This is an article of mine which was published in Italy Magazine today:
Today sees the release, on radio and on digital platforms in Italy, of the single “Donna d’Onna” [“Woman of Onna”] a song written by singer Gianna Nannini and writer Isabella Santacroce in honour of the Abruzzo earthquake victims.
First performed by Gianna Nannini, Laura Pausini, Elisa, Fiorella Mannoia and Giorgia at the concert, “Amiche per l’Abruzzo” at Milan’s San Siro Stadium on 21st July 2009, the song as a single precedes the release of the concert double CD on June 22nd.
The song takes its title from the town of Onna, which was destroyed by the earthquake which struck L’Aquila and its surrounding area at 3.32 am on 6th April 2009, killing 308 people and making over 60,000 homeless.
Gianna Nannini spoke of her visit to the area which inspired the song:
“When I went to L’Aquila I met many women and the pain in their eyes made me cry. I’ll never forget their embraces. And women symbolise the future.”
Proceeds from the concert CD will go towards reconstruction work in Abruzzo.
I was delighted to receive the "Sweetblog" award from my Sicilian-Canadian friend Lucia and I'm also delighted to be able to pass it on to ten other bloggers. These are all sweet blogs written by sweet people who brighten my days:
If you object to cooking veal or live somewhere like the UK where it is ridiculously expensive, you'll just have to skip this post - as I do with "fishy" recipes!
I adapted this recipe from a magazine. You are supposed to steam it all and, when I decided to try it, I thought I'd be able to steam everything in my wok, for which I have a rack. But could I find the rack? No way! So the recipe became a roast instead and was probably the better for it.
First you pound together a few thin slices of Italian lardo - which is a kind of mostly white bacon - with some chopped, fresh herbs. I used the ones I had, which were rosemary, sage and thyme. The lardo will soften and can be mixed well with the herbs. Then you are supposed to use this mixture to lard an 800 gr piece of boneless veal topside [magatello]. Now, I don't have a larding needle so I started to make holes in the veal with a skewer but soon realised that they weren't going to go deep enough and that it would take all day. Nothing for it but to plunge in with a knife. Then I stuffed the herb mixture in as best I could, using the skewer to jab it down. Then you chop up some carrots, a couple of sticks of celery and 2 small onions in a processor. Put the veal on a piece of foil in a roasting tin and put the chopped vegetables around it. I brushed some olive oil over the veal , then chucked a glass of water and a glass of white wine over it. I also seasoned the purée. Cook at 200 C for an hour , then for half an hour at 150C. Cover with foil if it's getting too brown at any stage. When the veal is cooked, let it rest while you purée the vegetables. I used a hand blender for this. Then slice the veal and serve.
Although I am not religious I do believe that there are miracles. It's just that sometimes we don't recognise them because the miracle we are presented with may not be the one we hoped for at a given time. Rosa, who returned on Sunday from a sad journey home to Albania, has no doubt that she witnessed one, and, having heard her story, neither have I:
Rosa and her husband had travelled to Albania the previous weekend, having received news from relatives that Rosa's sick mother had taken a turn for the worse. Rosa arrived on the Sunday and, seeing her, her mother seemed to rally, so much so that Rosa made prepartions to return to Italy on the Tuesday. But the sea was rough and all ferry crossings to Brindisi had been cancelled from the Monday. On Tuesday the ferries lay at anchor in the port and the situation was the same on Wednesday and on Thursday morning.
Thus it was that Rosa was at her mother's bedside when the old lady died on Thursday afternoon. No one in the port town of Vlore [Valona] can remember the ferries being grounded for four days running before and Rosa is convinced that God had a hand in it.
I'm sure you will join me in offering condolences to Rosa, my steadfast helper and friend.
Even now, I keep hoping it isn't true, that Rob will suddenly appear and tell us that it was all some huge, Mutleyesque joke, that "reports of his death have been greatly exaggerated". But I know that this is not going to happen.
Rob, the author of MUTLEYTHEDOGSDAYOUT, died peacefully in his sleep on Friday and my heart goes out to his family and his partner Kate.
I never met Rob but we corresponded and I regarded him as a friend. His blog was outrageous, anarchic, satirical and always funny and I never understood why Rob was not snapped up as a comedy writer by the BBC or "Private Eye". I guess the answer to that is that Rob was too modest, too nice, too British to push himself. And now the mainstream media's loss is ours, for the blogosphere will be a duller place without him.
Thank you for the laughs, Rob. If I had a pint of "Old Lesbian" to hand, I would toast you with it. And say hello to Mutts* for me.
The Florentines are having a gelato festival and how I wish I could attend! What's more, they say one of their reasons for staging the festival is that ice cream is actually good for you. I knew there was wisdom in the ice cream diet! Here is the link to my Italy Magazine article about the festival . I'll be cheering it on from here:
Before coming to Italy, I hadn't worn pyjamas since I was a child. But it one day occurred to me that all my women friends here seem to be pyjama rather than nightie ladies and when I was in hospital I soon realised that there is no way of clambering into a high Italian bed elegantly in a nightie. [This matters when there are no bed curtains to give you a moment's privacy!]
So now I'm a pyjama convert, especially when I see ensembles like this one:
And I just discovered that one of my all-time favourite songs is from "The Pajama Game" - how about that?
The Scirocco had stopped blowing, the sun was out and there were five empty tables outside the Fagione Bar at 3pm. So I stopped to have an ice cream - I'm on the ice cream diet - at one of them and there I was, minding my own business and enjoying the whole strawberries in the gelato di fragola , when an elderly gentleman drew up the chair opposite me, without so much as a "Posso?" or "Buona sera." I did wonder why, when there were four free tables, he had to come and sit at an occupied one but my meditation was cut short when he raised his walking stick in order to lay it across the table and, in doing so, bashed me over the head with it.
"Sorry, I didn't see you", said he, breezily.
Now, I know that it is the fate of all womankind to become invisible to men at a certain age, but he could hardly have failed to register my presence at all! I just said it was OK and went on eating my ice cream but then he lit up a cigarette, which annoyed me more than the walking stick incident. I took my ice cream to another table but am still fuming that I had to be the one to move.
It did occur to me that perhaps he had sight problems but I stopped feeling charitable when he clearly recognised his friend who suddenly appeared out of nowhere. When I left the bar, this second gentleman followed me and asked me for the price of a cup of coffee. You may imagine, reader, what I said to that.
I did not have a good day yesterday: the Scirocco was raging so I sulked because I couldn't put any washing out, my container plants were not only having to put up with me, but with being blown over every five minutes and, although the temperature was 29 C, I felt cold. I brought two of the plants in for the night but the ungrateful things decided to sulk as well so tonight they will just have to grin and bear it.
They are not the only things to fall over, though, as, entering the greengrocer's yesterday afternoon, I fell flat on my face. I'm not hurt but am achey and it's true that, the older you get, the more a fall shakes you up. The greengrocer and his assistant were very kind, helping me up and getting me a chair and water. But oh, the sheer indignity of it!
Then the newsagent - the same one that does not stock ice cream in the bar - had run out of carrier bags and that was enough to put me back into a bad mood. Perhaps I am particularly tetchy when I go in there because of the ice cream situation but when I spend 20 euros on newspapers and magazines, I don't think it's unreasonable to want a bag to carry them home in.
But then came solace as, the Scirocco having blown me along to another bar, I discovered an ice cream called biscottino. This not only has biscuits atop, but in it , and of course, purely in the interest of blog research for you, dear reader, I had to try it:
Today I interviewed my friend Gino the artist for Italy Magazine. Regular readers may be interested to learn more about Gino and, if you have not yet "met" him, do pop over to the mag and make his acquaintance. There are some new pictures of Gino's for you to look at there, too.
Don't forget that you can see more of Gino's work here.
An elderly lady who lives along the road here is in the habit of flinging her arms around me every time she sees me, as if I am some long-lost relative who has returned with a fortune. She then remarks upon my pale skin and light eyes and proceeds to ask all sorts of personal questions which I avoid answering by changing the subject. She doesn't mean to offend; she is just interested. Today I saw her as I was crossing a busy road and, besides the usual bear-hug and interrogation - right in the middle of the road - I got a lecture because I hadn't walked exactly on the zebra crossing lines. "You'll get run over!" she kept exclaiming mid-hug, quite oblivious to the fact that we were both likely to flattened by a motorist losing his pazienza while we were holding up the traffic. Inside every Italianised Brit there's a daring British jaywalker so she did not reform me.
My own pazienza ran out when I saw that, in one of my favourite haunts, the Edicolè bar, they still haven't ordered in any gelati.
"It seems early in the season to us", said a waiter. "It might rain or be windy."
When have wind and rain ever put off a gelato-lover? Sometimes I think this seasonal eating can be taken too far....
I took my custom further along the via Sacro Cuore
and reminded myself that I'm in Sicily, where I can stand in the sun near a traditional drystone wall and exquisite roses:
Margo Giovannone’s grandfather was interned [as an "enemy alien"] on the Isle of Man in World War II, along with Italian men who lost their lives in the Arandora Star tragedy of 2nd July 1940. Margo is a committee member of the Arandora Star Memorial Fund in Wales and, as the seventieth anniversary of the tragedy approaches, she asks us not to forget the Arandora Star.
I chanced upon a farmers' market in Modica Bassa on Saturday: there were stalls piled high with cheeses, tables teeming with purple broccoli, artichokes so fresh they looked as if they would get up and dance and all sorts of other spring produce. October's olive oil was being sold for 5 euros a litre and the texture of this traditional bread was too perfect to resist. In times gone by shepherds would have carried bread such as this for it did not go off for many days. They would have softened it with a little olive oil.
There I was standing at the counter in the Altro Posto at lunchtime when a pleasant young man came up to me and asked, "Are you Patti?" He introduced himself as Enzo and after a second it dawned that this must be the Modican gentleman I talk to every day on twitter. He'd told me he was coming home for a long weekend but we hadn't arranged to meet. It turned out that he had known my student Giuseppe, who was with me, since the latter was ten years old so we all had a jolly chat. Isn't technology amazing?
I'd gone to the Altro Posto to get this tiramisù to celebrate Cathy's birthday at the school:
And here's Cathy [ second from left] with students Graziana and Giuseppe:
This is the present I bought for Cathy. And now it's over to you, dear reader. Can you guess what it is? I'll tell you tomorrow.
The Muppets and Spike Milligan - Small World
Update - 8.5.10: The mystery object is a thingie to hang your bag from when you're out and about and don't want to put it on the floor:
This is an article of mine which was published in Italy Magazine on Friday:
Vittorio is a student of mine and he has an interesting job which I thought you’d like to read about:
Vittorio, can you tell us about your company?
Yes, it’s an international seed company with about 5,000 employees all over the world. In Sicily we have a team of five people: Two are researchers and they work with plant geneticists. Another person is in charge of developing new plant varieties and two of us work in Sales. The scientists are specialists in species like aubergines, tomatoes, carrots, peppers, lettuce, melons and watermelons. We export seeds to the Italian mainland and around the world.
Do you work from your office or do you travel?
I’m always travelling. I start my working day at about 7 am and I drive out to see my clients who are farmers and growers. I check the plants grown from our seeds in their greenhouses and give them advice. I have to check all the plants for diseases.
What sort of diseases are you looking for and what are the signs?
Well, there’s an insect called bemisia tabaci, also known as whitefly, which attacks tomato leaves. It infects the tomato with a virus called tomato yellow leaf curl [TYLCV]. Then there are parasitic nematodes, which attack the roots causing plant death and low or poor production. On carrots I look for alternaria dauci [carrot leaf blight] which you find in winter when it’s cold and wet. There is also a disease called oidium. You find white spots which are fungal spores on the leaves.
Why does your company develop new varieties? Is it for appearance?
No, it’s always for nutritional reasons or to develop disease-resistant varieties. For instance, we have developed a carrot with some resistance to the diseases I just mentioned. This enables the grower to avoid or reduce the use of pesticides. We have also developed some elongated, cherry and date tomato varieties. Our varieties are not genetically modified, by the way.
I want to ask you more about carrots because the Sicilian carrot is special, isn’t it?
Yes, Sicilian carrots are early and they are the first crop of the new year. The carrots aren’t ready in other parts of Europe. Our carrot season is March until May and at the end of it the rest of Italy harvests its carrots.
Isn’t there something about the Sicilian soil that makes it suitable for carrots?
That’s right. We have what we call red Mediterranean soil. It’s a mixed soil with red sand in it and it’s clayless. Our soil gets hot early in the year. Carrots are cultivated in south-east Sicily because the soil is so near the sea. The Sicilian carrot has a very sweet taste.
I know. I love them! Can you tell us about greenhouse cultivation in Sicily?
Greenhouses in Sicily cover about 8,500 hectares of land and they are concentrated in the south-east of the island in a stretch of land from Agrigento to Pachino, comprising Agrigento itself, Caltanissetta, Ragusa and Siracusa. 80% of these greenhouses are in Ragusa Province.
What species are grown in these greenhouses?
Melons, watermelons, squash, tomatoes, peppers, aubergines and cucumbers. We have different kinds of tomatoes and these are: cluster tomatoes, ribbed beef tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, date tomatoes and plum tomatoes in three sizes – large, medium and mini-plum. We grow red and yellow peppers and elongated and round aubergines. But in Siracusa and Trapani they still grow lettuce in the open air.
I’d never seen a round aubergine till I came here.
Tell us about the melons.
In spring and summer you only find the yellow melon in Marsala [Trapani] and Palermo. It’s called the “giallo di Paceco”. There’s another melon grown near Palermo and in Marsala called the “piel di sapo”. This is the melon that is candied for use in pastries such as cannoli with ricotta.
Trapani melons are incredibly sweet, aren’t they? I thought I’d gone to heaven the first time I tasted one!
Yes, they are famous.
Vittorio, how is the Italian agricultural sector faring during the recession?
In Italy everyone is talking about the industrial and economic crisis but no one talks about the agricultural sector because it is not well represented politically. Yet many families still have to make a living from this kind of work. The wealth created by Sicilian agriculture from the 1960s onwards saved the whole agricultural sector in Italy. But this is forgotten now.
Why did Sicilian agriculture start to create wealth in the 1960s?
In the post-war era Sicilian agriculture worked to an old system based on traditional means of production which were seasonal. This way of working brought in very little money. Then, when Italy had its economic boom in the 1960s, people’s tastes changed and so did their way of eating. In the late 1950s someone had the idea of introducing greenhouse cultivation into Sicily and the first one was built in Scicli [Ragusa]. This allowed the island’s growers to produce foods that were thought of as summer crops for the winter and they were able to export them to all parts of Italy and, later, to other countries.
I thought people ate seasonally in Sicily. Are you saying that they don’t any more?
People in Sicily don’t eat strictly according to the season like they used to but some crops remain seasonal, for example, prickly pears, lotuses, oranges, mandarins, clementines, figs, miniature pears, watermelons, pomegranates and quinces.
Vittorio, that was very interesting and I’ve learnt a lot about agriculture in Sicily. Thank you for talking to Italy Magazine.
I came across a magazine recipe for pasta al forno with asparagus but it is late for asparagus in Sicily. So I decided to adapt the recipe to what was available, namely beautiful artichokes and boletus mushrooms:
Cook 400 gr rigatoni according to the instructions on the pack. Meanwhile, prepare 6 artichokes for cooking. To do this, follow the instructions of a good cook like Marcella Hazan and be ruthless! Put the dechoked vegetables into water to which you have added a little lemon juice as you finish them. Chop the mushrooms roughly. Drain the pasta and put it back in the pot. In a wide pan, heat 2 tablesp olive oil and add a crushed garlic glove and some chopped parsley to it. Dry the artichokes with kitchen paper, cut each into 4 and chuck them, with the mushrooms, into the pan. Cook, stirring, for about 10 minutes and season them. They should absorb the oil. When they are tender, lift them out of the pan and add them to the pasta. Now gently heat 800 ml bechamel - you can buy this ready-prepared in Italy. Stir it all the time and do not let it boil. Add a little nutmeg and the grated zest of a lemon to it. Add the bechamel to the pasta and vegetables and mix very well. Now lightly oil a large baking dish and spoon about half the pasta mixture into it. Add a generous layer of freshly grated Grana Padano cheese, then add the rest of the pasta mixture. Finish with another layer of "Grana". Put it all in the oven at 200 C for 30 mins.
Above: assembling the dish, the finished dish, and the dish after a portion has been cut andserved.
These quantities will serve 6 generously.
It occurs to me that you could make a similar dish using mushrooms and peas. In this case, boil the peas till just tender and fry only the mushrooms before assembling the dish.
I am not, as many of you know, a nature-lover: I'm scared of insects, am underwhelmed by the countryside and plants give up and keel over when they see me coming. Whilst I sometimes envy my Sicilian friends who have second homes in the country, especially in summer when a change of air must be pleasant, I could not, as they do, abandon the town for three to five months. I can admire the beauty of their rural surroundings for a few hours but then withdrawal symptoms set in and I yearn for the comforting sound of traffic, the illusory world of a perfumery and an internet connection. Like that heroine of mine, Germaine de Staël, I am "totally urban".
Be that as it may, I could not resist, on Friday, this pretty bougainvillea. So now it is on my bedroom balcony and I rather think it needs a little help. Please wish it good luck!
The hedgehog came from Britain and she's called Henriette Hérisson.
"Technology has left me behind", said a friend of mine the other day. I know how she feels but I fear it is fashion that has got me completely confused these days, reader.
In recent years I've observed that it's de rigueur to show your underwear, obligatory to wear low-waisted jeans - will someone please tell me where you can find any that aren't? - which cause everyone but the First Lady of France and la Beckham to show their muffin-tops and that cardies and boleros that look as if they've shrunk in the wash are considered stylish. Talking of the new-fangled bolero, does anybody know how to wear one? I mean, what are you supposed to do with the sleeves? Then there are jumpers which finish in a clingy cuff in the very place where you need them to be a bit loose and hide your sins. Who designs all this unflattering clobber? Olive Oyl?
Image: Wikimedia Commons.
But if the above trends are annoying, the latest in trousers is the worst fashion catastrophe since hotpants. In case you haven't seen them, Sicily Scene announces that Andy Pandy trousers, with gathered cuffs at the ankles, are now in fashion! These only look good on ... well, Andy Pandy, so here he is:
And here's the modern version, in Italian:
Which is better? For me there's no contest! How about you? And what are your fashion hates?