QUATTRO STAGIONI A YEAR IN ITALY
winter It was still chilly when I first arrived in Bologna at the beginning of February. The stereotypical warmth of Italy hadnâ€™t really yet arrived, but that was not what I came here for. There were so much more for me to explore in this place, this culture. I would go around discovering little corner shops, supermarkets and farmerâ€™s market in town with my rustic second hand bike, often in the ray of morning sunshine, to see the city slowly waking up under its medieval charm. Pretending my best to blend in with the Bolognese, only with a camera in my hands. I strolled under the portici, following my nose and into different bakeries and cheese shops. Even at this time of the year the abundance of fresh colourful fruit and vegetable didnâ€™t fail to amaze me.
After a while of an extensive exploration driven by my overwhelming amount of curiosity, I created a ‘favourite-map’ in my mind; favourite bakeries, favourite gelaterias, favourite places to buy fresh produces... the list went on and it was ever-changing and evolving. There were so many things happening here, so many hidden places waiting to be found. One of my favourite things about this town was probably the community-run CampiAperti farmer’s market. There is one of these friendly down-to-earth markets everyday at different locations around Bologna. It was as genuine as a farmer’s market could get. Cheese makers selling their own dairy products, winemakers selling their own wine, foragers and herbalists selling teas, natural skincare and essential oils. Grains, legumes, pasta, bread, oil, honey, meat...you name it, all at their peaks of the season. Shopping here gave me a sense of connection to each meal I later prepared at home, and the best thing about it was the conversations with those who grew and made what I consumed.
One of the biggest events in this period was probably the carnivals happening in different towns, with the most famous and touristy one being held in Venice. A big part of my motivation for this short day-trip to Venice during the busy carnival period was these little doughnut delights called frittelle, the pastries made specifically during the carnival time. The history of fritelle can be dated back to the 14th century when this fried goodness was the national sweet of the Republic of Venice. Back then, fritelle were only made by fritoleri, or fritelle maker. The peak of fritoleri was around the 17th century when the number of fritoleri kept going up to the point that they were able to start an association of fritoleri. After that, however, the fritoleri started to disappear until the end of the 19th century when the production of fritelle was taken over by bakeries and cafĂŠs all around town. Following the recommendation of my Venetian friend who would mention fritelle in every other conversation we had, I headed to Pasticceria Tonolo, one of the oldest pastry shops on these islands, as soon as I got there in the morning for breakfast. There were different forms of these fresh little yeasted fried dough, some filled with Marsala-infused zabaione, lightly whipped chantilly and the classic alla Veneziana, just plain fluffy dough with plump and juicy dots of raisin mixed inside. After the first bite, I understood why Elisa would not stop mentioning this to me. If there is something worth remembering about this rather foggy trip to the carnival of Venice, it was the lovely fritelle I would come back for.
RADICCHIO VINO ROSSO CIPOLLA ROSSA
risotto · radicchio 1/2 red onions · 3 Italian chicories (radicchio) 1 l. vegetable stock · 30 ml. red wine · a knob of butter · salt · pepper · 160 g. carnaroli rice — in a big frying pan, make the soffritto by sautéing finely chopped onions with olive oil before adding chopped chicory and cook until soft and aromatic add the rice and sauté until semi-translusend, add red wine and then add the stock one ladle at a time while keep stirring the rice repeating the process of adding stock until the rice is cooked, which can take up to 20 minutes add a knob of butter, salt and pepper to taste serve with grated parmesan if desired, but it’s also delicious without!
VEDI NAPOLI E POI MUORI See Naples and die
Maybe because of my Asian background, I felt this strong bond towards the Southern part of the country where things are more disorganised, chaotic and in a way so full of life. Five days in Naples transported me back to Asia, the noise, the mess and the availability of deep-fried street food on the street just reminded me so much of home. I wandered through small alleys in Quartieri Spagnoli, alert and careful of my surroundings but still let myself be fascinated by the authenticity of this negatively famous part of the city. Naples was something different, a feast to all my senses. Although after five days here I was ready to go back to my comfort in the much calmer North again.
People talk about pizzas when they go to Naples, which were very delicious indeed. For a bread lover like myself, the soft and chewy crust was divine. Although the middle of the dough was often way too thin and rather soggy for my liking, which was why I liked to order the lightest pizza possible; marinara, with only tomato sauce, garlic and olive oil. The food that had my heart in Naples, though, was sfogliatella. This warm and super crunchy pastry shell filled with orange-scented ricotta cream from Pintauro was the perfect breakfast for a chilly day in the city. The flaky shell created this amazing sound of crunchiness against your teeth in every bite. Need I say more?
Maria hosted me in her flat during my stay in Naples, and one day she taught me how to make this really simple pasta dish with potato and cheese, pasta patate e provola. Using whatever you have in the kitchen, the Italian cucina povera or peasant home cooking includes dishes like pasta or rice with different legumes. Even the shape of pasta used to make these dishes are often made with broken or mixed-shape pasta found in the corner of your cupboard. The real poorâ€™s man cuisine which is warm, homely and satisfying.
pasta · patate · provola 1/2 onions · 1/2 celery stalk · 1/2 carrots 2 potatoes · 30 ml. white wine · 1 l. vegetable stock · 100 g. smoked provola cheese · pepper salt · 160 g. pasta mista (or broken spaghetti) —
in a big frying pan, make the soffritto by sauteeing finely chopped onions, celery and carrots until soft and aromatic add white wine, then half of the broth and potatoes, cover the pan to cook the potato, add more broth if neccessary when the potato is cooked but not too soft, add the pasta and more broth along with salt and pepper, keep cooking and adding more broth if needed until the pasta is al dente add pieces of smoked provola cheese, keep stirring the pasta which will result in a rather creamy sauce from the potatoes and cheese, cover the pan and let it cook for 2 minutes serve with a dash of olive oil and a bunch of good company
SPRING The blooming season in Bologna lasted for about 2 weeks, just long enough for me to appreciate giardini Magherita in full bloom, spending every single free day learning Italian with my Milanese friend, Federica, in our favourite allotment cafe called Vetro. I sat in the sun, ate in the sun, read in the sun, slept in the sun and biked around in the sunshine with a smiley face, constantly acknowledge my happiness and feeling thankful to be here. Another good chunk of my time was spent over lengthly lunches with Sara, my Scottish friend who loves bread and dark chocolate as much as I do. We would meet up just before midday and start cooking together. Well, she cooked and I took photos. We got excited about the fresh produces as spring arrived. Lunches often ended with a small cup of Peruvian chocolate sorbet with cacao nibs from Galliera 49, one of our absolute favourite gelaterias in town.
ASPARAGI VINO BIANCO FUNGHI PORCINI
tagliatelle asparagi · funghi porcini 1/2 onions · 1/2 celery · 100 g. asparagus 20 g. dried porcini mushrooms · 20 ml. white wine · 1/2 l. vegetable stock · a bunch of parsley · salt · pepper · 200 g. tagliatelle — before start cooking, soak dried porcini mushroom in water in a big frying pan, make the soffritto with chopped onions and celery in olive oil add porcini mushroom with its soaking water, aspargus and white wine to the pan, followed by the vegetable stock add tagliatelle to the pan and cook until al dente with the lid open so that the stock could evaporate before adding chopped parsley season with salt and pepper to taste and serve with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil
SPINACI ASPARAGI VINO BIANCO
risotto · asparagi · spinaci 1/2 onions · 100 g. asparagus · 100 g. spinach 1 l. vegetable stock · 30 ml. white wine · a knob of butter · salt · pepper · 160 g. carnaroli rice — in a big frying pan, make the soffritto by sautéing finely chopped onions with olive oil until soft and aromatic boil the spinach in vegetable stock add the rice and sauté until semi-transparent before adding white wine, follow by the asparagus pour in the stock one ladle at a time while keep stirring the rice, repeat the process of until the rice is cooked, which can take up to 20 minutes, add chopped spinach in halfway through add a knob of butter, salt and pepper to taste serve with grated parmesan if desired, but it’s also delicious without!
PUGLIA If I have to pick the most memorable trip, it would be the two weeks I spent in Puglia, the heel of Italian boot. It was the beginning of spring and the weather wasnâ€™t yet warm enough to swim but the fields were full of tiny flowers. Although the beauty of this region that captured my heart lied very little on the scenery, but rather its people, their hospitality and the incredible amount of lessons I learned during my travel there. The whole trip was done through Couchsurfing, where I contacted locals in different towns who offered to host me in their homes. Through that I experience the unforgettable generosity of these modest and kind Pugliese who not only host me in their homes but enthusiastically showed me the best of their region, both cultures and places. From a road trip along the coast, learning how to make traditional pastas with a nonna, to a traditional pizzica dance and picking up a lot of Italian and Pugliese dialect from them.
There is no better place for a bread lover than Puglia, or rather, than Altamura. The one and only place to find Pane di Altamura, a protected designation of origin (DOP) bread is made from hard durum wheat flour cultivated in the region. I remember the morning Sara and I walked to the station to catch the train to Matera and stopped by at this small bakery recommended by our host called Ninivaggi Nunzio, where she told us that their bread would be sold out before they close for the afternoon break. I smelled heaven as soon as we entered the bakery. We paid something like 4 euros for half a circular tray of focaccia and this warm Pane di Altamura that just came out of the oven. As soon as we got to the station we broke the steamy loaf opened in half. Encased in the thick crispy crust was this cream-coloured pillowy soft yet firm crumb. That big loaf of bread sustain us throughout the day in Matera. We didnâ€™t want to eat anything else but that bread anyway.
Grano arso, or burnt grain, is something very particular to the region. Grains are being toasted and then grounded into flour which is then used in pasta or bread. Legend has it that back in the old time when food was scarce, the poorer workers would go around the burnt fields after wheat was just being harvested and collect what was left on there; burnt grain. The real cucina povera, peasant food of Puglia. These days the flour is, of course, commercially made from toasted durum wheat. The colour of the flour can vary from light brown to darker shade of grey and it has a smoky, slightly bitter taste which gives a depth of flavour to a simple pasta dish.
I was introduced to this smoky pasta by Eleanora, a young food blogger from Puglia, who kindly hosted me for a couple of nights and together with her mum who is a cookbook writer, guided me through the culinary world of Puglia. We had a pasta-making session led by her nonna, who showed us with expertise how to make this pasta dough with toasted wheat flour. Simply combine one part of this smoky farina di grano arso with three parts of re-milled durum flour (farina di grano duro rimacinata) a pinch of salt and water just enough to form the dough, a typical impreciseness of grandmaâ€™s recipes. In this case, around two parts of water. Combine them into a dough and let it rest for half an hour before forming the pasta shapes. Now, there are two very quintessential Pugliese pastas, which are orecchiette and cavatelli. The more well-known ear-shaped orecchiette (literally mean little ears) is a little more tricky to shape, requiring an eating knife with zigzag blade and a lot of practice. It is kind of an attraction in Bari where women would make these pastas on the small streets in front of their homes, leave them to dry outside and sell them to passers-by. Cavatelli, on the other hand, can be mastered much quicker. Using just two (or three) fingers to press and roll a mini log of dough on the counter top, forming the curled thick shape of pasta. Some variation would require you to roll the dough on a wooden gnocchi board.
Friselle are another regional speciality of the Southern Italy with a story. Often made with wholemeal flour and bran, this bagel-shaped bread is cut in half and baked twice until it becomes dry. Due their light weight and durability, fishermen used to take these out in the sea with them and dip the bread into seawater to soften it down before eating. Hence the friselle need to be dipped in water before drizzled with olive oil or topped with whatever one fancies, just like bruschette.
orecchiette · cime di rapa 2 cloves garlic · 2 fillet anchovies · 200 g. cime di rape (broccoli rape) · salt · pepper · a handful of breadcrumbs · 200 g. orecchiette — toast breadcrumbs on a pan with a little bit of olive oil until golden, set aside make soffritto by sautéing finely chopped garlic and anchovies together, set aside cook orecchiette in salted boiling water for 5 minutes, add broccoli rape to the pot and cook for 5 minutes longer drain the pasta but reserve some of the water, add the pasta and broccoli rape to the pan of soffritto, stir with wooden spoon while cooking on medium heat until the broccoli becomes creamy sauce, season with salt and pepper serve with a toasted breadcrumbs and a dash of olive oil on top
I returned to Sicily again after my first visit in the summer, this time in the abundance of spring, wild asparagus, fennel tops and the best time to sample the freshest sheep’s milk ricotta. It was also the perfect season to make the typical Palermitana pasta dish called pasta con le sarde, which requires a good amount of finocchietto - wild fennel tops, found fresh in markets only at this time of the year This pasta is a real labour of love. Alfredo, my dear friend from Palermo gave me his grandma’s recipe of this typical pasta dish from the area. His nonna’s version is baked until the top layer of the pasta is crunchy yet the inside soft and chewy, which is not available in any restaurants in town. The generous amount of sardines, wild fennel tops, raisins and pine nuts makes a big different too. It takes at least half a day to make so you might as well make the full recipe.
pasta · sarde · finocchietto 1 onion · 3 anchovies, desalted · 2 tablespoons concentrated tomato paste · 1.2 kg. finocchietto (wild fennel tops) · 1 kg. cleaned fresh sardines 100 g. pine nuts · 120 g. raisins · salt · pepper 800 g. bucatini pasta · 3 bags of saffron powder
bake the sardines in the oven with a drizzle of olive oil until cooked, for around 15-20 minutes, set aside clean finocchietto and boil them in a big pot, then drain and chop them finely but reserve the water for cooking pasta later sautĂŠ finely chopped onions in a big frying pan, together with chopped anchovies and concentrated tomato paste and chopped finocchietto, add raisins and pine nuts once the sauce is almost ready, season with salt and pepper boil bucatini in the finocchietto water with added salt for 2 minutes, meanwhile dissolve saffron powder with a little bit of finocchietto water drain the pasta after two minutes and put it in a big bowl with saffron water, mix well together until the pasta is evenly coloured before mixing in with the sauce in a lined baking tray, put a layer of pasta at the bottom follow by a layer of sardines, continue to layer and make sure the last layer is the pasta layer bake at 180C for 30-40 minutes, in the last 5 minutes, increase the oven temperature to 200C and move the tray to the top rack so that the top layer of pasta turns brown and crunchy serve warm, or let the pasta sit overnight as the flavour would develop and it tastes even better the next day!
As a food enthusiast who loves to explore cuisines from different cultures, there are not many things more exciting than being invited to join a family Sunday lunch with a grandma, especially an Italian grandma who makes fresh egg pasta every Sunday and turns it into beautiful tortellini, tortelloni and tagliatelle, typical ravioli and pasta from the area of Modena. Making the dough by mixing together 1 egg per 100 g. of flour, she showed me how to roll the pasta out in a traditional way with a rolling pin, and then I tried my hands on making this little heart-shaped tortellini filled with ricotta cheese, spinach and parmesan.
After a couple of hours spent in the kitchen, I had a detour around her little farmhouse in the countryside outside of Modena. Being where the famous balsamic vinegar is from, the family ferments their own aceto balsamico di Modena in the attic there, using old wooden barrels there were being passed on from generations. The vinegar was like nothing I had ever taste, the black thick sour syrup drizzled on top of fresh ricotta, pasta dishes or even gelato for dessert. I wanted balsamic vinegar everywhere. The fact the I saw the little production of where and how it was made definitely contributed to the taste of this vinegar. Then lunch was ready. The table was laid out with fresh grilled vegetables from the garden, homemade fried bread called gnocco fritto and griddled tigelle bread, as well as the tortelloni we send the morning making. It was a never ending feast and even after the meal ended, I carried a bag of fresh tagliatelle back home for the continuing feast the next day.
summer Without any warming, Bologna turned into a heattrapped city, pushing me to set off to the seaside. Three months by the sea this summer made up for all those summers I spent so far away from the salty breeze. The adventure started on a wild island of Sardegna, where most do not consider a part of Italy. Sardinia has its own culture, influenced by Catalonia and the Arabs. Many beaches were so wild, with the bright and crystal clear turquoise sea. Then down to the undiscovered Calabria and the diversely delicious island of Sicily. For me, summer is the vibrant atmosphere. The deep blue sky, blood red sun-ripen tomatoes, sweet and juicy pink-blushed peaches, never-ending sunshine and dancing bonfire on the beach.
The most common response I get from Italian people when I mentioned that I was going to the South of Italy was â€˜Si mangia beneâ€™ - there they eat well. Especially in Sicily, the island famous for its food. What makes a big difference here is probably the climate and the soil, and the fact that many people still work in the field of agriculture, resulting in the freshest and best quality raw ingredients. From sunripen fruits and vegetables, flavourful pistachios and almonds, the creamiest ricotta and wide selection of cheese sold directly by the producer - to name but a few. Food is put on the top priority here and it is a serious matter. I would enjoy warm crusty, bread and creamy sheep ricotta every morning, snack on green little gems of pistachio and indulge in a crispy ball of arancino from a rosticceria. The heat of the afternoon was more bearable with fresh fruit granita soaked up in a small piece of brioche. Being an island, fresh seafood was not hard to get my hands on yet meat and cheeses are also well-known here. From the unbearable heat of August to the colder month of January where Mount Etna is topped with snow, seasonal eating is never a problem here. There are always something delicious waiting to be tasted on the island of Sicily.
Following my obsession with bread, my Couchsurfinghost-turned-friend in Palermo insisted that I visit Forno Litria in Monreale, a small town on the hill half an hour away from Palermo which is famous for its naturally leavened bread made with semola rimacinata and baked in a wood-fired oven. Before ordering anything, I peaked into the next door with the bakers were preparing pizzas to be baked in the dancing flames of olive woods - the smell filled my lungs and there was nothing else I wanted but bread. I started from pane cunzatu little panino made filled with sliced tomatoes, pecorino cheese, olive oil, oregano and salt - followed by the best sfincione with perfectly soft and chewy dough and well-seasoned toppings of tomatoes, onions, anchovies and pecorino cheese. There was no way I could resist the pizza rustica that just came out of the oven, still piping hot. Then I ended the trip with pane di Monreale - my bread mission was accomplished, mainly due to the fact that there was no more space left for bread in my body.
CAPPERI ZUCCHINI PEPERONI POMODORI OLIVE NERE MELANZANE
caponata alla gabriele 2 cloves garlic · 1 red onion · 1 tablespoons capers · 100 g. black olives · 1 big aubergine 2 bell peppers · 1 courgette · 400 g. tomato sauce or passata · a handful of fresh basil · salt vinegar · sugar — cut the aubergines into small cubes, mix in with some sea salt in a colander, put some weight on top to drain the water for half an hour, then deep fry the aubergines together with cubed courgettes, once soft and golden put them on a plate lined with kitchen paper to take away any excess oil bake the bell peppers in the oven until the skin is charred, de-skin and cut into cubes in a large frying pan, make soffrito with finely chopped onions, garlic and capers, then add black olives, tomato sauce and the cooked vegetables to the pan and cook until soft once the dish is almost ready, add chopped fresh basil and season with salt, sugar and vinegar serve warm or cold with bread, or as a side dish
ZUCCHINI POMODORINI GAMERETTI PESTO DI PISTACHI
pasta · pomodori · zucchine gamberi· pesto di pistacchi 2 cloves garlic · 8 cherry tomatoes · 1 small courgette · 6 fresh prawns (or 160 g. frozen) a bunch of fresh parsley · 2 tbsp. pistachio pesto · salt · pepper · 200 g. spaghetti · lemon — in a big frying pan, sauté garlic in olive oil before adding halved cherry tomatoes and thinly sliced courgette, cook on medium heat until soft while the sauce is cooking, boil spaghetti in salted boiling water until al dente add pistachio pesto to the sauce, followed by parsley and prawns then season it with salt and pepper add drained pasta to the pan and cook for a couple of minutes before throwing in chopped parsley, serve with a drizzle of olive oil and lemon zest
CAPPERI ACCIUGHE OLIVE NERE POMODORINI
spaghetti · puttanesca 2 cloves garlic · 2 fillet anchovies · 3-4 capers 1 fresh chilli · 50 g. black olives · 250 g. cherry tomatoes · a bunch of parsley · salt · pepper 200 g. spaghetti — in a big frying pan, sauté garlic, chilli and anchovies in olive oil before adding capers, halved cherry tomatoes and sliced black olives, simmer on medium heat until the tomatoes are cooked and become saucy while the sauce is cooking, boil spaghetti in salted boiling water until al dente add drained pasta to the sauce and cook for a couple of minutes, mix in chopped parsley and season with salt serve with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil
mn Itâ€™s my favourite time of the year, for everything, the colours, the atmosphere, the food. The weather is not even too bad in autumn, warm enough to swim in certain places, or sunbathe during the day without burning yourself alive like in the summer. The evening can be chilly but not too cold, make it perfect to stay next to the bread oven outside making pizza and dining al fresco, or snacking on some sweet and nutty roasted chestnuts from outdoor markets. The warming shades of earth filled the atmosphere, brown, yellow, orange, red, as the leaves started to shed and the rows vineyard slowly turned yellow, ready to go into winter hibernation.
Autumn is not only a feast to your eyes, but also your stomach. I do love food from every season, from the ruby red blood oranges in winter, sweet strawberries bursting with flavours in spring through to various types of plump and juicy stone fruit in the summer. Nevertheless autumn is still my favourite. Maybe because of my interesting in foraging wild food like mushrooms and preserving produces that are being harvested, or simply the taste of fresh walnuts and honey or warming roasted pumpkins. I love the strangely wonderful things unique to this part of Europe like sweet chestnut flour, made from grounded chestnut. In Tuscany, they would make this typical crepe called necci, filled with fresh sheep ricotta and honey, or castagnaccio, a thin, naturally-sweetened snack cake made only from chestnut flour, water, olive oil, pine nuts and rosemary. A subtle combination of sweet and savoury particular to oneâ€™s taste buds.
PORRI ZUCCA ZAFFERANO
risotto · zucca · zafferano 1/2 leek · 300 g. pumpkin · 1 teaspoon saffron 1 l. vegetable stock · 30 ml. white wine · a knob of butter · salt · pepper · 160 g. carnaroli rice — in a big frying pan, make the soffritto by sautéing finely chopped leek with olive oil until soft and aromatic boil half of the pumpkin in the broth and sauté the other half in the pan with soffritto add the rice and sauté until semi-transparent before adding white wine pour in the stock one ladle at a time while keep stirring the rice, repeat the process of until the rice is cooked, which can take up to 20 minutes infuse saffron threads (or dissolve saffron powder) in some broth and add to the pan add a knob of butter, salt and pepper to taste serve with grated parmesan if desired, but it’s also delicious without!
CECI AGLIO POMODORINI
pasta · ceci 2 cloves garlic · 150 g. cherry tomatoes 240 g. chickpeas · 1/2 l. vegetable broth a bunch of parsley · salt · pepper · 160 g. spaghetti, broken into pieces — in a saucepan, make the soffritto with chopped garlic in olive oil add halved cherry tomatoes and cooked chickpeas, followed by vegetable stock and keep simmering until the stock reduced add broken spaghetti to the pot and cook until al dente with the lid open so that the stock could evaporate before adding shopped parsley add salt and pepper to taste and serve with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil
This might not be what we planned out to do at the beginning, but it all started from that one sentence, â€˜Pranziamo?â€™. Thank you Sara for all the wonderful lunches and most of the recipes included in this book. To mum, dad and sister, our first trip to Italy together, and all the pizzas, pastas and gelatos we shared, where my love affair with this country began. Also to all the people I met across Italy, strangers who have become friends, all the nonnas who cooked me wonderful meals, stallholders and shopkeepers who patiently answered thousands of questions I had about their products, cultures and history. And another soul who loves food almost as much as I do, for being there and making sure that whenever I go back to Italy, I will always have a home.
Fern Sripungwiwat email@example.com www.fernsripungwiwat.com
I fell in love so many times in Italy. First I fell for the food, that love led me to talk to bakers, cheesemakers and fishmonkers, and connected me with Italian grandmas and food lovers all around the country. Then I fell for the warmth of its people and it brough me to spend a few months living in Bologna, experiencing Italian life in this historic town full of students, great gelato and alternative events. And I fell again, this time for an Italian guy through our passion for food. It also gave me a reason to keep going back and enjoy la bella vita, again and again and again. This is a memoir of my time in Italy, led by seasons and the food each one has to offer, together with stories and memories collected along the way.