Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Sweet and spicy

Anyone who has been reading for a while knows that July and August are incredibly busy here.  I do my best to post something every now and again, but as most of my time is spent in the Cantina, I don't find myself having very much to say (a least, nothing particularly interesting, apart from the normal restaurant stories about people being crazy and so forth...) but I do have some time to throw together some kitchen experiments every now and again.

Cooking is how I relax.  It also stems from a deep loathing of throwing any perfectly good food away.  When the four hot pepper plants on my garden started all sprouting shiny, temptingly dangerous red peppers in small orbs or long, thin fingers at the same time, I panicked.  What does one do with so many hot peppers at the same time?

From the left in the photo above, we have hot pepper infused olive oil, middle, pickled cucumbers and hot peppers, and then, on the right, my first attempt ever at making homemade hot sauce.  I will not traumatize anyone by posting the recipe, which is actually too hot even for me.  It's made with fresh nectarine and these little calabrian hot peppers no longer then your little finger that will literally have you tearing up after just one seed.  Lessons learned.  

However, my newest step into desserts turned out much better.  With the overflow of nectarines and golden plums we have at home, as well as more kumquats from our little garden, I put together a pannacotta of greek yogurt and vanilla topped with the summer fruit I had in the house.  The pannacotta recipe is from one of my absolute favorite food blogs, Smitten Kitchen.  Pannacotta, which means literally "cooked cream" is just that.  Cook it on the stovetop, add some gelatin, pop it in the fridge for a few hours, and eat away.  I added a bit more sugar, a drizzle of vanilla and a few extra squeezes of local lemon to the recipe before letting it chill - but it's quite literally the easiest dessert I've ever made, and another great way to use up the abundance of stone fruits that I can't help buying during the summer.

Also, it's a great way to cool off my burned tastebuds after that hot sauce...

Thursday, July 11, 2013

little pieces of real life

Preparing the anchovies for salting
Sometimes during the summer months of July and August, it's hard to see the quaintness and small pieces of daily life that go on as normal in the village.  Monterosso al Mare is unbelievably tiny, and when people come in for the day, filling the streets, beaches, snapping pictures and then trickling out to get on the boat or train to the next village, it can sometimes feel like tourists are all that make up the town.

Then, you turn left down a small street and see women from the village preparing fresh anchovies to be put under salt, in the traditional way the villagers have been preserving their most famous fish for centuries.
Salting stand

Punta mesco from the sea
You rent a paddleboat, and in a few minutes, are far from the crowded shore, full of umbrellas fanning out in bright colors setting off a backdrop of the clear blue sea.  You look to the left, and it's just flat ocean - to the right, the protected marine area the runs alongside Punta Mesco, the mountain the looks down over the village.  Rocks meet waves, and underneath the water, you can see fish happily going about their day, a jellyfish bobbing lazily in the waves, and even a lone swimmer joining in on the peaceful fun.  Turning back towards the village, it seems like a long, narrow stretch of color built into an impossible nook where the mountains meet the sea.  Another boat rides lazily by, waving and smiling as the fisherman squints into the sun.

Turning around, sailing

Looking back towards home - literally.  My house is high up on the left.
back towards the village, Monterosso again grows and fills up your vision.  Sounds of laughter, cars, a ferry boat gearing up to make it's next round fill your ears.  But if you close your eyes, you can still hear the water.  If you go a few minutes out, you can reflect back on what you see from far away, it's uniqueness, it's beauty.

And if you make a left instead of a right, you can always find a scene of real life in what is still a very real, very small fishing village.

Friday, July 5, 2013

stacanza is staycation in italian

picturesque, iconic Portofino
I've lamented before how sometimes it is incredibly hard to get up the willpower on our beloved and treasured day off to leave the village.  For me, it's hard but for Manu, it's like pulling teeth.  Like ironing, if you will.  Another sore point, but that is, as usual, another story.
San Fruttuoso
The abbey and tower of San Fruttuoso
Since hearing about the firework spectacular in Rapallo that coincides with Montallegro, I've been nagging, pleading and planning for us to go.  Manu agreed, and as the day approached, we were both really excited to get out of this one streetlight town.

So blue

The abbey

Ships at sea

Close to the shore of Santa Margherita Ligure

The bay at San Fruttuoso

A replica of the famous Christ lowered down into the sea
We left Tuesday after work quite late, giving us a full day in one of my favorite Riviera towns, Rapallo.  It's very 50's, Riviera-Sophia Loren on a cherry red Vespa with big sunglasses-Elizabeth Taylor on a yacht feeling, with a tree lined promenade at the sea side and a gorgeous old castle looking out into the gulf.  Rapallo celebrates their patron in serious style, with a 3 day festival celebrating the first apparition of the Virgin Mary to a probably very scared farmer in the mountains outside of the village (my favorite cable car spot, the Sanctuary of Montallegro).
One neighborhood's offerings for the nightly dinner

Another neighborhood showing their pride
Lining up to eat in the third section of the town
As we were able to get ourselves up early enough, we took the easy ferry from Rapallo to Portofino, taking a stroll around the mega-yacht clustered harbor littered with more name brands then 5th Avenue and enjoying the spotty sun.  I'd been there before, but it always surprises me how little so many people have seen of the area they live in - it was Manu's first time in one of the most iconic and famous places on the Riviera.  We hopped back on our happily deserted boat and sailed off to a huge checkpoint on my list of things to see in Liguria, the abbey of San Fruttuoso.  The abbey was built in the late 900's, and the newer tower followed in the 1500's.  These two form a structure that lies in the foot of the mountains of the Portofino regional natural park, nestled into a little bay with a tiny beach and the clearest, most shockingly blue water I've ever seen.  Accessible only by ferry or by a hiking path littered with mountain goats who might be more suited to it then humans (especially clumsy American girls), the hamlet is pleasantly deserted and forms an incredibly scenic and special day at the beach.  The clear water of the Ligurian sea also holds another amazing treasure on this part of the coast- a bronze statue of Christ, arms widespread in a greeting of prayer and welcome, lies sunken in the depths of the ocean.  This Christ of the Abiss can be seen from fishing boats as the water is so clear, but scuba trips and boat rides can be arraigned during the on-season months.  For those of us more content to imagine, there is a replica of the famous statue in the chapel in the abbey, a monument to those who have lost their lives at sea.

The procession of the Madonna through the town before the show starts
After a beautiful day spent as tourists snapping pictures, we returned to Rapallo for the last night of their festival.  Like in other Italian towns, they pit the sections of the town against each other.  Each neighborhood dresses in designated colors, and blocks of sections of the seafront promenade where they prepare local dishes and competitively eye the lines and the other neighborhood booths.  Every year, one section is designated as responsible for honoring their patron, but on the last night the fireworks take the show.  Three different shows light up the sky, one for each of the neighborhoods in Rapallo, but what really drops your jaw is the amazing burning of the castle.  Rapallo's old sentinel is laced in flames and lights, shooting colors and white lights after the neighborhoods salute each other by firing fireworks, sounding off their presence.  It's an incredible show.

Fireworks lighting up the gulf, and a castle on fire
Last night, I realized that even in my little slice of Liguria, I was celebrating the fourth of July with fireworks just the same - with a castle burning to boot.  Sometimes, a vacation, even for just a day, can make you feel all the more at home.