Presolana, Lombardy, Italian Alps (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Two Greedy Italians are back on our t.v.s in the U.K. again, delighting us with their tasty recipes and edgy camaraderie and giving us glimpses of the beautiful Italian countryside. This week they were in the North visiting Lombardy and the Alps and Gennaro decided they would try for a couple of days to get by on what they could find, obtaining food by foraging and exchanging labour for food. Of course mushrooms featured largely as these are one of Antonio Carluccio’s favourite foods and they found several varieties of wild mushrooms growing in the fields and hillside. They went hunting with a group of local hunters who had a shed up in the hills (obviously an extreme measure to get away from ‘her indoors’, ha ha.)
On their travels they visited a place where they air-dried beef to preserve it. This reminded me of Elpiniki in Kaminaria, Cyprus, whom we visited on one of my stays with Androula. The method they showed us was very similar to the method Elpiniki used to preserve the pigs’ haunches to produce choiromeri. Always involving salt to draw out the water in the meat and smoking over a fire. The beef in Lombardy, is hung in caves to cure where natural airborne fungi form a mould on the surface adding extra flavour.
The thing I most loved about these programmes is that Gennaro cooks most of the dishes using a wood fired oven. I can just taste the smokiness of the food. Wow. I would love access to a wood fired oven. Indeed, my prayers might soon be answered as a community garden I belong to in my village, might very well have one soon. One of the members is keen to build one and is researching it as we speak. Roll on I say, I might even be able to take my bread down there to cook…. oh! and maybe some kleftico. What a lovely idea.
The temperature of a traditional brick bread oven may be gauged by the whitening of the surface of the bricks. This one is about … well, you know. Quite hot. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I of course had to see what those cheeky Greedy Italians were up to this week after last week’s pursuit of the traditional Italian woman. This week they ventured to the Amalfi coast, with those breathtaking views of verdant hillside precipitously running down to meet the glittering azure blue sea. This is where Gennaro grew up and he showed he hadn’t forgotten the skills he used as a boy for diving for fish from the sea bed, from which Antonio conjured up a quick and tasty shellfish linguini.
What struck me with this episode is how closely it resembled my sentiments about my journey to Cyprus in search of their culinary heritage. The bounty of nature is the same as in Cyprus, Antonio and Gennaro revelling in the freshness of juicy peaches and apricots just picked from the tree and not even bothering to pick the grapes off the vine before gorging on their black lusciousness. Lemons hanging profusely from the tree hanging over their terrace where Antonio rustled up a mouth – watering lemon tart, if only I could have passed my hand through the telly and taken a slice, it looked so good.
In the 1950’s this area as with Cyprus, was very poor and they made do with whatever nature provided and wasted nothing. Necessity is ever the mother of invention and that certainly goes as far as inventing delicious food out of simple ingredients. These families, as with Cypriot villagers, kept, chickens, pigeons, goats and pigs to fatten up and eat. Pasta was eaten at the beginning of the meal to fill hungry bellies when there was possibly very little meat to go round in the second course if any at all. They ventured even further south to Naples,this is the birthplace of the pizza the now famous fast food. These regions ate what was known as”poor man’s food” and the irony is that today this food is popular the world over and indeed turned into a cuisine that is served in 5 star restaurants. But as Gennaro says, when the ingredients are this fresh and eaten in these surroundings you couldn’t wish for anything more.
I was watching a new cookery series on telly last night called “Two Greedy Italian Cooks” which I found both very sweet, very Italian, very funny and very sad all at the same time. These two famous Italian chefs Antonio Carluccio and Gennaro Contaldo go in search of that legendary Italian female who is a fabulous cook and homemaker. Antonio is doubtful she still exists with most women going out to work with little time to cook and indeed they came across plenty of young unmarried women who know nothing of cooking and were not particularly bothered; although Antonio was of the opinion that unless you can cook you will not find a husband (hummmm?) What do you say to that? The men were bothered of course and in one cafe where they were chatting to a group of young women and one solitary male who was bemoaning the fact that he missed home cooking as his partner worked very hard and had no time to cook so (sigh) he had to cook. One young woman had the audacity to say that wouldn’t it be lovely to find a young man who could cook for them? Now it didn’t seem to occur to these two greedy cooks, that they were, indeed, capable of cooking a lovely meal for the hard working girls and surely instead of expecting the women to take sole responsibility for cooking a family meal that they could promote both the men and the girls learn to cook “lika mamma used ta make” after all that is what they did. “Lungo la parità live” or in English, long live equality I say!!!
They were very relieved to see that a cookery school has been established which teaches women how to make pasta, The Awaiting Table, in the south of Italy. On visiting this… well who should they see but one of the hard working young women they had spoken to earlier who couldn’t cook for toffee and had obviously decided after Antonio’s pronouncement, she had better buck her ideas up and learn to cook that pasta or she will be left on the shelf along with her bag of flour.
However, I agreed wholeheartedly with Carluccio’s sentiment that “cooking for someone is an act of love.” I love cooking for others, not all the time mark you but I certainly get a kick out of it.
My grandmother passed her knowledge down to my auntie who cooked along side her when she was alive and I was privileged that she gave my cousin Androula and I a master class in how to make pasta the Cypriot way when I visited last May to gather information for my book “Androula’s Kitchen”. I am pleased to read on the Awaiting Table web site, that the traditional Italian way to make pasta is identical to that which aunt Eugenia showed us, using just flour and water and a very long rolling pin.