Spot the Tomato…

Spot the Tomato!

Spot the Tomato!

At the back of our house is a little bit of waste ground that nobody bothers about so The Man decided he would make it a project and set about improving the look of it. He made terraces using some wooden beams taken from the roof when we made a roof terrace and arranged a wine press ( an old one that we don’t use) in an artistic way, threw in a couple of green vintage wine demijohns (even more artistic) – put down some paving and gravel. The Man generally made a rather good job of it and proudly announces to everyone, ‘I did all this without spending hardly any money, only hard labour and all the materials are recycled. I only spent €10 on screws!’

garden

I was in charge of filling the beds so I bought lots of rosemary plants, lavender, sage and other herbs. Then I decided to put in a couple of tomato plants. Yeah what a good idea. I thought I’d bought those cherry ones and looked forward to lots of little red jewels to put on our salad.

Everyone grows tomatoes here without any problem. I watered and fed them and they grew like triffids…amazing! They grew huge and are taking over the whole of the area but they are devoid of tomatoes – or are they? I have now spotted one or two but they are the buffalo variety – shock horror – where are my dainty little gems? Sadly they are taking a long time to get to anything like the right size for picking and as for going red…hmm – I think I’ll be making a lot of green tomato chutney this autumn.

Spotted one tomato...

Spotted! One tomato…

I had also put in some strawberry plants which did quite well and look as though they’re spreading well so next year there should be a better crop – if only I can stop the cat and dog using that particular area as their toilet. Not sure if it improves the taste of the strawberries as I was rather put off trying them…

On a brighter note, my flowers have done extremely well this year and I’m very proud of my cascading petunias, a wonderful burst of colour – aren’t I clever?

Petunia you adorable lady, well done!

Petunia – you adorable lady, well done!

And – I hope I don’t speak too soon – I have six oranges on my little tree, with a bit of luck they’ll be ready for Christmas!

Oranges...(or greens as they are at the moment)

Oranges…(or greens as they are at the moment)

Cricket, Coconuts, Pimms and Pasta…

The last month has been particularly busy for me. After a trip to the UK visiting friends and family we got back to Italy in time for the Festa De le Cove which I blogged about last year. (Festa 2013) It was a good weekend once again despite some bad weather but somehow the clouds dispersed and the sun came out just before the main parade of floats. There weren’t many this year but, one was spectacular and I’ve put up a photo.

Amazing Chicken Made from Straw and Corn

Amazing Chicken Made from Straw and Corn at Festa De Le Cove 2014

The following weekend I was responsible for organising a joint 60th birthday party for a couple of old friends, one from England and the other a resident in Sydney Australia. These two chaps had been at university with The Man (many years ago) and more friends joined us all for a fun packed weekend. For the main event on Saturday 19th we invited a few Italian friends to tag along and planned an English summer fete with cricket and coconut shy included.

flagsgarden

coconutshy

We hired the garden at the back of the Comune (Town Hall),a huge area of grass, a bandstand and a smaller area of with mature trees. The view from the gardens towards the mountain was pretty AWESOME! I use that word for our visitors from Texas! (Sorry I didn’t get a photo) The weather was scorching, far too hot to lob balls at either a coconut or a cricket bat until at least 8pm!

We managed to set out the tables and benches under the trees and fortunately for us a door had been left open to one of the ground floor rooms which was empty and cool so we set up the tables in there for food and alcohol. Naturally there was Pimms on offer. The Italian guests had never supped this delicious beverage and after a first cautious sip they guzzled away!

garden

The Man made sure everyone had a turn at bat and a chance to bowl in the cricket and that equal opportunity was given to bash a coconut down. He ran the events in his own inimitable fashion – in other words – no one quite understood the rules. It was a knockout kind of thing. Prizes were indeed won! Petritoli fridge magnets were awarded to first, second and third in both events. Is there no end to The Man’s generosity? There were some happy faces around.

 

On Sunday 20th I arranged for a bit of pasta making. It was again a very hot day but with tables under the trees, a few beers keeping us hydrated a jolly time was had by all at La Scentella with our friend Roberto Ferretti.

Roberto with Olivespastavino

Roberto with Olivespastavino

Roberto gave a demonstration of how to make fresh tagliatelle the way they do it in Marche…secret ingredient? A little vino cotto. This is ‘cooked wine’ and tastes a little like Madera, it’s traditionally given at the end of a meal with almond biscuits or cake which you dip into the liquid. Delicious.

kneading

Roberto allowed four people to give a hand. It was hard work ‘kneading’ the dough for a good fifteen minutes and luckily no one lost a finger when carefully cutting the prepared dough. Looked pretty dangerous though, I thought at least one pink painted fingernail might end up on our plates!

Our Four 'Demonstrators'

Our Four ‘Demonstrators’

Twenty-four people sat down to eat after the demonstration. Roberto prepared a feast for us, it was a completely vegetarian meal and even though the majority of the guests were carnivorous I never heard one complaint. In fact the opposite was the case. We had a small taste of the pasta prepared by our friends, followed by a massive plate a pasta that had been made earlier. The tomato sauce served with it was simple but delicious, wild celery was detected, I understood it to be a herb, quite distinctive. Roberto is a keen herb grower and can easily identify any wild herbs growing in the fields. I’ve often seen him out with his carrier bag searching and collecting. The next dish on the menu was a fabulous ratatouille with potatoes, peppers, aubergines, tomatoes and herbs. Roberto is a very good cook.

Lunch with Friends

Lunch with Friends

The food was amazing but what really made the meal perfect was firstly the company; close friends and family.  Secondly the ambience; we were eating outdoors, seated around a long table, everyone talking, laughing drinking and eating in the shade of a few trees, surrounded by lavender and rosemary bushes. Our guests from Australia, the UK and America were given the true Italian experience. The Man and I think we’re very lucky to be able to enjoy this lifestyle all the time.

I stupidly didn’t get the recipes for the sauce or ratatouille but I do remember the pasta. Basically, 100 grams of strong flour, an egg, some oil and about a teaspoon of vino cotto…and…a great deal of elbow grease. I’m going to try it soon, I’ll let you know how it goes.

Ratatouille

Ratatouille

Phew a long blog from me this week, but there was a lot to write about. Actually, this barely covers half what we all got up too but don’t want to get boring!

A Walk on the Wild Side…

mountains Escursione guidato nel parco fra erbe ed olive in fase di raccolta
Guided hike in the park between herbs and olives at harvest (literal translation)

Each Sunday during October and November Petritoli celebrates herbs and olive oil with the Erba Olio Festival. It is the time for picking the olives and taking them to the press, I’ll blog about that soon as we’re in the middle of our harvest now. The Comune (local council, pronounced co-moon-nay) organise events at different venues. They usually involve a talk about wild herbs and then a meal incorporating herbs and olives/olive oil in some way.

Last Sunday with friends, I decided to take part in a guided woodland walk before a substantial lunch priced at € 22 a head including wine, coffee and liquers. at Parco Galeano, a local Agriturismo. An Agriturismo is usually in the countryside, it will have a restaurant, accommodation (B&B), possibly a shop and a proportion of the food served must be their own produce and the remainder must originate within a very short distance (within 20k I think).

The walk and talk was supposed to start at 10am but when I rang to book they said to come closer to 10.30 which my two friends and I duly did. Of course, this is Italy so there was not another soul to be seen. They were working hard in the kitchen preparing our lunch but no-one had yet arrived for the walk…so…we sat in the glorious sunshine, it was about 25 degrees. We waited…and waited…A lady in a tracksuit, anorak, boots and hat arrived after about 20 mins, she carried with her a large bag, she was Italian, we knew she was Italian because of the amount of clothing she was wearing. As it’s October it’s obligatory to wear autumnal/winter clothing regardless of the ambient temperature. We expats of course were in T-shirt and light-weight trousers. We did sport our trainers in preparation for the ‘hike’. This well clad woman definitely didn’t need a guided walk as she proceeded immediately to fill her bag with all types of green foliage and it was soon bursting with a huge scrumptious feast for… a bunny maybe? At least that’s what we thought then, but later we would be so much wiser.

At last our guide Lino (pronounced Leeno) arrived. He was delightful and after introductions and lots of jolly laughter he looked around asked where everyone else was. We shrugged our shoulders and said, ‘solo noi,’ (only us) and pointed also to the bag lady, but she was bottom up in the corner of the abandoned vineyard, digging up some root or other. Lino must have realised immediately that she was ‘on her own’.

Me, the girls and our guide Lino

Me, the girls and our guide Lino

My Italian is not so bad, my understanding is better than my speaking and my two friends Helen and Jan, knew some and a little Italian respectively. It was going to be an interesting walk.  To look the part I wore my walking shoes and my small back pack. ‘Lets get going then! Andiamo!’ I pointed to the track leading down to the woods and parkland. We moved less than a metre, in fact the whole ‘hike’ took us no further than 25 metres from start to finish. Which I suppose is impressive when you consider I took over 60 photographs of different types of herbs, grasses, fruits and other plants, all with varying degrees of health giving properties, ailment fixers, de-toxing thingies, I mean this small area had more goodies in it than any health food shop or whole food store. Gosh and golly it was awesome!

One small area with many different herbs and grasses.

One small area with many different herbs and grasses.

The trouble was there were so many diverse plants with Latin names, family names, common names, nicknames etc., and they often looked very, very similar. I cannot remember a single one…oh I lie I can remember Rucolo Romana (Roman Rocket) with a white flower, but I didn’t photograph that. I already knew the wild rocket with a yellow flower, dandelion, cornflower and blackberry, that was about it. Shepherd’s purse I had heard of but would not have been able to identify. Lino told us it was called Shepherd’s purse because of the triangular shape of the seed pod, shaped like a Shepherd’s purse. Am I repeating myself here rather too much? I absolutely loved every second of Lino’s interesting talk, he knew so much and wanted to share his knowledge with us. We tried hard and he wrote lots of notes down for us in Italian or Latin but at the end all I could remember was,

Non mangiare. Va bene mangiare. Buono per cucinare. Non raccogliere (Don’t eat. Okay to eat, Good for cooking. Do not pick.)

DONT eat this!

DONT eat this!

Not good to cook!

Not good to cook!

Wild Rocket...okay to eat!Wild Rocket…okay to eat!

I’m sorry to say that I couldn’t walk through the fields now and identify many of the ‘va bene mangiare’ and experimenting would not be a good idea. I wrote down the number of each photograph on my piece of paper with the plant name beside it, but when I uploaded the photos I think I must have made a mistake somewhere as I had the blackberry bush identified as Corbezzotto Arbutus Unedo…WRONG as you will all know…the blackberry is Robus Hulmifolius…so there! (hope I’ve got that correct!)

There was one other category this was for the plants that were good for the ‘suocera’ (mother-in-law!) Hmm…

Don't know what this was...maybe one for the mother-in-law?

Don’t know what this was…maybe one for the mother-in-law?

Lino didn't know much about mushrooms and toadstools but he thought this one was okay.

Lino didn’t know much about mushrooms and toadstools but he thought this one was okay.

Cornflower..."put this in the ice cube" Lino suggested.

Cornflower…”put this in the ice cube” Lino suggested.

"veronica" she gets everywhere!

“veronica” she gets everywhere!

Edible fruit, tastes like custard with the consistency of blancmange.  Sounds weird? It was strange but okay.

Edible fruit, tastes like custard with the consistency of blancmange. Sounds weird? It was strange but okay.

Blanket of something delicious (I believe)

Blanket of something delicious (I believe)

Next blog will be about the lunch! Watch this space…..:)