Hungry? Try This Simple Italian Dish
Ancient Italian Farm
Italy, home of the Gods and good food!
Many years ago, back in the late 60s early 70s when my three children were very young and we managed on a very small budget, one of the delights of alternate years was our holiday which most often took us to France or Jersey.
The ‘blessing’ of never having any money is the fact that you have to do a lot of lateral thinking a la Edward de Bono! There is no option, you either think laterally or you sink! To supplement our income I discovered early in my married life that taking in foreign students during the school summer holidays paid reasonably well and you made many friends from other countries. Our specific country of choice was France. And it was through one particular friend Françoise, a diligent and persistent student, that we were soon adopted by two of her friends, Danielle and Elizabeth. Initially they visited us as students but finally as they got older began to visit as friends. The ‘adoptions’ continued with some of Elisabeth’s family, her cousins Sylvie and Yolaine and thus the Italian connection began.
These ‘students’ have remained good friends over the intervening years and continue to this present day, some forty and more years on. Through helping them with their English language studies once they had gone home, by regular correspondence mainly, the students began to invite our family back to visit them in their homes and that of their relatives and friends in France and Italy and it was through this very act of friendship that I discovered the joys of simple, economical and tasty cooking. A skill that has stayed by me through the years with some very firm favourites, many of which have been passed on to friends and the family and is now on the third generation. The following ‘dish’ is the very basic dish of many Italian recipes and totally delicious. For me it encapsulates the very essence of Italy.
Italy – the first visit
The recipe collecting came about when we decided that a visit to Italy was a ‘must’. The children were getting older and should be learning about the great civilization, architecture and empire that was Rome. We set off at the beginning of the summer holidays with much enthusiasm. The boat trip, the journey through France and the camping overnight all conspired to make our holidays special. But as we entered the Alps and began the climb through the mountains we soon began to realise that this small town of Biella near Milan was a lot further away than it looked on the map. I’d not taken into account when planning the journey that most of the roads through the Alps were convoluted in the extreme. What had been a mere two or three inches on the map, turned out to be several hundred very twisted and very steep miles in reality!
Our car was elderly too, so the mountain road stops became more frequent as we approached the border on the Petit St. Bernard Pass. The pass itself proved a real barrier between the affluence of France and the comparative poverty of Italy at that time. Many of the old buildings at the border crossing still carried the pop marks of gunfire from the years of World War 2 some twenty odd years previously. It was like going back in time, but so fascinating. The mountain sides gave way to gentle hills covered with grape vines and people industriously toiling away. Acres of sunflowers coloured the horizon and the small fields were often filled with vegetables as well as ripening maize, wheat and barley. It was an enchanting countryside.
The roads were rather uncared for and full of craterous holes which I, as chief navigator had to negotiate for my long suffering husband who was driving. The roads in France, unlike these were in good repair. But the very shabbiness added to Italy’s charm and gentility and we travelled onwards to our destination with anticipation. The lovely old farm buildings, the countryside, the charm and courtesy of the all of the Italians we met along the way, all served to make this trip so memorable.
Happy Find. Great Food!
We finally found Sylvie and her family, but not without difficulty. French we had never mastered but understood enough to get by; Italian was totally off the scale but it didn’t matter – the shop-keeper we ‘hijacked’ to speak to Aunt Maria for us, was delightful and soon had our map pointing in the right direction. We arrived amidst much jubilation and hot, tired and dishevelled, were sat down at a huge, very old wooden table under the sloping eves of a farmhouse that would not have looked out of place to Julius Caesar I’m sure! Drinks flowed, including wine which to my horror was given to the children as well! And in front of us a feast fit for kings began to appear from the depths of the kitchen. One of the dishes of course was the Amatrica, the dish from heaven! It was surrounded by dishes of different salads; tomatoes, olives, peppers, lettuce etc; all steeped in a wonderful dressing of the most fantastic smelling olive oil and fresh lemons. The senses were reeling from the site, taste and aromas from the table. That meal was to be one of many that we enjoyed in that enchanting place.
Food of the Gods!
Introductions were carried out over roasting dishes of fish, salads and meat. Aunt Maria and Uncle Carlos were brown as walnuts, gnarled and furrowed by their lives in the warm sun of Biella. They were a happy pair and their ancient farm was a haven of treasures for all of us to explore over the coming days. Our bedrooms were warm retreats and we slept soundly wrapped in the heavenly smell of hays. The hay was stored on the second floor in a huge barn next to the bedrooms and was open in the front to facilitate Carlos stowing it after harvest. The children loved it; they could use it as a den and burrow like little rabbits into its soft, warm midst. If ever they went missing we invariably would find them playing or sound asleep there. Happy days indeed! One of the delights of the evenings was Sylvie playing her guitar for us whilst we all sang or hummed songs familiar and foreign.
To the side of the old house was the home of the cows, and again, the aroma was wonderful, though we did feel somewhat sorry for the poor creatures cooped up for a good part of the day. But hence the need for a filled hay barn.
The wine cellar was entered through a low wooden door and down the rickety steps at the rear of the house; and here again, another indescribably beautiful aroma of fermenting grapes and the musty oldness of the cellar combined to make your senses reel. The wine stood in large wooden barrels each stopped with a wooden bung. The wine when drawn contained many twigs and leaves which added to the romance of the moment. The wine was slightly harsh to the palate but accompanying the delicious fare the taste was soon absorbed along with the atmosphere.
The interior of the house was as one would imagine it would have been like 100 years ago, nothing changing. The wooden beams were low, blackened and twisted. The fireplace was open with pans and trivets all around. The place smelled of happy meals prepared and eaten for centuries past. The furniture was ancient and oil cloth covered some of the surfaces used to eat from. Everything there was home made, there was no sign of the 20th century within or without, though Sylvie said they did have a fridge and freezer so that the meat from the cows could be kept and used over the winter.
Italian Wines, Cellars and Olive groves
Not Privvies Again!!!!
Of course, the 20th century had not caught up with the toilet arrangements either. So when I asked to use the ‘loo’ I was shown to a little brick ’house’ down the garden. A privvy I thought! But on entering the surprisingly sweet smelling room I soon realised there was no seat on which to rest my weary butt! The area was concreted with a slit trench at the rear filled with the ubiquitous hay. The back wall began probably a foot off of ground level and I was to discover on that holiday, whilst perching precariously over the trench, just why. This was how Carlos removed all the soil! A shovel scraped behind me and removed the previous day’s soil to the dung heap at the rear. It was somewhat disconcerting to say the least! But nothing was wasted. All of the privvy soil was recycled and went onto the enormous vegetable garden.
That wasn’t the only incongruity of our Biella holiday. The morning after our arrival we all desperately needed a bath or shower so we duly asked Sylvie where the bathroom was. ‘What bathroom?’ was the disconcerting reply! We were given an ancient enamel bowl and pointed in the direction of a pump situated in the middle of the garden. Now the temperature of that summer was over 90° F but the water that came out of that pump must have hit several degrees minus! It was freezing! And no-one offered to heat it for us, so we just had to get on and wash ourselves through chattering teeth. Several days later when I desperately needed to wash my then very long hair, the final straw hit my skull like a hammer! I’m sure my brain froze in my head! Never have I experienced water so cold before or since. It took several hours before my head felt anything like normal. Needless to say, we went as unwashed as any of the locals from that day, much to the delight of the children!
you with the history of the Amatrica recipe I’ll now pass on Aunt Maria’s
Italian Food - Amatrica
- · 6 slices of Bacon cut in to pieces.
- · 1 medium Onions. Peeled and sliced.
- · 6 cloves Garlic. Peeled and crushed.
- · 1 tbsp Olive oil
- · 1kg fresh tomatoes, remove cores and cut into quarters.
- · (or large tin of whole tomatoes).
- · ½ tube or 1 small jar tomato puree
- · 1 red or green Pepper, cored and sliced.
- · Dessert spoon Oregano
- · 1 tsp Chilli (fresh or dried)
- · 2 tbsp Basil
- · 1 tsp Cumin and/or Coriander
- · 1 tsp sugar
- · Salt & Pepper
- · Juice of 1 Lemon
- · Red wine. ⅓ of a glass
- · Pasta
- · 4 oz grated cheese – preferably a strong one.
First, prepare all of your ingredients……………………
1. Put the sliced bacon in a large pan and sweat it on a medium heat for 5 minutes.
2. Add the sliced onions and garlic. Stir and cook for 3 minutes.
3. Add basil, oregano, cumin, (and/or coriander), chilli, sugar, salt, pepper. Stir
4. Add olive oil. Stir for 2 minutes.
5. Raise heat and add the lemon juice and wine.
6. Stir and leave for 3 minutes.
7. Add tomatoes, tomato puree and peppers
8. When bubbling, reduce the heat and simmer gently for 10 minutes
9. Cook the pasta per the packet instructions. Drain & shake.
10. Add grated cheese to main pan and stir until melted.
11. Add the pasta, Stir and Serve.
Bon appetite!!! Enjoy and don't be afraid to experiment. This is a basic Italian dish.