Living like a pauper

Sometimes I really pinch the pennies. I don’t really know why, I just seem to do it. I live as if I’m really poor, but I’m not really that poor at all, so I guess at this point I’m just stingy. I explain my odd behaviour with those 5 years of university in which I never had money to do anything because if you spent too much early on in the week to buy cheese and, you know, food, you didn’t have enough towards the weekend to waste on alcohol, and God forbid you had to stay in over the weekend, or even worse, go out without drinking. After five years of taking penny pinching to extreme heights, I guess it’s just still ingrained in my system. I can’t not do it.

I don’t really need to pinch the pennies. I have a job, and rather than only spending money, I actually make some. Rich isn’t quite the right word, but I have enough to pay the rent and the bills, and still have enough left for cheese, which is really all you need. But I still pinch pennies. I skimp on socks (“no one will know my socks have holes in them as long as I keep my shoes on”). Half the stuff in the flat is hanging on for dear life with copious amounts of industrial tape. I reuse food containers instead of buying tupperwares. I don’t have wifi. And I never make meatloaf, because meatloaf requires so much mince and surely that’s really expensive.

And then I go out and I spend 15 quid on cocktails, never eating meatloaf.

It’s completely irrational, I know. I spend money on other types of food that I don’t really need. Clearly I realise I’m not actually poor, and yet meatloaf always seems like something so ridiculously meaty and unnecessary, that I won’t splash out on it. Well, something is going to have to change in my. I want meatloaf. Meatloaf is great. Meatloaf is happening, right now!

Meatloaf has some pretty funky names depending on where you get it. Here in Italy, they call it “huge meatball” (or polpettone), whilst the Dutch call it “mince bread” and the Flemish “meat bread”. The Italians tend to go for a large oven dish, making it into a large, meaty brownie, but I really like the idea of making a loaf of bread out of meat, so I make mine in the same tin that I use for actual bread. This one is a meatloaf with a surprise inside, or really just three hard boiled eggs. It’s kinda eastery and I suggest you make some soon to get into the spirit.

kickass meatloaf

For one big-ass meatloaf, use:

  • 200 gr bacon (those thin long slices, the sort of pancetta type)
  • 1 kg of mince
  • 1 onion
  • 2 slices of white bread
  • half a cup of milk
  • 2 tbsp mustard, grainy is better but smooth works, too.
  • four eggs – three boiled, one raw
  • to taste: salt, pepper, and nutmeg

Preheat your oven to 175°C.

Crack your raw egg into a bowl and whisk it. Cut your slices of bread in pieces, put them in the bowl and cover them with milk. Leave to soak for a minute.

Meanwhile, put your onion in a food processor or blender and obliterate it into pulp. Add it to the bread mixture, along with the mustard, and mix well so that it becomes a bready, oniony paste. Now add the mince and the spices, and mix it all up. Use your hands, don’t be afraid.

Grab a bread tin and line it with pancetta. This part is a bit of a pain unless you have to super straight, perfectly rectangular slices of bacon. Anyway, line it so you have a bit of bacon hanging over the sides, that way you can cover the top of the meatloaf later.

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Grab about half the meat, carefully put it in the baking tin, push down gently. Now put the three boiled and peeled eggs in lengthways, then top with the remaining mince. Now fold the bacon over the top so that the whole thing is wrapped up in bacony goodness, then shove it in the oven for about 50 minutes up to an hour.

IMG_2796 IMG_2809 meatloaf yeahhh

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Carnivalesque ravioli from Ascoli Piceno

When people say “Italian food”, they often conjure up an image in their mind that is actually something quite different from what Italians tend to eat. The main offender is pasta with the wrong ingredients. Spaghetti and meatballs is a great American (Italian) classic, as is chicken with pasta.

Italians like to scoff at these dishes, taking the rip out of all the ignorant philistines who would come up with these ridiculous recipes, and then have the nerve to claim they were Italian, too. Around here, there’s nothing more risible than the idea of combining chicken with pasta, as if chicken was somehow a condiment. Imagine therefore my astonishment when I learned about ravioli incaciati, a type of ravioli that are stuffed with, surprise surprise, chicken.

I heard about ravioli incaciati from a student of mine who had them when he was in Ascoli Piceno, a town in the South-East of Italy, and apparently the only place where they’re commonly made. These ravioli are eaten only in the Carnival period, and maybe it’s for that reason that they’re a little bit unusual: the stuffing includes chicken, pork, cheese, and then the really weird stuff starts: cinnamon, sugar, even sultanas according to some recipes. I know it sounds insane, but the ones I made actually turned out so nice that Blenderman described them as ‘divine’, so go figure. Carnival’s over now, so I’m a bit late with this recipe, but what do we care, if we can suddenly combine chicken with pasta, surely we can have these ravioli outwith their designated period.

Seeing that it’s such a specific dish – only made in one town during a certain period of the year – I found it kind of difficult to find a reliable recipe for them. A search on the internet gave me only a handful of recipes, mostly from privates, each with slightly different ingredients. Seems that this, like many other dishes, is one of those every-family-has-their-own-version type of dishes. I decided to go for a combination of all of the ones I found, picking and choosing the ingredients I liked best, and admittedly, those I found easiest to come by.

As for the name, my student told me ‘incaciato’ is a word that is related to caciocavallo, a type of cheese, and that essentially means ‘served with caciocavallo’. None of the recipes I found involved any caciocavallo, but at this point I was too committed to the cause to back out, having bought a piece at the market, so we’re gonna use it anyway. It’s really good, I promise.

ravioli incaciati ascoli piceno

ravioli incaciati ripieno ascoli piceno

As for the ravioli themselves, turned out that last time I posted ravioli made with my kick-ass pasta machine, people felt I was cheating a little bit. You know, dirty cheater and your pasta machine – which, just to clarify, is totally hand-powered, but never mind. I made these ones by hand so that you could see how it works. If you’re not making too many, I’d actually argue that this is a little bit easier, and you can choose whether you want to make ravioli, or something else like these half-moon-shaped things up here.

So, for a bunch of ravioli, you’ll need to make some fresh pasta:

  • 500 gr flour
  • 5 eggs
  • a pinch of salt
  • a little bit of lukewarm water, if you need it

And now the most important part! The filling:

  • one small chicken
  • 2 pork cutlets
  • 4 stalks of celery
  • 1 big onion
  • enough water
  • 1 tsp (more or less) of cinnamon
  • half a tsp of nutmeg
  • some plain, white bread – about two or three slices
  • 2 egg yolks
  • about 200gr of caciocavallo

This recipe comes with a shittonne of notes!

Note on the quantities: These quantities will make you enough pasta for the whole family, and to be quite honest with you, I only made half as much as this, then used the left-over ingredients (chicken, pork, and stock) for other projects.

Pasta technicalities: if you have a pasta machine, thickness 7 seemed about right for these. If you have a rolling pin: good luck, brave soldier.

Cheese detail: if you find it hard to find caciocavallo around where you stay, but you’re absolutely determined to make these ravioli, see if you can get another hard, seasoned, but not too wild cheese. Caciocavallo is pretty salty, but not very strong in flavour, by which I mean it’s not very sharp or cheesy or pungent. A mature cheddar might make a decent substitute.

So here’s the recipe!

Make the pasta as described here. When you’re ready to start the filling process, roll it out to a size where you can easily cut ravioli out of them without wasting too much pasta. Use a ruler if you have to. Until that time, leave it to rest.

When you’ve made your pasta dough, seeing that it needs to rest for about an hour or so, start preparing your filling.

The meat needs to be boiled. This means that you can use this fantastic opportunity to make chicken stock: you’ll only need a couple of espressocupfuls of stock for the ravioli, so you can make soup out of the rest, make risotto alla milanese, or freeze it until you need it. The pork stock you can use the next time you’re making stew or pea soup!

ravioli incaciati ascoli piceno stock brodo

So: take two pots and fill them with water. To each pot, add a couple of carrots (peeled and quartered), two stalks of celery (washed and cut in large chunks) and half an onion (peeled). Then add the pork cutlets to one, and the chicken to the other. Add a bit of salt, bring to a boil, and leave to simmer for at least an hour. The chicken will need more time than the pork, but anyway, neither will be ruined by longer cooking times. Au contraire. Don’t be afraid to leave them to simmer for a couple of hours. The pork one might get a bit greasy – leave it to cool then scoop off some of the fat that will have congealed on the surface if it seems a bit much.

As I said above, the quantities are a bit exaggerated, but who buys half a chicken, right? You’ve probably got a whole one swimming around in your stock and that’s OK – you can use all of it now, or only half if you think it’s gonna be too much. Anyway, remember that if you’re only using half a chicken you’ll have to halve all the other ingredients, too. I’m gonna assume you’re using the whole thing.

So grab your chicken from the stock and start plucking it – remove all the meat you possibly can and chuck it in a food processor. Include the skin, what do you care, it’s going to get puréed anyway. Do the same thing with your cutlets – remove them from the liquid and harvest as much meat as possible and add it to the food processor. Add an espressocupful of stock, and start grinding. It has to be fine enough for you to be able to stuff pasta with it.

Meanwhile, grab a large bowl and put in a couple of slices of white bread that you’ve cut up into smaller bits. Add an espressocupful of stock, and soak the bread. Once the meat’s more or less homogenised, put it in with the bread, then add cinnamon, nutmeg, egg yolks and caciocavallo. Mix it all up with a fork, taste it, add anything you think is necessary (but be aware that the cinnamon flavour will get a lot stronger when you boil the pasta!).

ravioli incaciati ripieno ascoli piceno

Now you’re ready to start filling your pasta. Grab a sheet, decide how many ravioli you can get out of it, then put a corresponding number of balls of filling on the sheet. Now cover it with another sheet (or fold this one back on itself as I did, see picture). Now you’ll have to make sure that all the ravioli are closed properly, so that they don’t open while boiling. Press down hard on the pasta with your fingers or something like the back of a wooden spoon, trying not to trap air inside. Once you’ve got a sheet of tightly packed ravioli, use your pasta-cutting rolly-wheely (you know, the thingy) and cut out squares, or, if you prefer, half-moons!

Boil the pasta for about 5-6 minutes, then serve them with more caciocavallo and a little bit of mild olive oil.

Half-moons:

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Squares:

IMG_2750 ravioli incaciati ascoli piceno

Posted in cooking, Food, Italian, Meat, pasta, recipes | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Wanna hear a juicy story?

The Queen of the night graces our flat ever more rarely with her presence, and when she does, it’s normally at such hours of the day that Blenderman and I barely notice. Normally we only realise she has even been home because she’s left something or other in the house that hints at her presence – generally dirty dishes in the sink, a lifetime supply of strawberry flavoured yoghurt in the fridge, or possibly a load of freshly washed laundry on the airer.

Last month was different. She physically appeared in the kitchen with something way more exciting than a lifetime supply of yoghurt: she’d bought a juicer! It was to have its new home in the kitchen. The juicer was more than welcome in our modest household, and Blenderman and I promised to take very good care of it. It was a bit scary at first (there’s a lot of separate pieces to assemble), but once you get used to it, a juicer is just about the coolest thing you could have in your kitchen. Fresh fruit juice is just the best thing ever, and fresh fruit-and-vegetable juice is out of this world. The exciting combinations are endless. Will the fun ever stop? Possibly, but not any time soon.

As for the juices that we’ve been making, we went a bit overboard at first, but I quickly decided that I don’t like to put too many flavours together – my maximum is four different ingredients. I wasn’t sure which vegetables to combine with which fruits, either, but there’s a very simple golden rule: if it works as a salad, it’ll work as a juice. Here are some fruit juices that you can make it you have a juicer, or some salads that you can make if you don’t! That way no one needs to feel excluded. We’ve got orange-fennel-lemon, fennel-apple-lemon, and apple-carrot-lemon. OK go!

Left to right: orange fennel, fennel apple, apple carrot.

Left to right: orange fennel, fennel apple, apple orange.

IMG_2709

For the juices:

  • 1.5 fennel
  • 4 oranges
  • 1 lemon

or

  • 1 big fennel
  • 4 apples
  • 1 lemon

or

  • half a kilo of carrots
  • 4 apples
  • 1 lemon

For the salads you will need the same ingredients, but maybe go for one fennel and one orange or apple each, then add the juice of half a (small) lemon. Additionally use some salt and a sprinkle of olive oil.

Ready?

If you have a juicer, you probably already know how this works, but anyway: Cut the leggy bit off your fennels, remove the hard bit in the centre, then chuck them pieces into the juicer. Peel your oranges, add them one by one. Peel your lemon, add it to the juicer, too, and there you go, that’s one juice done.

If you’re making salad: cut the hard leggy bits off your fennel, halve it, remove the hard bits, and now grab a cheese slicer or a peeler and cut very thin slices of fennel. Grab an orange, peel it, and slice it into thin slices as well. Dress with some lemon juice, olive oil and a pinch of salt.

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Next juice! Cut the leggy bits off your fennels, remove the hard bit in the centre, then chuck the pieces into the juicer. Quarter the apples, remove the seeds, and juice them. Peel the lemon, add it to the juicer, and another juice done.

If you’re making the salad, go through the same procedure as with the previous one. Instead of adding orange, add cubes of apple and dress with lemon, olive oil and salt again.

IMG_2718

Final juice! Peel your carrots, remove the endy bits and juice those fuckers. Quarter your apples, remove seeds, and juice. Peel your lemon and juice. Done.

Now if you’re making the salad, this one’s slightly different: grate your carrots, then your apples. As ever, dress with some lemon juice and oil. Alternatively, this one goes really well with yoghurt and parsley instead of oil and lemon. You decide.

So healthy!

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Posted in Food, recipes, salads, Vegan, Vegetarian | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Anticlockwise

Life is full of pleasant surprises, and recently one such pleasant surprise rang my doorbell here in Turin: it was my brother with his consort for a super quick visit to my new home town, which they hadn’t seen yet.

We did as much as we possibly could in the brief time they were here, but seeing that we only had a couple of days at our disposal, the easiest way to introduce them properly to the region I now call my home, was by getting them to eat their own weight in local delicacies. Why spend four hours in a museum if you can go out and get a literal taste of the local culture?

It was on one of these occasions, the three of us stuffing our faces, that I realised something strange. My brother, when he eats long pasta like spaghetti (or, in this particular case, tajarin), he rolls his pasta around the fork, turning the fork in an anticlockwise direction. This seemed odd to me, because I’d always rolled them around my fork turning it in a clockwise direction, and I’d never even considered that there might be another possibility. We each tried both different directions, and good God, the anticlockwise method wasn’t even too bad! I’m too used to clockwise by now to change my ways, but it was still an interesting discovery.

Of course I was curious to find out if more people used a different method, so I asked some of my Italians friends. Turns out most people turn clockwise, and my brother is actually a freak. That’s OK, I love him very much nonetheless. The following spaghetti is based on one of the things we ate together during their visit here. Credit goes to Cianci, my favourite piola here in Turin. They served tajarin, a type of Piemontese pasta, with pumpkin and Swiss chard (a leafy vegetable from the same family as beetroot) and it was not a combination I ever would have thought of myself. I decided to try it at home, and gave it a slightly Northern spin. When you try these spaghetti (or trenette, or tajarin, or any of the long ones), pay attention to which direction you turn your fork in, and then report back to me. Who knows what results we’ll find!

anticlockwise pasta rolling

And you know what? This thing is so dead easy to make! All you need is this:

  • enough pasta for two people
  • about 250 gr of pumpkin
  • about 5 big leaves of Swiss chard, if you can get any
  • one clove of garlic
  • some butter

IMG_2664

OK so peel your pumpkin and chop it up finely. Then chop up your swiss chard as well. Crush your garlic, but do it with the heel of your hand so that it stays more or less in one piece, but with a big crack down the middle. Chuck all of it in a frying pan with some butter, and gently fry them. Add some of the pasta boiling water if it gets dry. Leave it to soften up for about 15 minutes.

Boil your pasta, add it to the vegetables, and serve up with some olive oil and grated parmesan.

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Posted in Food, Italian, pasta, recipes, Vegetarian | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Neapolitan lasagne

As I mentioned a few months ago, I’m currently an English teacher here in Italy, and a pretty unorthodox one at that. Thankfully, my students are a pretty mixed bunch, too, so I don’t necessarily stand out too much.

Although, like parents, teachers should never choose favourites, I totally do have a few more and less liked students. One of my happier hours of the week I spend with a cheerful Neapolitan, who usually takes me for coffee after the lesson. He’s a pretty considerate character – he does mostly conversational English, and when he realises he’s been talking about something I’m not too interested in (although I try to hide it), he’ll change the topic to food. We’ll discuss all kinds of dishes, although we like to concentrate on Neapolitan cuisine – I got a few pretty good recipes from him.

When I told him about my new pasta machine, and how I’d been making fresh lasagne, he asked me what kind of lasagne. “Well, you know, lasagne, with meat sauce and béchamel”, I told him. “Aahh, yes, but that’s Northern lasagne”, he said, “and it’s very heavy, with all that béchamel. In Napels, we make a different kind of lasagne, and it’s not as heavy.” What was that version like, I enquired? “We use only tomato sauce. Only tomato sauce. And little meatballs. And then you add ricotta, and mozzarella. But it has to be mozzarella di bufala or fior di latte. And it’s very important that every layer has parmesan. Every layer.”

Yeah, that’s totally a lighter version of lasagne. No béchamel, thank god, but only three different types of cheese and some meatballs. No biggie. Italians have such weird ideas of what is heavy and what is light.

What with all this fresh ricotta and fior di latte, I had to wait until pay-day came around to go shopping for this. But when it finally did, I got everything I needed and built this baby. It was really good, so you should totally give this a try. With the tiny meatballs being a bit space-consuming, I found that it really helped having fresh lasagne, as they are easily draped over the meatballs, something that might be more difficult with hard lasagne sheets. But if you can’t be bothered making fresh pasta, just try to make your meatballs extra tiny and it shouldn’t be a problem.

neapolitan lasagne, esposito style

For a big-ass dish full of lasagne, get the following.

For the sauce:

  • three bottles of passata, about a litre and a half in all
  • one onion, halved and peeled
  • a handful of fresh basil

For the filling:

  • 3 balls of fior di latte or mozzarella di bufala
  • 300 gr of ricotta
  • half a kilo of mince
  • one clove of garlic
  • a pinch of dried chili
  • salt and pepper

For the pasta:

  • 300 gr flour
  • 3 eggs
  • a pinch of salt
  • some lukewarm water, possibly

If you want to make your own pasta, have a look at the recipe right here. Then, instead of tagliatelle, make lasagne sheets, either by rolling them out with a rolling pin or by running them through your pasta machine, assuming you have one.

home-made lasagne sheets

Pasta sorted? Go prepare your tomato sauce. Grab your bottles of passata. Chuck it in a pan with some olive oil, a bunch of basil, and the onion. Leave to simmer, taste for salt or sugar and make sure you get a nice base sauce out of it.

Whilst your sauce simmers, make the meatballs. Spice up your meat with a little bit ofdried chili, salt and pepper, and some grated garlic. I’m sure my student would judge me for this but I just like to add a little bit of garlic to my mince. You decide, whatever. Mix your mince and roll tiny balls out of it. Really tiny balls. This will take a while. You’ll probably be able to make about 70 or 80. Fry them in olive oil, in batches of about 15 will probably be easiest.

Once you’ve done all of that, cube your fior di latte. Now grab your tomato sauce and mix in all of the rest of the ingredients: meatballs, fior di latte and ricotta.

I admit this doesn't necessarily look good.

Now it’s time to layer! Grab an oven dish and fil the bottom with a layer of sauce. Top with grated parmesan, then put on enough lasagna sheets to cover the whole thing. You can’t make massive lasagne seets and just put in one or two, as I was almost tempted to do, because the sauce won’t be able to seep through and the pasta might not cook properly. Just cut them up into sheets the size of a postcard, and drape them over the sauce, overlapping ever so slightly. Repeat until a) you have at least for layers and b) you run out of sauce. Shove it in the oven on 180ºC for 45 minutes. Orgasm as you put this in your mouth.

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Another Italian food war

There’s a few things Italians simply won’t let you mess with: their mothers, their god-given right to cut you off in traffic, and perhaps the most important, their food. Imagine, therefore, the outrage, the anger, the seething hatred when a famous Italian chef, of all people, recently announced on national television that he put garlic in his amatriciana. Yeah, imagine the outrage. Oh what, you can’t? You have no idea what I’m on about? I’ll explain.

Before anything else, you’ll probably want to know what amatriciana means. It’s a traditional dish that supposedly originated in the close vicinity of the city of Amatrice, near Rome – hence the name, all’amatriciana or ‘Amatrice style’. It’s one of those Italian traditionals that you just can’t change, not even a little, like carbonara.

So recently Carlo Cracco, this famous TV chef, was on some TV program, talking away about food, when he mentioned that his ‘secret ingredient’ when making amatriciana is ‘aglio in camicia’, or a clove of garlic in its skin.

The traditional recipe does not allow for garlic.

The seemingly innocent comment unleashed a shitstorm, as the city itself, the city council of Amatrice, posted a statement on its facebook page, condemning the chef’s lapse in judgement, as they put it.

“The city of Amatrice was left disconcerted by the events that took place in the transmission of Canale 5’s ‘C’è posta per te‘ with guest Carlo Cracco, who claimed that in the recipe for Amatriciana there should also be a clove of garlic, which he considers a ‘secret ingredient’ of his. We issue the reminder that the only ingredients that constitute the true Amatriciana are guanciale, pecorino, white wine, San Marzano tomatoes, pepper and chili.”

Chew on that, Carlo Cracco. And that was just the recipe, the real smack in the face was yet to come:

“We are confident that this has been a mistake on the well-known chef’s part, considering his professional history […]. Whilst reiterating that we have all confidence in the illustrious chef’s good faith, we hold the belief that the latter is absolutely free to add a clove of garlic to a sauce prepared by himself. It is our even firmer belief that any such sauce might even be good, but that it cannot be called Amatriciana.”

Ouch. But there you go. Try to innovate, try to be original, and that’s what you get. Shamed nation-wide. Schooled like some ignorant urchin, and in your own field, no less. Anyway, I’m going to have to agree a little bit, as this is what I always say: you can add whatever you like to whatever dish you’re making, but then you can’t call it by a name that’s no longer valid. It just becomes a dish of your own invention, which is totally fine.

So ever since this whole riot started, I’ve been reading up on the amatriciana. Turns out it was originally a dish prepared by shepherds who were spending time away from home in the hills with their flocks. They favoured it because it was easy to prepare: at the time it consisted only of pasta made freshly on the spot (always bucatini, apparently – a type of long tubular pasta), guanciale (pork jowl) and pecorino (hard sheep’s cheese). It was only after the 18th century when tomatoes and chili peppers had been introduced to Europe, that those were added into the mix. (When the white wine appeared I haven’t been able to find out – all of my sources seem to ignore it completely.)

Anyway, I decided to have a go, seeing that I’d always made amatriciana-esque dishes that were probably close, but no cigar. The whole experiment taught me two important lessons:

1) guanciale really, really is a completely different thing than pancetta (which, of course, comes from the belly, whilst guanciale is a cheek) and
2) bucatini are hard as all fuck to eat.

Aside from that I learned it’s a delicate wee thing that is worth having a shot at.

amatriciana

For two:

  • 200gr bucatini
  • 80gr guanciale – take a slab and cut it up yourself, if you can be bothered
  • some freshly grated pecorino
  • some tomatoes – 4 fresh, peeled and deseeded if you have, but they’re so out of season right now that I went for bottled tomatoes, about 200 ml
  • a glass of white wine
  • one small dried chili, or a cm of fresh, seeds removed
  • some pepper (which, to me, is totally optional, but you heard the city council)

guanciale

bucatini

Fill a large pan with water and enough salt, put on heat and wait for it boil.

Cut your guanciale into adequate pieces. I like thinner slices, but go for whichever way you prefer. Pop them in a frying pan with a bit of olive oil and the chili, chopped, and fry them on medium heat. When they’ve gone all transparent and funny, add the white wine. Stir occasionally, and wait until most of the liquid has evaporated. Now add the tomatoes.

In the meantime, your water should be boiling, so you can chuck in your bucatini. You want them to be al dente or still slightly hard – nothing quite as disgusting as overcooked bucatini, or so I learned. When they’re done, drain them, add some freshly grated pecorino, mix, then add the pasta and cheese to the tomato sauce and mix well. Serve up, and top with some pepper and some more pecorino. Not so bad eh, the life of a shepherd?

amatriciana

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The Imaginary Invalid, and their Dodgy Medicine

It’s February, it’s cold, it’s flu season, here and everywhere else in Europe, I imagine. Flu season brings with it a new and interesting cultural experience: here in the South of Europe, people have a distinctly different approach to health and sickness from what I’m used to up North. Italians have a whole range of ailments that we hyperboreans simply don’t suffer from (if I may refer you to this article, which explains it well and humorously), and to avoid catching any of these life-threatening conditions (which, to me, are all imaginary), they have a wide variety of precautions to be taken – which I steadfastly ignore.

When it comes to ailments that actually exist in the world I come from, the story is much the same: pure, unadulterated terror. For instance, Italians call anything from 37.5 degrees upwards ‘a fever’. When people here have the flu, they’ll call in sick and say they have a fever. The flu also struck here in Casa Dittatrice, and I was asked, as I was going to the shop, to bring home a thermometer. “I want to check if I have a fever”, was the explanation. But having a fever is like finding true love, or the Arkenstone: you’ll just know. If you have to use a thermometer to check whether or not you have a fever, it’s not a fever. In comparison, in Scotland, at 38 degrees, you’re ‘somewhat under the weather’ and you’re feeling a little warm. Here, your life’s in immediate and grave danger. The concept is similar to that of the man flu, except Italian women seem to be subject to it as well.

Inevitably, this nation has a similar approach to getting over the flu as it has to getting and having it in the first place: one of vast exaggeration. So bed rest, woollen blankets, turtlenecks, and a load of medicine that would knock out a horse, ranging from plain old paracetamol to substances I’d never even heard of. What with their dietary restrictions, I can imagine that Italians are terrified of catching something, because apparently all they’re meant to eat whilst they’re recovering is plain white rice and, the most famous of all health foods, ‘mele cotte’, or boiled apples. Yeah, that’ll keep anyone down for a couple of weeks. Boiled apples, are you kidding me?

In the North, we treat flu with much less respect, or rather, cowardly terror, than they do here. In Scotland, the best medicine for a cold or flu is a hot toddy. A hot toddy is a whisky-based hot drink, and it has everything you need for a rapid healing process: alcohol to chill you the fuck out and put you to sleep, honey to soothe the throat, lemon juice to boost your vitamin C supply, spices to open up the sinuses. Apart from that, it doesn’t taste like you’re being punished – it’s actually really tasty, which means that you can have it when you’re not ill, too.

There’s lots of different ways to prepare a hot toddy, and I think you should let it depend on the whisky you’re using what the ingredients you want to add. My whisky is a good one, it’s dead peaty, so I want to make it the dominating flavour. If you’re using a more gentle kind of whisky, you can maybe go for some more experimental spices – you decide. This is how I like mine.

hot toddy - it's not for pussies

For a couple of ill, cold or otherwise afflicted individuals, use:

  • 70 ml (or just a little more, go on, we’re not in a bar, no need for precision!) of peaty whisky
  • about the same amount of water
  • juice of half a lemon
  • 2 tsp honey
  • 6 cloves
  • 1 small stick of cinnamon
  • a good strip of lemon peel

Put your water in a small saucepan, add the cloves, cinnamon and lemon peel, and leave it to simmer on low fire for a good 10 minutes so that the water can soak up all the delicious flavours.

In the meantime, put a good shot of whisky (35 ml if you want to be precise about it) in a couple of glasses, and add some lemon juice to each, and a small teaspoon of honey. Top it with the still hot (but not boiling – aim for about 70°C) water, stir well, and drink it as hot as you can.

hot toddy - doctors hate it

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