers of the spring time, candied citron and aromatic Asian spices. We know for certain that the nuns of the ancient convent of San Gregorio Armeno were considered to be geniuses in the complex preparation of the Pastiera. They used to prepare a great quantity for the rich families during Easter time.”¹

Torta di ricotta con brulee

I have made Pastiera in the past. It needs to be made some days in advance, and no later than Good Friday, to allow the fragrances to mix properly. This Easter, I have decided to break with tradition and make a lighter version. No resurrection wheat, and no top layer of pastry which I now find too heavy. My Sunday’s ricotta tart is lightened by cream, retains the aromatic orange elements, and steals a little trick from the French, a brûlée topping. It is served alongside some autumn pears cooked in vincotto. It is a dessert worth indulging in at any time of the year and the fruit can be varied to suit the season. Slow baked quinces would also go nicely.

An inside look at the filling

Torta di ricotta con pere, vincotto e vaniglia- Ricotta tart with brûlée topping and pear, vincotto and vanilla.

The Pastry Case

First make some sweet shortcrust pastry or pasta frolla, rested for one hour then baked blind, enough to cover a 25 cm tart or flan tin with a removable base. I have not included a recipe for this, since most cooks will have their favourite. Make it very short ( with 250 gr of butter)  and dust the tin with almond meal before baking.

The Ricotta Filling

  • 1 large egg
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 375 g firm ricotta, drained
  • 60 gr icing sugar
  • 2 tsp or more of fine orange zest
  • 1 tablespoon of Grand Marnier or orange blossom water
  • 50 – 100 gr candied citron, finely chopped – optional
  • 25 ml full cream

Set the oven temperature to 180 c before commencing.

Place the egg, egg yolk, ricotta, sugar, orange zest, liquor and citron in a bowl of a an electric mixer and mix on low until very smooth. In a separate bowl, whip the cream until thick then fold through the ricotta mixture. Spoon the mixture into the prepared tart case and smooth over the top. Bake for 20- 30 minutes or until golden on top. Set aside until the topping sets and cools before removing from the flan tin.

The Pears

  • 4 large firm pears, such as Beurre Bosc
  • 500 ml water
  • 150 gr caster sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean, slit open and seeds scraped
  • juice and rind ( without pith) of 1 lemon
  • 2 strips orange rind
  • 1/3 cup vincotto

Peel and core the pears and cut each pear into four. Place the water, sugar, vanilla, lemon and orange rinds, juice and vincotto into a medium-sized saucepan. Bring to the boil then add the pears. Cook on a low poaching heat, for around 30 minutes or until you are satisfied that the pears are soft enough. Remove the pears from the liquid and reduce the poaching liquid to thicken. The pears can be kept for days covered in their liquid.

The brûlée on top.

Sprinkle 1/3 of a cup of Demerara sugar evenly over the cake. Holding a kitchen blowtorch, caramelise the top by moving the flame backwards and forwards, until the sugar is melted.

Serve the tart with Vincotto poached pears on the side.

Buona Pasqua a Tutti.

Although this dessert has many steps, it really is easy to put together once you’ve made a sweet pastry shell.

All recipes are derivative and I have based this one on a recipe I found here, a site dedicated to the use of Vincotto. I also added some of the extra orange elements found in the traditional Pastiera Napolitana.

¹ https://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pastiera_napoletana

Day of the Dead. Legends for the Living.

I used to look forward to All Saints Day when I was a child. In Catholic schools, All Saints Day was a religious holy day of note, which meant that we had another day off school. November the first blurred into November the second, Melbourne Cup Day, which is a State holiday in Victoria, and if the days lined up nicely with the weekend, even better. The beginning of November meant horses, saints, holidays and good weather, with only one down side, the traipse up the road to Church, a small price to pay for another day off. I don’t remember much about those saints or what the day was about. To me, it all seemed a bit morbid and sinister so I conveniently blocked it out.

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Pane dei Morti di Siena

It was in the tenth century that Odile, the abbot of Cluny in medieval France, transmuted the Day of the Dead, Samhain, the ancient Celtic feast of ancestors, into a Christian holy day, All Souls Day. Curses and blasphemy, I missed out on all the Celtic fun and got Odile’s version, made extra ominous by the Irish nuns who taught me. At least in modern Italy, the day still goes by the name I Morti, the dead, and the practices are more in tune with traditional pagan legends than the version I grew up with, though I’m sure there’s a bit of Church attendance involved. Going to mass in Italy often means chatting through the service and ducking out for a smoke. Other than the widows up the front, Italians often don’t seem to take church too seriously. Church is a local catch up and a ritualised prologue to a good lunch.

In Sicily, legend has it that on the evening of November 1, departed relatives rise up from their tombs and rollick through the town, raiding the best pastry shops and toy stores for gifts to give to children who have been good during the year. Children write letters to their dead relatives, just like the Christmas letters written to Santa. On this day, ancestors and relatives “feel an attraction to the living and hope to return for a visit and families set the table for ancestors returning from their graves.”

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Small loaves for the day of the Dead. One for now, one for the freezer.

What a wonderful legend. Just to think that you might have a visit from your dearly departed loved ones for a fleeting moment in time. When it comes to a good Celtic legend, adapted along the way by some wily Siciliani, I’m in. Time to write a letter to the dead and make some sweet things for  I Morti

Pan co’ Santi – A sweet bread from Siena to share with I Morti.

Makes two small loaves

  • 300 gr raisins
  • 1 ½ cups tepid water
  • 2 ½ teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 25 gr sugar
  • 3 Tbls lard or olive oil
  • 500 gr unbleached plain flour plus 2 -3 Tbls for the raisins.
  • 8 gr sea salt
  • 1.25 gr freshly ground pepper
  • 100 gr walnuts, toasted and roughly chopped
  • 1 egg yolk for glaze

Soak the raisins in the tepid water for at least ½ hour. Drain the raisins, but reserve 1 1/3 cups of the soaking water. Warm the soaking water to 105-115 degrees.

By mixer: Stir the yeast and sugar into the raisin water in a large mixing bowl; let stand until foamy, about 10 minutes. Stir in the lard or olive oil in with the paddle. Add the flour, salt and pepper and mix until the dough comes together. Change to a dough hook and knead until firm and silky, for around 3 minutes.

First rise. Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled, 1¼ to 1½ hours.

Filling. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface. Without punching it down or kneading it, pat gently with your palms into a 35 cm/14 inch circle. Pat the raisins dry and toss with 2-3 Tbls flour. Work them and the walnuts into the dough in 2 additions.

Bread dough with sweet filling

Shaping and second rise. Cut the dough into two pieces. Shape each piece into a round, tucking the ends of the loaf in and trying to keep the raisins and walnuts under the taut surface of the skin. Set each loaf on a lightly floured peel or on a parchment lined baking sheet. Cover with towels and let rise again until doubled, around 1 hour and 10 mins.

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Fruit and nut stuffed dough before rising.

Baking. Heat the oven to 220° C fan forced. With a razor or sharp serrated knife, slash the dough with 2 horizontal and 2 vertical cuts. Brush the loaves with the egg yolk, then bake for 5 mins, then reduce the heat to 200 F and bake for 30-40 minutes more.

Also see these little sweet biscuits for the dead.  https://almostitalian.wordpress.com/2016/10/25/fave-dolci-biscuits-for-the-dead/

 

The Highlight of Camogli, Italy

It was October by the time we reached Camogli, located on the west side of the peninsula of Portofino, Liguria, northern Italy. The days were still warm but it was not exactly swimming weather. Mischa didn’t take much convincing: it was her only opportunity to swim in the Mediterranean sea. It was the icing on the cake for Mischa.

The lone Swinner. Mischa annd the Meditterranean Sea at Camoglki
The lone swimmer. Mischa and the Mediterranean Sea at Camogli

Whereas the cherry on top for me was choosing a restaurant. It always is.

Passeggiata and reading menus. Camogli, Italia
Passeggiata and reading menus. Camogli, Italia

Included for the Daily Post’s weekly photographic prompt, cherry on top.

Tagliatelle with Butter and Sage

siena 2
Albergo with a view, breakfast table, Siena

It was in Castellina in Chianti, just north of Siena, in 1993, when I first ate Tagliatelle con Burro e Salvia. I remember the day quite vividly. At the time I was studying Italian at the Scuola di Dante Alighieri per Stranieri for a month and, as school attendance required me to be present only from 8 am to 1 pm, I had the rest of the day, as well as each Sunday, to roam around Siena and Tuscany, often taking the local bus to a small village, followed by a lunch and a stroll. It was on one of these jaunts that I ended up in Castellina in Chianti, and not long after hopping off the bus, I was drawn to a modest ristorante where a big pile of freshly made tagliatelle was laid out on display. I was in like a shot.

Tagliatele fatta a casa
Tagliatelle fatta a casa Morgana

Although seemingly a very simple dish, fresh tagliatelle with butter and browned sage leaves does require some hours of preparation. There is no point making this dish with dried pasta or even shop purchased fresh pasta. This is where I get bossy. The pasta must be freshly made up to two hours before. This is why it tastes so good and comforting.

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Tagliatelle con burro, salvia e parmigiano

Making pasta at home is an easy process if you have a little time AND a helper. I never make pasta on my own, but when young Daisy Chef is around, what seems like a tedious business becomes a joy. We flour up the benches, get the aprons on and make a load of yellow snakes. She loves to crank that handle and feed the stretched pasta through the wide cutting blades.

Rolling the pasta.

Taglatelle con Burro e Salvia- Tagliatelle with Butter and Sage

First make the pasta.

  • 300 g flour, preferably farina doppio zero, or ’00’ flour
  • 3 large eggs ( around 60 g each)

Make the pasta dough either by hand or in a food processor. I simply place these two ingredients into the food processor and pulse until the dough clumps together. If it doesn’t, have another small beaten egg on hand and add it, bit by bit, until the pasta clumps. Don’t over process it.

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Feeding the pasta through at number 5.

Bring the dough together on a lightly floured bench and, without kneading, cover the dough ball in plastic for 20 minutes or so to rest. Unwrap the ball and knead the dough for around 5 minutes, turning and folding, until it is smooth. Wrap again in plastic and leave on the bench to rest for another 30 minutes or more, until you are ready to continue. In summer, this step may involve resting the dough in the fridge, but always bring it back to room temperature before rolling

Flour the bench well. Feed the dough through the pasta machine, twice at each number, from 7 to 5, then once on each number down to number 2. If the dough sheets get sticky along the way, dust them with more flour.

Feed the long sheets through the tagliatelle blade, then place them on a large flour covered tea towel and toss around so that the strands don’t stick together. Cover the pasta with another tea towel until ready to use.

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The fun part!
  • Boil up a large pot of water and add ample salt.
  • Cook the pasta until al dente- two minutes is usually enough but this will depend on how long the pasta has been resting.
  • Meanwhile, melt some unsalted butter in a wide frying pan and cook some sage leaves until crisp. Remove. Then add more butter to the pan to melt. Return the sage leaves. The butter is main sauce so be generous, around 40 g for two serves.
  • Drain the tagliatelle and toss through the butter and sage in the pan. Add some freshly ground pepper or nutmeg. Serve with lots of freshly grated grana padano or reggiano parmigiano.

    Daisy picks sage.
    Daisy picks sage.

 

 

Balancing in Pisa

Arriving in Pisa, the tower dominates the skyline
Arriving in Pisa, the tower dominates the skyline

Every time I travel to Europe with someone considerably younger than me, I spend hours waiting for them at the base of a monument as they nimbly scramble up and around parapets, belfries, turrets and vaults. I suffer from extreme vertigo but when it comes to the Leaning Tower of Pisa, this dread goes into overdrive.

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Come down from that building, you insane people.
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Waiting for Mischa, deja vu! Time to read a book.
balance
Why bother to straighten this photo?

I have chosen some unusual shots of this most ridiculously unbalanced building as my contribution to Ailsa’s travel them this week, Balance, at Where’s My Backpack.

More about this trip to Il Torre Pendente di Pisa  can be found here.

 

Back to the Future in Firenze

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Statue of Perseus,( Benvenuto Cellini) /Piazza della Signoria, Firenze

The city of Florence has had an enormous impact on my life. Its remarkable history captivated me in my younger years, a passion that still grips my soul. I have stayed in or near Florence many times since 1985 but have not visited her since 2011. I long to return to this great city in the near future.

floence 10Florence, for many, is the essence of Italy, the starting point before branching out to smaller towns or less visited regions. The centre of Renaissance humanism, poetry, art, architecture, and manners, Florence’s past has affected the Italian way of life, its view of itself, as well as the future of art and history.

Despite the crowds, a visit to Il Duomo ( Il cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore) is a must. I often experience a peculiar Stendhalsimo or Florence disorder that causes rapid heartbeat, light heartedness and confusion when wandering about this cathedral. In the 1980s, busy traffic roared around the road surrounding Il Duomo. Things had changed dramatically by 2000. This remarkable building is often in restauro, maintaining its glory for the future.

Mischa Bella as Lisa Gherardini
Mischa Bella as Lisa Gherardini

Mischa Bella or Lisa Gherardini, waits for me on the Ponte Vecchio. The past coincides with the future often in my experience.

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Gold shop with remarkable view. Ponte Vecchio, Firenze

A gold boutique on Ponte Vecchio, the view through the window blinds me, the gaudy gems eclipsed by the light and shapes that inspired Renaissance artists.

For lovers of Florence.

This week’s Daily Post photo challenge is Future and I opportunistically share with you some pictures of my Florentine past, in the hope that I may return there soon.

Around the Outside. Italian Vegetarian Contorni

Small plates of ‘sides’ have become very fashionable in Melbourne: many modern, inner suburban restaurants now offer meals involving a long sequence of little shared plates which are usually vegetarian. This is a great trend and one that I hope will spread. But surely there must be a better English word than ‘sides’ or ‘small plates’ for these sexy vegetarian offerings.  ‘Accompaniments’ sounds too wooden and old school. The Italian term contorni strikes me as a more befitting word, meaning the things that surround il secondo or main course. I contorni traditionally have their own section on the Italian menu. If visiting Italy, read the menu in a different way, perhaps in a more modern way, and you’re likely to find plenty of fresh tasty vegetarian food in Italian restaurants to savour and enjoy.

contorni-002
Beautiful grilled vegetables in a trattoria in Trastevere, Rome, Italy.

When Mr T and I travel in Italy, we often order un primo piattto, usually a pasta, soup or risotto, which are generally vegetarian and often quite small, followed by a few different contorni and a salad for the main. As we don’t eat meat, and as good fish is not always readily available except in Sicily, this is our preferred main course. Years ago this ordering pattern raised a few eyebrows; now it is quite normal.

At home, a few plates of contorni make a perfect dinner, especially if you want to avoid the farinaceous approach to vegetarianism. Here are a few of our recent summer sides.

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Baked Nicola potatoes, lemon slices, olive oil, salt, whole garlic, smoked paprika

Contorno di Patate. Line a metal baking dish with baking paper, cut peeled potatoes into 1 cm slices. I use Nicola or Dutch cream potatoes (yellow fleshed potatoes) for flavour. Drizzle with good oil, dust with smoked pimenton, salt flakes and add a whole unpeeled garlic bulb. Bake at 180 for 45 minutes.

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Fresh borlotti beans, green beans, seasoning, olive oil, balsamic

Contorno di Fagioli Scritti e Verdi.  Beans in season. Cook fresh borlotti beans until soft but still with a little bite for around 20 minutes. Slice the green beans into small chunks, and cook to your liking. I don’t like them squeaky green as you can see. Mine are softish but not mushy: they match the texture of the borlotti. Mix in a serving bowl or platter, add salt and pepper, then your best olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Toss and serve warm or at room temperature.

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Grilled radicchio, olive oil, salt, garlic

Radicchio alla griglia. Loosen the leaves from a head of radicchio. Heat a ridged cast iron griddle on the gas top, and get it nice and hot before grilling the radicchio. Sprinkle with a little oil and salt as you go, and turn around with tongs. The leaves will wilt very quickly. Remove, add to your serving dish, grill some more leaves, adding a few drops of oil with each batch. Layer with crushed garlic as you go. This is my favourite way of eating radicchio. I’m looking forward to cooking cabbage and cavolo nero /Tuscan kale in this way in winter. My big black griddle lives permanently on the stove.

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Grilled zucchini, torn bocconcini, globe basil, oil, balsamic vinegar.

Good side dishes rely on delicate, well-balanced seasoning and dressings. Don’t skimp on good olive oil but go lightly with balsamic vinegar or lemon juice. A good Vincotto makes an excellent dressing for summer vegetables. Adding toasted nuts and seeds is a lovely trend. For an Italian touch, think toasted fennel seeds or pine nuts. Toasted left over sourdough bread, baked in the oven with olive oil and fennel seeds adds another delicious element. Cunza di pane, a crunchy Sicilian condiment, uses leftover bread, a very handy thing.

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Grilled eggplant, dressed with olive oil, vincotto, topped with sourdough breadcrumbs baked with fennel seeds, salt and garlic.

These are my modern takes on Italian contorni and every day we invent new versions. They are economical, healthy and fast to make, especially if you cook with the seasons, keep a herb garden and a pantry of interesting condiments.

Capellini Pasta with School Prawns

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Fast food in Summer

It’s hard to become bored with pasta, given all the wonderful shapes, names and colours available. Walking down the long pasta aisles of that famous Italian grocery shop in Melbourne is a step straight back into the supermarkets or alimentari of Lucca, Siena or Roma. Even my Italian visitors are impressed. Reading all the names on offer- little beards, little worms, bridegrooms, ribbons and shoestrings, priest stranglers, corkscrews, smooth or lined pens, partridge’s eyes and melon seeds, just to name a few- excites my culinary imagination and sends my mind into a spin. Capellini ( thin hair) pasta is very fine, though not cut as finely as Angel’s Hair, and is the perfect carrier for light dressings or gentle sauces such as seafood. It is sold in packets of nidi or nests which usually cook in around 3 minutes. Fast food never tasted so good.

Some of the main ingredients
Some of the usual suspects

Capellini con Gamberini, Pomodorini e Basilico- Capellini Pasta with school prawns, cherry tomatoes and basil.

Note: there are no numbers or weights given. Choose the quantities that go with your needs. I usually serve 100 g of pasta per person for a main meal dish, but serve less of the finer cut pasta, letting the ingredients have more limelight. Everything in this dish is kept small, denoted by the suffix ‘ini’ after all those nouns in the title, to go with the thin pasta.

  • Capellini Pasta
  • vine ripened cherry or baby Roma tomatoes, halved
  • garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • chilli flakes
  • EV olive oil
  • a few handfuls of local school prawns, cooked and peeled
  • tiny basil leaves, Globe or Greek
  • salt, pepper.

Boil a large pot of water for the pasta and add ample salt. Meanwhile, in a large frying pan, add the olive oil ( don’t be mean as the oil is part of the sauce) and heat, then add lots of finely chopped garlic and the chilli flakes to taste. Toss around for 1 minute, then add the halved cherry tomatoes until the split. Take off the heat.

Cook the pasta nests for the required amount of time then drain.

Return the frying pan to the heat, add the prawns to the garlic oil, toss about on a high heat, then add the drained pasta, the basil leaves and season. Amalgamate while heating through. Serve in warmed large bowls, with some good oil on the table.

School prawns are usually sold in Australia pre-cooked. They come from trawlers at Lakes Entrance, Victoria and are the sweetest prawns available, despite the amount of peeling to be done.

I have set myself a challenge this week: to complete all my semi- drafted recipes and half written posts.There are usually about 10 or more in the queue and most just fall by the wayside. Mr Tranquillo calls me the post pumper! It won’t last.

Thankyou Romans

The Roman alphabet, first developed by the Etruscans and further refined by the Romans, is the foundation of many modern-day languages.

letters
Roman Script found on a wall in Spello, Umbria.

It is interesting to note that the modern Italian Alphabet consists of 21 letters, with J, K, W, X and Y not present. These ‘missing’ sounds are easily formed by joining letters together, for example, a ‘j’ sound is formed by adding the vowel ‘i’ or ‘e’ after a ‘g’, as in Buongiorno. A ‘k’ is formed by adding an ‘i’ or ‘e’ after a ‘ch’, as in the girl’s name Chiara. More can be found here.

If you don’t live in Italy and want to learn the language, a good starting point is the alphabet and the way it is pronounced. The Italian word, analfabeta means illiterate. Naturally.