Inked In (Venezia 251)

The section of the fish market that is shown in this picture is perhaps a little difficult to make out, but trust me that’s not down to my photographic limitations; even in colour this is just a mass of shiny grey-black ink and white flesh.  This is the raw ingredient of a Venetian speciality dish, so let me translate the label…

Seppioline.  Well seppie is cuttlefish, so this means baby cuttlefish.

Fresche  Doesn’t really require translation

senza sabbia  Without sand.

Two things puzzle me.  First, given the regional nature of the ingredient, why written in Italian and not the Venetian language (often incorrectly referred to as an Italian dialect), and secondly, why would anyone want them with sand?!?!??!

So if you fancy a dish that will blacken your tongue (and I did), here’s a recipe for Spaghetti con Seppioline, which even gives you the option of leaving out the ink.  Surely that would be as crazy as a carbonara without pancetta?



Labour of Love

Is it racist to apply stereotypes to national foods?  If so then I’m guilty.

I think of French food as intricate and complex, Indian food as fragrant and fiery, English food as diverse, and my ex-wife’s description of German food as “pink pig” might stay with me forever.  I can enjoy them all and more, but my preference is for Italian food for its emphasis on flavour.

You couldn’t say it’s fast food; yes you can rustle up some pasta pretty quickly from a packet, but try making it from scratch and its a different story.  The wintry weather we’ve recently experienced in the UK persuaded me it was time for a hearty soup so I decided on a ribollita, a Tuscan dish.

First of all there was the beans that are at the heart of the recipe, and since mine were dried they needed untitled-36soaking for several hours, before then being cooked to tenderness for another 45 minutes, time which I needed to prepare all the vegetables.  I don’t have the knife skills of a Roux, Locatelli or Oliver so the task of finely chopping onions, carrots, celery and garlic was not a quick one.

They then needed slow cooking for 20 minutes with some pancetta to soften before adding tomatoes and spices and mixing with the beans.  This might have been enough to produce something warm and tasty but we weren’t done yet though my pan was almost full.  I needed to add in enough kale to fill the pan a second time, allowing the heat to wilt it down handful by handful until it was all incorporated.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Still not done though.

The addition of stale bread is a Tuscan technique used in the salad panzanella, and it features here to add a thick and smooth texture to the soup.

Another half hour should see it all incorporated.

Why bother with all of this effort when you could open a tin of supermarket bean soup in a fraction of the time?


One of my daughters is visiting tomorrow.untitled-98


Peperoncini (Venezia 138)

I don’t think of Italian food as particularly fiery, though as a cuisine there are so many regional variations that I could be committing a gross over simplification here, but it’s just that I think of a spaghetti con vongole, or risotto funghi, as well as the bolognese and carbonara sauces before chilli comes to mind.  Even a pizza with pepperoni is what I would call mildly spicy rather than searingly hot, yet every market stall in the south of Italy has strings of bright red chillies for sale, and zesty little green ones in the north (as well as their red cousins in dried format).   Who is eating them all, and in what dish?  Recipe please!


A Lid For Every Saucepan

The dating website that currently has me as a member has a number of phrases that loop continually on its homepage:

Where bat met ball

Where salt met pepper

Where gin met tonic

The implication being that for any ingredient there is some perfect and complimentary match out there (and perhaps subliminally reminding us of When Harry Met Sally).  This is perhaps a smart move, for as you read the profiles of other users there is a word that comes up time and time again.  Chemistry.  The expectation that two people, either as a result of commonality, or perhaps difference, will react positively towards each other.

Hang on.  Commonality or difference?  How can that be?  Surely you must seek one or the other?

It’s hard to say.  I have great rapport with a friend who is 11 years younger than me, unlikely on the face of it, but we work in similar fields, have an appreciation of art and creativity (albeit through very different strains) and have a habit of finding coincidences within our otherwise disparate lives.  Which is the key component of our friendship?  If only it was so easy.

I had a conversation with a Vampire Queen (a user name rather than a hereditary title!) this week, a fellow member of the website, and though we are unlikely to meet given the distance between us we had an enjoyable chat which began with yet another dichotomy; her profile states that she values both sexiness and celibacy.  Initially I considered these mutually exclusive, but then perhaps I needed a different metaphor to help me understand.  As she also gave me the title of today’s piece it seemed appropriate to follow her theme.

I enjoy cooking, but infrequently follow recipes.  Over the years I’ve developed a knowledge of ingredients that work together, that have chemistry if you like.  Pork and apple, tomato and basil, rice and peas, are pretty well-known, but what about strawberries and pepper, Stilton with sweet mince, chilli chocolate?  These are all combinations that might once have raised an eyebrow but perhaps due to our constant diet of TV food programmes they don’t seem so outlandish.

Looking to use up a little pastry in my refrigerator, I turned to a classic combination; prosciutto and mozzarella, perhaps familiar to us as common pizza ingredients, and commonly served together as an appetizer in Italy, but what of another flavour?  Salty ham, cool soft cheese, fruity fig?  Served raw they would work, but did they have the chemistry for an easily assembled tart?  You’ll have to decide.

As with finding a suitable date, it’s a matter of taste.





Un gusto d’Italia

After a few days of sunshine we have been drenched by heavy rains causing problems with flooding, event cancellations due to waterlogged or muddy fields, and grey skies for photographers.

I suspect that this may have been Thembeka once again, indulging her love of the horizontal line.

Despite all of this gloom I enjoyed a feeling of summer today as I ate my first nectarine of the year.  This peach variant has to be my favourite fruit, the smooth red skin giving way to succulent yellow flesh that is both sweet and tangy.  (I should have had a picture at this point, but once I’ve bitten into one it never lasts for long!).

I associate them with summer for two reasons. Most obviously in the UK this is the time of year when the best are available; get them too early in the season and they are hard bitter, too late and they lose their flavour.  Secondly I always associate them with Italy where they are cheaper, juicier and more importantly much larger than those we get here.  As my favourite summer holidays have all been spent in some part of Italy, the availability of nectarines is part of the rich experience.

There are other Italian flavours that are right at this time of year; the sweetness of tomato contrasting with the milky flesh of a fresh mozzarella, piqued by the sharpness of a few fresh basil leaves and a drizzle of peppery olive oil.  The insalata Caprese is so Italian it mirrors the colours of their flag.

We love to raid a local deli and then lunch in the sun with all of these supplemented by some great salami, prosciutto, pesto, tuna filled pimentos, fat juicy olives and plenty of pane rustico.  (Maybe a scamorza as a change from mozzarella occasionally.) Naturally accompanied by a nice Tuscan red or a chilled Peroni.

All of which goes to say that I don’t hold grudges for last night’s defeat of England at the hands (or feet to be precise) of Italy in Euro 2012.

Today’s portrait is of Kate who I met on the prom.  She didn’t look too down about our defeat either.

Rivista trimestrale*

Three months into my Project 365 and it seems a good time to take stock, so last night I looked back on all of my experiences to date.

What surprised me was that considering that the majority of the pictures have been taken in the North East, how many nations have been represented in my portraits so far.  There are at least 14 countries apart from the UK that have supplied one of my subjects (it’s possible that some of those I’ve assumed to be Anglo Saxons have a more exotic origin, but unless there’s an accent to give them away I haven’t tended to ask.

I don’t consider us the most cosmopolitan of regions yet I have representatives from Europe, Asia, Australasia, and North America.  Must go out and find some South Americans!  What is perhaps surprising is that amongst the Europeans I have met there has not been an Italian thus far.

Italians have made themselves at home in the UK for nearly two thousand years, thanks to the Roman invasion ordered by Claudius in AD43, the migration of Italian bankers in the middle ages, and then when the Napoleonic wars ravaged the agriculture of Northern Italy another wave came to these shores in search of a better living.  This last group almost exclusively established food businesses, and so “Britalians” became known for their ice cream parlours, coffee bars and restaurants.

Of course when I refer to them as Italians I do so to identify their geographic origin, since Italy as a nation was not formed until the middle of the 19th Century when the various regions that had built up around the mediaeval city states were unified in 1861.

My experiences of Italians when I grew up were of Italians in the food trade, the Notariannis and Minchellas provided the sea front ice cream cones of my youth, and slightly further afield I encountered Rianis and Di Mambros in Houghton le Spring where my father’s business was located, and Valente in Seaham where he was born.

Whether my love of Italian food goes back to these fondly remembered days, or the travels my family and I have made in that beautiful country I cannot say, but it says a lot when my birthday yesterday was marked with everything I need to make the perfect cappuccino or espresso and a rather nice bottle of grappa!

The lack of Italian representation is therefore all the more surprising.  I was in Gabriele’s, provider of great pizza since my teens and local institution celebrating last night (but didn’t take Nevio’s picture as I was off duty!), to my mind the best restaurant in the Sunderland and South Tyneside area is Romano’s in Cleadon, and our regular walks along the coast take us past the door of Little Italy, so no excuse!  My blog has even been read in Italy, which makes this omission all the more inexcusable.

Time to put that right, so off I went to Gabby’s again.  I could have added Portugal to my list of countries with some of the other staff, but it was the real Italian that I was after and sure enough he was there by the bar and happy to pose.  Second bite of the ciliegio!

*Quarterly review