Wander into ‘Bari Vecchia’, the old part of Puglia’s capital, and you are likely to stumble across the dozen or so orecchiette ladies who famously line the streets around Arco Alto and Arco Basso. For generations, these formidable women have turned flour and water into the region’s typical ‘little ear-shaped’ pasta, and though it seems incredibly romantic, the reality is that there is so little work in Bari that this is as much about survival as it is about spending time with family. They are there from 8 am until as late as 10 pm - little girls learning to make orecchiette almost as soon as they can walk, and making it still well into their eighties. Between them, Marta and her mamma make around 15 kilos of orecchiette a day, selling it for 5 euro / kilo. And not only to tourists; their orecchiette is mostly bought by restaurants, supermarkets, and the local women who would prefer to do other things than make pasta. Sometimes there is maccheroncini too - mixed together with the orecchiette they make up little bags of ‘maritati’ (married)*. There are larger orecchiette giganti and orecchiette made with grano arso (burnt wheat); and each orecchietta is particular to its maker.Read More
I have never felt comfortable calling myself a proper gardener. Not really. Though I have always loved growing things (particularly things to eat): I've rarely been able to bring myself to thin carrots; I have felt bad about pulling out weeds; and though I know I should be pruning my tomatoes of side shoots (to increase yield and help prevent disease), year after year, I have let them go. Until now.
If homegrown food tastes better (it does), homegrown tomatoes eaten still-warm straight from the vine are nothing short of addictive. The fruit from your own vines tastes as a tomato should taste - and there is no better reminder of the importance of eating locally, in season. But it isn't just the fruit that has seen me dedicate at least half my growing space to tomatoes each year - I do so also for the leaves. If colours could smell, surely green would be the scent of tomato leaves on a gardener's fingers. Heady and warm, I have always found their fragrance delicious - making it a joy to spend an hour or so in the vegetable patch tying the vines as they reach toward the sun.
I have flavoured pasta with everything from nettles and squid ink to saffron, beetroot and red wine. And each year when our neighbour prunes her enormous fig tree, I hang some of the leaves to dry and use them to make fig leaf fettuccine, but it never occurred to me that I could use tomato leaves to flavour my dough. Indeed, I had always assumed that the leaves were inedible as with other members of the nightshade family.Read More
Every autumn I have one thing on my mind. Come late-February / early-March when I begin to watch the weather closely my husband knows that soon I'll be announcing 'it's time we took a drive to Oberon' (on the other side of Sydney's Blue Mountains). This is sometimes (usually) followed by a loud sigh. The journey is almost a six hour round trip (most of which I must admit I spend asleep), and there is certainly no guarantee of mushrooms at the end of it...
Not all mushroom seasons are equal - and surely there is nothing better to help one appreciate just what it means to eat seasonally. Last year we made this trek thrice; each time returning with a car boot full of empty boxes. The last time, I reluctantly conceded that I would have to wait another year to enjoy a morning of foraging followed by a plate of pine mushrooms and pappardelle...Read More
I literally fell in love with Sicily at first sight. From the air, for its patchwork of olives and oranges as we flew from Rome to Catania; and then (at not dissimilar speeds) for the wildflowers and Oleanders growing so profusely along the highway as we tried to adjust to being on the “wrong” side of the road again. As the days turned into a week, and we made our way from east to west, it occurred to me that yellow and orange are the colours of spring in Sicily. Crema giallo in my favourite pastries; fields of durum wheat as far as the eye can see; mountains of melons at the markets; an abundance of mustard flowers, poppies and chrysanthemum; the bronze fronds of wild fennel; golden honey and rusty threads of saffron; the bread (often bought twice-daily); even the sheep had a slightly yellow tinge – all somehow reflecting the blazing sun that shines down on Sicily so generously.
Sicily, though it feels like another world, sits just south of Italy’s boot at the exact centre of the Mediterranean. It's where Europe stops and Africa begins – a fantastic melting pot of culture and agriculture. Oranges and durum wheat are the main two agricultural products per production value in Sicily. And with other staples such as ricotta, lemons, almonds, pistachios, tomatoes (and the hedonistic tomato paste 'estratto'), oregano, swordfish, tuna, capers, anchovies and eggplants, it is little wonder that every mouthful is delicious...Read More
One of the many things I love about Italian food is how eating a particular dish can take you instantly (and without the jet-lag) to a particular region or place. With one bite of osso buco I'm in Milan; grape bread transports me to Florence; and orecchiette with broccoli to Puglia. The beetroot filled pasta with the rather exotic-sounding name "casunziei all'Ampezzana" takes me to Cortina d'Ampezzo (commonly known as Cortina), high in the Dolomites, north of Venice, in the Veneto. Traditionally these are crescent shaped, but I love them round: little full moons with lurid pink hearts.Read More