Roasted Peppers

It’s November and I’m writing about roasted peppers. Why, you might ask. Well, it’s been a very pleasant autumn so far in my part of the world, unseasonably sunny and warm, which prolonged the growing season of vegetables that usually don’t pull through that late in the year. Peppers are therefore still present in the farmers’ market. Last but not least, they’re one of my favourite foods.  Continue reading “Roasted Peppers”

Tarvisio, Italy

It’s a little town, so little that it can easily be missed. Nevertheless, Tarvisio is a town not a village. It’s nestled within a very narrow Alpine valley and it’s where, figuratively, at the end of the road Italy ends. Before the EU and its Schengen Agreement it was rather notoriously known in the neighbouring Austria and Slovenia (or Yugoslavia) as a shopping Mecca where one could stock on cheap textiles and leather goods of dubious provenance at its numerous market stalls. The memory attributes to it much more romance than it actually ever offered even to those who were the buying customers and not mere passersby. The market is still there although moderately gentrified.

Roughly, it could be said, the town is divided on lower and upper part, which means it runs the length of two parallel roads. The lower part is the old, medieval centre with the narrow winding main road on which traffic runs the regular two-way as if there was enough room. In truth, there’s hardly enough room for two pedestrians to meet let alone the motor vehicles. Sadly, nowadays it is mostly lined with closed businesses and empty (and dirty) shop windows, but the more the road ascends the more lively the town seems to be becoming. Luckily, for my grandmother at least, Preschern, an old school hardware store, is still in business at its ancient premises: it’s where my brother and my son though decades apart got their first bicycles from.

When the road somewhat snakily turns the steep way up under the disused railway underpass it widens substantially. There’s a decent if not surprising selection of shops for a town of such a small scale: mostly fashion and sports equipment but also unmissable alimenti, enoteceedicola, quite a number of coffee bars and restaurants. The tourism is probably what keeps the things stirring. Lately, the town has been into skiing seriously. Quite a step from trading and border guarding.

Men used to come to work in Tarvisio from other more pleasant (and warmer) parts of Italy. It was where the Italian state had sent them to fortify and protect its border. It’s easy to imagine the resentment of their wives and families who had to oblige and follow. Consequently, people from elsewhere were brave and stubborn enough to have brought with them their own traditions. And so, on the bare banchetto at first, the feisty Signora Emma, coming from a coastal town and unaccustomed to the cold and snow but unwilling to give in, started out her idea of feeding fish to the locals. (I should remind myself to ask my grandmother about it: she might remember it.) The unpretentious Ristorante Adriatico (link below) was born. It’s a homely place with dated decor but a nice view over to the ski slopes and the mountains. Fish is fresh and delicious. It’s been a while since we’ve had such a satisfying meal of spaghetti alle vongole so heartily prepared. Tiramisu was just as good.

They have certainly used their winter wisely, the Tarvisiani. For as long as I can remember the winters in Tarvisio have been real, solid winters with loads of snow and freezing cold. Well, truth be told, the snow doesn’t come in abundance these days but the cold of winter is nevertheless very actual and harsh. Never forget to bring a hat, a shawl and a pair of sturdy shoes.

 

And we haven’t started discussing the summer yet. Hiking the majestic mountains, breathing deeply on green pastures, wandering through the endless forests, biking along the bike lanes or uphill, or meditating in this lovely mountainous recluse. It seems tempting enough especially, but not only, under the thick blanket of snow. It’s so pretty it’s almost kitschy, don’t you think?

 

Related:

Ristorante e Albergo Adriatico

Doni di Bacco probably the best enoteca cum alimenti in this part of Italy (they even stock Mancini pasta)

Tarvisio facts

 

More Sunshine Please

A plate of delicious spaghetti and a bowl of green salad

It’s been a typical winter day, the kind that one tends to forget all about even before it’s over. Half light half grey, not too cold but humid, anticipating the deterioration and turning to rain before the night creeps in. Not complaining at all, it’s pitch-perfect for my favourite pastime: reading.

We did manage to do a couple of rounds on the slopes though and filled our lungs with fresh pine tree smelling air for a pleasant aromatherapy momentum. On our last ascent on the chairlift we already contemplated the bookworms’ evening. We had to take care of more prosaic necessities first. The lunch.

And what a great lunch it was! Simple yet fragrant and full of sun and d-e-l-i-c-i-o-u-s. It’s as simple as your ABC can be, as is the case with so many Italian dishes but it’s the execution that requires attentiveness.

Boil a lot of water in your pasta pentola. While the pot is warming up, skin the lemon off its zest with a potato peeler and cut it, the zest, into thin hair-like stripes. (Save the lemon in the refrigerator and use it the next morning before breakfast squeezed in a glass of tepid water.) Marvel at the fabulous fragrance for a second or two. (The recipe requires a grater, which I didn’t have at hand but cutting it up is just fine. Especially if someone more diligent and patient is willing to help.) Then chop up a handful of parsley (in the same thin stripes fashion as the zest) and take chilli/peperoncini container out of your pantry. Get the man of the house pour you a glass of some fine preferably Italian red. (Although whatever you might prefer will do. Just keep in mind that cooking your meal is a matter of enjoyment not torture.) Warm up some olive oil in the pan over low heat and add to it a smashed clove of garlic and a smashed chilli/peperocino (If using dried version. Otherwise chop a fresh one up). Low temperature is key. Stir occasionally. By this time the water must be boiling already, add a couple of spoons of salt to it, stir and add spaghetti. Don’t forget to set a timer according to the required cooking time. Half way through add the lemon zest and parsley to the garlic-chilli pan, stir now and then, all still at low temperature. Just a minute before the spaghetti are done, fork them out to the pan with garlic-chilli-zest-parsley mixture, fold it gently, add some cooking liquid, turn the temperature to high for a minute and stir in a knob of butter in the end. Done. Serve with a bowl of fresh leaf salad that was prepared beforehand (and preferably by the same helpful person that chopped the zest and took care of the wine).

It felt as if sunshine had stepped in our dining room for a moment in now already bleak winter afternoon: simple, fulfilling and delicious.

After that it was couch only. With a book of course.

 

I happen to check some food blogs on more or less regular basis because I quite like to cook but need a bit more than the regular fact-stating recipe. I like the eloquence of a handful of authors/bloggers I like to check up on. One of them, and the more recent addition to my lot, is an English/Roman/Sicilian rose Rachel Roddy (https://racheleats.wordpress.com) that I check on The Guardian occasionally as well. The recipe that brightened our day is by her. Thank you.