There & Here Kitchens

Earlier last month we were in Italy staying in an idyllic place, a wonderful 15th century monastery now an agroturismo retreat in the countryside of Garfagnana.

ai_frati

Our self-catering apartment’s kitchen was small – so small that it fit into a cupboard.

garfagnana_kitchen_cupboard

Aside from eating out at any number of great restaurants in the area and fabulous dinners prepared by our host in the monastery’s kitchens, we managed a few meals in this closet kitchen with produce from the local region.

The region is most noted for its pecorino cheeses – in various stages of ageing from fresco to stagionato. However, there are other cheeses produced in the region – one of which is Biagiolo, a mild soft cow’s milk cheese with a white edible rind. It was created five years ago by the newest generation of cheesemakers at the family run Caseificio Marovelli just outside the village of Vibbiana, located north of San Romano in Garfagnana, on the hill just opposite the Medieval fortress of Verrucole that you can see in the photo below.

verrucole

We bought the Biagiolo at source amidst this spectacular hilly countryside. The family also has a shop in the area’s centre of Castelnuovo di Garfagnana. Although I applaud their innovative spirit, I must admit it is a very bland cheese. I don’t regret buying it since I believe in exploring new tastes, but it is not something I would come back to.

On the other hand, mondiola of Garfagnana, a ‘U’ shaped salami stuffed with a bay leaf, is packed with flavour. Two years ago, we were introduced to homemade mondiola at Azienda Agricola Cerasa – the Cerasa Farm – which I blogged about here. The skin (pig intestines) is visually a bit off-putting, but the tender salami inside is spectacular.

mondiola

And other preserved meats were enjoyed from the wonderful deli and café, Osteria Vecchio Mulino, in Castelnuovo di Garfagnana.

vecchio_mulino_meats

We bought a cookbook on Tuscan food, recommended by our host. Before we left Garfagnana, I earmarked a few recipes for trial in my Athens kitchen.

The flatbread shown on the front cover is called cecina (or farinata as it is called in Liguria). It is made with chickpea flour and sometimes referred to as a baked pancake – something similar to Provencal socca. Another souvenir that came back with us was a bag of chickpea flour milled at an 18th century water mill, but more about the mill in a future post. I couldn’t resist making the bread once we were back in Athens. There is always a learning curve on trying new recipes – a good philosophy to adopt to cope with disappointment when the recipe doesn’t go as expected. Once I perfect it (and source more chickpea flour here in Athens), I’ll probably post the recipe. Despite too much olive oil, the uncertainty of the flour-water ratio and the bottom sticking to the pan, it was still very delicious.

cecenia

Meanwhile, the produce in our laiki (market) here in Athens has been transformed in my absence – autumn veggies and fruit are more in evidence and fewer summer greens that I highlighted in last month’s IMK post, Veggies in the Kitchen.

early_autumn_laiki

Preserving herbs from the garden has also been a priority. Mint leaves have been cleaned and frozen, and the same procedure applied to parsley, coriander, dill and basil. We had such a bumper crop of basil – mainly the tall Greek columnar basil – which was also transformed into basil oil for drizzling on soups or bruschetta or making into salad dressing. Also, more basil went into pesto (including more of the basil-mint ‘almost-pesto’), most of it for freezing in small packets.

basil_oil2

Basil Oil

  • 2 packed cups of basil leaves
  • Pinch of salt
  • 250ml extra virgin olive oil

There are two basic procedures mentioned in numerous recipes for a simple basil oil.

1. The simple method: Chop the cleaned and dried leaves and salt in a food processor first then add the oil. A variation on this theme places the oil mixture, once it is processed, in a saucepan, bringing it to a simmer and then cooling before storing or using.

2. The slightly more involved method: Blanch the basil leaves in boiling water for 1 minute, strain and put into a bowl of cold water. Strain again and dry throughly (between two towels works well) before blending with the salt and oil.

I tried both methods and discovered that the slightly more involved one (#2. above) yielded a better result. However, I also added a pinch of baking soda to the boiling water – a trick to help green vegetables retain their fresh colour when they are boiled. The second method was greener, emulsified better and even tasted better. It keeps for a few weeks in the refrigerator, but I have frozen mine in small containers.

A surprise gift of New York maple syrup was brought to me by the lovely Palmosa who follows my blog. A very welcome present from my home country. Pancakes soon…

maple_syrup

Other goodies arrived from people back from holiday: hazelnuts from Georgia (the country, not the US state), Sicilian wild fennel seeds (from Sicily, of course) destined for the garden, a sampler of cinnamon spiked liqueur as well as a jar of pickled caper berry & buds both goodies from the Cycladic island of Amorgos.

From a quick weekend trip to the island of Naxos, we brought back Kitron Naxou, a liqueur distilled with citron leaves (citrus medica). It is exclusively produced on Naxos and comes in three alcohol strengths and sweetnesses in inverse relation to one another – green (weakest and sweetest), clear (medium strength and sweetness) and yellow (higher alcohol and medium dry). We were also given a gift of lovely jams made with local Naxian produce by hospitable islanders. This large agricultural island is a foodie paradise. We will definitely visit again.

kitronjams

Back to normal, or what passes for it, as the new academic year begins.

A monthly IMK (In My Kitchen) post. Check out other IMK bloggers, each of us writing about what’s been happening in our kitchens each month, now hosted by Liz @ Bizzy Lizzys Good Things who has graciously taken up the challenge (and before her by Maureen @ The Orgasmic Chef) to list all of us IMK bloggers. For earlier IMK posts, see the fabulous Celia @ Fig Jam and Lime Cordial who, began the IMK phenomenon and until 2016 listed all of us IMK bloggers. A chronological listing of my In My Kitchen blog posts can be found on a separate page, just click the link or look under the heading of Diaries in the Menu bar above.
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31 comments

  1. The agriturismo that you stayed in this time looks wonderful, even though the piccolissima cucina would be challenging. I loved the view looking over the medieval fortress. Nice to have two kitchens in your post- on Greek, one Italian, joined by the seeds from Sicily, the island that joins both places, in so many ways.

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    • The place we stayed was wonderful – as was our host, Luigi. His cooking was very good and he offered half-board (breakfast and dinner), so cooking in the piccolissima cucina didn’t occur very often. The fortress at Verrucole is worth visiting. Not many tourists seem to travel further north from Castelnuovo di Garfagnana, but it is worth exploring the area. I am just about ready to plant those Sicilian seeds. I’ve handed out some to friends as well. And, you are right – that island joins both Greece and Italy. Must get back there soon.

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    • The view of the fortress was spectacular as were the views from the fortress. Strong leg muscles required to climb the heights, however. I am very glad you’ve agreed to do the IMK this month. I’ve missed it!

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  2. Oh my post is going to be very domestic in relation to all the delicious goodies from faraway shores gracing the Athens kitchen. It been too long since we visited Italy Debi, nearly 20 yrs in fact. It’s getting close to the top again. Looking forward to seeing the food from your new book

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    • Aussie domestic is faraway for me! I do love all the IMK posts. Mine just happened to coincide with holiday season, and we tend to travel with self-catering in mind. Already looking into going back as we love Garfagnana and I’m sure you would, too.

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  3. Kalo Mina Debi, Love your food and travel odyssey in Garfagnana! Will explore locating chickpea flour for a trial and error stab at cecina/farinata, too. Hope to accommodate two family members who are gluten free. Naxos is our first island to explore in 2017 when we return to Greece. Am pleased that the maple syrup will be part of a future breakfast.

    On Fri, Sep 30, 2016 at 9:05 PM, My Kitchen Witch wrote:

    > Debi @ My Kitchen Witch posted: “Earlier last month we were in Italy > staying in an idyllic place, a wonderful 15th century monastery now an > agrotorismo retreat in the countryside of Garfagnana. Our self-catering > apartment’s kitchen was small – so small that it fit into a cupboard. ” >

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    • Kalo Mina to you too! The chickpea flat bread was delicious, if a bit dense as it consisted of flour and water with a little oil and salt. Naxos for a day and a half was great, but too little time to explore it in depth. We mainly spent it in the countryside chasing kouri in the ancient marble quarries. It is a very agricultural island and reminds me a little of the way the interior of Crete used to be – a bit scruffy, but real, and not too touristy. Thanks again for the marvellous maple syrup!

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    • We tended to travel when our family was younger in a slightly different way – that is, basing ourselves in one place with self-catering. We’ve older now, but I hope still young enough for a bit of adventurous travel!

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  4. I just adore that compact kitchen and the view and scenery is stunning. How wonderful to have visited such a place. Wonderful cheeses too. Your flatbread and basil oil look very delicious.

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    • It was little! The views all over Garfagnana were spectacular. Have still to perfect that chickpea flatbread, but I have sourced the flour here in Athens. The basil in the garden is still threatening to take over, so more lovely oil and pesto on the way.

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  5. Such a wonderful post, Debi, and your photos took me back to my holiday last April. In fact, the kitchen in the agriturismo looks very much like mine in Corinaldo, right down to the ubiquitous Bialetti coffee maker. Even your photo of the hilltop castle is reminiscent of San Marino, although yours is the far better photo. I smiled when I saw the maple syrup. We brought a few such containers to our relatives when we visited. I’m looking into sending more for Christmas. My young cousins absolutely LOVE it. 🙂

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    • I think all these agrotuismo kitchens are similar. I sometimes wish they would include an oven. The fortress at Verrucole is a special place. It has been excavated and parts of it restored. Young attendants who man the place are dressed in period costume and they really know their history. We had a great time there, but if you go, be prepared for a steep climb! Afterwards, the trattoria next to the village’s main parking place is said to have ravioli made with the Vibbiana cheese. Unfortunately, we had already eaten, so we didn’t get to sample it. It is filed away in my head for future visits. The maple syrup was a fantastic gift. We really appreciated it.

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      • Oh, Debi. I could have just finished a 12 course banquet and still had room to try that ravioli.Besiides, I would need the fuel for that climb. 😀

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    • The basil oil was great and that little tip with baking soda is very useful when boiling green things. Yes, I’m glad IMK is up and running again. I’ve missed others’ posts. Will visit your October kitchen soon. By the way – Garfagnana is amazing!

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  6. Debi, you had me from that first photo. (And your descriptive writing!) What a wonderful adventure you’ve been on — culturally, flavorfully, and In My Kitchen. I was especially interested in the Pecorino Romano (sheep’s milk cheese, yes?) Tried some recently and loved it without the “dairy” (aka cow) repercussions… and thanks for your Basil Oil recipe and tips, xo.
    P.S. Real maple syrup is near and dear to my heart, too. (Mine hails from Vermont… 🙂

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    • Kim, the countryside around Garfagnana is spectacular and is a great place to explore tastes. The Pecorino is, indeed, sheep’s milk (hence the name – after pecore – Italian for sheep). The basil oil is delicious and a good thing to have on hand. I’ve frozen mine in little plastic containers, but it might be just as easy to freeze it in an ice cube tray (like I do pesto), but I haven’t yet tried this. Still have a lot of basil in the garden, so I guess I will be trying that freezing solution soon! When living in the US, I favoured Wisconsin maple syrup which is excellent. We lived in that state and I did my best to be loyal to local produce – not a hardship at all!

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  7. What a beautiful post! Your photos are spectacular. I also picked my basil this month and made pesto but I think I have more that I can make you lovely basil oil.

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    • Thanks! The basil oil is delicious and is another basil preserve other than pesto to have up your sleeve when you have an extremely productive crop like I do. Am now convinced that the pinch of baking soda in the boiling water keeps it green.

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  8. Oh that basil oil looks so lovely. What a beautiful green. Imagine cooking in that tiny kitchen. Our kitchen isn’t huge but certainly bigger than that:). Real maple syrup is one of my fave things. I just wish it was a bit cheaper here in Oz.

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  9. […] I’ve been busy cleaning out our freezer, finding bits and bobs of things I stashed away for future use. In the back corner of the upper shelf was a bag of Greek chickpea flour or ρεβιθάλευρο I had found in the central market after my supply of Italian milled farini di ceci had been depleted last autumn. At the time I bought it, I was intent on making more batches of the traditional chickpea flatbread – Tuscan cecina, Ligurian farinata. I had made cecina several times just after we came back from Garfagnana last year which I mentioned in one of my IMK posts. […]

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