Tuesday, September 25, 2012

On a lighter note...

Lighter, mentally.  Calorically, not at all.

It is the return of the muffin season, and they are joined by a new invention - the peanut butter nutella muffin.  Mmm.

Muffin assortment

Caramelized apple muffin

Peanut butter and Nutella muffin

Oozy pb and nutella filling

post flood fears

This season has been a hard one, but it's flown by.  The flood, at times, seems like it happened years instead of months ago.  Explaining what happened here in Monterosso in the short period of time you have to interact with a table dining has gotten down to an art form.  Everything has reopened, bright and shiny and new, and the wood planks on Via Roma have worked their way into normality.  The last little lonely sandbag sits forgotten on the stairs up to the apartment.  Living in it, working through it - the disaster and subsequent recovery happened so mind-shatteringly fast that it seems almost like it was a nightmare, a foggy, muddy dream, and one long ago in the past.
Then it rains, and the eyes that saw those same waters run down the streets in town look up to the mountains cautiously.  Wood planks, stored away but still close by, close with authoritative and final sounding thuds over new doors and windows.  Rain boots come out.  And we nervously gather under overhangs, eves, and archways hoping that the rain passes quickly.

Today, it was a grey, windy, rainy day that started out with a strong wind that work me up to take the laundry in, like that fateful day in October.  I woke up to news that a freak rockslide on the Via Dell'Amore had left the trail closed and several tourists with severe injuries in the hospital, as they were rescued and airlifted there.  I went to Levanto to buy some groceries and snacks for Manuel, stopping to exchange the usual - I can't believe what happened on the trail today - then came back to run to the bank before work.  Walking up Via Roma, I opened my umbrella.  There were people still eating outside, hoods up on their jackets, plates steaming with food that was contrasting sharply with the humidity of the coming storm and the black clouds forming over the hills.

The rain started to fall hard, fast and the gutters started running off like fountains.  The water rushed under the canals, the open grates of the newly rebuilt streets slippery.  Hiding in the archway on Via Roma across from Hotel Margherita, one of the hardest hit in the flood, I sat waiting out the storm with Manu's cousin and some other boys from town, as well as a few visitors.  An umbrella was rendered useless and all there was to do was wait.  We laughed at the inconvenience, but there was an unspoken but noted undercurrent of tension.  Someone wiped a stray tear.  Those who weren't here last year looked down to the sea.  Those who were looked up to the mountains, and the start of the street that had been turned into a swirling current of mud, water and destruction so quickly last October.  Manu called me, hysterical learning where I was.  As we all discussed going up to the apartment of Manuel's cousin, on the top floor and right there, the rain let up.  After 15 minutes, I was able to start to walk  back towards the Cantina.  I wasn't the only one shaken up - stores boarded up, closed, people immediately went home.  A lady next to me mused, perplexed, that it wasn't that bad.  I almost laughed out loud.  The whole day took a strange feel afterwards, as the sun pushed through the black sky and shone bright and hot over the sea.  People played in the water.  Wanted to eat outside.  I wanted to close and go home.  When I say the weather changes quickly here, I'm not exaggerating.  I went from 15 minutes of nervous, incredible rain, to sun and shaken villagers.  

We laughed off our nerves, but at the same time, no one needed to make excuses or apologies for frantic phone calls, barking orders, and generally freaking out for what turned out to be - thankfully - nothing.  We were full for dinner inside and outside, and no one seemed to notice that we were all a little rattled.  Until, when we closed tonight, we broke out our wooden planks and sandbags, and for the first time this season, closed them over the Cantina.  Lessons learned.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

che sfortuna!

Wednesday, again, is the ONLY rainy day of the week.  Sunny skies all 6 days, but for our one day off, we wake up to this big old cloud hanging over our little village.

Greek food it is.

Friday, September 14, 2012

How Cilantro Saved a Rainy Wednesday

September, for many tourist destinations in Italy, means the end of the season.  As I'd cautioned our staff, all of whom are new to working and living here, September means we work.  Hard.  Dinner is early, and we run around like crazy people for 3 hours then close up around midnight.  It's a tough adjustment for some, who were expecting the season to feel like it's finishing up, when instead they lament about working harder now then in August.  For me, it's wonderful speaking English to everybody and not feeling like a big American accent is clouding my every phrase in Italian.  Also, the temperature is in the 70's, the water is clear, the breeze is soft and the sky is full of soft clouds that make for amazing sunsets.
However, these clouds decided to empty on the past two Wednesdays, much to our misfortune.  Two rainy days off in a row mean that we got (I got) the ironing done, laundry done, caught up on movies, slept a little, and cooked.  A trip to La Spezia last Friday to help a friend getting married out with some document signing (you need to bring witnesses with you to do these things), meant I could stop by my favorite little market to ask about my favorite little herb.  The shopkeeper knows me by now, as I'm certainly the only American girl coming once a week to ask for cilantro, and his face lit up when I opened the door.

"We have it!", and hurried to get me the remaining 3 bunches.  Apparently, the cooler temperatures mean not only better beach days and happier tourists, but cilantro growing weather.  With my huge bag of cilantro, I headed home.  And when rainy Wednesday number 2 came, I whipped up every cilantro dish I could think of.

For lunch, soba noodles with avocado and a sesame, lime, cilantro dressing.  For dinner, Indian, with chana masala, baingan bharta, and a cooling raita sauce to cut the heavy hand I have with chili.

And for snack, just to keep with the theme of things Italians don't eat, peanut butter cookies.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Anchovy Adventures: Bagnun chapter

Hello, my anchovy friends
A few weeks ago, we ate dinner at a friend's restaurant in Levanto, and I was introduced to a anchovy "soup" called bagnun.  I glared at Manuel across the table, convinced he was holding out a regional dish that combined two of my favorite things - anchovies and soup - from me, but he had never eaten it.  It was another reminder of how though these tiny Riviera villages are linked easily and quickly by train, this is, historically speaking, a new thing, and dishes and even language might still be rooted in the villages they originated in.
Sauteeing onions and garlic is one of the best smells in the world.
And Vetua is my new favorite Cinque Terre white wine.
Bagnun is a dish with origins a bit further northwest then Monterosso, in Sestri Levante, and the nearby village of Riva Trigoso has hosted a festival to celebrate this humble fisherman's dish for several decades now.  The dish was born on small sailboats called leudi, which were tiny enough to be able to be pulled into the villages off the shore when the weather got rough, but still large enough to host sails to pick up the famous winds in the region, especially the winds of Sestri Levante (you might remember my post a few weeks back about the windy seaside town).
Bagnun in action
Obviously, in order to cook a soup on a tiny sailboat centuries back, it has to be something relatively foolproof, with few ingredients easy to come by.  Following this rule of Ligurian cuisine, this dish contains anchovies, wine, tomatoes, onions, garlic, salt, olive oil, parsley, and old bread or hard seabiscuits if you are actually attempting to cook this at sea.  Without a Ligurian grandma (Manuel's grandma, born in Corniglia, raised in Vernazza, and now Monterossina for the last over 60 years, had no idea how to make it, but told me to just put the ingredients in a pot and cook them) to call upon to help me with the dish, I searched through books and websites until I got the basic idea, and then followed her wise advice: get the basics down then stop measuring.  Add the ingredients in quantities until it tastes good.
The garlic and onions are sauteed in a tegame, or a small, high walled pot to hold the liquid.  When they are nice and browned, but not burnt, white wine is added and then the alcohol simmered off.  Fresh tomatoes are added, salt, more wine and a small glass of water, and the mixture is brought again to a simmer.  Then, fresh anchovies are put in and the mixture is simmered and gently stirred so as to keep the anchovies whole. until the little silver fish are opaque and cooked through.  A hefty handful of parsley, and the soup is served with toasted bread, old crumbled bread, old biscuits or anything else that works to sop up the broth.

Bagnun, buon appetito!
With this light wind and sprinkling of rain every few days, soup is wonderful - and with anchovies, even better.