Basta Pasta for a quick meal


Fresh pastaItalian pasta – thinking of what to cook for dinner, I had a craving for spaghetti! It crossed my mind how Italian I have become, as being an avid pasta eater my stomach was being selective about which pasta it was to be tonight.

Amazing how much there is to learn about such a simple fast food product, and I am certainly not an expert…..but love the stuff! I have my favorites and my special combo’s, trying to be faithful to the subtle rules about which pasta goes best with which sauce.  ie. short pasta with ridges holds the sauce better, smooth pasta is ideal for seafood sauces as the sauce wraps around it and concave, shell types hold nice chunkier sauces be it vegetable, meat or seafood.

Fresh, dry or filled pasta are a mainstay of an Italian diet, and please don’t blame the pasta if you are putting on weight, it’s more likely to be the sauce, if the volume of pasta is not overabundant. (The general principle suggests 80-100gm per person)

It was already in existence in Ancient Greek and Etruscan civilizations and first historical references to it are made by an Arab geographer in 1154 writing about “food of flour in the form of threads” he found in Sicily, well before Marco Polo returned from China (1294) with the Chinese version!

The Arabs initiated the treatment of drying the pasta, since their Nomad style of life did not allow for constant water supplies so they pierced the small dough cylinders in the middle to allow for rapid drying.

Later in Italy, the dry and windy climate of Liguria, Sicily and Campania favored the production of pasta, which for centuries was left to dry by simple exposure to air. And each region developed it’s own special pasta shapes best suited to the region’s food specialities, culture and traditions.Typical Tuscan pasta - Pici

Pici – large hand rolled spaghetti typical in Siena and Southern Tuscany. Commonly served ‘cacio e pepe’ – pecorino cheese and pepper  or ‘all’aglione’ – garlic tomato sauce.

Casarecce – short twisted rolls from Sicily that go well with Sicilian pesto, meat sauces or ‘alla Norma’ with eggplant, tomato and ricotta

Orecchiette PuglieseOrecchiette – concave little ears from Puglia and the Basilicata. Typically served with turnip tops ‘cime di rape’

Bucatini – big thick hollow spaghetti typical in the  Central regions of  Lazio, Umbria, and Le Marche. ‘All’ Amatriciana’ is tomato sauce with a touch of hot pepper, and made in abundance as the fund raising dish for the earthquake victims of 2016  in Amatrice, Norcia, Cascia and surrounding areas.

Strozzapreti  typical in Emilia Romagna or known as Strangozzi in Umbria translates as ‘choke or strangle priests’!? As legends go ‘strozzapreti’ were prepared by housewives mainly as a gift for the village priest. They did it for their husbands of anti-clerical beliefs, who hoped the priest would choke themselves! A sweeter legend  says the pasta owes its name to its form, so particular, that it could strangle even the clergy, notorious for their over indulgences at the table!

Artisan dry pastaThese are only some of the lesser known shapes as most of the pasta sold is either, spaghetti, penne, fusilli or rigatoni. Whatever the shape, (I hear they are customizing and producing designer shape pasta with 3D printers now!) it is the major product associated with Italy, together with pizza.

More than half of the production is exported and has grown significantly – 1914 70,000 tons were exported mostly to USA, and figures in 2018 show export reaching 1.9m tons. Bear in mind that not all of that pasta is produced with Italian flour and if you check the label you will find a mix of Australian, Canadian, USA and some EU wheat in most pastas. They say the quality of imported wheat is higher than the Italian one and for this reason costs more. But if you want to support the Italian economy you can choose labels like Agnese or Voiello as they are using 100% Italian flour.

For what I had intended as a light blog on pasta has highlighted more information than I can account for here as I haven’t even touched on the fresh pastas, and the regional differences of the filled pastas. Next time….

Just remember to boil the water well, before you drop in the pasta and cook it till it is ‘al dente’ as that makes it easier to digest, apart from tasting better! And please no spoon and fork to eat those spaghetti strands, cover yourself well with a napkin and eat it with a fork only. It takes practice and be reassured that even the best of us spaghetti eaters rarely gets away without a flick or two on that special tie or dress!Tourist pasta

And please try to avoid buying the multi colored tourist pastas!

Buon appetito!

 

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Tuscan Spring(s)

It’s that gorgeous time of year when Nature bursts back to life and everything begins to sprout, infinite green on greens as if every plant wants to show off its uniqueness. There is no chance of ever getting tired of the Tuscan landscape and traveling around in the past weeks has been a delight.Tuscany in Spring

Even on just a short walk from home the surroundings are enticing as the vines begin a new season and the iris, the symbol of Florence since 1252, start popping up all over the place.
At San Polo in Chianti there is the Associazione Toscana Gaggiolo of over 200 farmers who continue the tradition of cultivation of the iris as its delicate essence, derived from the root, is used in the production of perfumes, creams and herbal medicines. In fact it was of great economic importance in Tuscany between the 1800’s and the last century, exporting the major part of the production to France.

Iris Garden Florence

photo credit Iris Garden association, Florence

While in Florence publicity is already up, reminding people to visit the Iris garden just below Piazzale Michelangelo “where you can admire over 1,500 varieties of iris from all over the world in full bloom.” Free entrance and opening for only a month from 25th April – 20th May.

Hot Springs San Giovanni TermeSpringtime is also another favorite time for me to visit the Hot Springs, for a relaxing day of total indulgence for body, mind and soul. Just driving through the rolling velvet hills of Southern Tuscany intermittently broken by the grey of ‘Le Crete’ clay pits is so pleasing to the eye. I must have seen it a thousand times, but every year it has the same uplifting effect. We are on our way to the San Giovanni Hot Springs in Rapolano Terme. It’s a glorious day of sunshine and going to be a pleasant 19 degrees and by the time we get there I am thinking I should have packed the sun cream!
Bathing in any of these Hot Spring establishments feels like living in the lap of luxury.

The Romans knew how to spoil themselves bathing in natural hot springs or their sophisticated bath houses progressing from the warm to hot, steamy room and cleansing off with a massage in the cool room. We like to keep that tradition going!

We pass through the relaxation area, specially signposted with no mobile phones allowed, thank goodness, and slip into the coolest pool. While being invitingly quiet we are View of Internal Hot poolsoon dripping our way up the stairs to soak in the warm pool. Delicious squelchy white mud coats the bottom of the pool, the sulfurous sediments from the Natural Spring. As the blurb goes we are sitting in water “rich in sulphur and calcium bicarbonate…to combat ailments relating to muscular and skeletal system and respiratory disorders…in up to 39 degree water”. So you can see why we are here to soothe our muscles, wash away our aches and pains and simply relax. As the day is so warm the indoor ‘hot pool’ is less inviting and besides the surrounding landscape too good to miss!

San Giovanni Terme Some time out on the lounge chairs and then as the sun starts to set we need to make a move for home. Reluctantly we drag ourselves out of the pool, comforted by the knowledge that we will be back again….and again!

So whatever you may be doing over Easter, I hope you all have fun and a relaxing time somewhere special. Buona Pasqua!Easter


 

 

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Cinque Terre is open for business

A combination of great Spring weather, putting the clocks back to Summertime and being the last weekend  in March could only mean one thing….the tourist season at Cinque Terre is open for business!

First ferry of the seasonI spotted the first ferry for the season somewhat sleepily slipping across a millpond sea from Riomaggiore on its way to Manarola. There was hardly a wisp of breeze and the warmth of the sun was just coming through. I could see it was already going to be a T-shirt day.

Work is still progressing on the coastal trail Corniglia-Vernazza with a new bridge built Cinque Terre trail Corniglia Vernazza in one of the worst landslide prone spots. It will allow space for slides to flow below it to the sea putting less stress on the steel barriers and the drystone walls either side. It’s a constant battle to find solutions so we hope this will be a successful one and completed quickly as the trail is still officially closed.

Bar Il Gabbiano coastal trail PrevoNot such a good sign for the Il Gabbiano bar already open at the halfway mark at Prevo and waiting on the stream of hikers that will eventually return when the maintenance work is done. An ideal spot to savour their fabulous refreshing juice of sweet lemon and orange, and enjoy a moment of relax in front of an awesome view.

Wildflowers peek from every nook and cranny, and wild garlic flowers create a lush carpet under the olives. It’s such a gorgeous time of year.

Vernazza, Cinque TerreBy the time I reach Vernazza it is basking in the sun and beckoning seductively. I can already anticipate the piazza covered in its fabulous multi-coloured umbrellas on tables, so typical of the village, welcoming tourists and locals alike to taste the specialities on offer. I am not disappointed and together with the fishing boats still parked in the main square the scene is very cheerful.Vernazza, Gianni Franzi restaurantCorniglia main square

The same is also the case at Corniglia as cafes and restaurants set up their outdoor areas in the main square, although daily tourists here are also less and the atmosphere is pleasantly quiet. The view from behind the church to Manarola is captivating and often missed by tourists. St Peter’s cross made of local sandstone is dedicated to “all the men and women who, digging with their hands, reshaped a harsh, arduous territory, making it fertile and habitable.” 

As tourists begin to arrive for lunch I hike back up to my little retreat at San Bernardino. For the Cinque Terre another season has begun.View to San Bernardino


 

 

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