Monthly Archives: August 2014

Supper’s Ready

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Italy is well known for its wonderful food, using fresh, local ingredients. When Mariella – a beautiful Italian mamma – offered to share the secrets of her kitchen, we did not hesitate.

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Mariella arrived carrying a huge wooden board, an enormous rolling pin and all of the ingredients required to make ravioli filled with ricotta cheese and spinach.  First she prepared the filling, using a hand stick blender to mix 300g of ricotta with a large handful of spinach, a good grating of fresh nutmeg, a generous pinch of salt and an egg.

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Next she heaped up 400g of Type 00 flour and made a well in the centre, into which she cracked 4 eggs. Using a fork she mixed the eggs into the flour at the speed of light, gradually drawing in the dry flour from the edges. Then she used the heel of her hand to knead the dough.

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The dough was formed into a ball and left to rest for 5 minutes before being kneaded a second time.

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One third of the dough was broken off, leaving the remainder wrapped in a tea towel. The smaller portion was rolled out, using only a light dusting of flour to prevent sticking. This was tough work, requiring long, fast strokes, keeping the dough moving. Not a pasta machine in sight!

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When the pasta is rolled as thin as possible, use a glass to cut out a small circle. Insert a teaspoon of the filling in the centre and crimp the edges together to make a half-moon shape. Line up the completed pieces of ravioli on a clean cloth. Repeat the process with the remaining dough. To cook, pop the lovely little parcels in boiling water for just one minute and serve with a sauce of your choice or simply with a dusting of parmesan cheese and a drizzle of olive oil. Mmmmm. If you have made too many, freeze flat before storing in freezer bags. Don’t defrost when cooking: put straight into boiling water for about 2 minutes.

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It is all very well watching and learning, but getting similar results in your own kitchen can be a challenge. We followed Mariella’s instructions and made ravioli parcels, this time filled with a ricotta cheese and beetroot mix. These ones are ready for the pot and look pretty good for a first attempt….

Ravioli with beetroot and ricotta

Apart from the ravioli – which was, incidentally, delicious – I made a traditional Umbrian dish using Umbrian strangozzi pasta with slivers of fresh, earthy truffle….

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….and zucchini (courgette) flowers stuffed with ricotta cheese and herbs, gently warmed for 5 minutes in a medium oven then garnished with fresh peas, tomatoes and parmesan. A colourful feast for the eyes which tasted just like summer….

Zuccini flowers, stuffed

Thanks to Mariella for her inspiration and education. Recreating dishes you have eaten in particular places certainly brings back memories of sharing food, wine and happy times with friends and family.

Have you ever recreated food memories and, if so, how well did they turn out?

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If You Ever Come Back.

Assisi: Basilica of Saint Francis

Assisi: Basilica of Saint Francis

I’ve no idea how we missed the bus stop. Almost all of our fellow passengers got off, but for some reason we stayed on. As the bus took a sharp, uphill turn we saw a fleeting glimpse of the Basilica of Saint Francis; we pulled away. Several hairpin bends and delicious views later, we reached the end of the road, literally. There was a sign opposite the bus stop pointing out the pedestrian route to the centre of the town via a Roman tunnel. Into the depths we descended through the Roman remains of Assisi. Suddenly, daylight, big skies, church towers and domes!

Assisi

Assisi Cathedral: Saint Rufino

The Duomo of Saint Rufino is thought to date from the 8th century, although it was rebuilt in the 11th century when it was consecrated as the cathedral of Assisi. It is an enormous structure with a beautiful green dome and evidence of repairs due to age and earthquakes.

Assisi: Church of Saint Clare

Assisi: Basilica of Saint Clare

Although Saint Francis of Assisi is the town’s most celebrated former resident, his contemporary, Saint Clare, is also honoured here. The Basilica of Saint Clare was constructed in the 13th century. It has a pretty, striped facade, using pink stone from Mount Subasio, on whose lower slopes Assisi lies. The church has a large, square bell tower and, from above, wonderful views of the Umbrian countryside.

Assisi

Assisi

Still we descended the steep streets, with picturesque views to right and left.

Assisi

Assisi

Through arches and bridges we saw changing vistas of mountains and trees, crops and clouds.

Assisi

Assisi

Tall medieval buildings seemed to dwarf their Lilliputian residents.

Assisi: Torre del Popolo

Assisi: Torre del Popolo

Approaching the town centre, the 13th century Torre del Popolo towered above the ancient square, the Piazza del Comune. The beautifully situated 16th century fountain in the same square is guarded by 3 rather tame looking lions.

AssisiAssisi: Three Lions Fountain

Assisi is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. UNESCO describes the town as “an outstanding example of a type of architectural ensemble that has significantly influenced the development of art and architecture.” That is quite an accolade, but one that is well deserved, not least because of the Basilica of Saint Francis.

Assisi: Basilica of Saint Francis

Assisi: Basilica of Saint Francis

In front of the Basilica there is a striking bronze statue by the sculpture and artist Proietti Norberto, a native of nearby Spello. The statue is known as the Return of Saint Francis or the Pilgrim of Peace. The Franciscan movement preaches a universal message of peace and tolerance, a message sadly lacking in our troubled times.

"Return of Saint Francis" by Norberto

“Return of Saint Francis” by Norberto

Looking down into the lower plaza, the panoramic views extend across the Umbrian plain. You might just make out the blue dome of the church of Santa Maria degli Angeli: I have written about this unusual church, containing the cell in which Saint Francis was said to have died and his first chapel, in an earlier post.

Assisi: Basilica of Saint Francis

Assisi: Basilica of Saint Francis

The plain facade of the Basilica of Saint Francis does not prepare the visitor for its remarkable decorative interior with frescoes by Giotto, Cimabue and Pietro Lorenzetti amongst others. Both the lower and upper churches are crammed with remarkable art.

Assisi: Basilica of Saint Francis

Assisi: Basilica of Saint Francis

This unique treasure house, somewhat ironically built in honour of a man who cast aside riches and dedicated himself to the poor, is surely worth a visit.

Assisi: Basilica of Saint Francis

Assisi: Basilica of Saint Francis

On our previous visit we had concentrated largely on the Basilica and found it rather overwhelming and a little distasteful. But we were glad we had returned; through missing our bus stop we had seen a whole new side to Assisi with its winding streets and quiet squares. We also had a chance to enjoy once again the mesmerising religious art of this historic town.

Assisi

Assisi