‘Rolling out Recipes’ from Le Marche.

Over the coming months we want to share a selection of seasonal recipes with you, from the heart of Italy.

Year after year, as the months and ingredients change, so does the family table. We prepare and serve what is in season, strawberries are ready in April, we don’t eat them in December! The earth gives us what we need, oranges and their vitamin C in winter and refreshing watermelons arrive in August.

Ingredients vary, not just seasonally, but monthly. Sometimes subtly, sometimes dramatically. Each month passes and we see a change in the fields. The locals are passionately involved with their surroundings and respect the land. They lovingly sow their crops and naturally reap most of their produce in the summer months.

Some products are ever present, carrots, celery, sage and rosemary, and they form the basis of most casserole dishes.

Here in Le Marche the quality of the ingredients is very important. Dishes are simple and delicious. A piece of meat, grilled and transformed with lashings of local olive oil, a peach eaten off the tree after lunch. The gorgeous artichoke dipped in lemon juice and luminous green olive oil. Tomatoes bursting with the scent of summer.

It’s April and the weather has changed. We are surrounded by flowering fruit blossom. Their beautiful colours reveal the imminent peach and plum harvest.  There is tarragon and rocket and the wonderful arrival of succulent strawberries, which help to rid the body of toxins, accumulated over the winter, with their slightly astringent qualities.

April is the month of spring cleaning and Easter.  Artichokes are now in the fields.  Their tall, solid, lilac crowned stalks stand proudly in smart lines.

This week’s recipe – starting with something simple.

Carciofi RipieniStuffed artichokes, perfect served with roast lamb.

Serves 6

  • 12 medium globe artichokes
  • 1 medium bunch of parsley, chopped
  • 4 garlic gloves, peeled and finely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 30g (1oz) butter
  • 500ml (2 cups) vegetable stock

Rinse the artichokes and trim the tough outer leaves.

Cut away about a third of the top spear of each artichoke. Cut away the stem completely, in line with the artichoke bottom.

Put each artichoke bottom side up, onto a wooden chopping board.  Push gently against the artichoke with your hand to widen the central cavity of the artichoke.  Using scissors, snip away any top spikes of the internal small leaves.

Mix the chopped parsley and garlic together and divide the mixture between the artichoke cavities and the leaves.

Put the artichokes upright in a high rimmed saucepan, where they can fit in a single layer.  Drizzle with the olive oil, season with salt and pepper and add the stock. Put a knob of butter into each artichoke and bring the stock to the boil. Spoon over a little of the stock, lower the heat, cover and simmer for 30-40 minutes, until the artichokes are tender.  Remove the lid and continue cooking to reduce the liquid until only a little remains.

Serve warm, enjoy!

 

 

 

Letters from Le Marche – chapter 3

Letters from Le Marche – chapter 3

Our weekend in Florence was over in a flash and we reluctantly flew back to London Stansted airport. Low grey cloud and drizzle welcomed us with open arms. We drove home through the gloom and heavy traffic.  I was now on a mission to return as soon as possible, my heart was still in Italy…..

I spent my evenings trawling through the internet. Searching properties for sale, contacting agents and familiarising myself with the region.

Four weeks later we returned to explore the area of Tuscany. Beautiful it certainly is but something was missing. We were attracted to Italy, the culture, the lifestyle, the language. Walking around the streets we were engulfed by large groups of tourists and their coaches. We wanted more Italianness, is that an actual word!

We were not down hearted, but more determined to find our perfect place.

I am a great believer in fate. A week later Michael phoned me from work. He had just had lunch with a couple of business associates, one of whom was David Scacchetti, a co-founder and CEO of  Mamas and Papas. He was married to a beautiful girl from Le Marche, in the heart of Italy, and owned a house in Civitanova Alta. Michael had talked to him about our love affair with Italy and our plans to buy a home. David made Michael promise to visit the region of Le Marche before we made a decision. I was intrigued, although I had never heard of Le Marche, David has impeccable taste, it would definitely be worth a visit.

I spent the next couple of hours researching everything I could about the region. The close proximity to both the sea and mountains was a great plus and the air quality would be amazing!

Once I have an idea in my head I’m like a dog with a bone. I wanted to get the ball rolling. By the time Michael returned home that evening I had booked our flights to Ancona. The hotel booking in Pedaso was confirmed and appointments  set up with a couple of agents to view various properties.

A couple of weeks later, clutching maps and a pile of property details we flew into Ancona. We descended the plane steps and I gazed around. Airports are never the most attractive places, but I instantly liked this one. It was small and neat, even I wouldn’t get lost here. I turned to Michael, “it smells lovely here, warm and flowery” he raised his eyebrows and shook his head. To me it was obvious, places have a particular aroma, it’s one of the first things I notice when I arrive somewhere new.

We picked up the hire car and headed to the coast road. The motorway is a much quicker route, but we wanted to explore.

“This is it” I said to Michael. “This is what?” We had been on the road for about thirty minutes, but I knew. A gut instinct, that special connection, when something just feels right. Michael gave me a strange look and we continued our journey. Beautiful white sandy beaches on the left, ancient hill top towns rising up on the right. We stopped for lunch at a beachside restaurant in Civitanova. After a light lunch of fresh mussels and a glass of chilled Passerina, Michael was beginning to agree with me.

We pulled up outside Hotel Villa Ricci in the small coastal town of Pedaso. I always love to stay somewhere which represents the country I’m visiting. I avoid staying in large modern skyscraper hotels. The furnishings are modern and minimalist and often quite boring. Villa Ricci was everything I loved and more. From the moment we walked through the door. Exquisite pieces of Italian antique furniture were carefully arranged on the marble floor. Beautiful crystal chandeliers caught the light of the afternoon sun. Beyond the reception was a large door leading out into an enchanting walled garden with the scent of orange blossom.

An elegant staircase took us up to our first floor bedroom which was just as beautiful. A lovely glazed sun terrace led off the bedroom with views over the Adriatic Sea, bliss.

We unpacked quickly and changed into something a little more summery. We went for a walk, the sea was so close, I needed to be closer. I kicked off my shoes and rolled up my trousers. The water was wonderful, refreshing but not too cold. We walked along the promenade and smiled at the locals, who greeted us warmly.

That evening we had arranged to meet up with one of the agents in our hotel bar. Fabio was half English, half Italian, so language would not be a problem. We arrived early and ordered a bottle of prosecco. We chatted to the barman, in sign language and charades, as he brought over a selection of olives and cheese.

The agent arrived, he was very friendly and knew the area well.  His mother’s family had lived there for generations and he seemed well connected. We discussed in more detail what we were looking for, the classic Italian farmhouse which we would loving restore over time.

We mentioned we were also meeting another agent the following morning to view properties further in land, closer to the mountains. He tried to dissuade us, but we wanted to explore everywhere.

The following day, we drove inland in search of our dream. Amandola and the surrounding villages were lovely, but a little too remote.   I was going to be spending time alone here overseeing the restoration. I didn’t want to feel too isolated and become the mad English woman living in the mountains! It was important to be within walking distance of a town with shops, bars and restaurants. The coast was also an important factor and we felt it was too far away from the water. We didn’t want to be spending long periods of time in the summer driving backwards and forwards to the beach.

The next day we met up with Fabio again to view properties closer to the sea. I had already seen my dream home on the internet a few days earlier. A dilapidated farmhouse with sea views and a fenced off paddock, ready for my horses! We pulled up outside. “I don’t think this is the right house Fabio, where’s the sea view?” He said if we drove a few minutes down the hill and round the bend we could get a glimpse! I focused on the paddock and asked how many acres were included. Fabio shuffled around awkwardly and told me the paddock belonged to the house next door! We spent the following few hours driving around the rolling hills of Le Marche. The views were breathtaking and the sense of stepping back in time was beginning to wash over me. Acres of vineyards and olive groves surrounded us. I felt my shoulders drop, totally relaxed, as I scanned the countryside.

We were taken to see a large pile of bricks and stone in the middle of a field, listed as a partially renovated house! We drove on. Another ‘house’ was eventually found a half mile walk uphill with no road access. The details stated this property needed minor building work, but something was missing, the roof!

I know the agents in England like to exaggerate on the details of the properties they are selling, but here in Italy it was a whole different level!

I tore up the remaining house details I had printed off, took a deep breath and opened my mind to more possibilities.

Michael was flagging so it was time to get him fed and watered in the nearest bar/cafe. I didn’t want him to go all negative and logical.

We stopped off at a beautiful restaurant, Casa de Mar, in Campofilone. Situated right on the coast, with the sound of crashing waves on the rocks and a beer in his hand, Michael was happy. We ordered sea food pasta and a bottle of  pecorino from the local cantina, Centanni in Montefiore dell’Aso. The three of us sat and talked for a couple of hours. We tried to give Fabio a clearer picture of what we wanted, but to be honest, like most people, we didn’t know what we wanted until we saw it. Michael told Fabio that unless Dawn gets that special feeling about a property, we move on to the next. Fabio looked a little perplexed and gave me a nervous smile. With everyone watered, wined and fed we set off again.

We viewed our first occupied house. We were warmly welcomed by a lovely, elderly couple with very few teeth. They proudly showed us round their home, which had been in the family for three generations. We were shown the strawberry plants in the allotment and the oak tree planted by her great grandfather. The bathroom facilities were a little lacking. There was an outside toilet in a shed and inside a shower head was loosely attached to a couple of wall tiles.

It certainly had possibilities but it didn’t have the wow factor.

We drove on, to be honest I had no idea where I was by now, but it didn’t matter, everywhere was beautiful. We were taken to another farmhouse, a promising location, until we stepped out of the car and inhaled. Looking down the valley we saw a long low building. Fabio informed us, rather reluctantly, that it was a pig farm.  We moved swiftly on. The next house we saw was lovely, a complete renovation but it certainly had potential. The owners greeted us and took us into a small out building with a rather interesting aroma. There were glass bottles lined up along a rather lopsided wooden shelf nailed to the wall. The owner opened a bottle and poured out a thick, red/brown liquid into a few plastic cups. Homemade vino cotto he informed us proudly.

Vino cotto, literally means cooked wine and is famous in the Le Marche region. It is a strong ruby-colored wine, usually semi-sweet, and traditionally drunk in small glasses with puddings and cheese.

It is produced from the must of the local grapes, heated in a large copper vessel until reduced to a half or third of its original volume, and then fermented. It can be aged for years and barrels can be topped up with each harvest.

It tasted and smelt a little like sherry and reminded me of my grandmother getting rather tipsy every Christmas. We sipped politely as we took a tour of the house. He was very keen to top up our cups, usually when our backs were turned. After the wine during lunch, the hot sun and the long drive I was beginning to feel a little light headed. I think the plan was to get us drunk and shake hands on the purchase of their home! We thanked them kindly for their hospitality and made a swift getaway to the sanctuary of our hotel…. to be continued.

For more information and to visit us on a discovery trip please contact us at ifh@appassionata.com or +39 331 5413225  

www.appassionata.com

Letters from Le Marche…..chapter two

Letters from Le Marche…..chapter two

Chapter Two – Florence

I gazed around the Piazza and sipped my cappuccino elegantly, copying the glamorous Italians on the next table. Trying not to get the milky froth all around my mouth.

I love to people watch.  The tourists racing to keep up with their flag bearing tour guides. The Nonna’s dressed in black, carrying their heavy bags of shopping back home to their families. I listened closely to the sing song melody of the Italian language, exaggerated with arms and hands waving in the air. Everything about the Italians is passionate and dramatic.

I meandered back to the hotel, absorbed in the sounds of the city. The walk should have taken me ten minutes. You guessed it, luckily for me I took another wrong turning!

I stumbled upon a lovely little shop halfway down a narrow street. The window had a wonderful display of tassels, braids and ribbons.

As an interior designer I am always on the lookout for things fabulous and unique. This was an Aladdin’s cave of colour and texture. I bought tassels in every shape, size and colour.  Natural greens, blues and siennas with a hint of gold.

Each item was lovingly wrapped in tissue and delicately placed in a posh paper bag. No sign of plastic in this shop!

Shopping in Italy is a very different experience.  Most shops are owned and run by family member. They are proud of what they do and love to tell you how many generations have worked there. Their knowledge is extensive, and they take the time it takes. Note to self, allow more time when shopping in Italy!

I floated back to our hotel, clutching my purchases and feeling rather proud of myself, I had found my way back.

My husband, Michael, was happy.  The rugby match had gone well, his team had won and he was celebrating with a cold beer in the hotel bar.

He looked suspiciously at my shopping bag. “What have you bought”? I told him,” gorgeous tassels in natural hues………” I received the typical response from a man who thinks shopping is only to purchase essential items, food and drink. “How many tassels do you need, what are they for, how much did they cost”?!!! I quickly changed the subject and asked about our dinner plans for that evening, while visualising one of the tassels threaded through an antique key, hanging from wardrobe I had recently finished painting.

I eat fish, no meat. Michael loves meat and eats fish. He had spoken to the hotel manager earlier and asked his advice on fish restaurants on the outskirts of the city. Away from the touristy eateries and high prices. He knew the perfect place!

We were picked up in a taxi later that evening, it was the first and only time I have travelled in a taxi in Italy. The manager had given the driver directions to the restaurant so we both sat back and enjoyed the drive across Florence. Thirty minutes later we pulled up outside a large wooden door, with no sign, in the heart of an industrial estate. We stepped out of the taxi and looked at each other, both thinking the same thing. This can’t be right. Before we had chance to get back into the taxi, it roared off into the distance.

We rang the doorbell and waited. I was feeling a little nervous. Not about my surroundings, but it was nine o’clock and Michael was hungry, we needed to find food before he turned all hunter gather on me.

The door opened and we cautiously stepped into another world. Before our eyes was a busy, bustling restaurant. A beautiful, yet simple décor. Delicious aromas wafting from the open kitchen blending with the lively voices of sixty plus Italians all talking at once. In the large walled courtyard, huge interconnecting sunshades provided a soft textured ceiling. The lighting was low and atmospheric, with a blend of candles and fairy lights. Each table dressed with a small vase of fresh flowers. Crisp white linen tablecloths draped down to the cool cotto tiled floor.

We were shown to our table, and looked around. There were large families, three generations enjoying a celebration together.  Young lovers with eyes only for each other. Young children out with their parents, babies peacefully sleeping in their pushchairs. Children are always made to feel welcome in restaurants in Italy, however posh or expensive. Family is very important and younger members are never excluded. Another plus for the Italian lifestyle.

Our waiter came to take our order.   This was going to be tricky. He spoke no English, we spoke no Italian and had left our phrase book back at the hotel!

We shouted “menu” at him and mimed opening a book.  Why do people shout in their own language at foreigners, expecting them to understand once the decibels are turned up?

He shook his head “no menooo, you wanta da otta fish o colda fish”. Whita wine o reda wine? Hot fish we both said, white wine we agreed

I glanced across at Michael, he was looking a little concerned. He’s lovely, but he likes to know what’s happening at all times, in the present and the future. I knew he would struggle with the concept of not being able to converse with the waiter, he loves to talk!

He also likes to see a menu, ask questions and check nothing has vinegar on it. He likes to see the wine list and chat about different grapes, countries, regions, years. He especially likes to see prices and mentally calculate how much the whole meal will cost. He likes to feel in control of the situation.

Our waiter disappeared into the kitchen and we sipped our wine, poured from a glass jug. Michael shared his concerns about not knowing what food would arrive and how many courses would be served. I tried to reassure him. “Let’s just relax and enjoy the experience, it will be fun to try new tastes and not know what to expect”.  He looked doubtful and took a large swig of wine, it was delicious, he looked happier.

The more courses we ate, the more wine we drank, the more he relaxed. I wish I could give you a detailed description of the food we ate, but I can’t. I can remember the interiors, because I seem to have a photographic memory for those. I think I drank too much wine and the food detail got lost. It’s a little hazy. What I can remember is that every dish was exquisite, fresh and unpretentious. The seafood was scrumptious the pasta cooked to perfection. I think we had seven courses, to be honest I lost count.

I have never seen Michael so relaxed, enjoying the present and not worrying about the future.  We had no idea how much this dining experience was going to cost, we didn’t care.

The waiter brought over bottles of grappa, mistra and limoncello, to help with the digestion! The limoncello was divine. Michael was so, so happy, he tried all three, twice.

We swayed over to the bar to pay the bill and hopefully order a taxi. Michael was very pleasantly surprised when he saw the total, half the cost he had toted up in his head. The bar man generously offered him another drink on the house. I began to wonder if I would be able to get him back to the hotel.  The taxi arrived and I managed to steer him onto the back seat and close the door.

We were dropped off at the end of a one way street, only a couple of minutes walk from our hotel. We needed a walk! In the distance we could hear opera music, as we walked closer I recognised an aria from La Boheme, one of my favourite operas. We entered the Piazza, and there under the moonlight of a warm summer’s evening were hundreds of people enjoying an open air opera. I looked up to the balconies of the surrounding apartments, each one crowded with local Italians holding a candle and swaying to the music. It was truly magical and that was the exact moment I fell in love in love with Italy.