Archive for the ‘food & culinary memoirs’ Category

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Another Bite of the Cherry

February 28, 2015

Cherry season is over in Australia, but it’s never too late for a rave.

It’s been a bumper season and I’ve had fun with red Bing cherries and white Royal Rainier cherries – and for the first time coffee cherries from my own tree. I’ve also grown cherry tomatoes, but that’s not such a happy story.

I’ve eaten them fresh, macerated them, folded them into a semifreddo, made cherry granita and added them to drinks.

I bought a heap of Royal Rainier cherries at Christmas and preserved them. They have an early, short season and I’m still enjoying the last jar, adding the cherries on top of gelato, sweetened ricotta or into a refreshing drink called a Cherry Muddler. I altered this Spiced Brandied Cherries recipe to half Brandy/half Solerno Blood Orange Liqueur to Italianise it and swapped the Bings for the Rainiers. One suggestion – buy a good cherry pipper. It saves all that hand-to-mouth business and the odd cracked tooth.

This is not the best photo of a jar of preserved cherries. 

Preserved White Cherries

So here’s something better.

Redheads in Jar

I snapped this odd display in a Sydney CBD optometrist’s window and have been dying to use it ever since. Strangely appealing I think.

Italy loves its preserved cherries. The Fabbri brand, founded in 1905 near Bologna as a distillery and still family-owned, is going strong selling its Amarena cherries in syrup (in the unmistakeable blue and white ceramic jars) world-wide.

The use of cherries on household furnishings and dress fabrics was popular years ago, but not so much these days. If you’re my vintage you probably had a frock or blouse with cherries on it. Unless you’re a male. Here’s proof that Christmas is cherry celebration time: a lovely dress made by my mother with cherries on the bodice. Hands off, Santa!AmbraXmas

It’s the last day of summer, and I’m hot and plan to cool off with this Cherry Muddler. So should you.

Cherry Muddler

You might also like this Maraschino Cherries recipe and blog post from the archives. 

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Lurking in the Cupboard: Rosso Antico, the Prince of Aperitifs

December 31, 2014

If there’s one thing nicer than an Italian aperitif, it’s a good aperitif glass. Lucky then that the ‘curiosities’ section of my mother’s sideboard was able to deliver the goods.

Neatly hidden from view were two remaining glasses from her original Rosso Antico set of eight. I’d borrowed them long ago to use in an ironic 1960s-70s kind of way, put them back and forgotten about them.

Rosso Antico glasses

Rosso Antico (Ancient red) was invented in Italy in 1962 and soon became the aperitif of choice. It was known as ‘the prince of aperitifs’ and featured heavily in promotional segments of popular Italian TV sketch show Carosello.* Here in Australia, Italian Australians took to it with gusto.

An aromatised wine – with 32 herbs including sage, rosemary and thyme (yes really, but no parsley) – Rosso Antico is deep ruby red and bittersweet, with an aftertaste of peel and spices. In some circles it was considered (cruelly I think) the poor cousin of other Italian aperitifs like Campari or Aperol but was often substituted in drinks where they were used.

Back then, the glasses with the Rosso Antico moniker were nearly always promotional giveaways. One glass was included in a fancy box with each bottle purchase, so depending on how much you entertained, you either built up a set of eight very quickly or never. My parents’ circle of friends loved it at dinner parties served straight up, with a slice of orange or soda water.

I associate the trends of the time with it: wide ties and sideburns for the men, palazzo pants and big hair for the ladies and a look of disdain on our teenage faces. We were, after all, just discovering Harvey Wallbangers.

Rosso AnticoRossoAnticoHead

After its initial popularity, it was withdrawn from sale in the late 1970s due to one of the ingredient’s perceived carcinogenic qualities. It re-surfaced, but I lost touch with it until I spied some recently in a Sydney bottle shop. It’s had a design makeover (I’m guessing) to entice people to substitute it for Campari in their Negronis. I’m pretty sure there are new, bigger promotional glasses too, but I prefer the originals. All related advertising at the time carried the words: ‘‘Rosso Antico’ – l’aperitivo che si beve in coppa” meaning the aperitif should be drunk in ‘coupe” glasses, similar in shape to the saucer glasses preferred for champagne during the swinging ’60s. The glasses, with their shallow bowls on top of slender stems are now only used for cocktails, so the Rosso Antico marketers will have had to come up with a new tagline.

Aperitifs done and dusted, I’ve also put the glasses to good use for the leftover Christmas cherry granita.

CherryGranita2

The Gelato Messina Cookbook published in late 2013 includes a recipe for Rosso Antico and Marmalade gelato. So it’s definitely trending.

PS – For Italian speakers, you might enjoy this 1974 Rosso Antico animated advertisement inspired by the fairytale ‘The Princess in the Well’.  
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Rise of the Vending Machine Pizza

August 31, 2014

The announcement two weeks ago that Australia’s first vending machine pizza was available in Sydney sent me into sampling mode.

Just as people remember their exact whereabouts during significant world events, I remember my first taste of homemade pizza: it was Italy, mid 1970s and my non-pizza eating parents and I had been invited to a special family lunch. By contrast, would my first taste of vending machine pizza this week in a stadium-sized shopping mall be memorable? 

Bracing myself for the bland surroundings of a food court, I instead imagined myself somewhere a little grittier. The opening scene of Saturday Night Fever came to mind. I couldn’t recreate 1977, nor request the Bee Gees, but my black pants and oxblood boots had me channelling John Travolta/Tony Manero strutting Brooklyn’s streets eating pizza.

Oxblood Boots

 

Giorgio Pompei, owner/chef of Pompei’s pizzeria/gelateria at Bondi Beach has invested considerable cash into perfecting what he describes as “the world’s first artisan pizza vending machine”. He is confident his pizzas are superior to the mass-produced ones from vending machines in Italy, France and the USA. His Pizza Gio product is partially cooked at the Bondi restaurant, then chilled and transported across town to the Chatswood food court. The Italian-made machine – which holds 42 Margherita and 42 hot salami pizzas – then dispatches them in three minutes.

Pizza Gio machine

 

I really wanted to be at the takeaway window of Lenny’s Pizza in Brooklyn to say “Two, gimme two … that’s good” just like John/Tony did, and then slap one slice onto the other. Instead I stood in front of a 2m x 2m beige box, swiped my credit card and waited for Pizza Gio to give birth to a $12 Margherita.

PizzaGioCountdown_2

 

The 11-inch pizza comes in an open box – uncut. Although hungry, I didn’t fancy pushing it into my mouth whole. What would John/Tony do? Probably fold it into a calzone, but not wanting the mess, I began a desperate hunt for a knife. A couple of laps of the food court later, stolen knife and serviette in hand, I’d earned my lunch and Stayin’ Alive seemed an appropriate song to eat to.

PizzaDelivery_2

 

I gave a big tick each for the crispy crust, the fresh tasty tomato and mozzarella topping and the distinguishable basil aroma. No ticks though for its lukewarmness after the mad food court dash looking for something to cut it with. Perhaps it’s aimed at pizza lovers who live or work nearby, or people who carry knives.

Compared to the original, very good Pompei pizzas in Bondi, these stack up remarkably well. But will customers favour Pizza Gio over the cheaper, well-known pizza brand on sale a few metres away? I’d hope so, as there are plans to expand the business throughout Sydney and beyond in the future.

(The writer paid for her own pizza.) 

And now, here’s the real Tony:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=okpCx87orOA

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Coffee, Brioche and the Beautiful Game

July 31, 2014

BAR SPORT in Sydney’s inner-west was my family’s regular Saturday morning haunt from the 1950s to the early 1970s. Before Italian migrant families left the area for the outer suburbs and bigger homes, the café – established in Norton Street Leichhardt in 1956 as Caffé Sport – was the place to catchup with the week’s news and drink coffee. (See earlier post).

BarSportStreet2

 

I’d abandoned it for 20 years, moving on to cafes frequented by art school students and my extended circle of friends in the inner city. But last month, I needed a place to watch the 2014 World Cup: somewhere that attracted football (soccer) folk who were just as confused as me about supporting either Italy or Australia.

The Team Sheet

The players don’t change all that much: elderly men talking illnesses, ailments and soccer; middle-aged men in business meetings; a family with a couple of kids and the odd blow-in. Owners Joe and Frank Napoliello do a fantastic job keeping soccer fans happy all year, showing Euro matches on the large screen TV. But they really take it up a couple of notches during World Cups when they throw open the doors until ungodly hours, especially for the Italy and Australia matches.

BarSportWorldCup.2

 

Pre-match Entertainment

The merchandise stall is interesting, but I’m not tempted by the t-shirts, instead finding myself a spot in the unreserved area near the coffee machine.

BarSportT-Shirts.2

 

Kick-off

There’s just enough time during the warm-up to inspect the footy food. On offer there’s assorted panini, focacce and dolci on display for breakfast and I decide on a mini brioche with fior di latte (mozzarella) and leg ham to go with my macchiato. They’re both perfect. The sweetness of the soft bun marries well with the filling, reminding me of the traditional sweet Easter bread (Pinza) from northeastern Italy that we’d eat with sliced leg ham.

BarSportFood

 

Half-time

While the spectators dash in various directions, I reflect on what’s brought me here. Regular father-daughter outings in the 1960s to see the local Italian soccer team (APIA) play in the 1960s fuelled my interest in soccer. We’d take bread rolls filled with mortadella and provolone cheese. But in my mid teens I could no longer hide my secret soccer life to school friends and foolishly embraced the oval ball game just to fit in. I also started eating sausage rolls.

Second half

The players have ramped up their diving and writhing on the pitch and I can afford to turn away for a minute and order more brioche and coffee. This carb-fest continues for a few weeks and I wish the referee would give me a caution or show me a red card.

Coffee&Brioche2

 

Full time

That’s it. Time for the café brothers to snip the losing team’s national flag from the row of bunting strung overhead. And also time to dissect the game and for strangers to become friends.

Post match commentary

I don’t know when Bar Sport became a house of worship to the beautiful game. The only sports fever I remember 30 years ago was the corner table with a chess and draughts set on offer.

IMG_1008

 

I gather my things and wonder if these visits would only be four-yearly World Cup affairs. Or if making the place a regular haunt might be too nostalgic. I also think about the bad coffee I’ve been drinking at nearby cafes for years and I opt for the latter. I’ve come full circle.

(*I’ve used ‘soccer’ throughout rather than ‘football’ to save confusion for U.S. – and other – readers).

This is not a sponsored post/review. No fee or caffeine supplies were accepted by the writer.

 

 

 

 

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Blog Hop: Why Do I Write

June 30, 2014

“You like me … you REALLY like me” was my comment to Rachel Lebihan when she nominated me to answer the Blog Hop question “why do I write?”

And just like Sally Field did in that 1985 Oscars’ speech when she won the Best Actress award, I clutched a gold trophy in my hands and gushed.

Bowling Trophy

I dedicate this to Rachel who is a food writer, restaurant reviewer and a former editor at The Australian Financial Review. Her blog The Food Sage  is a collection of wise words on all things gastronomical.

Writing has always been part of my job as an arts administrator for cultural organisations presenting performance, literature, heritage, multicultural celebrations and film programs. I took a break 18 months ago when I decided I could no longer write “this year’s festival will be the biggest and best yet” in marketing collateral.

During this time I started my blog The Good the Bad & the Italian and lately have branched out into writing about my experiences as a sole carer for my 90-year-old mother (for a new health-related website) as well as taking on small freelance contracts.

What am I working on?

I’ve been re-visiting some stories on my blog and trying to expand them into more substantial tales to see if I can write something longer than 500 words that is still mildly entertaining to unsuspecting readers. Turns out I can, but not without some sweat: short ‘n’ sharp is my preferred mode. Being part of a group of talented writers in The Prose Workshop for the past six months has been a delight, and worth every hard-earned 1000 word exercise. Some interesting ideas are developing …

Why does my writing differ from others in my genre?

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Is it a food blog? Well, no, not really. My writing is mainly about food but is contained within personal experiences, parental eccentricities, Italian folklore, topical events and discovering vintage (er, old and forgotten) kitchen accoutrements lurking in the cupboard. And films.

You won’t find many detailed recipes on my blog – except for the odd link to someone else’s content – as I don’t much enjoy quantities and methods, preferring to leave that to dedicated food bloggers.

Don’t ever ask me to categorise my blog as you’ll get a furrowed brow in response.

Why do I write what I do?

Many of my blog posts are inspired by stories of growing up as an Italian-Australian kid in Sydney’s inner-west in the 1960s. It was such an interesting time, observing my parents cooking, entertaining and trying to keep aspects of their heritage alive after their post-WW11 migration.

I’m also interested in how food is represented in films, particularly some pre-1980s American movies where Italian families only ever ate spaghetti and meatballs, which is not an authentic Italian dish. Pasta e fagioli (pasta and bean soup) became ‘pasta fazool’. Thank you Dean Martin.

Gathering these thoughts into something I think people might want to read is always a gamble. Will they REALLY like it?

How does my writing process work?

I have an elegant little hardcover book called a ‘Quadernetto’ (Italian for ‘small exercise book’) and I jot down ideas in it religiously. It’s roughly A6 size with a silky navy cover and graph paper pages and it follows me everywhere. Occasionally I’ll tap a thought into my iPhone, but it tends to stay there.

I draw inspiration from many things: old black and white photographs in family albums; stories in local and overseas magazines and websites; contents of cupboards; postcards; wacky songs and film scenes. These find their way as torn pages, photographs and scans into manila folders to be turned into words.

Then the untamed writing on my desktop iMac begins.

Just as I was nominated to take part in this Blog Hop, it’s my turn to introduce to you Cynthia Bertelsen who blogs at Gherkins and Tomatoes.

Cynthia is an accomplished writer, photographer and  author of Mushroom: A Global History (2013). She boasts a cookbook collection of over 3500 titles (no, that’s not a typo). Cynthia writes about life, cookbooks and cooking and I love the depth and focus of her writing, which she describes as “global and historical”.

Andiamo!

 

 

 

 

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Italian Shandy – just add Campari

May 1, 2014

‘I have a head for business, and a bod for sin …’ 

There I go, talking about myself again.

Well, it’s actually a quote from Mike Nichols’ clever 1988 rom-com Working Girl.

The quote – which Melanie Griffith cooed to Harrison Ford in a bar – came to mind when I was sneaking in another favourite summer drink before the temperature plummets.

I’ve long been a Shandy drinker, much to the horror of friends who are serious about their craft beers. So I was thrilled when I found a recipe that changed the lemonade/beer combination into something Italian/Australian, something friends couldn’t snigger at.  CampariShandy

The Campari Shandy is a great discovery. When you’ve worked through the frothy foam on top, you get to the slinky, sexy stuff beneath. Just like the scene in the film.

I first heard the word Shandy used in relation to the ‘Ladies Lounge’ signs I’d seen in Sydney’s inner-west pubs. Gender segregation in Australian pubs banned women from the public bar to the lounge prior to the 1970s and Shandies were popular drinks. By the time I was old enough to experience a Ladies’ Lounge, the bans were lifted following mass protests by women, a few even chaining themselves to bar rails.

I don’t think Italy has Shandies, so I don’t know how Italians would feel about their favourite bitter-sweet aperitif being mixed with beer. It might be too, too much for the purists upset by the decision in 2006 by the Campari company to stop using crushed cochineal beetles following pressure from vegetarian groups.

Then again, those who are unhappy about the ‘new’ Campari and claim that it’s one-dimensional and has lost its three distinct layers, are moving to Aperol in protest and probably wouldn’t care about the new, chemically coloured Campari smothered with a few glugs of beer.

Campari Shandy for one:

. 50 ml Campari

. 300 ml light-coloured beer

. 1 lemon or lime wedge

Pour the beer over the Campari – obviously.

PS – The late, great Roger Ebert loved Working Girl too.

 

 

 

 

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Lurking in the Cupboard #8: Bomboniera with Bite

February 17, 2014

A decommissioned ashtray turns out to be anything but …

It’s been a while since I attended a wedding where bomboniere were given to guests. Even so, I doubt they’d look anything like this vintage gem once used as an ashtray by my father.  retro bomboniera

My late aunt and uncle’s choice of a German short-haired pointer* for their late 1950s’ wedding bomboniere is intruiging. Maybe handsome hunting dogs that are bold, boisterous, intelligent, affectionate and trainable were more fashionable in Italy than pastel tulle and ribbons. Perhaps it was their take on the sentiment attached to the traditional five sugared almonds in bomboniere: fertility, long life, health, wealth and happiness.

The giving of bomboniere (or ‘favours’) dates back to early European history when honey-coated almonds, dried fruits, aromatic seeds or pine nuts were given to guests by wealthy aristocrats to celebrate marriages, birthdays and christenings. Almonds later became the nuts of choice and sugarcoating them symbolized the bitterness of life and sweetness of love.

On the sightseeing list for my next trip to Italy is the Museum of Sugared Almond Art and Technology in Sulmona, the birthplace of sugared almonds. The town, 160 kms east of Rome, has been producing them since the 15th century.  Now popular at all manner of celebrations, they’re ‘confetti’ in Italian, ‘Jordan Almonds’ in the US, ‘koufeta’ in Greece and ‘mlabas’ in the Middle-East.  sugared almonds

How coincidental then that prior to Christmas I bought a sizeable bag of sugared almonds. I have no idea why. I threw them into the shopping trolley in the pre-Christmas madness just in case somebody dropped by. What? Who ‘drops by’ in the 21st century? Or was I expecting to conduct a mini wedding ceremony or impromptu christening at my place?

Really, I just fancied the pastel colours that reminded me of a recent post about tutti frutti.  

There’s really not much you can do with sugared almonds except suck the sugar off and bite into the nut. The inventors must have had a Plan B, but if so, it’s a secret. Why does covering a nut with pastel-coloured sugar render it unusable in cooking?

But something called Candy Cane Chocolate Bark turned up everywhere last Christmas and I was keen to try my version of this thin layer of chocolate covered with crushed candy canes.

I used this How to Make Chocolate Bark without a Recipe recipe and added a slurp of Amaretto …  Sugared Almond Liqueur Chocolate Bark was born.

Almond Liqueur Chocolate Bark

*Thanks to Twitter pal Rom @smartdoggus for dog breed identification

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A Fine Kettle of Fish

January 30, 2014

If anyone ever calls me ‘sardonic’ – assuming they don’t mean I look like a fish – I’d almost take it as a compliment.

I love fish talk. You can almost smell the turns of phrase devoted to fish: A big fish in a small pond; crooked as a barrel of fish hooks; drink like a fish; fish in troubled waters; having bigger fish to fry; like shooting fish in a barrel; plenty more fish in the sea; like a fish out of water.

And my favourite – which is also shared in Italian – neither fish nor fowl. Does this mean it’s not a ‘surf n turf’?

A high school friend used to say that someone had “a smile like a deep sea mullet”. Cracked me up, but I’ve never heard that expression since.

A couple of evocative expressions belong to one of my favourite fish, the highly (in some quarters) unfashionable mackerel.

There’s a mackerel sky…

mackerel sky

And a mackerel tabby cat… 

mackerel cat

Vincent van Gogh thought enough of mackerel to paint them in his lovely Still Life with Mackerels, Lemons and Tomatoes

Van Gogh Mackerels  

The Portuguese do a damn fine job of canning them

tinned mackerel

And ‘Holy Mackerel, Batman’ says it all.

The word mackerel may be derived from the Old French maquerel (c.1300) meaning a pimp or procurer and as the fish species spawns enthusiastically near coastal areas, it’s plausible.

My family’s always been big mackerel eaters and bought it from Trieste’s glorious waterfront fish market, an imposing 1913 structure with a bell tower. Nicknamed Santa Maria del Guato, it was the Adriatic city’s shrine to fish of all denominations.

Here in Sydney we bought our fish from less salubrious fishmongers. We cooked our mackerel on my father’s jerry-built brick BBQ and although not a pretty piece of handywork it did the trick. The whole mackerel were cooked until slightly charred and then the laborious de-boning process began. That was my mother’s job and she patiently be-headed and opened the fish and picked them clean. Bone by bone. They was then seasoned, sprinkled with chopped garlic and parsley and spread with a layer of home-made mayonnaise.

Last week I found some super fresh smallish blue mackerel at the fish markets, chock full of Omega-E fats and sustainable in Australia. Simply grilled with a squeeze of lemon, they were a knockout. And I’m not fishing for compliments.

Grilled Mackerel

Neil Perry is a mackerel fan too and does a nice pan fried version with a spicy sauce. http://www.lifestylefood.com.au/recipes/300/pan-fried-mackerel

Related posts:

Working out for our Mussels – http://tinyurl.com/kf3go8m

Spanish Cuttlefish with Italian Attitude – http://tinyurl.com/mxkqbuv

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Panettone: the fruitcake that keeps on giving

January 5, 2014

Festive seasons come and go, but something lingers on, and on, and on …

Every year, the whiff of the Christmas panettone is still in the air long after the decorations have been boxed up and stored away. The Italian celebratory fruitcake from Milan seems to have a longer shelf life than most packaged foods.

I don’t remember eating panettone as a child. My mother and her friends baked traditional northeastern Italian festive cakes filled with raisins, nuts and chocolate and then rolled up strudel-style. It’s only in the last 10 or so years that my family truly embraced the panettone, the long hours of preparation and baking becoming less attractive to my mother as she’s aged.

Mum is 91 now and seeing as her daughter hasn’t picked up the mantle of baking a panettone, she and her 88-year-old friend exchange commercial panettoni every Christmas. Until one of them has the courage to say “basta!” (enough!), they’ll probably continue to feign surprise at receiving one for many years.

Cat and panettone box

 

I have a love-hate relationship with the cake. The first few days after Christmas I enjoy it toasted, spread with thick slabs of butter. But after a fortnight, the novelty wears off. My mother receives many panettoni from family friends and thrusts great portions at me when I visit. Hasn’t she heard of re-gifting? By mid-January, even sandwiching it with sweet ricotta topped with berry sauce brings on an urge to donate the lot to charity.

Italy still loves them and sales in 2013 were expected to better those of previous years. Despite the country’s longest recession in 60 years, cash-strapped Italians refused to give up their expensive cakes baked in upmarket pasticcerie (bakeries). I guess they have to keep buying it to justify the annual film industry namesake ‘Cinepanettoni’ – Italian movies made specifically for the festive season and derided by critics as plotless, vulgar comedies rich with sexual innuendo. 

It seems Australians can’t get enough panettoni either. A delicatessen in Sydney’s inner-west has a panettone display that gets bolder each year. The handful on sale in early December swells to a pre-Christmas Wall of Panettoni, where a heady choice of brands is stacked like concrete blocks, dwarfing all other food aisles.

 

panettone gelato and berry sorbet

 

A straw poll on the online Friends of Italy group suggested most of the those who responded to my “Do you like panettone” question were big fans. And they like it unadulterated. Only a few preferred pan d’oro. (Must be that nasty mass-produced citrus peel in mass-produced panettone!)

If you ever feel panettone ennui approaching, you can do what I do: disguise it! After sampling some lovely I’m happy to have found a clever way of disguising it. After sampling some lovely panettone gelato at Cremeria De Luca in Sydney, I experimented with a recipe for ‘no-churn’ panettone gelato adapting it to include my own candied citron and Mandarinetto liqueur (included in previous posts). I look forward to a new tradition. Happy 2014!

No-churn Panettone Gelato (translated from the original Italian recipe) http://www.flickr.com/photos/plumdumplings/11768965403/

Related posts: 

Candied citron peel – http://tinyurl.com/mq2t6fg

Mandarinetto liqueur – http://tinyurl.com/k2redeq

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Spanish Cuttlefish with Italian Attitude

November 27, 2013

 

Food writer/journalist Rachel Lebihan* wrote in the Australian Financial Review last month about her visit to ARZAK, San Sebastian’s Michelin three-star restaurant. She mentions going into the kitchen with chef Elena Arzak for a lesson cooking hake’s throat.

Reminded of my first accidental trip to San Sebastian in northern Spain in 1983, I promised her some anecdotes – and a tenuous Italian connection.

SanSebastianBar_2_2

After boarding a train in southern France, my travel companion and I set out to find the owner of the sweet trumpet notes wafting through the carriage. Californian musician Doug was heading to San Sebastian to join its new Basque National Orchestra and he made it sound appealing. The city wasn’t on our itinerary but two weeks later we were in Basque country.

On the way to our friend’s concert on the city’s outskirts we passed an inconsequential restaurant with killer fish fumes coming from the kitchen. We’d arrived too early for Spanish dinnertime but that didn’t stop me enquiring about the possibility of eating during siesta. A combination of no English on the restaurant owner’s part and bad Spanish on my part was getting us nowhere. Body language saved the day and we politely elbowed our way into the kitchen to taste test what was on offer.

Something dark, thick and shiny was bubbling in a large pot. Blacker than a Basque’s beret. The two plates of inky stew (chipirones en su tinta) delivered to us in the deserted dining room were exceptional. We ate the cuttlefish (which is more unctuous than squid or calamari) with chunks of bread washed down with the local Txakoli wine.

We enjoyed San Sebastian’s pinxtos bars, nightlife, food markets and beaches so much we stayed longer than intended, ditching yet another town for this privilege.

I’ve been back since 1983 and eaten fancier meals (including an 11-course extravaganza at the media launch of the 1997 San Sebastian Film Festival), but this adventure is the one that resonates. I’d be very keen to try the ‘taste before you dine’ idea here in Sydney. Hah! Imagine that … asking the chef if you can have a look-see into the pans he/she is rattling.

The Fish Stall, 16th century. Oil on canvas

Bartolomeo PASSEROTTI – The Fish Stall (late 1500s). The woman is questioning the fishmonger about the fish. As she should be.

Which brings me to this post’s Italian connection. Italians love their cuttlefish, and in the north they’re cooked as a stew with polenta (sepe in umido co la polenta or brodetto di seppie) but it’s not always as black as the Spanish version. Cuttlefish is not easy to find in Sydney and testing for freshness can be tricky. My mother used to ask the fishmonger for a poke of the flesh, testing for springiness and iridescence. Once cleaned at home, the interior chalky bone went straight to the budgie cage.

This luscious recipe for chipirones – or calamares – en su tinta is from Elizabeth Luard’s cookbook La Ina Book of Tapas’ and includes cleaning instructions. But beware. An industrial strength plastic apron is essential – cuttlefish ink is indelible.

Buen provecho. And buon appetito!

*Rachel Lebihan blogs at thefoodsage.com.au

Top image: R.Stacker

 

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