I've just come back from a frantic visit to my family's village in deepest, darkest Italy to get the ball rolling with my wedding plans out there next year. I have come to realise Italy is not really a great place for organising things. The venues can't believe I want to book a WHOLE YEAR in advance, instructing me with a little shrug to come back two, maybe three months before the wedding. The 90 or so year old priest wrote our proposed wedding date on top of his blood test results and muttered something like "what do I care anyway, I'll be dead by then". There was no sign of humour or irony in his low voice.
All this on top of no less than ten family members at a time shouting, arm waving and arguing amongst themselves about everything from the sugared almonds to the bomboniere gifts to the table decorations and flowers I had in mind. And that's the stuff they don't care about. I can't tell you the whole can of whoop ass that was opened when we started to discuss the food but I swear I saw the ceiling light shake.
So, I didn't really get to do much in the week to relax, but the one thing that Italians always make time for is eating. Here are some of the highlights...
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These biscuits were brought back from the north of Italy by my Aunt. I love these big trays of little biscuits, some filled with jam, some with chocolate. Very hard not to try them all!
It is customary to bring something when you visit someone. The best gift we received was these mountain fresh mushrooms picked that morning by a friend. I love the fact that you never can get the location of where the mushrooms were found from the pickers. They will give you anything in the world, just not their prized mushroom patch! If you get up early the morning following a rainfall, you will see the hills full of little old men foraging around for these. We honoured their dense, woodland flavour and simple pan fried and tossed them through pasta with lots of olive oil.
Italian peasant greens! A plastic bag of borage turned up from somewhere. I was sad to see that they had not given us the blue flowers as well. The leaves have a rough texture like cats tongues and are utterly delicious.
A local ricotta. My dad used to tell me stories of when he was sent up the mountains to get the ricotta straight from the farmers who made them on-site. The ruins of their little stone huts are still dotted around, although the sheep and the farmers have long gone. You can't beat the taste or texture of proper ricotta. Firm, thick and creamy and tastes a little farmyard. A bit hay-like. Nothing like the bland, watery gloop in the supermarkets.
We make a lot of homemade liquors. Rocket fuel made with a found root of this or a peel of that. You name it, we can make it into booze. When you open our drinks cabinet there are tons of recycled bottles with questionable looking contents and hand scrawled labels. You take it at your own risk, but from experience, most make you lose the feeling in your lips. This example is oddly called cherry, but pronounced sherry and made with just the leaves of the morello cherry soaked in wine. It is so fruity, I was really surprised to find out the base was wine. I guess it was like a er, cherry like sherry really and dangerously drinkable. After dinner we get the bottles out and go for it shot by shot. In any other situation this would be classed as a dysfunctional family situation!
The morello cherry tree out the back had a nice glut on it. We used the Daily Mirror to make cones (best use for it) and just sat on the balcony eating them and, being the classy individuals we are, seeing how far we could spit the pips over the side.
These gigantic peaches must have been the inspiration for a Roald Dahl novel. We picked up 2 huge wooden cases full of them for just 4€ on the side of the road from some Neapolitan. We ate a lot of peaches.
The figs were just coming out and one of the things I really do miss. We bought a massive punnet, again from some old dear on the road side and all I could think of was that they cost practically a quid each back in England. In fact I think I've only ever seen the black figs in the UK but never bother with them as they are over priced and mushy. I just wait and gorge myself on them here.
More carbalicious treats to follow...