Italy

Super Slutty Spaghetti alla Puttanesca


Good news folks! My urge to play in the kitchen has returned, and, given the blog needs a top up of tasty coupled with a spot of scintillation, here's the perfect combo - Spaghetti alla Puttanesca. It's my 'when' dish. When there's a chill in the air, when time is poor, when a robust red deserves a tasty counterpart, when loved ones suddenly lob and need feeding. Been a number of 'when's lately. Wins too. A friend recently exclaiming 'this recipe's going straight to the blog'! Right said I, for who can resist a quick and tasty, easy on the waistline dish that can be knocked up in 10 minutes from mere pantry staples when one's too lazy to trawl the supermarket?

'Slut's Spaghetti', 'Working Girl's Pasta', 'Prostitute's Pasta' - so what's in a name?

Puttanesca has a sauce base of capers, olives and tomatoes and is usually served with spaghetti in a dish known as 'whore-style pasta'. Nigella calls her version 'Slut's Spaghetti', Jamie's recipe titled 'Working Girl's Pasta'. 'The name 'Prostitute's Pasta' originating from folk-law claiming the savvy Puttanas (prostitute in Italian) made the quick and easy pasta sauce to minimise down time between clients. Others say the robust aromas of the dish were designed to entice clients into the house of ill repute. A less audacious version indicating the sauce was created by a chef who had a volume of guests arrive at his restaurant late one night just as he was about to close and, not having enough of any one ingredient to make a meal for them all, pulled everything from the kitchen together to make this legendary Italian pasta sauce.

My favourite theory? Tongue in cheek, LV Anderson (Prostitutes have nothing to do with it) says Italians use puttana (and related words) almost the way we use shit, as an all-purpose profanity, so pasta alla puttanesca might just have originated with someone saying, “I just threw a bunch of shit from the cupboard into a pan.”

The origins of its name might be debatable but one thing's for certain - it really does make an easy, quick, cheap and delicious pasta sauce! And seriously, who can resist a dish with such a shady title? Here's my version. Enjoy!

Need:

  • 400 g dried spaghetti (or linguini)
  • olive oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled and finely sliced (avoid using a garlic crusher for finely crushed garlic will burn before absorbing the aromatics)
  • 3 anchovy fillets, roughly chopped
  • 1 small Chorizo sausage, roughly chopped (optional)
  • tablespoon tomato puree
  • a small handful of salted capers, rinsed and drained; or brine version, drained
  • 1-2 fresh red chillies, sliced (seeds in if you like it hot, hot, hot, out if you like it mild)
  • a small handful of black and/or green Sicilian olives, de-stoned
  • 2 handfuls very ripe cherry tomatoes, halved
  • a small bunch of fresh basil, leaves picked
  • Parmesan cheese, to serve

 Do:

  1. Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil, then add the spaghetti and cook according to packet instructions.
  2. Meanwhile, place a large frying pan over a medium–high heat. Add a good lug of olive oil, followed by the garlic, anchovy, chorizo, capers, chilli and tomato puree. Tear in the olives and stir for 2 minutes, or until the garlic starts to turn golden and the anchovies start melting.
  3. Add the cherry tomatoes, a good splash of pasta water and cover with a lid. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes, or until the cherry tomatoes start to cook down slightly.
  4. Drain the pasta, reserving a cupful of the cooking water.
  5. Add the basil to the sauce along with the pasta and a splash of the reserved cooking water, to loosen.
  6. Taste and season if needed.
  7. Transfer to a serving platter and top with a good shaving of fresh Parmesan and Basil leaves.
  8. Reap accolades while smiling to self 'prostitutes be damned'
Recipe based on Jamie Oliver's Gennaro's Spaghetti Alla Puttnesca

On Italians, Tiramisu…and Grappa

This time last year…

I’m standing on the edge of a cliff, freshly plucked sweet crimson cherries in hand, gazing at sun sparkles shimmering across a breathtakingly azure ocean and clear blue sky, and squinting to identify where the two actually meet. Grappa impaired vision.

The small terra cotta and mustard hued fishing village surrounded by heavy grape vines and silvery olive trees below looks to relinquish its tenuous grip on the valley and tumble into that ocean. A number of villas actually did in the Autumn of 2011when flash flooding tore through the township consuming everything in its path to the sea. You’d never know it today though. Stoic folk these Ligurians…good thing that Grappa.

Behind me, nestling beneath a burgeoning Cherry tree, sits il Ciliegio (‘il Ciliegio’ translates to ‘the cherry tree’), a quaint little restaurant lovingly tended by a welcoming family who’ve just taught me how to cook five delectable Ligurian dishes. Each course consumed with great gusto and washed down with Prosecco, Frascati, Chianti, Sciacchetra (a delicate sweet wine from the region) and finished with a rich espresso….and Grappa.

As the last sediment of city deadline driven tension dissolves I smile and whisper to myself…’girlfriend you’ve made it!’ The Italian Riviera. The Cinque Terra. Monterosso al Mare…your new home! My gracious hosts are chortling for I’m also squealing ‘bello! magnifico! splendido!’ Damn Grappa mouth. Here’s one of those recipes…Grappa optional!

Tiramisu (the Ligurian way)

Need:

500g mascarpone cheese
4 eggs
Zest – thick strips of the surface of one lemon
4 tablespoons sugar
Coffee
Savoyard (lady finger) biscuits
Cocoa or shaved dark chocolate for dusting

Do:

• Separate eggs
• Beat the 4 yolks with the sugar and strips of lemon zest until light and fluffy (the zest removes the ‘eggy’ taste, remove it and discard after beating)
• Add mascarpone and incorporate well
• Beat egg whites until soft peaks form
• Fold egg whites into the mix, stir gently
• Prepare strong black coffee
• Reserve six of the Savoyard biscuits
• Break two Savoyard fingers each into the bottom of six individual glasses
• Soak the biscuit in each glass with two tablespoons of coffee
• Top with the mascarpone cream
• Liberally dust with cocoa or shards of dark chocolate
• Insert the remaining Savoyard finger
• Serve with espresso and dessert liqueur of choice.

Grappa – an alcoholic beverage, fragrant, grape-based pomace brandy of Italian origin that contains 35%–60% alcohol by volume. (Wikipedia) Damn Grappa!

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Oops I found Manarola…

Confession. Took a train ride between villages without a ticket! It was a ticket machine malfunction officer.

La Spezia to the first of the five villages of the Cinque Terre – Riomaggiore, Vernazza, Corniglia, Monterosso and later, on to Genoa. Meanwhile just one last village to conquer…Manarola.

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20130822-114204.jpg20130822-114357.jpgThe ‘Via dell’Amore‘ was closed due to rock slides. A shame. The Lovers Walk, a narrow pathway linking Riomaggiore and Manarola, clings precariously to the rocky cliffs along the ocean front and provides the perfect platform for viewing spectacularly romantic sunsets. Hence the name.

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20130822-114844.jpgThe village, again tucked into a tiny crevice has quaint lanes so narrow, the jumble of tall buildings clinging one atop the other almost touch, held strong only by random stone archways. Cool, dark and perfect for dodging the drips from washing strung high above, smiling at Nona’s sweeping doorsteps and searching for the little surprises that whisper of the village personality.

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Emerge at the top of the main thoroughfare, quick glance in the local church, light a candle then on down the promenade past the same linens, lemons and lazy diners as the other villages, and on to the harbor.

20130822-114636.jpgQuaint, sheltered between large jagged rock formations, smeared with bright towels and sunbathers and topped with teens daring to dive into deliciously cool water between rowboats of softy hued blue yellow and red. They do, to the raucous cheers of folk lining the narrow side steps leading to the cliff walks.

Continuing around one of the cliff paths, discover a whole other little world tucked in behind steeper rock formations, again hosting swimmers as well as a number of large yachts anchored in the still waters.

20130822-114928.jpgExhausting the camera’s battery, indulge in a Ligurian style pasta brimming with seafood followed by a tiny scoop of Lemon Gelato then, with a satisfied smile, slip discreetly into a tourist wave and back onto the train.

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And thus concludes my dreamy days in the Cinque Terre…have I inspired you?

Stay tuned for the French Riviera!

Bragging rights in Riomaggiore…

OK! Gonna brag. No. Not the Instagram ‘here are my red lacquered toe nails on a beach in the Bahamas’ kind of brag. No. This is the ‘here are my Coral lacquered toe nails on a sunny terrace overlooking the magnificent Mediterranean’.

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My new home for 7 days is a small studio with a big view, sitting atop a steep winding road just above the castle behind which sloping steps sweep back down to join the start of Via Colombo, the main thoroughfare that leads down to the harbor.

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Riomaggiore doesn’t have quite the same ‘distressed’ antiquity as Vernazza and Monterosso; more fresh paintwork, wider walkways, yet the same tall houses resting against each other like drunken sailors in shades of terra cotta, soft pink and dusty green complemented with moss green shutters, washing lines and flower pots bursting Geraniums. But where are the cats?

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Via Colombo is steep and wide, two or three deep steps down the sides into shops serving fried seafood cones, pizza squares and colorful gelato; Italian linen shirts, sarongs and sunscreens, Limoncello, local wines and home made pasta. As well, little bistros and restaurants, some with outdoor elevated seating. Still haven’t found a cat.

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The road slides to a halt at the tunnel junction – to the right a very long one lined with a beautiful ocean blue mosaic leading to the train station and to the left down steps and under the railway tunnel to the harbor, ferry access and beach.

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The harbor is a sheltered enclave much like Manarola, smaller than Vernazza and crowded with colourful little boats and mossy rocks upon which bathers recline. The tiny crescent beach, accessible via a path carved into the cliff face, has bigger pebbles, smaller space and is wall to wall sunbathers, some attempting to wobble across unsteady terrain into water so crystal clear it belies the depth. A good thing for kids are diving in off the cliff. Easier and much less embarrassing access than the pebble wobble but I ain’t gonna try it. No cats.

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Unlike Vernazza there’s an absence of cats. Like Vernazza there’s the presence of church bells. Right below my door. Thankfully someone sent the memo…keep it down will you? Jane’s in residence.

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Coming soon: Another, possibly fateful, definitely horrendously steep walk from here to Manarola. Fortifying strength as we speak with a pleasant little local (wine that is) over another spectacular sunset. Oops! There I go again….

The thrill of a shrine find..

From the simplest to the most elaborate, there are countless shrines peppered throughout Italy – on exterior walls, in Grottos in the squares, along obscure pathways and by busy main thoroughfare. I love the thrill of finding them. Each one unique in both detail and the loving and devout attention bestowed upon them. Most I’ve found so far have been devoted to the Virgin Mary though various saints are also honored. I am now on a mission to capture more…meanwhile enjoy!

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Corniglia and cactus toes

Cactus!

That’s what I am, cactus! Don’t you love that expression? Just trekked 4k up mountains, past cactus, through olive groves and down dales then back up more mountains to the dear little cliff-top dwelling village of Corniglia. A pathway so well travelled the erratically placed stones are shiny with wear, or is that sweat?

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Breathtaking! And I’m not talking view. Though you will see that was quite spectacular by the photos, taken at intervals, for self assurance really. Over there on that distant mountain the reward awaits! Of the alcoholic kind.

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Meanwhile Germans with thick brown ankles, backpacks and ski poles are zooming by. A clutch of teens in thongs (Jandals/Flipflops for the non Aussies) are literally skipping up the path chattering away without even drawing breath. With no breath to draw of my own I bleat ‘Ciao!’ No niceties today. I pretend I’m Bear Grylls. Invincible. Nope. Not working.

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Stagger over the threshold of what I assume to be the start of the village, thrusting fist in air in defiance, I am champion!!

The rocky song running through my head I look around for a can of Solo to throw over my face and ‘slam down fast’, just to lend weight to triumph. And then I see the sign. ‘Congratulations! Your half way there’.

 

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Was it worth it? Absolutely! Did I reward myself? Yup! With a double raspberry Frappe, don’t really like Solo! The alcohol? Well that will be my reward for floating down the 450 steps to the train station on the other side of the village without once smugly telling the tourists gasping for breath as they climb heavenward…’Congratulations! Ya half way there mate!’

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Oh Vernazza…how I love thee

Utilizing ancient crumbling cliff top fortifications to stow and revere the dead? Honoring them with the most spectacular view the village has to offer? Keeping their feet dry to be sure. The view from the window of my latest digs, tucked in midway up the Doria Castle, spreads across the whole lower village; its cliff side protection striated with grape vines and olive and fruit groves, tacked on and shackled thanks to dry rock walls held strong by an agricultural history that, day by day is sadly succumbing to abandonment for the more alluring tourist dollar. And right up there at the top, in the most prime real estate, sits again, a cemetery.

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The vista personifies exactly what one would expect of an authentic fishing village. Population 1,000; founded around 1080AD, originally a maritime base, later a fortification against Pirates and with a solid little rock protected harbor full of colorful little boats (and swimmers too, the water’s divine). Just one major thoroughfare, the Via Roma is strung with massive daisy shaped fairy lights and lined with bistrot, bars and pizzerias and the usual touristy lures, paralleled by narrow lane-ways between the multi story, multi colored villas. And then there’s the tiniest beach tucked in right behind the peninsula, access via a cave.

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20130801-102333.jpg20130801-102535.jpgTourists swamp the place by day but most disperse to the bigger villages in the eve leaving room for the dedicated, the locals and the lights of the restaurants lining the harbor to sparkle across water the color of ink.

Vernazza suffered the same fate as Monterosso in the 2011 flash flooding, here a 4 meter deep mud slide all but destroying yet saved by  the strength and character of the locals who simply and steadfastly got on with reparations. You would never know were it not for the engineers working on the water walls above the village given each of the Terre except for Corniglia sit over a watercourse, the sacrifice of nestling between protective cliffs. The locals’ tenacity reminds me of the willful ‘fuck you floods!’ attitude Brisbanites displayed earlier the same year.

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20130801-102731.jpgAs for the color of the octagonal bell tower above the quaint little church off to the side of the square with its slate scalloped dome? It variegates from a rich king island cream at sunrise to a soft dusky rose as twilight settles. Ah! proprio bella!

I love that tower.

It’s chimes shake me awake each morning!

Twice over!

Da bells! Da bells!

Geez!

 

Castrums, Neptune and a votiveship

Conquered! Finally found the narrow stairway* up to the Capuchin Monastery and the medieval castrum that’s since been incorporated into the current cemetery, up there on the mountain side opposite my abode. Worth it? Yessir! And the view? Breathtaking!

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And did you know this dear little Monterosso al Mare village (my current abode and one of the five Cinque Terre villages) actually dates back to Roman times? And the castrum began its defense role in the early 7th century?

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Also checked in on the remnants of the Giant Neptune bearing on his shoulder an enormous shell which was originally, would you believe, a dance stage? Unfortunately WW2 bombings and later, heavy seas, extensively damaged both. He sits above the Fegina beach next to the little harbor in the new town.

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New town? Well the village is spread over two inlets. In that of the Bruanco River, to the East, there is the historical core, while the settlement located in the inlet of Fegina, to the West, there’s the more recently developed ‘new town’. Both have beaches, unique to Monterosso, and thus are layered with deck-chairs, umbrellas and tourists.

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Population 2,000, tucked into the tiny alleys and stairways…plus volumes of tourists, the majority being village day trippers and sun seekers. Few penetrate as far as my eerie; deservedly if they do for they are demonstrating admirable ‘buns of steel’.

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The historic village is heavy on places of worship and despite atheist tendencies, can’t help but be impressed by their history, humbleness and majesty. There’s the Church of San Giovanni Battista of the Gothic-Genovese style, dating back to 1244 with a proud steeple made of green stone and which originally served as a sentinel. The oratory ‘Mortis et Orationis’ (Death and Prayer) which is of the Baroque style and then there’s my favorite, the miniature oratory of ‘Santa Crose’.

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Why my fave? Well there’s a dear little wooden ship suspended from the ceiling (known as a ‘Votiveship’; a handmade offering of thanksgiving from grateful sailors or fishermen for safe voyages) which reminds me of Telly. There’s the ever so kitsch sparkling halo the Virgin Mary’s sporting which makes me grin out loud. And then there’s the towering organ above the entrance which reminds me of my late Grandpa (a magnificent church organist). When resting in one of the pews there today, I could almost swear I heard him whisper…now that’s an organ worth playing my pet! Darling Pa? I suspect you already have.

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*Many of the Cinque Terre walks have been closed for maintenance or repair including the lover’s walk after several people were injured as a result of a land slide.image

Stay tuned for notes from Vernazza!

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