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Sunday, May 30, 2010

Ads, diets, bikinis and Italian women

No recipes today, just a little bla bla bla, it is meant to be ironic, absolutely not offense to those who are sincerely in need of a diet...just an observation from someone who has returned for a few months and she is now looking around, a little surprised really.

And then I wanted a break from showing only beautiful landscapes and cities. There are many problems in this country, and how women see themselves (or are represented in the media) is a real tragedy.




How lovely summer is approaching, soon school will be ending and the Nation is dreaming of beaches and holidays.

I look at an ‘intelligent’ women magazine which should be a good mixture of interesting current affairs articles, some intellectual and artistic stimuli, no gossip… and just a little fashion. Ads of bikini are everywhere, beautiful bikinis of course, worn by even more beautiful (and sometime a bit too unrealistic) models. Most women on Italian beaches seem to wear bikinis, no matter what their age, a sight that shocked an Australian friend of mine who was convinced that Italian women were stylish until she saw them at the beach. I remain of the opinion that you can wear what you like at the beach, but at the same time I find it really really really negative that so many women are actually desperate and depressed because they do not look like the models of the bikini they bought.

The worst thing is that it is contagious! Usually I arrive in summer, wear what I have and be done with it. Now I have seen the slow work of advertising and brain washing (and I very rarely watch TV!) that sets in, starting slowly from January 1st for the more 'serious', and escalating in spring for the late starters with one every two ad pages dedicated to stomach, hips, legs, and secret fat tissues. The other half is bikinis.

And then I see that also half of the Italian bloggers seem to be on a diet.

Good on you to diet if you are fat, a must if you are obese, and ethically correct if you are eating like a pig while so many people in the world go hungry. But I could not believe that so many Italian bloggers can be on a diet all at the same time. This is not normal!!! Maybe it is because I don’t know what they look like (I only read their blogs or comments to other blogs) and maybe they are really fat, or could it be some sort of Italian tradition for May? Or some kind of blog solidarity (you diet - I should too, sort of thing)?

…or maybe they are just comparing themselves with those models whose bikini they would like to wear. Please someone tell me that I am wrong!

Because if these Italian bloggers are anything like the women I meet on the street and in the shops everyday (i.e. normal women) They cannot be possibly be all that fat!!!

And here comes my second discovery: in Italy the not-fat are told that they have many other PROBLEMS!

I have ‘learned’ here that often your tummy is not fat, just ‘bloated’! Of course that you can cure, the ads say, just by taking some fermented milky/yogurty mini drinks, or by buying some ‘stronger’ versions of miracle bacteria in the chemist shop or health food shop. I have been looking at my own reflection on the shop windows where these ‘cures’ are advertised, wandering if I am also ‘bloated’, since this aliment doesn’t exist in New Zealand (unless you drink a lot of beer). Maybe I got it here!?! Mmmmh, I feel a bit soft...possibly I could do some abdominals to shape up a bit, those seem to work well for everyone in every country, and they are free…

But it doesn’t stop here: I have ‘learned’ from an ad in one of the major newspapers that cellulite in Italy is actually an illness and can be cured with a medicine. Funny, In New Zealand it is not an illness. It is something that 80-90% of women get, to different degrees, because they are women. Oh dear, I thought that I was normal, and now I read that I am sick!!! And no abdominals will work for cellulite!

I could go on: in fact there are problems, illnesses, aliments, unevenness and scary fat tissue everywhere in this country. But never fear: there are remedies for everything, from creams to lotions to pills to cures to cosmetic surgery. Fancy that! Some even work at night while you sleep, some will give you instant results, and some will be long lasting. Obviously none of them is free...

I’ll go for the abdominals for a bit more tone; I won’t diet because I believe in eating well, eating little and eating ethically everyday (and this includes the occasional ‘treat’, which for me is delicatessen food, never junk food). I won’t take a medicine for cellulite because a good scrub and some massages (self made) when putting on moisturizers do miracles anyway, and I am sure that with what I eat and drink I cannot possibly be ‘bloated’: normal adult women do not have an 'ironing board' stomach (or worse, a concave stomach) when standing up!

Now, I just hope that this summer I won’t break into tears if the bikini will make me look like an healthy and normally shaped 40 years old mother of two rather than a photographically enhanced 17 years old lingerie model.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A day in the mountains with Morchella Deliciosa


The precious mushroom is this one. I don't remember when was the last time I ate one, and fresh! Possibly 20 years???? In NZ I can find some super expensive dried ones from the French deli shops, but I never buy them. I prefer dried porcini mushrooms. And then, last Saturday, our friend Martina invited us to her place in the mountains, in the Adamello Natural Park.









I like the sea, the lakes, the countryside, the cities and the hills, but most of all I love the mountains. At heart I will always remain a mountain person, and for me no food beats the mountain food, especially if you forage it!




Well, foraging with a little bit of cheating this time! These were in Martina's garden, growing naturally under some trees. She left them there for us to find....



Ohhhh, I love mushrooms, and the Spugnola (the Italian name for morchella) is one of the best!!! Martina just cleaned them and cut them and cooked them in a pan with a little extra virgin olive oil, a little salt, and a little parsley.


No garlic, we didn't have any, but sometimes it is better to feel the pure taste of the morchella!



She served it with spelt spaghetti. Only those few mushrooms gave enough flavour to 5 plates of pasta, and what a flavour!!! I am still thinking about it!!!


And to wash it all down, a nice Wine from Franciacorta. What a great day in the mountains, thank you Martina!

Photos by Alessandra Zecchini©

Monday, May 24, 2010

Spicy Lentils, and an alternative to mortar and pestle




I don’t have a mortar and pestle in this temporary kitchen. I never realized how much I relied on it until now, but improvising can be fun…well, sort of.

For this dish I gently toasted one tablespoon of coriander seeds in a pan. Then I wanted to grind them, and I had to do it in a bowl with a wooden spoon!!

Not so easy, I lost about half flying around the kitchen, and not so fine either, still, I was happy enough, and the smell was lovely.


I decided to use other spices, one teaspoon of ground ginger, one of curry powder, a pinch of smoked paprika, and a pinch of hot chilli (maybe it is funny to use both smoked paprika and chilli, but I have a limited selection of spices, and I like to try everything).

I sliced one small onion and sir-fried it with two tablespoons of vegetable oil. When the onion was translucent I added the spices and a pinch of salt. After a few minutes I added 250 g of small brown lentils, which I had washed and soaked for two hours, one carrot, sliced, and a cup of water. I cooked the lentils slowly, adding water often, and stirring even more often. Possibly with a taller pot I wouldn’t have needed to stir so often, but I don’t have many pots either.

I cooked the lentils for over one hour; they taste great with rice and with bread.


Photos by Alessandra Zecchini©

Friday, May 21, 2010

Canederli, i.e. never throw away bread!




To Love Bread is to Love Life


I never throw away bread, I use it to make a variety of dishes, and in particular canederli, big bread dumplings typical of the North East of Italy. My mum used to make them often in winter for us, and serve them with broth. There is no fixed recipe, it depends on the kind of bread you have, and the other ingredients are always optional. I like to use a mixture of wholemeal and white bread, which gives best results, but any bread will do. Here I had some old white bread only, the resulting canederli tend to be a little pale, but the taste is good anyway.

Break the bread and soak it with milk for a few hours. Add the milk little by little, or you may risk to add too much. When the bread is soft, mush with a fork and add some finely chopped parsley, some salt and pepper, and other spices, if you like. I like to add smoked paprika and smoked salt, and small cubes of leftover cheese gone hard.



My mum used to add small pieces of speck, the smoked North Italian ham, for flavour. As a veggie I don't, but I did find these vegetarian slices which are very suited. Just cut a slice or two into small pieces and add to your mixture.

Non vegetarians often ask me what is the point of making vegetarian mock meat like 'mortadella' (in this case). I rarely eat this food, exactly as a meat eater should rarely eat the real meaty mortadella (certainly not every day!). But just like some non-vegetarians consider normal transforming an animal (in this case a pig) into a complex sausage like mortadella, some vegetarians see no problem in transforming some tofu or gluten into something similar to a sausage. Creating complex food is what man does in the search of different flavours, and to have more variety, and for versatility. These slices came handy when I had to make panini for mountain excursion, but I think that I will keep them as a 'once-in-a-while' treat :-)

In any case, this passage is not necessary for making canederli, instead of adding mock or real mortadella or speck, you can add cooked spinach, fennel seeds, grated carrots, peas...anything you like.



Next you have to add some flour and mix until you get a sticky dough. Keep a bowl of water on the side, wet your hands, and shape the canederli into balls.



The canederli are cooked in vegetable stock, but now be very careful: if the stock is boiling, when you add the canederli (which are quite soft) they will break into pieces. Make sure that you bring the stock down to a very light simmering (or turn off the heat for a few minutes). Add the canederli one by one and gently stir with a wooken spoon just to make sure that they are not breaking or sticking to the bottom of the pot. Simmer for 20 minutes (depending on the size of your canederli) and then serve hot, with some stock.

To eat just break in the plate, add some grated cheese if you like, and dig in! Real filling comfort food!



Photos and recipes by Alessandra Zecchini©

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Turin, Chocolate and Books (Salone Internazionale del Libro di Torino)





Last week we went to Turin, I like to specify that we did not go to see the Sindone! We went for the Turin International Book Fair, Il Salone Internazionale del Libro di Torino. For a report click here.

And of course we visited the city, which is very elegant. A must is the Mole Antonelliana (photo above), a gigantic folly if you ask me, but the children loved taking the lift up, and the view was worth it. Sadly, after all that rain, the river Po was brown (photo below).



Turin is also famous for its chocolate, especially gianduiotti, my favourite chocolates!


One of the best things for the kids was to go to the Egyptian Museum, the second biggest in the world after Cairo. My boy dreams to become and archeologist, he loves Ancient Egypt, and this was so exciting for him!








With the book fair and the Sindone, it wasn't easy to find a hotel. Fortunately fellow blogger Yari of Il Cucchiaio di Legno gave me a few names, and we stayed here (La Casa di Flora, photo below) in a lovely Liberty style building. It was also great to meet Yari...but I forgot to take a photo!!! Sorry Yari!



The book fair was interesting, we were the only publisher from New Zealand, actually, the only one further East of India (which was the guest nation to the book fair)! I went to listen to a few talks with the kids while my husband had meetings, and we visited several book and publishers' stands.



But the highlight for me was to meet Carlo Petrini, the president of Slow Food International and one of the speakers at the Salone. When I will find some time I will write a quick note about it on the Slow Food Waitakere Blog.

Bye for now,

Alessandra


Wednesday, May 12, 2010

San Gimignano, Volterra and Volturi







Pilgrimage for a Twilight fan














Photos by Alessandra Zecchini©

San Gimignano


I have to say that my best impression of San Gimignano is from far away. It sits on a hill in the picturesque Tuscan countryside, and as you approach you can see the walls and towers. Once inside the walls you can appreciate why this town has been declared by UNESCO to be a World's Architectural Heritage site, but only if you look up. The small streets are completely invaded by tourists, and every single door or opening in the Medieval walls seem to be have been turned into shops selling souvenirs. So most of my photos were taken with the nose up in the air!




The drive from San Gimignano to Volterra is one of the best drives I had in Tuscany. The scenery is just spectacular, pity that all the photos were taken from my passenger seat (yes, sorry about the bad quality) as, unlike New Zealand, here there aren't designed 'look out points' where you can just stop the car and get out to take a picture.







Volterra

Here too there are tourists but, as the city is bigger that San Gimignano, you can still find quiet streets to explore. Many of the souvenirs shops sell alabaster goods, since Volterra is renowned for this material.


Volterra has registered a considerable increase in tourism thanks to Stephenie Meyer's Twilight Series.
The City's tourist office assistant was wearing a New Moon T-shirt,
and gave us a few flyers and info about the film locations
(actually, the main scene was filmed in Montepulciano, with a fake building and fountain)
and told us to come back in the evening for a special Volturi City tour with surprise ending. We couldn't stay for the evening tour, so we had to do with the special New Moon map of Volterra (available in English from the Tourist Office) which followed the yellow Porsche drove by Alice through the city's door, and then Bella's run to save Edward. I have never seen my daughter look at a map so closely!

And if you are not interested in Vampires you can still appreciate Volterra for its Etruscan history (an Etruscan city door is pictured here), Roman history
(beautiful Roman Theatre and Ruins), and its Medieval look. I did :-)!







Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Gnocchi Sardi Pasta with Asparagus Ragù




I am away a lot these days, so I don't have many opportunities to blog, sorry. I will try to be more active next week, in any case, here is as recipe (super easy) I tried two weeks ago, and really liked it.


For pasta I used the gnocchi sardi from Grofalo, which I found to be particularly suited to this chunky sauce.




For the Asparagus Ragù I chopped the asparagus spears, put the tips aside and discarded only the very ends (the wooden parts). I chopped a small white onion and placed everything in a pan with olive oil.




I cooked them for a few minutes and then I added Italian tomato passata sauce (the Alce Nero brand tastes super, is organic, and the company's strength lies in cooperatives, not in slave labour of the tomato pickers). I cooked the sauce for a little more, until the onion and asparagus spears were soft, and then I added the asparagus tips. 5 more minutes in the pan (the tips don't need long), then a bit of black peppers, a drizzle of olive oil, and ready to serve!







Good with, or without, grated parmesan cheese. The best thing about the taste of this dish is that, to the palate, it seems more 'complicated' that it actually is! Very pleased with it, and its simplicity! :-)


Photos by Alessandra Zecchini©

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Prato and Biscotti


During our week in Tuscany we stayed with my childhood friend Erika and her lovely family outside Prato. We had wonderful weather and the setting was idillic.


My children sketching the Tuscan countryside.



We also visited Prato, Tuscany's second largest city. Below is the Cathedral.





We went to buy some fresh raw milk from an automatic distributor. These facilities are scattered around Italy, and it is great to be able to buy raw milk, which is still looked upon with suspicion in New Zealand.






Photos by Alessandra Zecchini©


The gourmand pilgrim should head straight for the old Biscottificio Antonio Mattei in the city centre, the original creator of the Cantucci, or Biscotti di Prato (simply known as Biscotti in many countries outside Italy). Mattei makes biscotti but also many other traditional sweet treats, and the recipes are patented, and secret!!!! Still, there are many versions of the famous biscuits, and here is mine, from my book Sweet As...

Biscotti

150 g sugar
2 eggs
250 g flour
1 tsp baking powder
100 g unbleached almonds
1 tsp lemon or orange essence (optional)

Beat the sugar and eggs together, then add the remaining ingredients. Work the mixture with a wooden spoon. When the mixture thickens, use your hands to make one or two long rolls, about 7.5 cm wide x 3 cm high, and bake in an oven preheated to 180°C for 20-30 minutes. Turn the oven off, then cut the roll or rolls into small biscuits with a bread knife and return them to the warm oven for a further 10 minutes. Store in an airtight container.

Makes approximately 40 biscuits

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