Walnut Pesto

Walnut Pesto

There are certain foodstuffs that we buy, that I know should be so easy to make ourselves, but for some reason, never get around to it. Either, there’s something we don’t have from the ingredients list, Or, I just assume it won’t be as easy as I think it might. Pesto is one of these things. At least one jar, often more, is bought on every shop. Meaning more bottles to recycle and meaning always paying over the odds for something.

But, with the most recent haul in the garden being walnuts, we decided the the time had come to crack the pesto…

Ingredients

  • Two or three large cloves of garlic, unpeeled
  • A cupful of walnuts – depends on the size of your cup, but this was the amount we used, above
  • A big bunch of fresh basil leaves – again, it depends on how strong you want your pesto to be
  • A chunk of fresh parmesan, grated. Same as with the basil, it’s all down to personal taste
  • Olive oil – as above, re personal taste, as you can add more as necessary

01

Toast the unpeeled, whole garlic, in olive oil. Once the skin begins to brown, remove from the pan and set aside. Once it’s cooled down, peel the skin away.

02

Toast the walnut kernels, for about 10 minutes, stirring in olive oil, so that they don’t burn.

03

Combine peeled garlic, walnuts, basil, parmesan cheese and olive oil in a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. You’ll need to need to use a plastic scraper to mix the pesto as the walnuts tend to stick to the sides, until blended. This is also when you can add more parmesan and olive oil, depending on your taste and the kind of consistency you want to achieve.

04

Season with salt & pepper according to your taste. And serve…

 

 

 

 

 

 

Smoked Tuna with Pasta

Smoked Tuna with Pasta

 Almost with the flick of a switch, summer seemed to end yesterday, and autumn arrived. The temperature dropped and grey skies replaced the bright blue sky we seem to have had for weeks and weeks. Although we’re still hopefully weeks away from having to light the woodburners, we definitely craved something a bit more substantial and comforting for dinner. Our local Lidl store has been rotating, on a weekly basis, foods from different European countries – Greek week is always a winner in our house, and we’ve been stocking up on Eridanous range of smoked tuna. It is utterly delicious, with a real woody, smoky flavour and when a tin of tuna is called upon in future, I don’t think I’ll be able to have any other kind.

We’ve used this through the summer in salads and wraps but decided something more warming was needed – and our pasta dish was just perfect. It was quick and easy to make and very delicious. Hopefully, if you try it too, you can get your hands on some smoked tuna – it does make all the difference…

INGREDIENTS

  • Penne pasta
  • Red onion, finely sliced
  • A couple of cloves of garlic, sliced
  • Olive oil
  • Medium jar of passata or a tin of chopped tomatoes
  • 2 small tins of smoked or regular tuna
  • Dried chilli flakes
  • Strong cheese, for the topping
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • Fresh basil leaves

The recipe is as you would expect. Boil the pasta until al dente (it will cook further in the oven). When cooking, fry the onion and garlic until soft, in the olive oil. Sprinkle over the chilli flakes. Add the passata (or tomatoes) and stir until heated through, then add the tuna (chopped up into largish chunks) and a handful of basil leaves. Season according to taste.

Drain the pasta and mix into the tuna & tomato sauce, then turn into an oven proof dish. Cover with the grated cheese and cook for about 30 minutes in a medium oven.

 

Oprtalj – Step into the Past…

Oprtalj – Step into the Past…

Our nearest town, Oprtalj, isn’t really a town. At least not in the sense of what we’d regard as a town back in the UK. Oprtalj is not much bigger than Burton Road in West Didsbury, but with a couple of restaurants, a wine bar, a school, a food shop, an interiors shop, a gallery, a boutique hotel, a loggia, a church, a campanile, a cashpoint (rare in these parts), a town hall, a post office and a town square, it has plenty going for it. Many of the properties in Oprtalj were abandoned over the years – successive regimes ensured that many families upped sticks and left – and so there are plenty of buildings which are being reclaimed by nature. But, life is being breathed back into Oprtalj. Like much of Istria, tourism is a big industry here (and so the area has been hit hard this year), so many of the properties have been bought and redeveloped. However, once inside the city walls, there are very strict regulations as to what you can and can’t do to one of these old properties – even the external paint colour has to be from an approved list, but it does mean that that sympathetic restoration is ensured.

Sitting on the top of a hill, the town has stunning views across the Istrian countryside – vineyards and forests and small villages and in the distance, the shimmering Adriatic. In the winter, when the clouds are low, we can be shrouded in fog, making it really atmospheric – it’s hard to imagine on days like these, how beautiful the vista below actually is. But during the summer – and especially this summer, when days have been long and hot and lazy – it really comes into its own, especially when the sun shines on the pastel coloured buildings. Being so close to Italy, and having been ruled over by Italy throughout the ages, Oprtalj has a real feel of a Tuscan hill town. It really is our little corner of Italy…

We are hoping to move a little closer to Oprtalj, and so are selling our beautiful renovated Istrian stone house. It is about 4kms from the town, located in a lovely village, which is quiet and peaceful. If you are interested in investigating our house for sale, do visit our website.

Panzanella

Panzanella

Waste not, want not.

We’re trying very, very hard to live a much more sustainable lifestyle and to really take note of what we buy. In the past, we might have popped into Manchester and come bag with bags of *stuff* that we just didn’t need. We don’t do this now. Because we’ve kind of had to start from scratch, with our Istria house, we’ve had to be a lot more careful. OK, so we had all of our furniture and boxes of accessories etc from our West Didsbury house, but we also now have a house with a whole lot more floorspace, so we’ve had to think carefully about how we furnish and accessorise it. Upcycling and recycling has played a much bigger part this time around – and it’s very satisfying to see something we’ve actually created.

But this is not the only aspect of our lives, where we’re trying to be more careful. Rather than chucking food which we think looks a bit “off”, we now try to eat what we buy when it’s fresh. Or, certainly in my case, being a bit braver with food and not think I am going get food poisoning if it’s a day or two past its best.

Like the ciabatta loaf that hadn’t been eaten quickly enough this weekend, and was too hard to do much with. Like the tomatoes which had gone a bit too soft. Like the jar of anchovies which had been opened for a pizza a couple of nights previously and needed to be eaten. Then I remembered a dish I had always intended to make – but then never got round to, because I’d always chucked the perfect ingredients for this recipe. Those a bit on the stale side, and just past their best. No excuses this time, as I had everything to hand…

PANZANELLA

Panzanella (or panmolle) is a Tuscan salad, the main ingredients being stale bread, onions and tomatoes, with red wine vinegar and olive oil. We had a few more ingredients to hand, so threw these in, too. The easiest and quickest dish to make – even adding in the additional time to roast the peppers.

Ingredients

  • Stale ciabatta loaf
  • Over ripe mixed tomatoes, roughly chopped
  • 1 handful small capers (drained)
  • 1 small red onion – peeled and finely sliced
  • A couple of red peppers, chopped & roasted – make sure the skin blackens in places for extra flavour
  • About 10 small anchovy fillets in oil, drained and chopped up
  • Red wine vinegar
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Parmesan cheese
  • Salt & pepper
  • Torn up fresh basil leaves

And this is how simple it is to make…

  • Chop the red peppers, smother with olive oil and black pepper and roast for about 30 minutes.
  • Place the chopped tomatoes in a big bowl and season with salt and pepper, and then add the red peppers when roasted.
  • Rinse the capers, squeeze out any excess liquid and add to the bowl, along with the sliced, red onion, ciabatta and anchovies.
  • Toss the mixture together with your hands, then stir in a splash of red wine vinegar and about 3 times as much extra virgin olive oil.
  • Taste and add a little more salt, pepper, vinegar or oil, if needed.
  • Tear in the basil leaves, stir together and grate parmesan cheese over the salad.

Serve, with a lovely glass of chilled wine. The perfect Italian salad, using what you probably have in the kitchen anyway.

 

 

 

Cauli Cheese – with a twist…

Cauli Cheese – with a twist…

I’m a big fan of easy-peasy dishes, which include as few pots and pans as possible. And, as little time spent in the kitchen, as possible. Summer here has been very hot and currently we don’t have the luxury of air con, so our summer cooking has involved many BBQs and salads and things which are left to themselves, so we can escape the heat of the kitchen. I caught an advert on TV for Jamie Oliver’s new series & part of the clip was Cauliflower Cheese Pasta – the tiny bit that I saw was enough to get me out purchasing a fresh cauli, as I knew that this dish would be a stunner. And it was!

The outer leaves of my cauliflowers usually end up in the compost bin, as I’m never really sure what to with them. Well, this recipe clears that one right up. All parts of the cauliflower are used. And I bet if I told you that this recipe is actually a spaghetti dish, smothered in the creamiest, silkiest sauce – made up mostly of cauliflower – with a crispy, crunchy topping (those leaves!), you probably wouldn’t believe me. So, here’s the recipe and how it turned out…

INGREDIENTS

  • 100 g stale bread (we used frozen breadcrumbs)
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • ½ a head of cauliflower (400g)
  • olive oil
  • 1 onion
  • 400 ml semi-skimmed milk
  • 300 g dried spaghetti
  • 70 g Cheddar cheese

METHOD

  • Tip the breadcrumbs into a food processor.
  • Peel and add the garlic, along with a couple of outer leaves from the cauliflower
  • Add ½ a tablespoon of olive oil and blitz
  • Tip into a large non-stick frying pan on a medium heat and cook for 15 minutes, or until golden and crisp, stirring occasionally and put to one side, in a bowl
  • Meanwhile, peel the onion, then roughly chop with the cauliflower, stalk and all
  • Pour in the milk and add the chopped veg, bring just to the boil, then reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer
  • Cook the spaghetti in a pan of boiling salted water and just before it’s ready, carefully pour the cauliflower mixture into the processor
  • Grate in the cheese, blitz until super smooth, then season to perfection, and return to the pan
  • Drain the pasta, reserving a mugful of starchy cooking water
  • Toss the pasta through the sauce, loosening with a splash of reserved cooking water, if needed
  • Serve with the cauliflower cheese spaghetti sprinkled with the crispy crumbs

This dish really is the best variation on a cauliflower cheese recipe I’ve ever had. Because it uses spaghetti, rather than pasta shapes, it seemed to feel a lot less “bulky”. And although I adore cheese, and can sometimes over use it, I stuck largely to the recipe – and I definitely don’t think the taste suffered in any way. It was also good to use a vegetable and know that absolutely none of it had gone to waste.

Whizzed up breadcrumbs and cauliflower leaves...

Whizzed up breadcrumbs and cauliflower leaves…

 

Damson Gin Time

Damson Gin Time

For the first year since we’ve been here, the damson trees around the garden, are absolutely laden with fruit. Maybe they have been in previous years, too, and possibly we’ve been too busy with summer visitors and renovation work, to notice, but we’ve definitely noticed this year. The bees and butterflies are in abundance, buzzing around the trees and tucking into the fallen fruits. We even have a rabbit who visits and seems to almost get intoxicated on the fruit. The trees (middle in photo below) are heavy with them and the thud of falling fruit is a familiar sound this summer. We’ve been picking and cleaning the damsons for a couple of weeks now and freezing them – and after a supermarket run to buy some cheap gin, we’ve started making the damson gin…

Today has been the perfect day, as after days and days of sunshine and high temperatures, a storm rolled in, so we had a day indoors. As we’ve never fruit trees before, I’ve never made any kind of gin, assuming it to be very difficult. Well, not so!

A litre bottle of fairly cheap gin (wasn’t going to use the good stuff) was divided between two sterilised kilner jars. 500g of our frozen damsons were bashed up a bit with a mallet, in the freezer bag, and 250g added to the gin in each jar. 125g of golden caster sugar was then added and both jars given a good old shake. This’ll be repeated daily for a week, until the sugar has dissolved and then the jars will be put it in a cool, dark place and left for 2-3 months.The plan then will be to use a coffee filter cone, to hopefully achieved a refined gin, and the liquid will be strained through it. This will then be decanted into clean, dry bottles, which will be sealed and labeled. By Christmas, we hope the gin will be ready to drink 🙂 Meanwhile, I’m just liking checking on my first attempt at gin distillery…

 

Greek Style Tuna Stew

Greek Style Tuna Stew

I have absolutely no idea if this dish has any Greek roots but it just reminds me of those oh-so-wholesome stewy-fish dishes that you often find in Greek tavernas. The ones located right next to the sea, with a bamboo awning, covering you from the hot sun as the water laps at your feet. The ones where the fish is so fresh, you’ve just watched it being caught.

Unfortunately, despite pretty close to the Adriatic now, we’re not good at fishing and so our tuna was of the frozen variety. But handily in cubes – so perfectly cut already for a stew or a skewer on the barbecue. I like nothing more than a good stew, where everything is tossed into one pot or pan and allowed to just bubble away and get on with things, and this is pretty much what this dish is.

INGREDIENTS

  • tuna – we used frozen cubes, but if you fancy cutting up fresh tuna, that’d work just as well, if not better
  • two large potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • two peppers, de-seeded and roughly chopped
  • one fresh chilli, de-seeded and chopped finely
  • two large cloves of garlic, crushed or finely sliced
  • one large onion, roughly chopped
  • chopped fresh tomatoes
  • olive oil
  • chilli flakes
  • veggie (or fish, if you prefer) stock
  • a glug of white wine
  • salt & pepper
  • fresh parsley

METHOD

  1. Sear the tuna cubes (sprinkled with sea salt) in a skillet, with olive oil (just a couple of tablespoons) on a high heat, for about 3 minutes, turning all the time so that all sides brown. Set aside on a plate.
  2. Boil the peeled and cubed potatoes.
  3. Saute the garlic, onions, peppers and fresh chillies until soft. Season with salt and pepper and a sprinkling of dried chilli flakes.
  4. Add the boiled potato cubes and roughly chopped fresh tomatoes, with about two cups of veggie stock (or fish stock), and a splash of white wine.
  5. Simmer for about 30 minutes, until the liquid begins to turn to a light broth consistency.
  6. Take off the heat and add the browned tuna cubes and sprinkle with fresh parsley. Leave for about three minutes for the the tuna to begin to soak up the broth.

Serve with crusty bread or sourdough, or as we did, warm pitta breads. Summer in a bowl…

 

Country Life

Country Life

Although I grew in the semi-rural North East of England, it’s been a long time since I’ve lived in a house and looked out of the windows and seen fields. The move to Manchester in 1985 lasted until we left in 2017. Thirty two years of city living – and suddenly in Match 2017 we found ourselves in our stone house in the Istrian hills. And, we’ve not looked back. We realised pretty quickly, because we had to start making contacts and navigating our way through a whole new life, that although the nearest supermarket was about 20 kms away, it took more or less the same time to get to it as it could to drive from our house in West Didsbury to Sainsbury’s in Cheadle. But this journey now takes us through medieval towns and past vineyards and to the Adriatic coast. Not the A34…

So, three years on, how’s country life?

Well, it is pretty amazing. We have four distinct seasons now, as opposed to Manchester seasons which largely merged into one. Spring is wonderful here – a switch really does flick. The pattern seems to be a couple of weeks of heavy and sustained rain in April and then all of a sudden, the greenery explodes. By June, Spring gives way to the hot, mostly dry, Summer. Although, we do get intense downpours, accompanied by ferocious thunderstorms – but these are usually gone as quickly as they arrive. Early harvesting happens here – we’ve just had a week of real country activity in the fields next to our house. Combine harvesters arriving first thing and hay bales in place by early evening. The landscape changes a lot in the summer as local farmers make the most of the glorious weather conditions. The weather starts to markedly cool down towards the end of October, but we can still have days when we eat outside. It’s always a sad sight when the greenery begins to drop – but we do a have couple of weeks, when nature puts on a real show of colour, as the reds and oranges take hold. Winter can be cold and damp and wet – but it can also be pretty spectacular. Days and days of bright blue skies and sunshine. And, perhaps what I like the most and expected the least, snow. Deep, deep snow. Making the house look like  very Alpine. The added bonus of woodburning stoves makes our house in the country very special at this time of year.

SPRING

SUMMER

AUTUMN

WINTER

So, country living. From being city dwellers, with every convenience on our West Didsbury doorsteps, we seem to have adapted pretty well. Although if our current plans come to fruition, we may be moving back to the city. That’s what our nearest town is called by some people around here – although with a population at the last census of 850, we don’t think we’ll be feeling too overcrowded and hemmed in….

 

Smoked Salmon & Leek Pasta

Smoked Salmon & Leek Pasta

We’ve been getting very good at using nearly everything we buy food-wise, and reducing our waste massively, and raiding the back of the cupboards for forgotten tins and packets. Most of the meals we’ve been making recently have been proper lockdown larder efforts, using generally what we have. When we do go the supermarket now, we plan ahead and often buy things which we would have considered luxuries in the past, meaning that if we don’t have all of the ingredients in, we have most and can usually find a substitute. This was once such meal this week.

The leeks were quite old and looked a bit ropey and past their best. Previously, I might have looked at them and decided they were too old and binned them. But this time, they were trimmed and a few layers peeled away – plus I kept the ends and these are sitting in water, sprouting, almost ready to planted up. Equally with the packet of smoked salmon – it was bang on its use-by date, by rather than thinking I’d get chronic food poisoning, I decided to be very brave and risk it 😉 I’ve also started buying mascapone cheese to use in sauces, rather than cream, so had a fresh tub of this in the fridge. And, as we always have pasta and white wine, we were good to go…

INGREDIENTS

  • Tagliatelle
  • Olive oil
  • Sliced leeks
  • White wine
  • Dried chilli flakes
  • Small tub of mascarpone cheese
  • Smoked salmon, cut into slices

METHOD

It couldn’t be simpler. Sautee the chopped leeks in the olive oil, until soft and then add the tub of mascarpone cheese and a glass of white wine. Meanwhile, cook the tagliatelle. Add a pinch of chilli flakes (and black pepper, according to taste). Simmer gently, until the the tagliatelle is cooked. Add the chopped smoked salmon to the cheesy, winey leek sauce and stir. Drain the tagliatelle and add to the sauce. Serve immediately.

The leek mixture is gorgeous once the cheese and wines and chilli flakes have been added. I didn’t add any additional salt as once the smoked salmon was added, for our taste, that provided sufficient saltiness.

A really quick & easy dinner dish, packed full of flavours.

Looking Back on Lockdown

Looking Back on Lockdown

Like the rest of the world, we’ve been living the Covid-19 lockdown, here in Istria, since March 17th. This was the day the country offically started staying at home, although we were feeling the effects before this date. Being so close to northern Italy, we were directly impacted pretty early on. We often travel to Trieste to do supermarket shopping, but when things started getting very serious in Italy, we stopped doing this. We were due to fly to Berlin in early March, but again, we decided against going, especially as the flights were from Treviso. And it’s just as well we didn’t go, as lockdown in Italy came in fully during the time we would have been away, meaning we could potentially have been stranded in Treviso.

From mid-March, schools, bars, restaurants, hairdressers, sporting facilities, theatres etc and shops deemed to be “non-essential”, closed. Everything literally stopped overnight. Supermarkets were still open, but we cut down on the trips out to them. Before restrictions became even tighter, we did a couple of “big shops” – but, it was immediately clear that people here, were taking things very, very seriously. Social distancing was absolutely respected, many people were already wearing masks, numbers allowed in to the supermarket were limited, and hand sanistisers and gloves were all readily available. Staff were all wearing masks and gloves, and the till area was wiped down after every customer. While all of this was happening in Istria, we watched aghast, at the slow response by the government in the UK, and listened to friends and family telling us that it mostly seemed to be like “business as normal”.

Things happened very quickly in Croatia, as the government responded with speed. By Monday 23rd May, travel restrictions had been introduced. To travel outside of your own municipality you needed a permit – this was quite a simple process and our neighbour helped us with the translation side of things and the permit was emailed back quickly. But, you had to state exact day of travel and purpose and ensure that you took the permit with you as police roadblocks were in place. By the following week, this had become even stricter as only one member of the household was allowed to travel. It was decided that I wouldn’t be that person, as unchecked, my shopping would have consisted of “treats” only 😉 This continued for two weeks, with the local administrative body doing the permits, but as lockdown continued, by mid-April, we had to apply for e-permits which were handled by a higher authority. Again, it was a relatively easy process, but it was becoming very clear that the situation was extremely serious.

So, how’s Lockdown Life been in Istria?

In many ways, not a great deal has changed for us personally. Over the last seven or so weeks, we’ve only left the house to go to the supermarket and to have the cars MOTd. Unlike in the UK, there’s no deferring these annual tests and we had to do both cars last week. We were a bit wary at the thought of being out & about, but as we’ve come to realise, people follow the rules here. There’s no flouting and everything is done by the book. So, it wasn’t anywhere near as risky as we feared – social distancing once outside of the car, one car at a time, hand sanitisers, perspex barriers. And, to be honest, it was nice to be out of the houseand actually see other human beings!

Our house is in a small village, up in the hills in northern Istria. Most of the properties are owned by people who live abroad, so until March/April time, we don’t tend to see a lot of people. Most restaurants around here, don’t re-open until late March/early April, so we live a pretty self-sufficient life anyway, meaning that lockdown hasn’t been a total shock. We’re in regular touch with family and friends and we’ve kept our website design clients, so always have contact with people. Now that we have fixed line broadband, we’ve also got UK TV, so can keep up to date and keep abreast of what’s going on.

We’re lucky that we’ve been able to use lockdown time very productively. Prior to being largely confined to home, we’d decided to sell our house, because we’d found another renovation project and via a website we designed, we’d tentatively started to market it. We’d put in a couple of low(ish) offers, which were rejected, to get the ball rolling on the other property and had a further viewing. It’s all obviously now on hold, but we’re using this time, to get the website completely finished, get the house on external property abroad websites and focus on the last bits and pieces in the house, ready for when we can get going again.

We also completed, just the week before lockdown, on the little property and additional land behind the main house, which will be included in the house sale. As our builder can’t come round to make it safe, we’re chugging along doing what we can to tidy it up. New boundaries have also been established and lodged at the Land Registry, so we’re making plans to fence off the whole house, front and back, to give us more privacy.

Lots of smaller jobs, which have been on a long list, for a long time, are being ticked off. Painting jobs are being tackled. A bit of decoupage has been going on, transforming a couple of doors and some shelving…

The window sills in the new kitchen have finally been tiled and grouted – a job which was always put off as it inevitably involved the tile cutter, but both windows have been done and they do look great. I also managed to get my “window shelf” – something I’ve been hankering after for while, since spotting something on Pinterest. This was much resisted by the shelf-putter-upper because he said we then wouldn’t be able to open the window. Yes, we would – the shelf could just sit on blocks and be lifted off when we wanted to open the window. He now likes the potential of an indoor herb garden…

We’ve also rediscovered our kitchen and are now much more likely to ensure that what we buy, we use. I’ve become less likely to discard fruit and veg which maybe doesn’t look as fresh it did when we bought it, and meals are being cooked from scratch. Bread is being baked & we have vegetables and herbs planted up.

Even though we are lucky enough to still be working from home, we do feel that we have more time to be doing more things for *us*. We’re catching up on films, and series we’ve been meaning to watch but never seem to have got round to. It’s taken us until now to get the brilliance of Peaky Blinders and I’m a bit bereft that we’re onto the last series – but rather than binge watching now, we’re restricting ourselves to two episodes on a Saturday evening. Which is how we know it’s a Saturday.

Earlier this week, we received the news that Istria County has been officially declared Coronavirus free, as no new cases had been reported for the previous 16 days. However, the relaxation of regulations is still measured and controlled. From Monday 11th May, bars and restaurants will be allowed to re-open IF they have outdoor terraces and if social distancing measures can still be maintained. We definitely won’t be rushing off to a local bar or a restaurant, but we are heartened that things like this can start to happen. We are horrified by what we see happening in the UK – and just wish we could transport all family and friends to Istria where it is safe.

So, for us personally, lockdown has been a time for planning and preparing. We know that even though we are in a different country, and a country we are still getting used to, we are very lucky to be here. And, hopefully, one day soon – although goodness knows when that will be – we’ll be able to welcome family and friends to our little slice of paradise, again.