I have returned from a wonderful trip to Italy in one, admittedly slightly larger, piece. It was so good to get home to find that someone had indeed done a rain dance and, nearly four inches later, the grass has greened up and the garden was flourishing. It was a dust bowl when I left. Winter is now upon us. The pin oak has lost all its leaves, but there are still crab apples
and quinces and the veggie garden, which I had presumed to be dead, was flourishing:
So I've raked and raked, mowed, weeded and cut back and the garden is nearly back to normal, ready for winter.
Now Italy. What an amazing trip. I have returned newly inspired to make and cook all sorts of things: ricotta, pasta, hazelnut paste for gelati, lemon granita in the summer (a good hangover cure, I have discovered), double sided pizza (more on that later), eggplant parmagiana, zucchini flowers, more olive oil, more garlic, the list is endless. We ate and we ate and developed a shocking gin habit (they have no spirit measures, it is free pour all the way so our pre-prandial drinks were more like gin and ice with a splash of tonic) and found other liquid obsessions namely Aperol Spritz and double espresso coffees (which I obviously knew about, just never had quite so many).
|Another tray of Aperol Spritz|
|Spice souk, Dubai|
we had three days in Rome, touristing, shopping, walking for miles, drinking gin & ice on the balcony of our charming hotel and trying some great restaurants..
|Pretty house across from the balcony|
From Rome we flew down to Catania in Sicily where we joined the Sicilian Food Tour, hosted by the effervescent Carmel Ruggeri (and her extraordinarily large Sicilian family). At risk of boring you to tears I will carry on with the food tour in the next instalment. I have serious gelati we need to discuss..
When I got home, jetlagged and exhausted, into a cold, wet Western Victorian day all I felt like was a bowl of soup. Since I was on an Italian roll, it had to be minestrone.
The key to a good minestrone is in the stock. You really need to use good quality beef, chicken or vegetable stock. A visit to the vegetable garden decides what to throw in the soup. All I do is saute chopped onion, carrot and celery in some olive oil with a sliced clove of garlic for about five minutes. I then added the chopped ends of some purple and yellow silverbeet (or swiss chard), some pumpkin cubes, anything goes really.
Add stock and a good tablespoon of tomato paste (or more to taste) and simmer gently until the vegetables are just tender. Another great thing to add is an end of parmesan cheese (never throw them out, they keep in the fridge for yonks and add great flavour).
Add half a cup of some fine pasta (optional), a tin of drained cannelli beans and the shredded leaves of the silverbeet. You could add some frozen peas if you fancied. Simmer until the pasta is cooked. Season to taste. Chopped parsley on the top.
I usually serve this with a dollop of pesto and some shaved parmesan.