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It has been a scorcher of a summer here in Sydney, with almost unbearable levels of humidity.  With no air conditioning in our temporary home, we have felt every degree of it.  The chooks have come through it ok, though they stare curiously at the ice blocks I add to their water on the worst days.  The press on the hardship facing farmers seems to have dried up since last year, replaced by inane pre-election political jousting articles,  though I imagine they continue to do it very tough.

Turning on the oven in our furnace of a house is a trial, but cook for the family one must.  Here’s what’s been happening in the Napoli kitchen of late.

The (ever growing) Small People received this very cute Christmas gift from one of their aunties.  The doughnut pans worked really well.

We’ve been really enjoying some gorgeous floral honey from some friends who have started keeping bees.  I don’t do supermarket honey, I don’t like it.  This stuff is a different proposition all together.  It reminds me very much of a giant jar of wild honey we bought back from a small island in Greece.  The Marito and I have been putting a dollop on our yoghurt, the Small People on their oats. Our lovely friends have earmarked another jar for us from their “harvest” last week.

In my kitchen is Ottolenghi’s SIMPLE. I’ve been making quite a few recipes from it of late.  It is certainly one of his better cookbooks, and plenty in there for my vegacquarian Marito.  The prawns with risoni (or orzo as they call it in the UK) and marinated feta was just delicious, and the other day I tried the hazelnut and peach cake, loved it.

I’ve also been looking at his weekly column in The Guardian.  This pastis garcon, a French apple tart made with filo, was also a hit.

I read somewhere that you could preserve basil with salt and olive oil.  Mamma Rosa has a ridiculous abundance of basil at the moment, so I tried doing it.  The oil seems to have solidified so not sure if I did it right.  If I did it will be good to have during the winter months.

The reno site is starting to look less like a mess and more like a house.  Having resolved all the structural, insulation, electrical and plumbing problems that come with a 125 year old house, we are now getting to the “fun stuff”.  There are samples everywhere around the kitchen and dining table.  While my kitchen hardware is from the UK, all my bathroom hardware was made right here in Sydney, the door locks are from Tasmania, the fireplace from South Australia. There is still some fine local manufacturing going on. There will be a lot not finished when we move back in, I won’t even have a proper laundry, but I really don’t care, I just want to be back home.

Thanks to Sherry from Sherry’s Pickings who hosts the IMK monthly link up, take a peek from kitchens around the world!

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Hello. I haven’t written any thing here for quite a while (though I have been posting a few things on my Facebook page). In my little “tribe” of bloggers that I’ve gotten to know over the years, some who I have met in person, at one point or other the blogging mojo is lost and it’s pens down. So I guess it was my turn.  But back now, sort of, from my hiatus.  “Where have your cakes gone?” asked my blog mother.  So Signora, this one’s for you.

Recently, I’ve been trying quite a few recipes from Ottolenghi’s SIMPLE.  There is plenty in there that appeal to my vegacquarian Marito.  This is one of the desserts, though I did modify it as it contains raspberries which I don’t really like, I’m more of a mulberry and blackberry girl.  While we have all these lovely summer peaches, I definitely recommend making this one.  It’s making the cut in my very old “yellow book” where I have scribbled recipes I like over the years.

Ingredients
3 large peaches (ripe but not squishy)
300g caster sugar
130g blanched hazelnuts
200g unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
3 large eggs
125g plain flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
Icing sugar for dusting (optional)

Making it
Pre-heat the oven to 170 degrees fan forced. Grease and line a 23cm cake tin with baking paper.

Peel the peaches and cut into eight wedges. Place in a bowl with a tablespoon of sugar, gently stir and set aside.

Place the hazelnuts into a food processer and blitz until coarsely ground.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, place the remaining sugar and butter and beat until well combined. Add the eggs one at a time and beat till combined, then and the hazelnuts, flour, baking powder and salt and continue to mix till all combined. Pour the batter into a cake tin and smooth it so that it is level. Arrange the peaches in a single layer on top, then place in the oven for 70-80 minutes, testing with a skewer at about 70 minutes. If you notice the top getting too brown you can cover with foil during cooking.

Remove from the tin and allow to cool for 20 minutes before turning out. Once cool, dust with icing sugar and serve. Seriously yum!

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How lovely that Spring is here, which means there is a lot more going on outside the kitchen.  The chooks are past their winter slow down, and laying up a storm, and lots of planting is going on.

Outside my kitchen is a collection of fruit trees.  A couple of months ago I pre-ordered some rootstock from Yalca Fruit Trees – a dwarf pear, dwarf apple, dwarf peach and dwarf plum, which we plan to put in the courtyard once the renovation is done, as well as a fig and two mulberry trees. Two months later and they are thriving! I can’t wait till we pick our first fruit.

I’ve also planted several tomatoes and zucchini which are coming along nicely.  Everything has to be carefully netted at our temporary home as it’s a possum festival at night.  The chooks also adore tomatoes.

I still have to plant a few more things, having bought an interesting collection of seeds from The Seed Collection.

Back inside, recently I took a look at Jamie’s new book, Jamie Cooks Italy.  I don’t buy too many cookbooks these days, partly because at the moment I have nowhere to store them, but also because our local library has a rather amazing cookbook section.  There are some nice recipes in this one.  I tried his vegetables al forno (before and after shot), which is really a cross between a zucchini parmigiana and an eggplant parmigiana.  It was very tasty. There are a few other recipes I have bookmarked.

The (not so) Small People had a birthday and it was baking time for a family afternoon tea.  I made an apple cake, a blueberry crumb cake, some M&M cookies and a lemon ricotta cake.  It won’t be long till they are taller than me, but they will always be my Small People.

Have a lovely Spring! Have a peek at other kitchens on Sherry’s Pickings, our lovely IMK link up host.

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Napoli Restaurant Alert by The Napoli Alert - 9M ago

During the second half of our time in Puglia, we stayed in a farmhouse (“masseria”) in the small town of Cutrofiano.  Set on seven acres and built in the 1700s, Critabianca has been beautifully restored by a delightful family from Torino and opened it’s doors in 2016.

Throughout Puglia many of these masserie were built in the 1700s, often by the wealthy and arisocrats.  Over time, many were abandoned.  But with the growth of tourism in Puglia, many have been restored and turned into boutique bed and breakfast accommodation. What I loved about Critabianca was that it felt private and tranquil, yet it is cleverly located making it an easy drive to much of what we wanted to do and see. And Roberto, Roberta, Nicoletta and Alessandro will do everything possible to make sure you have a lovely stay. How gorgeous is the front door!

The six rooms feel tranquil and luxurious with lovely antique pieces throughout mingling with modern requirements.  You can see hints of the original frescoes on the carefully scraped back walls.  Our family room (note children over 11 years only) was very spacious and comfortable, with a large outdoor terrace. And the pool was great for a refreshing dip after our days of sightseeing and exploring.

Around the pretty grounds, you’ll find plums and figs, which Roberta turns into gorgeous jams for breakfast, and plenty of olive trees.   Breakfast is served in an outdoor courtyard on beautiful locally made ceramics. As well as making the jam, Roberta sets her own yoghurt, and Roberto is a dab hand at focaccia and cakes. The bread, cheese and eggs are from down the road, and I also had some of the best ricotta I’ve ever tasted. One morning we devoured a juicy melon, and not long after we saw Moussa, the cook, go out to the garden and grab another one.  Yes, the breakfast is about as fresh as it gets.

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A short drive from where we were staying in Monopoli is the town of Alberobello. Alberobello has always fascinated me and been on my visit wish list for a long time.  I’m intrigued by the fact that these unique conical structures, trulli, appeared in this one area and nowhere else in Italy.  You’ll see the occasional trulli (trullo for singular?) in a field somewhere when you are driving around, but Alberobello is a concentrated town of them, with over 1,000 trulli.

Folklore has it that originally the trulli were built without mortar for the purpose of disassembly when the tax collector came around, as tax had to be paid on permanent structures.  If this is true, then the Italian penchant for tax evasion goes back very far indeed.  These days they are all permanent structures, many turned into shops, some into hotels, though some are still individual homes. I just love the uniqueness and gorgeousness of it.  It was named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1996.

We came across the workshop of these two gentlemen who were making small replica trulli by hand.  Some were out of random stone and then painted, but some were made out of actual trulli stone.  One of the Small People was particularly enchanted by Alberobello and used some of his trip pocket money to buy one.  Once home, the trulli were used for a design project assignment he had at school.

We went in the morning and found it ok – apparently it does get quite busy and crowded from lunchtime onwards.

While in Puglia we also drove to the neighbouring region of Basilicata to visit Matera, another UNESCO World Heritage site.  The drive was about an hour and fifty minutes, allowing for a little confusion from our GPS; she wasn’t having a great day that day. But the roads were good and it was a pleasant drive.  It is fairly inland so was about 8 degrees (Celsius) hotter than the Puglia coast – so again a morning visit is recommended and I was glad that we had set off early. It is also quite hilly and needs a good amount of walking so a fitness test as well as a cultural eye opener.

So what is special about Matera?  After Petra in Jordon, it is believed to be the second longest continuously habited place in the world.  But it’s not only this, it’s the fact that the homes of the town – or rather caves –  were carved into the limestone rock.  The Passion of the Christ and Ben Hur were both filmed here.

The extraordinary church at the top dominates the landscape and a walk up there is inevitable.

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Napoli Restaurant Alert by The Napoli Alert - 10M ago

(August 2018) Lane Cove food is on the up.  There’s been a spate of new openings in the last twelve months, prompting even the likes of Terry Durack to venture to this side of the bridge.  Foogoo, a modern Chinese diner, is among them and we’re here to exchange some post Europe travel stories with some friends.  A rustic style clock with French text gives away the venue’s previous incarnation, and it’s simply but pleasantly decked out.

And as we marvel with our friends over the fact that we bumped into each other in the Vatican, where some 25,000 people set foot each day, we enjoy some very tasty Chinese.  The ingredients are very obviously fresh, the quality good, and the service quite pleasant.  And we love that it is BYO. Pricing was very reasonable, though the serves are on the smaller side and we could have ordered a couple more dishes for our bottomless pit Small People, but even then it’s a good value meal and you can eat here for $30 a head or less.

The crispy soft shell crab is exactly that and not at all oily as it often is at many restaurants.  The chilli and lemon salt give it a lovely flavour.

And we were very happy with our soupy xialongbao.  There are plenty of dumplings on the menu if you’re in the mood for pure yum cha.

Also on the menu:
Delicately steamed barramundi with ginger and shallot

Kung pao chicken with a pleasant but not overpowering amount of heat

Wok fried black pepper fillet with oyster mushrooms and blackbean – I loved this

We all really liked the Shanghai style dry noodle with shallot oil, sweet soy and crispy shrimp

And there was a good amount of tasty BBQ pork in the special fried rice.

The steamed Asian greens were so fresh.

It’s a good addition to the ‘hood, and we’ll be back to try the rest of the menu.

Foogoo, 94B Longueville Road Lane Cove, Ph (02) 7900 7081

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Napoli Restaurant Alert by The Napoli Alert - 10M ago

Something you’ll see a lot of in Puglia is olive trees.  Everywhere.  Some really young, and some, revealed by their oversized, gnarled,  and intricately twisted trunks, really really old.  The oldest ones, clocking up some 3,000 years, are deemed archaeological monuments.  We passed a sign saying “olivari monumentali” (monumental olives) – I guessed some of those ones were there.  Anyhow, it turns out that Puglia is Italy’s biggest olive oil producer, cranking out some forty percent of the nation’s production, explaining their dominance in the landscape.

Something you’ll also see as you drive around Puglia is a multitude of towns you want to stop at or unusual buildings. “Stop the car!” I’d yell at the marito, which sometimes got a positive result, and sometimes didn’t.  Oh for more time.  So many more places to go back and see.  This little town, from a distance, looked like some kind of Disney fortress holding a princess.  Not as much close up, but I want to see what is behind those walls next time.

Once we checked out of Don Ferrante in Monopoli, we had a few hours before we were due at our masseria.  I thought it was the perfect opportunity to detour to Grottaglie, a town renowned for it’s ceramics.  The Fasano family, the best known studio, have been in operation since the 1700’s.  There was plenty to like as we wandered from studio to studio, a few little things we bought home and others we bookmarked with photos – they happily ship to Australia.  By the way they all shut down at 1pm for the afternoon siesta, so do come in the morning or after 5pm and stay for dinner.   After a wander we headed to Cutrofiano where our beautiful farmhouse awaited (post on that coming soon!).

The next morning we headed to Grotta Zinzalusa.  The photos here completely understate the magnificence of this rock formation.  You can go in the cave for a wander, or hire an umbrella and chair for a day, or just lay your town on rocks and some did and jump into the sea from there.

But we were after a sandy beach and headed further to Baia dei Turchi (Bay of the Turks).  You park your car and then walk a few hundred meters through thickish foliage down a narrow path, eventually emerging to a large stretch of sandy beach with a bit..

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Napoli Restaurant Alert by The Napoli Alert - 11M ago

All around Puglia in bakeries, takeaway holes in the wall and cafes, you see big delicious looking slabs of focaccia barese.  Traditionally, it’s covered with cherry tomatoes, and sometimes with olives.  We ate plenty of it.

During our time in Puglia we noticed a definite difference in the bread, pizza and other bakery goods – the taste, the texture and the lightness.  It was without a doubt the flour.  They are big users of semola rimacinata in the region, a twice milled, super fine flour.  The Bari Nonnas told us that is all they use for their orecchiette and cavatelli, whereas tipo 00 or other flours they were more likely to use for tagliatelle.

Wandering into the local supermarkets, I saw a huge array of types of flour.  Tipo 00 I use in several recipes, but I had never heard of Tipo 0 or Tipo 1, nor had I ever seen them in Australia.   They are very particular in this part of Italy about which should be used for certain recipes.  Next time I’d love to have some lessons from the nonnas and learn more.

Once back home I went to Skorin Deli in Concord, who stock quite a good range of specialty flours, and got some semola rimacinata, keen to have a go at making some focaccia. This will make a medium size focaccia. You’ll need a tray with a bit of depth, not a flat pizza tray.

Ingredients
125g of tipo 00 flour
125g of semola rimacinata
125g of mashed potato, cooled
3.5g of dried yeast
1/2 teaspoon sugar
200g cherry tomatoes
Dried oregano to taste
1 teaspoon salt
Salt, extra
Olive oil

Making it

In a bowl, combine the flour, semola, salt and potato and mix with your hands until completely combined.

In a separate bowl, combine 120ml of tepid water, add the yeast and sugar and combine well and let sit for five minutes. Add to the flour and potato mixture and combine, then add another 30mls or so of water and knead till you have a soft sticky dough.

Grease a tray with olive oil (I used a 30cm round tray), place the dough on it gently spreading out with your hands, leaving a 1cm space around the tray, which will fill as the dough rises. Cover and allow to rise for at least an hour.

Halve the cherry tomatoes and gently press them into the dough. Turn on the oven to 180 degrees fan forced and let the dough continue to rise while the oven is heating.

Sprinkle the focaccia with the oregano, salt and drizzle generously with olive oil, and cook for 25-30 minutes until golden. Yum!

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Napoli Restaurant Alert by The Napoli Alert - 11M ago

Age. History. It surrounds you in the heel of Italy’s “boot”. The stone – on the floors, walls, ceilings, and paths – the castles, the churches. Modern and shiny would look very out of place here.

I’ve wanted to come to Puglia for some time now – the food, the architecture, the food, the beaches, oh and did I mention the food? It delivered on all fronts, and then some. We already know we’re coming back.

And people were so very kind. We have a few Pay It Forwards outstanding. One night when we got a flat tyre, a man and his son, and then a friend, came and helped us and walked away with a wave before we barely had time to thank them. At a beach, when I realised I’d run out of cash and there were no ATM’s nearby, the gentleman at the umbrella counter gave us an umbrella and said not to worry about it. On a pitstop to get the Small People some lunch at a bar in a pretty town, the credit card machine wasn’t working, and the guy behind the bar said no problem, feed the boys, come back and pay me later.

Tourism is a relatively new thing here, really only emerging in the last ten years. And then, most of the tourists seemed to be Italians from other regions – we heard comparatively few foreign voices. I suspect the next then years will be very different, as the word is spreading about this southern jewel.

If you’re thinking about this lovely part of Italy, here are a few tips

– Puglia has two international airports, Bari and Brindisi, which have direct daily flights from several European cities, mostly serviced by discount airlines. British Airways does fly to Bari and Brindisi from Gatwick, but only on certain days. Depending on where you base yourself (see below), it may be more convenient to use one airport or the other to minimise long driving times. We flew into Bari and out of Brindisi.

– If you plan to explore, you will need to hire a car. There are some trains and buses but it will take you a long time to get to sites. The roads are quite good, but some of the speed limits and road signs are shall we say for “guidance” purposes only. Also in many of the towns you cannot park right in the historic centre, so will need to park a few streets away. Where parking is ticketed, it is pretty cheap, €1 an hour or in some cases 60 cents an hour

– Have some mobile data and google maps at the ready. The in car GPS is broadly fine but does not cope well with some of the more rural roads, especially the Strade Provinciale (“provincial roads”) in the bottom half. It would sometimes tell us to turn left into a non existent road or send us down a complete dead end.

– It can be tricky to know where to base yourself if you don’t want to do too much driving. If you opt for instance for pretty Polignano a Mare or Monopoli, then it’s an easy drive to places like Alberobello or Bari, but a hike to places like Lecce and Gallipoli. Likewise if you opt for the coastline down the bottom half, then pack a picnic lunch for Alberobello and surrounds. We solved this by splitting our stay between the “top half” and “bottom half” which worked really well.

– Credit cards are fine, in fact Amex was much more widely excepted than in Australia (and never did I encounter a credit card surcharge like here). You will need some cash for your €1.50 scoop of gelato, or your €1 espresso or for parking meters – I could never get my credit cards to work on parking meters – and for market stalls.

– The afternoon siesta tradition is still in full swing down here so a lot shuts between 1pm and 5pm. Most restaurants don’t open for dinner until 7.30/8.00pm.

– Beaches are either a “spiaggia publica” (public beach) or a Lido (organised beach). At a Lido you pay anywhere up to €30 per day for an umbrella and a chair whether you stay one hour or ten, though down at Pescoluse it was €5 an umbrella and €3 a chair for the whole day. The beaches here aren’t pebbles like much of Italy, they are either sandy or large rock formations.

– There are very few large hotels in Puglia. Accommodation is largely smaller boutique hotels, bed and breakfasts, or “masserie”, old restored farmhouses, typically with six rooms or less. So if you’re like us an need a family room or two rooms, and you have your eye on a particular place or area in peak season, do book ahead. Some places were booked out six months ahead.

Monopoli
This was our base for the first half. What a charming seaside town with a very pretty historic centre, fishing boats, cafes and restaurants, bed and breakfasts and small hotels. It’s a very “house proud” town and the centre is beautifully maintained with lovely potted plants and flowers. In the mornings sometimes there would be a smattering of cigarette buts from those strolling the evening before, and out would come the nonnas with their brooms.

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Recently, we spent nine fantastic days in Puglia, the “heel” of Italy’s boot (a series of posts to come, stay tuned). Whenever I travel, buying goodies for the kitchen is inevitable. Of course, do declare it all at customs. I had a chuckle when one of the owners of the masseria we stayed at told me he loved watching Australian Border Security. So here’s what is in my kitchen this month, and thank you to Sherry from Sherry’s Pickings for hosting this monthly link up featuring kitchens around the world.

In my kitchen are a set of pasta rolling pins. I am guessing this is what they used to use to make pasta before machines. (My nonna also used to use the dried stalk of a wheat plant to make a bucatini style pasta by hand, I remember her showing me years ago and so regret not taking photos). Some months before our trip, I saw a video of someone using the thin one to make spaghetti and thought they were pretty cool and said to The Marito that I would get one if I saw it. I stumbled across the four pack at a food shop near the Grotte di Castellana, and thought that the large one, which is for pappardelle, would also be handy when you are making the criss-cross pastry for a pie to get consistent strands. I paid €7 for the four, which was a steal, and lucky I did as I did not see them again except for in Materia, where the guy wanted €8 each!

I bought a little book of classic Puglia recipes. Like most Italian cookbooks the details are fairly light and in some parts there are no specific quantities, it will be trial and error.

These are “proper” moulds for pasticciotti, a delicious Puglian custard tart. I tried to make these and did buy moulds here a while ago but they weren’t exactly the right shape. Now that I have these and have also finally gotten to try a few authentic versions of pasticciotti, I will tweak my recipe and make them again.

Of course I had to get some orecchiette, these ones are squid ink and truffle flavour. The Nonna’s in “nonna alley” in Bari told me that they only use semola rimacinata to make them, not flour. I had this amazing squid ink orecchiette dish with tuna at a restaurant in Monopoli, one of the best pasta dishes I’ve ever eaten, and I want to try and replicate it.

And these are taralli; we were given a basket of these to munch on when we sat down at every place we ate at before ordering. Looking at them I thought they would be hard but they are feather light and delicious. They are made with white wine.

In between checking out of the first place we stayed at in Monopoli and checking into the second place in Cutrofiano, I thought it would a great chance to take a detour to Grottaglie, a small town in Puglia highly famed for ceramics. There were some amazing studios with beautiful pieces. At Nicola Fasano’s studio we bought this pretty plate, and The Marito picked up these four small cups for espresso. I have my eye on a dinner set; they happily ship to Australia.

In Cutrofiano, the town of our masseria, Fratelli Coli also have a large studio with indoor and outdoor ceramics. I bought some little trays, and we loved these giant oversized mugs.

In my kitchen are a couple of baking products that I often see in Italian recipes from the very entrenched Italian baking brand Paneangeli.  We get some of their products in Australia but not the full range.

Barilla have a range of pasta called Emiliane which I haven’t seen in Australia, it is made with egg instead of water. I thought this little square shape was very cute and had to buy a packet. I will use it in some soup.

After Puglia, we went to Florence. The Lindt store there had so many products you could take home to make which I haven’t seen here – chocolate cake mix, mousse, muffin mix and many more. The Small People are rather partial to hot chocolate so I bought a packet of it. I also bought the Lindt competitor to Nutella – it’s claim to fame is that unlike Nutella, it does not contain any palm oil. I noticed that several products in Italy had highlighted on the packaging “no palm oil” so it must be fairly topical there. The verdict – absolutely delicious.  Not as sweet, great texture and a much more pronounced hazelnut flavour, with 40% hazelnuts versus Nutella’s 13%.

In my kitchen are lots of truffle goodies also bought in Florence – truffle oil (which actually has a sliver of truffle in it), truffle salt, truffle salsa, and a truffle and parmesan spread which is ridiculously good.

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