|More Christmas afternoon (spade, out of picture)...|
|And attendant extra-terrestrial!|
|More Christmas afternoon (spade, out of picture)...|
|And attendant extra-terrestrial!|
Perhaps optimistically, I blithely promised our geometra - which is essentially means 'surveyor', but most importantly in this context it means the person who will be filing our planning application with the Comune - that the ruin would have been entirely cleaned out (by me) before capo'd'anno. Which means addressing the fifty years and more of accumulated neglect since the roof was removed from the structure after it had last ceased to be lived in: toppled stonework; beams that had crashed to the ground as floors had given way, over time; broken floor tiles; and mountains of earth and greenery, with three or four trees, of varying degrees of maturity, which had seeded themselves and by now generously over-topped the structure. It doesn't help that it's barely stopped raining ever since we completed the purchase, and so available working days have been limited.
It's been an archaeological voyage of discovery...
|Fallen roof-beams, and weeds|
|Once the worst of the greenery had been removed...|
|What we'd thought was a blocked-up doorway, turned out to be a hearth - complete with a hook for an iron pot - and a ruined chimney...|
|Progress! Ancient flagstones unearthed as the floor to the eastern room|
|And ancient terracotta as the floor to the western room|
|The base of the staircase, emerging from the mud.|
|And the remains of the (18th Century?) wood stove.|
Onward and upward...
Sausages in dry marsala buttered spinach
Pear & chocolate clafouti
This presents as a lot more decadent than it really is....as long as you substitute sucralose for sugar, at any rate, and since sucralose works just as well, then why wouldn't you?
This is from the pages of a book rather unimaginatively called 'Chocolate Bible' by Christines McFadden and France, which has been languishing un-regarded on the bookshelves in London for the past few years - I must have bought it on a whim, at some time, and then forgotten that I had. Anyway, it got included earlier in the year in a shipment that was being sent from London - more as ballast than anything else - and it was only after it had got to Italy that I settled into it properly, for the first time. And it is treasure trove!
This particular recipe was tried, and got a massive thumbs-up, early on - of the 'this alone justifies the purchase of the book' type of accolade - and it was then repeated as dessert for the TD's birthday dinner.
Rich and dense in texture, the addition of cinnamon in the base and sour cream in the cheesecake itself both give it a beguiling edge. And served with a simple raspberry coulis, it is heaven!
Serves 8 (ish, depending on greed)
275g plain chocolate; 1.2 kg cream cheese; 1 cup sugar (or sucralose); 2 tsp vanilla essence; 4 eggs; 3/4 cup sour cream; 1 tbs cocoa powder; 200g chocolate biscuits (i.e baked with chocolate in them, rather than chocolate-dipped); 6 tbs butter, melted; 1.2 tsp ground cinnamon.
1. Heat the oven to 180 degrees C. Line the base of a springform tin which is 9 in x 3 in with greaseproof paper, and grease the sides of the tin.
2. Process together biscuits, butter and cinnamon, and press into the tin to make the base of the cheesecake.
3. Melt the chocolate in a double boiler.
4. Beat the cream cheese with the sugar and vanilla, and then beat into this the eggs, one by one.
5. Mix the sour cream with the cocoa powder, and then add this to the cream cheese mixture, before folding in the melted chocolate. Once the chocolate is properly incorporated, pour the mixture into the tin and bake for an hour.
6. Leave to cool in the tin, and then remove to a serving plate. (Best to run a thin-bladed knife around the edge of the cheesecake before relaxing the spring, in case part of the cheesecake adheres to the tin.)
For maximum indulgence, serve with raspberry coulis.
The birthday girl, celebrating Year One...
|On the road quite frequently travelled|
|I'm ready - are you?|
|What is that camera-thing, anyway, that you're aiming at me?|
|What IS that thing, over there?|
|Getting down and dirty...|
|Is it a bird? Is it a plane?|
|And finally, a birthday toy!|
|As ever, Amazon made a pig's ear out of delivering them all on-time |
(three still to come, and one of the ones that has arrived is with Italian text!)
Salad of Peas and Fave, with Feta and Mint
Lamb Provencal (Potatoes, in celebration!)
Dinner, in the courtyard. Where it's marginally cooler - or we persuade ourselves that it is, at least.
Boned Chicken, stuffed with herb butter, served cold with tarragon sauce; fennel gratin.
Semifreddo of Bergamot and Amaretti, with a raspberry sauce.
I'm trying to think of as many pear recipes as possible that can be served over the short (but monumental, given the size of the crop!) period of pear harvest we're now experiencing, without it all becoming drearily repetitive: pear souffle; pear sorbet; Tarte Bordaloue; pear tarts; crepes stuffed with baked pears, with a rum/pear/butterscotch sauce; pears, diced fine and served with honey over yoghurt, for breakfast; pear cake; pear-treacle pudding; tartine perigordine ....and this.
It's a standard dessert clafouti recipe, but with the addition to the batter of a small amount of powdered chocolate, which takes the whole thing to a different level.
For four, standard egg-dish servings.
Ingredients 80g flour; 60g + 2 tbs sugar; 2 eggs; 80g butter; 150 ml milk; 1 tsp vanilla flavouring; 1 tbs brandy; 1 tbs chocolate powder; 4-5 ripe medium-sized pears. Icing sugar, for serving (optional)
1. Grease four standard egg dishes, and arrange in them the pears, which have been peeled, quartered and cored (If the quarters are large, divide them again into eighths). Sprinkle the pear pieces with the 2 tbs sugar and bake them for about 20 minutes in a 190 degree C oven.
2. Melt the butter over a gentle heat, and leave it to cool.
3. In a liquidizer jar, blend together all the remaining ingredients, and once the melted butter has cooled somewhat, add this also and blend again.
4. Remove the egg dishes with the baked pears from the oven, and divide the chocolate batter equally between them. Return the dishes to the oven for 25 minutes until puffed and proud.
Dust the tops of the clafoutis with icing sugar, to serve.
Three of the Spice Boys, enjoying the morning sunshine against a background of trachelospermum in full bloom. The smell is intoxicating! (Also, with a guest appearance in the bottom left corner of the frame, of a puppy - now seven months old...)
Turkish scrambled eggs (with feta, red pepper, chilli, onion, garlic, tomato, and a sprinkling of parsley)
Squid Ink Risotto
Apricot Tart, with apricots fresh from the tree, picked after breakfast, this morning (puppy currently in deep disgrace, as she snaffled a quarter of the tart before it was served - it had been left negligently too close to the edge of the kitchen counter. It's a learning curve...)
This is - or, by now, was, at any rate at the time several months ago when this precise recipe was lifted from the pages of Le Monde - all the rage in France, when at least Le Tout Paris was apparently chowing down on little else. Served with a raspberry coulis (1 cup of raspberries, liquidised, and sieved, and then sweetened to-taste, and a tbs of brandy added, to give the flavour some depth), it is quite splendid.
Ingredients: 1x 8 inch shortcrust tart shell; 265 ml milk; 90 ml single cream; 1 vanilla pod; 2 medium eggs (needs to measure 75g ); 90g sugar; 30g cornflour.
1. Blind bake the tart shell, to the biscuit stage
2. Combine the milk and cream; into this, scrape the contents of the vanilla pod, and heat in the top part of a double boiler.
3. Whisk the egg with the sugar, and mix in the cornflour.
4. Add the cream/milk mixture to the egg mixture, and mix well, before returnng the combined mixtures to the double boiler, and continue to cook over gentle heat for five minutes.
5. Carefully pour the mixture into the pastry shell, and cook at 180 degrees C for forty minutes or so, until the custard is just set.
Allow to cool (best) before serving.
I confess, for the past few years I've been lazy, and I've used shop-bought mincemeat. Seduced in part by the interesting-sounding additions advertised on the labels, no doubt. And I did the same again, this year, last time we were in London, before Christmas. Except that the security gremlins at the airport intervened, and my jars of whisky-laced mincemeat were all seized as being a security risk. Apparently because it is 'spreadable', and anything 'spreadable' constitutes a terrorist threat. Go figure...
Even more debatable, though, was their reaction when I suggested that the security cohort might enjoy digging into the stuff, now it was safely in their possession. "Oh, no," I was told. "It all gets sent to the local food-bank - we don't keep it."
So...it risks blowing up a 737...but, it seems that it's fine to feed it to the poor? (Or, could it be, maybe, that they recognise that it represents no risk to security whatsoever, and that it's a question of just slavishly and witlessly following rules which even the security mavens know have no practical application? Yet another reason to despair...)
Anyway. I'd promised a batch of mince pies, as usual, for a seasonal gift, and so I had to get on and make some. To the following recipe:
750g mixed dried fruit and peel
zest of 1 lemon, juice of half lemon
250g brown sugar
half tsp nutmeg
2 medium apples (peeled and grated)
100 ml (plus a bit more, if the mixture can take it) brandy
Mix everything together. Pack into sterilised jars, and keep at least for a week before using it.
Can be exhausting...
Salad of Beetroot, Feta, and chickpeas
Poached salmon; buttered spinach
Apple-Vanilla- Calvados Tarts