Salmon and Mushroom Recipe for my Friend Sarah Terzeon


I just got off an hour-long catching-up chat (CUC) with my friend Sarah from England.  Sarah and her husband and kids spent two years living near Frascati about twenty years ago. Our children went to the same school and that’s how we met and became friends.  We have been trying to have a proper CUC for literally months now and today was indeed a bit of a miracle, for both of us, that we succeeded.  Life seems to have become unseasonably busy  for those of us that are over a half-century old, and it is such a shame that we cannot devote more time and attention to people who bring joy to our fast-paced days. In the middle of our commiserating, one of the things I mentioned that I found a tad sad is the fact that I cook so relatively rarely these days – and that despite being a food blogger and loving being in the kitchen!  I do cook nearly every day, yes, but it’s a case of the same ol’, same ol’, same ol’ and that can be gastronomically soul destroying after a while.  Sarah agreed.

They are having people over for dinner this weekend and she was a bit at a loss as to what to prepare.  I said I would be too, we haven’t had a party at our house for ages (I did organise an afternoon tea party for my mother when she was recuperating from pneumonia earlier this Spring – she stayed with us from Janury to mid April, and trying to feed her was quite an uphill battle, because she had lost her appetite and found so many foods distasteful, but that’s another food blog story).  Cooking, like nearly all human ventures and adventures, benefits from regular practice.



Anyway, I told Sarah, who does eat fish but not meat, maybe I could give her an idea? As it happened, I got to spend a lonesome evening all to myself last Saturday in that my husband was away in the Marche visiting his parents.


After spending a really nice hour-and-a-half with my partner-in-crime friend Michelle, drinking our wine as the sun was bidding its adieu to the day, outside in one of Frascati’s oldest piazzas and gossiping to our heart’s content, I got home feeling that I owed it to myself to cook something “nice for me”.  (These photos? They are of the Piazza San Rocco in Frascati, while Michelle and I were enjoying our aperitivo.  I do love this time of  year so much.  Sigh.)

Now, the recipe I am proposing may not sound exactly gob-smackingly enticing but, bear with me, it actually turned out to be “very nice for me”.   Sarah … do let me know what you think?


Plain mushrooms, garlic, butter, olive oil, 1 bayleaf, nutmeg, lemon zest, salmon, raspberries, chives

Slice the mushrooms and cook them with plenty of butter and olive oil and, if you like, a little bit of garlic.  Add a bayleaf, a slither of lemon zest and a little  bit of freshly grated nutmeg, as well as salt.


I can see some other green ‘bits’ in the photo on the left.  Reckon that that’s a bit of marjoram.

img_7965.jpgI had a little fillet of salmon.  Frozen salmon.

IMG_7966This was one portion – so, not a lot as you can imagine.

I did not take photos of the dish as I went my way cooking it.  But I do remember removing the cooked mushrooms from the pan and then cooking the salmon in the same pan.  Salmon takes hardly any time to cook so hey presto! I was plating up.

IMG_7892I lay the mushrooms on the plate like a mattress.  And placed the salmon on top.  I then added chives and a few raspberries.

IMG_7893A close-up.    See? the salmon not overcooked.

IMG_7894I left the lemon zest on the plate.  It paired well with the rest of the ingredients.

IMG_7895And the raspberries?  They were literally staring at me in the fridge … so I had to use them up.  There you go.

Somehow, it all made sense, it tasted nice, and I think I shall be tempted to make this dish again.  It takes hardly any time and what would have been a somewhat  sad, frozen fillet of salmon ended up being presented with some panache, dare I say.  (Be careful with the nutmeg, grate a teensy bit at a time.)

Seabream Fillets as an Excuse for Green Garlic

Have you ever heard of green garlic? I had, well … sort of, but not really.  I was looking at a bunch at the greengrocer’s and thought it was some weird kind of spring onio/scallion.  There you go: you live and you learn (“and then you die and forget it all” as Noel Coward once famously quipped).  Anyway.  I bought a bunch and put it in the fridge for a very long time before I got around to using it, and decided I really liked it.  Below is some information on green garlic that I have copied from a website called – and very useful it is too:

Quote: “Regular hardneck garlic is easy to identify — dried little white paper bulbs that taper off at the top — but what about the bright-green versions of garlic you often see at farmers markets labeled green garlic and garlic scapes? Are those really the same thing? And how are they related to the garlic plant?

 The Difference Between Green Garlic and Garlic Scapes


Green garlic is young garlic with tender leaves that is harvested early in the season before the bulb is fully formed. Garlic scapes are the curly shoots from the plant that form later in the season into curly green stalks that have tightly closed buds on top.

More About Green Garlic

The easiest way to think about green garlic is that it’s baby garlic. It has a long green top that looks a bit like scallions, sometimes a tiny bulb at the end, and it may even be tinged with a bit of pink. Green garlic is more mellow and less spicy in flavor then regular garlic, and can be used raw or cooked like scallions. It’s usually harvested in the spring.

End of quote (and thank you Kitchen !

One evening I really fancied eating some fish for dinner.  At the fishmonger’s I fell in love with a beautiful seabream called ‘orata’ in Italian, and asked the fishmonger to fillet it for me into two halves.  I had a special date with husband that evening and wanted to cook something a little different.

Well, the green garlic was different.  Coriander with fish? also a little different.  Bread crumbs toasted with olive oil? Why not! And here is the recipe I made up just like that (and for ‘just like that’ read ‘after a couple of glasses of wine’).  We thought it was really really really yummy.  And it was not at all difficult to make, on the contrary.


Seabream fillets, green garlic, coriander, breadcrumbs toasted in olive oil, butter, olive oil, 1 and only 1 solitary clove, a few coriander kernels, a couple of peppercorns, some lemon zest, a willingness to make the most of life for a couple of hours, a desire to make a loved one happy, and a glass of wine or two, espresso after dinner optional.


Start with the fish.  I was lucky to find line caught fish (and lucky enough to afford it – one seabream cost Eu25).  Otherwise just use what you find, and can afford.  If it is frozen, pat it dry before cooking.

4Start by grating a little bit of lemon zest and put it aside for now.

1Then get your seabream fillets ready and your saucepan out.

2What you see here are: a blob of butter, a green garlic roughly cut up, some coriander kernels, a couple of peppercorns, one and only one solitary clove, and a puddle of olive oil. Good olive oil, obviously.

3Turn the heat on, cook the fillet(s), skin side down at first, for a couple of minutes over a low heat.

5Add the other fillet to the saucepan. Flip the fillet when you think it’s cooked.  It does not take long.

6Toast some breadcrumbs in another saucepan with some olive oil.  And maybe try not to cook it quite so much as I did (phew – I just managed not to burn it).

7Add the lemon zest first and then the breadcrumbs. Some salt.  Some pepper if you like.  and that’s it! Done.

8The last thing is to add some freshness to the dish.  I had some mint leaves and that’s what I used.

8The fish was cooked to perfection even if I say so myself – it was cooked to a consistency that is ‘soft’ as opposed to ‘dry’.  Luscious.

9Can you see?

10And there was plenty of ‘ooze’ too – melted butter and olive oil, to keep things nice and moist.

11I served the fish with some spinach.

And with some fried aubergine/eggplant cubes.  Sprinkled marjoram leaves over those.

12Some dinners are special just because … and this one was.  How nice.

My Home-Made Porchetta (Roast Hog)


If you can’t beat them, join them they say.  If you can’t buy delicious porchetta where you live, why not try and make some yourself one day?  It’s really not at all ‘hard’ to prepare.  It takes a bit of time, yes.  But the results are so rewarding, you won’t be disappointed.

And here is another porchetta recipe link, for a smaller sized version:




Merry May Fettuccine with Spring Greens

One can only imagine with what a hurrah! welcome! the arrival of Spring would have been greeted generations ago – not only because it heralded warmer temperatures but also because there would be an increase in the variety of food one could eat.  A bit of novelty for the poor ol’ palate.

We all take fridges and freezers for granted, don’t we, as well as the transportation of food across countries and continents.  Can you imagine having to do with just salted or brined fare for months on end? Doesn’t bear thinking about.  So I expect that the sense of gastronomic expectation previous generations had with the break of Winter lingers on still, even though we live in an age where formerly summer-only crops are available all year round now (think tomatoes, salads, aubergines, courgettes etc).

Where I live in Italy, within spitting distance of Rome, it is only artichokes, peas and broad beans (fava beans in American English) that are not available all year round, properly ‘seasonal’ I mean.  They are ingredients that are all about Spring, and rebirth and regeneration.  For the rest, one can find nearly all the other vegetables in stalls and supermarkets, and these veggies are either grown in greenhouses or imported (green beans from Morocco for instance).  One of the reasons I began boycotting supermarkets was when I read the label on the provenance of lemons one day.  Italy is bursting with lemons and yet these were imported from Argentina! Nearly all the garlic to be found in Italy hails from Spain, again a conundrum for me since I am sure that garlic can grow extremely well on this peninsula.  And one final moan: tomatoes (tasteless ones at that) from Holland.  Seriously … I am not against the export/import of foods as such, so that’s not it.  But surely it doesn’t make sense to import food(s) that one can grow perfectly well in one’s own country?

Enough of this rambling, and on with the recipe.  The point I wish to underscore is that fresh, seasonal vegetables are an absolute delight and inspire one to treasure their transient presence at our table.  They are there to remind us to be grateful for variety.

I was also inspired by having favourite son visiting us for the weekend.  As it happened, my husband could not join us for the Sunday lunch but I thought I would make a ‘special’ pasta anyway for our two kids (we also have a favourite daughter).  I decided that ‘fresh’ had to be the theme, and that included my making my own fettuccine.  Home-made pasta is a treat and not difficult to make (basically 100g of flour per egg per person).


Courgettes, asparagus, broad beans, tomatoes, guanciale/pork jowl (pancetta or Italian sausage or even a little bit of bacon will do if you can’t get the pork jowl), peas (I used frozen because that’s all I had) fresh rosemary, basil, marjoram and mint, lemon zest, parmigiano (parmesan cheese) and pecorino cheese.

The tip I would like to point out today is to create a sort of ‘broth’ in which to cook the pasta.  If you season the cooking water this way, the final pasta will take on an especially tasty flavour.

I did not, as is my wont, take a photo of every single step as I cooked but I am sure it won’t be a problem for you.  The procedure for this pasta sauce is far from problematic.  True, there are a number of steps and ingredients involved, yes there are, but any care or difficulty is to be gleefully thrown to the wind!  Winter is over, let’s hear it for Spring!


Cut the asparagus about an inch or slightly more below the tip.  Then slice the tips into two or three or even four parts and set aside.  Use what is left of the usable asparagus to make up the broth.  I cut up these stems into smaller pieces because that will make it easier to process the broth at a later stage.

1Place the asparagus inside the pasta pan.  Cover with water but don’t put the whole amount of water you would normally use to cook the pasta – only about half the amount.  This will make it easier for you to process the asparagus once they are cooked.  And do add a little salt too.


When the asparagus are cooked, use a hand held immersion blender and process them into a broth.  Now add extra water.


Also add a sprig of rosemary – this will also impart a nice flavour to the asparagus ‘broth’ in which to cook the pasta.4I got favourite son to shell the broad beans for me.  I had simmered them for less than 10 minutes.

5And here they are stripped of their outer skin.  Set aside.

6Do you know what this is? I hadn’t known.  It’s fresh garlic.  My first time.  If you can’t find fresh garlic I expect that an onion would be a good substitute for this recipe (rather than ordinary garlic).


Chop up the fresh garlic – not all of it mayble, just enough to smarten the dish up with.

8And now it’s time to get serious.  Put the pasta broth on the boil and add extra salt when it starts simmering.  Also, pour some olive oil into a large saucepan and add some thinly sliced guanciale (again – pancetta or bacon or Italian sausage will do if you can’t find guanciale/pork jowl). Gently cook the guanciale.

9Start by adding the garlic  and cook for about two minutes …

10Now courgettes sliced into happy discs …

11Next come the slices of asparagus tips.

12And now a smattering of peas (frozen is all I had), two small quartered tomatoes and the broad beans.  Time to sprinkle some salt.

13Marjoram and basil go into the pan too.

14Toss the vegetables about gently as they cook and become acquainted with one another. At this point add a ladleful of the asparagus  broth.

15Also add a teaspoon or a wee bit more of butter.

16Add the smallest amount of lemon zest (put more in if you like – I don’t like too much of the stuff in my cooking, just enough to give the dish a little lift without overwhelming with its citrusy clout).

17When you think the veggies are nicely cooked and ready to receive their royal highnesses the fettuccine … lower the latter into the simmering and salted asparagus broth.  It won’t take long for fresh pasta to cook.

18Drain the pasta directly into the saucepan with the veggies.  Add a bit more asparagus broth.

19Now is the time to sprinkle a little grated parmigiano (parmesan cheese) into the mix and combine till the cheese is totally blended with the sauce.


When plating up, add a few  mint leaves on top of the pasta.

21Final touch: sprinkle grated pecorino cheese and serve.

And, naturally, enjoy!!!

P.S. Frank Fariello has recently written a post on a very similar dish.  Great minds think alike !

Bread on My Mind


Yes, yes I know … these are strawberries, not bread.  (Also not in the picture was a very good Torta Caprese too.)  Bear with me.


And this is a main course of grilled lamb chops and beef short ribs.  (Roast potatoes were served along with them.)


These, instead, are’nibbles’ that are so typical in and around Rome at this time of year: fresh broadbeans (fava beans) that pair so well with Roman pecorino cheese.  As well as a most enticing spice-topped Robbiola cheese to be spread over home-made bread.

As you might have surmised, I am doing a meal ‘backwards’.  The meal in question was only less than a week ago, on May 1st, “primo maggio” or Labour Day, a bank holiday in many countries.   We were invited to lunch by Wendy Holloway and her husband Maurizio, who live near Riano, north of Rome.  Wendy and I met via a Girl Scout course (a long long time ago and that’s another story) and we share a passion for food and cooking.  She has been running Italian cooking classes and tours for over twenty years now (her website is   

Also invited were Phyllis Knudsen and her husband Joe from Vancouver, who were visiting Rome.  Phyllis is a retired chef and her blog is  Joe is a photographer and Wendy is totally into photography at the moment, so they were able to indulge in some detail over the subject as we ate our way through the ‘very simple lunch’, as she put it, that she had prepared for us.  There is genius and delight in ‘simple food’ when presented this way.

And now for getting to the point of this post.

You might have noticed that the back-to-front menu I presented skipped a rather important course in a typical Italian meal, i.e. the ‘primo’ – the pasta or risotto or soup course.  And indeed Wendy had prepared a very nice pasta for us that got wolfed down pretty quickly by all of us (I won’t snitch and tell you who asked for extra helpings).


There it is, the pasta (in a guanciale, peas and courgettes sauce) in the plates about to be eaten.  Do notice, also, that there are two loaves of bread, prominently placed at the head of the table.  Wendy, once she sat down, began slicing the (delicious) bread she had made to serve to her guests, but mostly her husband.  She confided to us that ‘Mo’ as she calls him is very Italian and can’t eat a meal without bread.  I had to smile.  It is a peculiar Italian eating habit that has ancient roots.

In article she wrote last November entitled “Where and How to Eat in Venice”, the Venice Food Guide Monica Cesarato warns:

  • Don’t ever eat bread with your pasta. Bread is only eaten with the second course or to do la scarpetta (literally “make a little shoe”) and mop up the leftover sauce on the plate of your first course.

Well, I’ll have to disagree with her … for those who like their bread in Italy, they think that bread can be eaten from start to finish.  If anything, it is bread that kicks off the meal, accompanying the antipasto, no?

Fast forward a few days and I am in Venice, about to meet up for the second time in my life with a very ‘interesting’ almost 90 year-old man – I don’t know how else to describe him, so many other adjectives come to mind – the Italian born Victor Hazan, of whom I have grown very fond.  He has been living in Florida for the last decades but he and his late wife Marcella had lived in Venice for twenty years previously, running a very successful cooking school.   He had written to me to say that this was his last trip to Italy and I could not resist the opportunity of seeing him again.  The day I arrived, he invited me and two men for lunch, one of whom is from Bolzano.  His name is Andrea Tosolini and he is an importer of Italian foods; also lives in Florida (his wife is from Florida) and he and Victor are friends.  Anyway, just as we met outside Victor’s hotel, Andrea presented Victor some some edible presents.  See for yourselves.



He was waxing lyrical over the good quality and incredible variety of breads to be found in his home town of Bolzano.  And, again, I just had to smile.  Only in Italy, I thought to myself, could someone bring bread as an offering, only in Italy is bread taken to be magical and not just ‘good to eat’.

I was reminded of an article I wrote for a magazine called “In Search of Taste” in 2014, which I want to repost today, with the odd edit here and there.

I wrote the original article thanks to, and at the request of, my late friend Gareth Jones from London.  We became friends via Facebook, coincidentally on Marcella Hazan’s page, commenting a post she had written regarding salt. And then we became friends in ‘real life’ and met in London, where he invited me to lunch at Joy King Lau’s ( 

And then again, coincidentally, or was it serendipity really? it was through Facebook and Gareth’s page that I got to meet Phyllis Knudsen.   She regrets never having had the chance to physically meet Gareth.  We both adored him, his outlook, his naughtiness, his refreshing outspokenness, his warmth and sense of humour, his incredible wealthh of culinary knowledge, and continue to miss him (he died in 2015).  Do look up his blog, if you like fine writing and unusual and knowledgeable insights on food, you will easily become engrossed. 

And now for my article on bread in Italy, I hope you enjoy it.


Sacrosanct.  A word more usually associated with the liturgical is indissolubly linked to bread in Italy, and of inestimable value is the place that bread holds deep in the soul of the Italians.

The story is a long one and — “O Tempora, O Mores!”  — times do change but, despite the insidious infiltration of an aesthetic equating thinness with beauty, the encroachment of protein-biased diets and the faddish battle waged against the umbrella term ‘carbohydrates’, bread continues to be the first thing that is brought to the client in every restaurant or trattoria all over the country.  All menus will state the restaurant’s service price which is called  “pane e coperto”, meaning “bread and cover charge”.  It is taken for granted that you shall eat bread, there is no need for the client to ask for it.  People working in restaurants may now be getting somewhat inured to the vexation that is a tourist ordering a cappuccino at the end of a meal (to an Italian, that would be the equivalent of someone ordering a bowl of cereal at the end of a copious meal) but will understand if a client is inclined to ask for some olive oil to accompany the bread on the table.  Though not an Italian custom as such, it makes sense.  And a waiter will of course understand if you want to order more bread.  Bread accompanies the whole meal, from start to finish until dessert, and is not served only at the beginning as in bread-and-butter eating countries.

Apart from those idiosyncratic individuals who like to concoct their own nutrition régimes, in Italy there can be no weight watching diet without the daily inclusion of at least some morsel of bread.  The déluge of allergy driven syndromes is most likely as statistically significant among Italians as it is elsewhere and Italy has become a leading country in the sale of gluten-free foods, with an ever increasing number of shops and supermarkets reserving a shelf for those poor unfortunates who cannot eat their daily bread the normal way.

“Give us this day our daily bread” quoth the Lord’s prayer.  The Italian language quoths heavily when it comes to metaphors and bread.  In Italy one does not earn one’s bacon, one earns one’s bread: “guadagnarsi il pane” and, if you’re really not earning very much at all, then you are earning just enough to get by on a little piece of crust: “guadagnarsi la stozza”.  The Italian equivalent of Murphy’s law states that God gives teeth to those who don’t have bread, and gives bread to those who don’t have teeth with which to eat it. If you are blessed with a good nature, then you are as “good as bread”, what can be saintlier than bread?.  If you are not cut out for a particular job, on the other hand, then that job is just “not the kind of bread suitable for your teeth.”  If you tend to be tight-fisted, then you will most certainly be known to “measure your bread”.  Shall I carry on?  If you “eat bread by betrayal” it means that you are earning money without having worked to earn it.  But again, if you “remove the bread from your mouth”, it means that you are a self-sacrificing person who would do anything for a loved one (i.e. including giving a loved one your share of bread).

Bread is taken very seriously in Italy.  It is eaten daily.  It is eaten fresh — ergo it has to be bought every day (these days less so because some breads using specific floursand last longer), a concept that can unnerve the more northern European or American expats who come and live in Italy and are used to buying their bread as part of their weekly supermarket shop.  Bread eating may be part of their culture, but buying fresh bread every day is not.  In Italy, bread is literally, and not metaphorically, the bread of life — and life is, by definition, “fresh”.  It’s like mother’s milk.  It is ingrained in the depths of the social unconscious and part and parcel of the DNA survival instinct.  And nowhere is this truer than in the average household, where no table is ever considered properly “set” until the bread basket makes its appearance.

Coming from an Italian family whose one member, my mother, decided she wasn’t very Italian at all in this respect and found herself eschewing the whole bread-eating ethos, I grew up as a child in peripatetic circumstances that did not impose bread at the dinner table, it was more of a choice.  Later, when I first invited my very Italian in-laws to dinner, I couldn’t for the life of me understand why my father-in-law looked so shifty and … well … pained almost as I went about serving the first course (a big bowl of steaming pasta of which I was rather proud).  He didn’t say anything but his body language spoke of unease and of a reluctance to tuck in.  For a minute, I thought it might be that he didn’t like the pasta on his plate but luckily just then, almost as an afterthought although of course it was not, my husband brought the bread basket to the table.  As if by magic, my father-in-law’s face underwent a visible metamorphosis; his features relaxed, he gave a small sigh of relief, reached for a slice of bread, and was finally able to enjoy his meal.

There exists a word in Italian that is virtually untranslatable: “companatico”.  It stands for food or a meal that is to be eaten accompanied by bread — and I can tell you that that would encompass all foods, basically, save for fruit! Walnuts and bread … yes, that was considered a snack a few decades ago.  A slice of bread and butter with plenty of sugar sprinkled on top: that was considered a tea-time treat when I was growing up (late 1950s/early 1960s).

My mother sometimes makes her own bread, and very good it is too, but she can’t be trusted to serve bread whenever she invites us over for dinner.  She has the good grace, thankfully, to warn me in advance and telephones to say, “I am making duck à la bla bla, and three kinds of vegetable this, that and the other, and rice à la bla bla.  But bring bread if you want any.”  She has learned that “optional” is not a term I now associate with bread.  Yet she too considers bread sacrosanct and accords it the respect it is due in that peculiarly Italian kind of way.  She is almost incapable of throwing stale bread away, for instance, and if by any chance she has to, she will kiss it first.  Like all of her generation, who underwent the appalling trials and physical tribulations of the Second World War, she well remembers the ravages that food scarcity brought about during the last year especially.  Bombed out of their home in Frascati, they were lucky to find rough lodging in the countryside close to the town which they shared with an extended family.  Rationing imposed its draconian law but the law of Nature, the law of survival, is even fiercer.  My wise grandmother placed whatever bread was available inside the safety of a pillow case, which she would sew tight every evening, Penelope-like, before going to bed and hide in a safe place, knowing full well that someone might be “tempted” to sneak in and avail themselves of a piece of bread.

The history of Italy is also the history of its population’s hunger and the mass emigration that it occasioned over the course of roughly 100 years.  And it was bread, always bread, that signified plenty.  In a bid to make Italy self-sufficient over imports, Mussolini imposed a policy in the 1920s to reduce the volume of imported wheat, which would then be used to make bread, consumed in Italy. It was his “Battle for Grain” of 1925 and he even wrote an essay entitled “In Praise of Bread” in 1928.

With the benefit of distance, Mussolini’s rhetoric can be analysed from many a critical point of view (not to mention the fact that his policy was a shambles and drove the cost of bread up to unaffordable levels) but it cannot be denied that his overly sentimental “Hymn to Bread” would have struck a chord in the hearts of the Italians he was rousing at the time, using it as part of his propaganda … and who knows, even perhaps falling for the ploy himself?, since he was no big eater and suffered from an ulcer.

“Italians !

Love bread –

Heart of the home

Perfume of the table

Joy of the hearth.

Respect bread –

Sweat of the brow

Pride of labour

Poem of sacrifice

Honour bread –

Glory of the fields

Fragrance of the land

Festival of life.

Do not waste bread –

Wealth of your country

The sweetest gift of God

The most blessed reward of human toil.”

Artisanal bread-making is enjoying a come-back in Italy but there was a time when it was mainly home-made and/or artisanal.  Wealthy and aristocratic families might have their own kitchens and ovens but poorer people had to rely on the communal ovens to bake their home-made bread.  This engendered the creation of family crests to “mark” each loaf and make it distinguishable from the rest.  Larger towns and cities would of course have bakeries where bread could be bought.  Home-made bread, however, continued to maintain its hallowed status in many parts of the country.

In an article published in the daily “Il Resto del Carlino” in February 1965, the Italian author Ignazio Silone recalled how great was his grandmother’s sadness upon parting from him those many years ago, when he had to flee Italy for political reasons. It was his grandmother who had raised him and his brothers when his mother had been killed in a terrible earthquake in the Abbruzzo Region of Italy.  When he tried to re-assure his grandmother that he would be able to find bread to eat no problem where he was going, her infinitely tragic response was “Yes.  Bought bread.  My poor child, having to eat bought bread!”  Silone’s article coincided with heavy snows that year isolating several small villages in the Abbruzzo, making it necessary for helicopters to drop food for the inhabitants – including bread, because by then, by 1965, no one used communal ovens any longer and thus the art of baking bread at home was lost.

It is estimated that there are about 250 different kinds of breads throughout Italy, some of them still baked in a wood-fired oven.  Each Region will have its specialty and some breads have achieved formal status, be it PGI – whose Italian acronym equivalent is IGP (which is awarded by the European Union – indicating protected geographical denomination ) or DOP (Protected Designation of Origin).  The most notable examples are the breads from: Altamura DOP, the Casereccio di Genzano Igp, the Matera Igp and the Coppia Ferrarese Igp. The bread of Altopascio near Lucca has been famous since the Middle Ages when it was meted out to pilgrims walking their way to Rome on the Via Francigena. The bread Bozza Pratese, from Prato near Florence, also ranks very highly in longevity and popularity.  Tuscany, so far as bread goes, is especially famous for scorning any inclusion of salt whatsoever, a practice that has several historical explanations including making virtue out of necessity, in that the tax levied on salt was so high that people learned to make do without it. Whatever the reason, however, the Tuscans soon got used to this canon and have revered it ever since.  Dante even refers to it in his Divine Comedy.

“Tu proverai sì come sa di sale
lo pane altrui, e come è duro calle
lo scendere e ‘l salir per l’altrui scale”(Il Paradiso, Canto XVII, lines 58-60.

 It is from this canto that Dante learns of his imminent exile from Florence and is given some idea of the difficulties and desolation awaiting him. ”You shall learn how salty is the taste of another’s bread, and how hard a path the descending and climbing another’s stairs,” he is told.  Talk about rubbing salt in the wound …

It is interesting to note, too, that the bread of Terni in southern Umbria is also “sciapo” (without salt) as is that from other parts of northern Lazio just across the border.  Tuscany and this central area, known as Etruria, which includes the southern Marches, were the lands of the Etruscans and one may suppose that the disdain for salt might have been Etruscan in origin.  By contrast, the bread of Naples is very savoury indeed, the salt lavishly included.

The flours for bread making may vary too, from wheat to rice to corn flour (to make “pan giallo” – yellow bread – in Emilia Romagna and Lombardy), bread using millet in Milan (pan de mej), from durum wheat in southern Italy to the use of rye wheat in the north (Valle D’Aosta, Piedmont, Trentino Aldo Adige and the Valtellin in Lombardy).  Oil will be used in some breads, lard in others.  Nuts can be added, or seeds, or dried fruits and raisins.  Special breads are prepared for occasions such as Easter, as for example in Umbria and Basilicata, or for saint’s days, parties and weddings, as for example in Sardinia and Sicily.  In these two islands, bread is used for decorative purposes too, as an art form, in celebration of saints’ days and religious occasions.

An old custom, now virtually vanished, was to bring a slice of bread and some salt when visiting a friend’s house for the first time, as a token of well wishing. I was surprised to see the same gesture acted in the 1937, black-and-white film “Conquest”, starring Charles Boyer as Napoleon.  When Napoleon enters the house of Marie Waleska (acted by Greta Garbo), the married woman he wants to seduce, he dips a bit of bread in a bowl of salt before rushing to embrace her.

Bread is called into question even when it comes to polite behaviour at the table in Italy.  When there is a delicious sauce left on the plate, it is normal for some to use a bit of bread to mop up this sauce with the bread.  It is called “fare la scarpetta”, making a little shoe out of the bread to clean up the plate.  This behaviour is heavily frowned upon in polite society, however, and no one in their right mind would dream of “fare la scarpetta” in a formal setting.  But …furtively … most people will enjoy such an atavistic pleasure and think nothing of it.  In public, you can get away by apologising for what you are about to do, knowing you will be forgiven.

In terms of superstition, the Italians are not as worried about spilling salt these days as they are about spilling olive oil.  In the past, superstition ruled that breadcrumbs must never be thrown away, they must be burned.  When making bread at home, a cross marked the loaf before allowing it to prove, in order to invoke God’s blessing and in sign of gratitude.  When cooked, the bread must always be cut on the flat side down.  Doing it otherwise would have meant turning your back to God.  If ever there was any leftover bread, it would be used to add to soups (“pancotto” – literally cooked bread, or “pappa al pomodoro” for instance).  Slices of day-old bread would be toasted to make bruschetta or fettunta or crostini.  Breadcrumbs are still toasted in a little olive oil to scatter over pasta dishes, to add a crunch factor.  When no parmesan cheese was available to sprinkle over pasta, the breadcrumbs became the cheese of the poor.  Meatless meatballs are still made with bread, to which some cheese or anchovy or vegetables can be added.  Certain breads are even fried – coccoli in Tuscany are fried balls of bread.  And if the bread goes stale to the point that it is really hard – no problem! revive it in water, then squeeze the bread, place it in a bowl, add tomatoes, spring onions, cucumber and lots of basil and olive oil and voilà -you have the perfect summer dish, the “panzanella”.  Older, toothless people would sup over chunks of bread dunked in hot milk. If the bread were stale, no matter, the hot milk would soften it.

For a nation that values bread to the point that it will include reference to it even in Christmas cakes (“panettone” – which means big bread, “pandoro” which means golden bread and is similar to a panettone but without any raisins, or “Panpepato” – peppery bread, made with spices and nuts), it is perhaps surprising that Italy has no equivalent of bread and butter pudding or pain perdu.  It was bog standard , instead, for Italians to eat bread in the mornings, dunked in milk or caffellatte.  Butter and jam to grace the bread were also normal.  If it is usual for English speakers to describe the usefulness or desirability of something as “the best thing since sliced bread”, the same would not be true of Italy where industrial sliced bread is truly atrocious and cloying and tasteless (not to mention that it contains “alcol etilico”, i.e. ethanol).  Good, soft white bread slices do exist when properly made , however, and are referred to with foreign words: pan carré, pan brioche – perhaps because only the upper classes would have had access to this sort of bread in the past, and these people spoke French and were genteel.

The triangular sandwich with the crusts cut off is called “tramezzino”, roughly translatable as “in-between”.  It originated in the very French-influenced and refined Turin in 1925 at the Caffé Mulassano in the Piazza Castello, as an alternative to English tea sandwiches.  The term “tramezzino” is said to have been coined by the author Gabriele D’Annunzio, a colourful figure if ever there was one.  This was during the early fascist era when Italians were being told to eschew foreign terms and words in favour of Italian ones and hence this neologism would have fitted in perfectly with the climate of the times.  Tramezzini are still very popular today and to be found all over Italy.  They take the edge off hunger as opposed to replacing a meal, and are often served with an aperitivo too or at parties.

Soft bread rolls, made with very white flour, are called “panino all’olio”; they are usually rather small and dainty and are also popular, for obvious reasons, with people who have trouble with chewing harder or crustier breads.  If, instead of a tramezzino, you want something more substantial, you will ask for a “panino”, which means “small bread”, linguistically akin to France’s “petit pain”.  It is a bread roll that can be stuffed with cured meats and/or cheeses of various kinds and will be a lot more filling than a tramezzino.  The roll will be called a “michetta” in Milan and a “rosetta” or a “schiacciata” in Rome.  The “ciriola” was famously Rome’s typical bread roll.  Another roll goes by the name of “turtle”, because the grooves on the top of the bread roll are indeed reminiscent of a turtle’s back (“la tartaruga”).  The panino can be either round or oblong.

panino bar

These days there are kiosks dotted about on certain main streets of Rome and its suburbs, catering to young people who have been out on the town and are absolutely starving by 4 a.m.  These kiosks go by the name of “paninari”.  In the early 1980s, however, “paninari” referred to the cohorts of a youth scene that was besotted with a consumerist and ‘fast’ lifestyle, in opposition to what Slowfood would propose.  The fact that this wealthy youth scene liked to identify itself by its designer clothes says a lot.  It started out in Milan, always the trendy and ahead-of-the-times city in Italy, but spread out to other cities in the north as well as to Rome.  They were called “paninari” because their preferred food of choice was a hamburger bun … they started out at Milan’s café called “Al Panino” in Piazza Liberty and then moved on to Italy’s now defunct hamburger and fast food chain called “Burghy” in Piazza San Babila.  In1986, the group Pet Shop Boys even wrote a song entitled “Paninaro”.  They have not been heard of since then, the paninari that is, and do not appear to be at all missed.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nation is headquartered in Rome.  Any Italian would see the logic of its logo, a sheaf of wheat, and of its motto — the Latin “Fiat Panis” … meaning, “let there be bread”.  The reverential attitude of Italians towards bread goes all the way back to the Romans who gave us the name for friendship: companionship.  The word derives from the Latin “cum pane” meaning “with bread”.  If you could break bread with someone, you could be his or her friend.  A “compagno” in Italian is a comrade, a friend, a partner.

Rather like the Martini television ad of a few years ago (“No Martini? No party!”), it seems fitting to conclude with: No bread? no company!  Being breadless is a lonely business in Italy …

P.S. If you have the time and inclination, take a look at this link for images of bread sculptures in Sardinia:, and …

At this video about how they (still) make a ‘decorative’ bread in Sicily to celebrate Saint Joseph (since my name is Josephine I think it’s only proper that I should quote him).  Incidentally, the bread thus produced used to be given to the poor as an act of charity and good will.

Merry May Gnocchi with Sausage and Asparagus

Asparagus spears have been saying Hello to me in vegetable stalls for quite a few weeks now.  I remembered a sauce a made a few years ago for a gnocchi dish, using sausages and asparagus.

Am reposting in case you might be tempted to try it.  I remember my kids and their friends thoroughly enjoying this Spring dish.

And here is another post on how to make gnocchi:



Putting the Posh in Peas (and Chicken)

I don’t buy a lot of frozen food generally speaking, that is except for peas.  Most of the year I buy frozen peas.  When fresh peas are in season, however, it is such a joy to have them to cook with (not so much a joy having to shell them but that’s another story).  Anyway, I got hold of some fresh peas a few weeks ago, still in their pod, and enticed my mother who was staying with us into shelling them.  She did after all say she wanted to be of help … I was just doing the kind thing.

Today’s recipe is one I was inspired to try out from a rather posh recipe book with beautiful photos, truly artistic (once I find the book I can tell you the title).  The recipe in question seemed straightforward enough so off I trotted to get all the ingredients. By the time I got around to cooking, however, it was getting very late and I had to hurry things up a bit because people were getting hungry for their dinner – so in the end presentation was the least of my worries.  As you will see, the final plate looks a bit of a mess but I promise you it tasted fine, just fine.

When I teach people how to make fresh pasta, I tell them that it is a very forgiving recipe – it’s very hard to get it wrong.  “And,” I reassure them, “if things really do go downhill, at the end of the day we are talking about wasting some flour and eggs – we are not talking caviar!”  Pasta is not supposed to be ‘posh’, just ‘simple’ and delicious.  Delicious in its simplicity.  With today’s recipe, I am taking the opposite stance.  I am turning some basic, ‘simple’ ingredients, and wanting to present them as grander than they are.  And that’s because we all deserve a bit of grand now and then, don’t you agree?

INGREDIENTS: chicken breast, olive oil, paprika, fresh peas, onions, lemon, fresh mint leaves, butter, phyllo pastry


In this ambitious photo (I’m standing on a stool in an attempt to get an overhead clean vista of the ingredients) you can see some chicken breast that I cut into similar-sized pieces, fresh peas, and a bowl containing olive oil, its peculiar colour having been brought about by the addition of liberal pinches of paprika.

2Sprinkle salt over the chicken.

3Transfer the chicken pieces to an oven dish, and dab the olive oil and paprika over both sides of the meat.

5Cover with clingfilm/saran wrap/gladwrap or whatever it is you call this marvellous invention that I love to hate.  I can never get it right, it always sticks to my fingers somehow.  So, yes, it looks a bit crumpled but I did manage to get it to be air-tight.  I then placed the chicken in the fridge for about one hour.

Prepare an ice bath – basically, just a bowl with cold water and ice cubes in it.  And then proceed to cook the fresh peas until they are done.  To be honest, I can’t remember how long that took – but longer than one would think.  Fresh peas take their time to reach the the point of perfection.

8Drain and quickly transfer the peas in the ice bath to cool down.  Drain again and separate the peas into two containers.


And now on with cooking the chicken.


12Cook the chicken on both sides until browned but not entirely cooked through.  Then place in the oven dish and continue cooking in a low-temperature oven for about 15-20 minutes (150°C let us say) until you think they are cooked (no raw chicken).

And now let us deal with the peas.

Add fresh mint leaves and a squirt of lemon juice to the peas in the glass bowl.

14Process, add a little bit of olive oil, a pinch of salt – and taste, taste, taste until you can pronounce what you taste finger-licking-good.  Set aside.

16Remember the other bowl of cooked peas?  Well, soften/cook some onions with butter in a saucepan, and then add the peas and some salt and pepper.  (Sorry, no photo to show you at this point).  Set aside.

A lot of setting aside, isn’t there.

17And then I had a brainwave.  I happened to have some phyllo pastry in the freezer that always gave me baleful looks when I opened the freezer door, as if to say: WHEN are you going to use me up?  The fateful moment had finally arrived … how about …?

18Slicing the phyllo pastry into ribbons and …

19Crisping it up (it only takes seconds) with some olive oil?

20Genius, right?  It was very oily because I was in a hurry, and I had to pat it down quite a bit with kitchen paper (and next time I might do this in the oven instead).  But it did indeed add a bit of crunch factor to the final presentation.

Time to plate up.

21Step one.  The pea mash.

22Step two: the unmashed peas.

23Step there: a shower of crispy phyllo pastry.

Presentation, repeat, not brilliant … but it tasted nice enough and that’s what counts.