One from the vaults: The food in Italy

Rather than repost an Italian recipe, I’ve reposted about Italian food.

I’ve previously waxed lyrical about the food in Spain, now it’s the turn of our nearest neighbour Italy. Who doesn’t love pizza and pasta? Exactly! I’m so old I still remember eating in Birmingham’s first Italian restaurant, called Gino’s, which opened on the Smallbrook Ringway in the early 1960s. My father and I ate lunch there on Saturdays after my ballet lesson. I always had the set menu of  Minestrone, Spaghetti Bolognese and Apple Crumble. Three courses for 5/-! Of course, as we all now know there is no such Italian dish as Spag Bol, let alone Apple Crumble with custard!

Gino’s opened just after our first vacation in Italy where, at a family run hotel in Laigueglia, we ate a different pasta each day, all absolutely delicious and a total revelation. Don’t forget this would have been around the time that the pasta experience of many Brits was limited to tinned spaghetti hoops. Remember them? They were are truly disgusting and amazingly still around today.

Of course, there’s so much more to Italian cuisine than pizza and pasta, however it’s the Italian attitude to the latter which I think shapes their cuisine. Pasta is sacred in Italy and there are an infinite number of debates about how to make it, what sauce to serve with which type of pasta etc But why is Italian pasta soooo good?

It’s not rocket science. The bond between flour and water (and in some cases egg) is sacrosanct, and it must not be broken unnecessarily, compromised by sloppy cooking or aggressive saucing or tableware transgressions. That means cooking it properly, and relying on a system of vigilant testing to ensure it’s cooked al dente (barest thread of raw pasta remains in the centre of the pasta), no more.

Pasta should also be sauced sparingly, in the same way a French chef might dress a salad, carefully calibrating the heft and the intensity of the sauce to the pasta itself. That means refraining from unholy acts of aggression such as  adding oil to the boiling water, adding sauce to the pasta or cutting it with a knife and a fork. Above all, it means thinking about subtraction, not addition. Not what else can I add, but what can I take away?

Italian cuisine, at its very best, doesn’t seem to add up. A tangle of pasta threads, a few scraps of pork and a grating of cheese are transformed into something magical. 1 + 1 = 3: more alchemy than cooking. However, as in most things, it’s all about the quality of the ingredients.

Yes, more than genius cooks, Italians are genius shoppers intent on returning from the market with the best produce possible. Whether buying a single tomato or a kilo of sardines, be selective, demanding, relentless in your search for perfection. Let what’s best in the market guide your menu, not the other way round.

Restraint is the common bond between all great Italian regional cooking – a culture where Parmesan on many pastas (especially seafood-based pastas) is a sacrilege, and even a wedge of lemon can be seen as an assault on pristine seafood. Savour the taste and simplicity of every ingredient and remember less is almost always more. This also applies to their cooking of other dishes.

We’ve never eaten a poor meal in Italy and have often eaten lunchtime in restaurants whose offerings are targeted at the local working population. Three courses, wine, coffee and water for 11 – 15 Euros/head. It’s always delicious, home-made and we’ve never, ever been disappointed. It’s just simple, seasonal, local ingredients lovingly prepared.

One from the vaults: Postcards from Pays Basque I

Today we’re heading back to our maiden visit to the Basque Country in 2010. Sadly circumstances have prevented me visiting for the past couple of years. Consequently revisiting my many posts is probably as close as I’ll get this year. Of course, many of the riders mentioned in this post have since retired but the race winner is still riding for a WorldTour team.

This morning we set off 50km south-west of where we’re staying in Oiartzun in order to watch the LXXXVII edition of the Ordiziako Klasika. A 165,7km circuit on the UCI Europe Tour, around the town of Ordizia, which takes  in 5 ascents of the Alto de Abaltzisketa and 2 of the Alto de Altzo.

The participants included teams from Euskaltel-Euskadi, Footon-Servetto and Caisse d’Epargne and well-known riders such as Igor Anton, Benat Intxausti, Romain Sicard, David Arroyo, Francisco Mancebo and Ezequiel Mosquera.

There was a huge, local, crowd to welcome the riders which swelled considerably as the race progressed. Most proclaimed their support for the Basque riders by either wearing the Basque flag or the orange of Euskaltel-Euskadi. The spectators watched the peloton pass before retreating once again to their local bars, of which there were aplenty.

The breakaway

A  3-man break away was quickly established which was whittled down to just Romain Sicard and Egoitz Garcia (Caja Rural) but they never gained more than  3 minutes on the peloton which broke and then came back together again.  The break away was  finally absorbed but another Euskatel rider soloed to victory ahead of the mass sprint uphill to the line.

The winner

To the delight of the spectators, the winner was local boy, neo-pro, Gorka Izaguirre (Euskaltel-Euskadi) who finished ahead of Manuel Ortega (Andalucia Cajasur) and Pablo Lastras (Caisse d’Epargne) to record his 2nd win of the season. His first was the last stage of the Tour of Luxembourg in June.

Burgos 2016 – Castilla Leon won the team prize, Sicard carried off best U23, most aggressive, the mountain’s classification and the longest escape while Garcia won the points. The winner, Izaguirre, also won the prize for the ¨Most Elegant Rider¨ (I kid you not). I hope Euskaltel bought a large van to carry off all the swag: 6 trophies, 6 bouquets, 6 cheeses, 6 Cava, 1 red beret and 1 framed certificate.

We then hopped  in the car to head back to the hotel to watch the last stage of this year’s Tour de France. While I appreciate that it’s largely a procession, there was still the points (green) jersey to be decided.

As I watched the peloton riding over the cobbles on the Champs Elysees heading, towards the l’Arc de Triomphe, I was reminded of my own recent ride in London-Paris. Those cobbles are painful; no wonder they try to ride in the gutter. To no one’s surprise, Cavendish won at a canter to make it 5 wins this Tour and 15 in total but Petacchi retained the green jersey and becomes one of only 4 men to have won the points jersey in all three Grand Tours.

Radioshack had started the stage wearing unsanctioned special black Livestrong shirts but were obliged by the UCI to revert to their usual authorised grey kit: cue quick roadside kit change. However, as winners of the Best Team, they reprised the Livestrong shirts for the presentation. These shenanigans garnered plenty of column inches which I’m sure was the intent.

One from the Vaults: Thursday doors #121

This week as I’m in Alassio, I’m re-featuring doors from there. Note, these are all in the same street!






Thursday Doors is a weekly feature allowing door lovers to come together to admire and share their favourite door photos from around the world. Feel free to join in the fun by creating your own Thursday Doors post each week and then sharing your link in the comments’ on Dan’s site, anytime between Thursday morning and Saturday noon (North American Eastern Time).

One from the vaults: Two becomes one

Continuing my reposts about Alassio where we’re enjoying a few days of lotus eating and Aperol Spritz drinking. This post is also from 2017. 

Yes, this is a sad tale about separation and loss. My beloved had arranged a business meeting in Alassio on Monday – part way for both parties. I decided we’d spend the Sunday night there so he could once again enjoy the benefits of the Thalassotherapy centre and a massage. He’d returned late the night before we left from a dental exhibition in Birmingham, his first solo business trip since breaking his leg in early March. We decided to have Sunday lunch in Alassio and booked a table at one of our favourite seafood restaurants which overlooks the sea.

We descended to the garage and as soon as I spotted the lit rear lights on the car, knew I had a flat battery. They hadn’t been on when we’d parked late the night before, I always check. As I opened the door, the alarm squawked into life. That was the offender. Maybe someone had tried to nick my wheels again but this time I had been fully prepared with an alarm and special wheel locks. The battery was indeed as flat as a pancake. We pushed the car out of the garage, got out the jump leads, and an obliging neighbour gave us a quick spark – that’s all it takes – and we were off.

On the motorway, just past Nice Nord, we heard a funny sound. To be honest it sounded as if my exhaust had fallen off but that was unlikely as Tom had just been serviced. Was it us? Was it coming from the plethora of Harley Davidsons which had been constantly streaming past us, on their way home from a Harley get-together in Grimaud? We soon had our answer as with their sirens and lights blazing, the police pulled us over. A first for us!

We got out of the car to discover one of my beloved’s crutches, which he’d obviously left resting on the bike carrier, had dislodged and had been scraping along the tarmac, hence the noise. As to its companion, we have no idea of its fate. It wasn’t in the back of the car. We presume it was lost somewhere on route. My beloved had rested the crutches on the bike carrier while he piled the bags in the car and then had forgotten to put them in too. He’s going to have some explaining to do down at the pharmacy who lent us the crutches.

The police tried hard not to laugh at our explanation of what had happened and waved us on our way, after we’d put the badly beaten up remaining crutch in the car. Luckily my beloved can now manage with just one. Meanwhile, I’ve been looking for a stuffed parrot and eye patch to complete his ensemble.

One from the vaults – Things my beloved says: “Would you like to go away next week?”

We decided to skip town for a few days of farniente in Italy. We’ll be enjoying a few days in Alassio, followed by a few more in Milan which will also include client meetings. Accordingly, while I’m away I’m reposting some of my earlier posts about Alassio. starting with one from April 2017.

During my beloved’s recuperation from his broken leg, we’ve had an ongoing joke that I’ll deserve a break when he’s finally back on his feet. I haven’t yet decided when or where but I’m toying with Route du Sud in mid-June. So when my beloved enquired whether I’d like a two-day break at the Grand Hotel in Alassio which has a Thalassotherapy Centre I knew exactly what he meant. He wanted to go there. I played along with the charade and said that would be lovely and would he be okay on his own for three days? To say his face fell was an understatement. I then said he’d better come with me. I could tell that was exactly what he hoped I’d say.

Alassio’s a favourite destination of ours for a day trip for a spot of la dolca vita but I hadn’t been since I took my sisters over there for lunch last April. We first stayed in Alassio back in 2009 on a trip with our cycling club, was charmed by the place and have since stayed there a number of times over the years, as well as enjoying day trips for lunch and a spot of shopping. Alassio has the advantage of being just 90 minutes up the road, and what a road! The motorway offers views all along the coast and whether the sun’s shining or not, it’s always a fabulous vista.

We left after my beloved’s morning physio session and drove as far as Ventimiglia before stopping for a seafood lunch beside the azur blue sea. Ventimiglia’s another regular haunt. We frequently drive over to shop in its large covered market and adjoining shops before enjoying a spot of lunch. My shopping is roughly 30% cheaper in Italy than in France, as is lunch. Mind you, any saving is swallowed up in fuel and tolls.

Sated we drove to Alassio and, once I’d unpacked, I took my beloved down to the Spa where he spent many happy hours in the salt-water pool and adjacent steam rooms while I took a wander round the streets. I know the area well, it’s largely pedestrianised and a pleasure to stroll around. It was warm so I stopped for refreshments and by the time I got back to the hotel my beloved was in our room looking forward to an apero, or in his case, an Aperol spritz. Drinks often seem expensive in Italy but not when you take into account their ample accompaniments. We dropped into another favourite spot, Café Mozart, where the nibbles included a faro salad, fried fish, farinata, crisps, nuts and olives. On top of a generous lunch, this was more than enough for dinner.

The following morning we were first into breakfast before we both headed to the Spa. I’d booked my beloved a massage. To his delight his therapist was Russian, we always find Eastern Europeans to be highly trained and very knowledgeable. She soon sorted out all his blocked muscles and any little niggles as well as suggesting a few exercises for him to do in the pool. She’d also taped up his back with that coloured physio tape you often see on professional cyclists. He was happy as Larry. We lunched in the hotel, outside overlooking the sea. I find the sound of waves crashing  onto the sands so restful which is probably why I fell asleep after lunch!

Later, my beloved returned to frolic in the water while I went food shopping: broad beans, peas, artichokes, fennel and asparagus for a spring vegetable casserole. A mixture of lettuces and tomatoes for salad, foccaccia, vegetable pie and various Italian biscuits for a treat. I also popped into a local wine shop to replenish our Prosecco stocks – running dangerously low- and some local Ligurian white wine. We were all set for a feast on our return home.

For dinner, we returned to where we’d dined the night before for another range of tempting snacks and more Prosecco. We were beginning to realise that maybe two nights hadn’t been enough and resolved to return soon. The following morning we again breakfasted early to make the most of the morning in the Spa before lunching in the hotel. All good things sadly come to an end and we drove back to Nice at a slow and steady pace, largely on account of the Easter holiday traffic, but nothing could disturb our serenity after a relaxing couple of days.

Musical Monday: Haim

This week I’m turning to a trio of kick-ass ladies for inspiration. Haim (life in Hebrew) is an American pop rock band from Los Angeles comprising three sisters: Este Haim (bass guitar and vocals), Danielle Haim (lead vocals, guitar, and drums) and Alana Haim (guitars, keyboards, and vocals) and reformed in 2012.

The group’s first release, Forever (an EP released as a limited-time download), combined with positive reception at the South by Southwest festival, led to a deal with Polydor Records and a management deal with Jay-Z’s Roc Nation group in mid-2012. The band began recording material for their first album, Days Are Gone, in sessions between touring dates, including appearances at the Glastonbury Festival. The album charted in the top ten in several countries, including the number-one spot in the UK, and by the end of 2013 the group had won several “best of” awards.

The group was nominated for Best New Artist at the 57th Annual Grammy Awards. Their second album, Something to Tell You, was released in July 2017. Their third album, titled Women in Music Pt. III, was released in June, 2020. The group received nominations at the 63rd Grammy awards for Album of the Year (for Women In Music Pt. III) and Best Rock Performance (for “The Steps”).

Haim has been compared to the 1970s soft-rock band Fleetwood Mac, though the group says they are “squeamish” about this comparison and insist they are influenced by more recent music.The group has rejected the “girl band” label, preferring to be respected as musicians on their individual merits.

Here’s the ladies rockin’ 3 am……enjoy.

Far Too Quick

He’s back! I have to be honest, the time just flew by. My plan was to complete a number of tasks that are easier to do when he’s not here and watch the closing stages of the Tour de France. Everything went according to plan save he rang me early on Sunday afternoon to say he’d be back at 15:30 and could I go and pick him up.

Typically he rang just as I’d started my « me time » with a nice cold shower and hair wash. I didn’t answer at first but when all the phones were rung in turn (mobile, home and office) I knew who was on the other end of the line. I felt cheated, I thought he’d be back late evening.

Importantly, he’d had a thoroughly enjoyable time and now wants to go on the club’s September trip – I want him to go too.

French fancies: Satisfy

With my beloved husband at home during the pandemic, he’s worn mostly casual clothes. This is good news for me as they’re largely washable and don’t require any ironing!

Depending on the time of year, he tends to favour a mixture of Vilbrequin and Lululemon with some (cheaper) Uniqlo. However, he’s started to look more closely at casual ranges and has alighted upon this one called  Satisfy, the new French sportswear brand that makes clothing you might actually want to go running in.

The Satisfy Story 

Satisfy was founded in Paris in 2015 by Brice Partouche. As a kid growing up in the ’90s, Partouche preferred a skateboard over sneakers as a means of exercise. But over five years ago, a friend convinced him to start running and instantly, in his words, he became “addicted, obsessed, and possessed.” So much so, Satisfy Running was born.

 

Satisfy

The brand now consists of a multidisciplinary team of creatives who understand that with running comes a huge opportunity. Taking advantage of running’s intersection with culture, technology and design, Satisfy has become one of the world’s leading names for contemporary exercise clothing. In around five years, the brand has achieved the kind of popularity usually reserved for streetwear brands and sneaker releases—not running clothing.

SATISFY / Born To Run / Paris from Satisfy Running on Vimeo.

The Satisfy Mission

Instead of focussing solely on the performance side of exercise clothing and neglecting the visual aspect, Satisfy has carved a niche for itself by dedicating itself to perfecting both sides of the equation. Satisfy strikes a unique balance by using premium and ground-breaking technology as well as a love of fashion and culture to create their pieces.

Satisfy

The Inspiration Behind Satisfy

For the Satisfy team, a long solo run is a ‘transformative experience’ (same for me with a solo bike ride). It’s where one ‘experiences another level of consciousness – a heightened state that allows for intense reflection, connection and creativity’. Satisfy call this moment ‘The High’ and it informs everything that they do.

What really separates Satisfy from its competition, though, is the fact that running is not the only inspiration behind the brand. The diverse team of creatives that are masterminding Paris’ – and the world’s – coolest running brand look to subcultures from the realms of music, technology and design for inspiration. Thanks to this, Satisfy can viably be worn on a run as well as in everyday life – thank goodness!

Satisfy

Sustainability

Partouche knew that the collection needed to be aspiring, and offer something more to the runner than just practicality and on-trend designs. The clothing also had to provide something that enhanced the running process – something that helped others reach that same high that he so regularly experienced. So Brice looked into developing a material inspired by the now-defunct French silk manufacturing industry – a woven fabric that would later become known as Justice.

Justice is a “technical silk”that dries up to 35% quicker than materials used by major sports brands. It’s also an impressive 65% lighter, making the overall running experience a pleasurable one. It’s made in France and then exported to Portugal for production to fall in line with Satisfy’s commitment to sustainability.

Partouche says:

Our carbon footprint is very important to us. I am a vegan so we don’t use animal products. Sustainability is not just about the product, it is how you produce it. We don’t overproduce and we keep our production to a calendar in line with our consumer, which is also an important sustainable aspect of the business.

Equally, the brand uses only 100% recycled organic cotton in its products.

Satisfy have also been involved in some interesting collaborations with like-minded brands such as the one in 2019.in 2019 where they created a running shoe  alongside another famous French brand, Salomon. This represented the latter’s first foray into the road running market after producing a range of trekking and hiking shoes.

And…….

While the global pandemic continues to affect how and when we can run, it also offers us a moment to sit back and evaluate our lives and our habits. Partouche, though, hopes that Satisfy — in both its storytelling and its products — can help inspire people to run too. It might even make me start again.

Silent Sunday #71

This year all my photographs are of France. 

The Musette: Pizza rossa

One of our many local Italian restaurants used to make an epic one of these which I absolutely loved adorned with a bit of spicy olive oil. Sadly, their Roman chef has moved on and it’s no longer on their menu. Consequently, I thought I’d have a go at making one during lockdown. Without a genuine wood-fired pizza oven, I knew it wouldn’t taste as good but, you know what, it wasn’t half bad!

Ingredients (makes 2 pizzas, enough for 4)

  • 500g (3 cups + 2 tbsp) Tipo 00  (all-purpose) flour
  • 4g (1 tsp) dried yeast or 12g (3 tsp) fresh
  • 12g (1 tbsp) fine sea salt
  • 1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • handful hard wheat semolina flour, for rolling out
  • 400g (15 oz) tin whole peeled plum tomatoes
  • 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra to finish

Method

1.Put the flour in a bowl and measure 360ml (1 1/12 cups) water into a jug. If you are using fresh yeast, dissolve it in 25ml (1 1/2 tbsp) of the measured water. Add the dissolved fresh yeast plus 300ml (1 1/4 cups) water – or 4g dried yeast plus 325ml (1 1/3 cups) water – to the flour. Using your fingers like a bread hook – that is, pointed and clenched together – stir for two minutes, then add 12g salt and the remaining water, and stir again for a minute.

2. Wash your hands. Add the olive oil to the dough and stir again, which will help create a soft, slightly sticky, putty-like dough that can be brought into a ball. Scoop out the dough, wash the bowl, rub the insides with oil and return the dough to the bowl. Cover with a cloth and leave to sit in warm spot for two hours, during which time it should almost double in size.

3. Oil your hands and scoop the dough on to a lightly oiled work surface. Cut it in half and, working delicately, lift up the edges of both halves so they look like neat little bags. Lift on to a board dusted with semolina floor, cover with cloth and set aside for another 30 minutes.

4. While the dough is rising, use your hands to crush the tomatoes, then add 2 tbsp olive oil and some salt, and stir. Taste and, if it seems too acidic, add a little sugar.

5. Heat the oven to its highest setting, 240C (220C fan)/475F/gas 9. Working on a board dusted with semolina flour, extend one piece of dough with your fingers until it is the size of a big plate. Lift it on to a 32 x32cm (2-13 “) baking tray, then use your fingertips to extend it to fill the whole tray. Dimple the dough gently all over with a spoon, then, using your fingertips, smear half the tomato sauce right to the edges, dimple again and zig-zag with oil.

6. Bake on the floor of the oven or on a baking stone, or as low in the oven as possible, for 12-15 minutes, until the the base is firm, the edges golden and the top blistered and ever so slightly singed. Pull the pizza from the oven, zig-zag with more olive or (better still) spicy oil and serve in slices. Repeat with second piece of dough alternatively freeze for later before step 5.

Pizza rosso - A Travel Blog fuelled by Coffee & Culture

6. I’ll sometimes add dried oregano and black olives – sacrilege!