Hey, Where Did The Time Go

Summer Sagras and Other Distractions

Hey, where did the time go?

My last post was at the start of summer and we’re now here on the edge of wintertime.

Not good enough I hear you say, and I agree. I looked at my blog last week and I got started almost a year ago. I was full of enthusiasm of how great it would be telling you all about living in Italy-

Well it isn’t that good really, mainly because I’ve had a lot of distractions and I travel in the summer and there are tons of events on in this area of Tuscany. We have sagras where we all flock to local venues such as school play grounds, sports fields or church gardens or land, where we eat good, simple meals prepared using wonderfully fresh, seasonal local ingredients. Top that with lashings of local and cheap wine or prosecco, a band and dancing and you’ve got a fun evening.

These sagras normally pay homage to a certain food such as polenta or pork or chestnuts but generally you go and eat a good plate of pasta, a second course and a pudding. Who could ask for more on a balmy summer evening!

 

 

 

sagras in Italy

So, back to my blog, I have decided to be myself and to share my experiences properly. I’m off to Milan for a few days next week so I’ll be reporting on my trip there.

Other up and coming events include the Christmas markets at Florence, oh and the chocolate festival, yet again, from Barga!

Sagra in Tuscany

Trattoria da Ubaldo – Lucca

Had a great evening recently at the Trattoria da Ubaldo in Lucca.

It’s a quirky place which is found in the street that runs around the back of the perimeter of the anfiteatro (amphitheatre) dating back to Roman times.

I didn’t know what to expect at this restaurant owned by eccentric Frank Zappa look-alike, Ubaldo.

Trattoria da Ubaldo Lucca

On arrival, I was delighted to be greeted by the host and taken to our table.

The restaurant is full of amusing references to horror. A coffin is suspended over the entrance and there are toys in various states of added or removed limbs, rather like Toy Story as well as skulls on the fridge, upside down Christmas tree and an array of cazzi (look that one up yourselves!). Oh by the way, it is usually full of local diners so you know you are getting a good deal!

Now, this restaurant is very meaty and not really very good for vegetarians but, as a ‘pescatarian’, Ubaldo had made some fish dishes for us to eat.

The first was a fish soup. Delicious and full of flavour and extremely filling. The second was an octopus sauce, spicy and for my tastes a little salty but still good and served with polenta. I also add that while I found this dish salty, my Italian friend found it very spicy and hot.

Now at this stage I was full to the brim but I forced down a pudding of pear and chocolate in a filo pastry.

We washed the meal down with a bottle of Ubaldo wine, and finished with coffee and limoncello.

The price was good for what we ate and yes I would go back.

 

Delicious Italian Food – Pappa al Pomodoro

This is a delicious tomato dish that costs very little, uses up some stale bread and is filling and warming.

  • 300 g stale Italian style bread
  • 800 g ripe tomatoes or tomato passata
  • 1 lt vegetable stock
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 sprig of basil
  • 1 tsp of fine sugar
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt
  • Pepper

Thinly slice the bread and bake for a few minutes at 200 degrees on a baking tray with baking paper. Set aside to cool.

Peel the garlic cloves and rub them on the bread and cut the bread into pieces.

If using fresh tomatoes, you should blanch them and remove the skin and seeds.  Roughly chop them.

Warm some extra virgin olive oil in a pan and add the garlic used to flavour the bread. Add the toasted bread pieces.

Add the chopped tomatoes or the tomato passata.

Add the stock which should be boiling, so that it covers the toasted bread and ad a pinch of sugar.

Add some chopped basil to taste and cook over a low heat for 40 minutes gradually adding the remaining stock, stirring occasionally.

Remove from the heat when cooked and serve garnished with basil.

This dish is warming in winter but can be served at room temperature in the summer when it is a refreshing snack.

For more flavour you can soften some onion and celery before adding the tomatoes although this as a modern addition to the recipe.

The garlic can be removed if added whole or, you can finely chop it before adding it for a stronger flavour.

After serving olive oil can be added to the bowl to taste before eating.

The traditional Tuscan way of eating this dish is from an earthenware bowl.

Italian food

 

 

White Eating

One thing I have learned in all my years living here in Italy is that the Italians have a cure for everything. Food here is so important. Discussions can be heard about where you  can eat well (si mangia bene) or not and if you don’t then that eating place is to be avoided at all costs.

You won’t be surprised to learn that at the slightest feeling of not being quite right, maybe a slight bloating, an unsettled stomach or just feeling out of sorts, then the Italians have a foodie cure. They resort to eating in white.

No, that’s not dressing up in your best white clothes for every meal. Eating in white means eating bland white coloured food. Bread or plain pasta with a touch of oil. Parmesan cheese, also white, is considered excellent for health so you can eat this with your pasta or alone for best benefits.

Italian bread recipes

 

Things to be avoided:

Tea – it makes you agitated.

Peppers in the evening – they can’t be digested.

Too much of anything, the Italians are extremely cautious about eating and do everything in moderation.

Things to be encouraged:

Everything in moderation.

Pasta.

Parmesan.

Lemon.

Olive oil.

Bread and almost anything cooked in a wood oven!

 

 

Chocolate – Italian Style

Chocolate Italian style. Health benefits of chocolate

 

I’ve just got back from the annual chocolate festival in our local town. Handmade chocolate goodies, dark chocolate, milk chocolate, white chocolate, with nuts, with fruit, lollipops, everything a true choc fan could ever dream of.

Best of all though, for me anyway, is the hot chocolate,Italian style. If you’ve never tasted that dense, chocolatey heaven in a cup topped with a dollop of sweet whipped cream, you haven’t lived. It’s just the thing to warm you up on a cold, frosty day. Better in moderation not every day.

That said though, a little chocolate every day has health benefits. Only dark chocolate though.

Did you know that a 100 gram bar of dark chocolate with a content of 70-85% cocoa has:

67% of the RDA for Iron.

58% of the RDA for Magnesium.

89% of the RDA for Copper.

98% of the RDA for Manganese.

It also has plenty of potassium, phosphorus, zinc and selenium and even 11 grams of fibre.

I’m not suggesting that you eat 100 gr every night though, it’s high in calories so best eaten in moderation for maximum benefits.

In short, dark chocolate is:

  • A powerful source of antioxidants
  • It may improve blood flow and blood pressure
  • It may lower the risk of cardiovascular disease
  • It may lower the risk of a stroke, according to Finnish researchers
  • It contains flavonols which are good for the skin against the sun, not as a replacement for slapping on the old sun cream though.
  • It may improve your brain function.
  • It reduces “bad” cholesterol and increases “good” cholesterol.
  • It may improve insulin sensitivity and so delay or prevent the onset of diabetes, ONLY in moderate quantities.

For all these benefits, how much should you eat? Well, you should eat small amounts, 14 to 28 grammes of good quality dark chocolate with at least a 70% cocoa content, daily.