July 17, 2017 by Emma Bentley
At risk of sounding like a snob, I don’t like going out to restaurants for mediocre food.
If we leave, having paid upwards of 50 or 60 euros (for two) for a dinner that I feel that I could have cooked myself, I am disappointed. I would rather go out once and be faced with a bill of 100 euros for an exceptionally good meal and a memorable experience than go out twice for sub-standard offering.
I choose to go to places which offer food that I can’t or don’t want to cook at home. For example, unless it’s so fantastic that it will knock my socks off (a very English expression!) I will rarely order a pasta dish in a restaurant. We have pasta for lunch nearly every day. Pizza, however, is a completely different kettle of fish because pizza costs between 6 and 9 euros and is cooked at temperatures that my home oven (even with a pizza stone) cannot rival. Similarly, I will happily order fish (well, probably not on a Monday) because when I cook a beautiful salmon or bouillabaisse at home, the smell remains with us for two more days at least. Am I the only one like this?
I also dislike supermarkets. My local market in Paris was wonderful (le Marché de l’Olive in the 18th arrondissement) because I had want for nothing and it was all very flavoursome. Here, the selection is more limited (so many exotic and international foods are hard to find) but I go to the nearby organic farm shop to buy fruit and veg. I’m lucky though because I’ve become part of a community who offer around anything of which there is a surplus.
Today, for example, I was given: courgettes, aubergines (translation: zucchini and eggplant), green beans, plums and a cabbage. Amazing!
I only moved to this village at the beginning of the year and between juggling the man, the dog, the job and the renovations, I haven’t had the time, the space or the tools to start a vegetable patch. It’s part of my larger plan – and hopefully by winter 2018 / spring 2019, I’ll be working the land.
However, there are other things that I like to grow and make and I’ll use this blog as a way of keeping track of all the projects I have on the go and to keep me accountable for projects that I hope to start shortly.
Herb Garden – oregano, curly leaf parsley, mint, basil. The oregano and mint grow best here. In spring 2018, I’m going to plant out the oregano and re-pot the mint into a bigger container.
There’s a rosemary plant and a bay leaf tree already established in the garden… and a fig tree just a few metres further.
Onions – I planted some very old onions a few months ago, they recently flowered and in the next couple of days, I’ll pick out the seeds.
Red Wine Vinegar – I had two batches of vinegar in Paris (red wine vinegar in 5 litre terracotta vinaigrier and white wine in a 3 litre dish of fine English porcelain (as you do…) I had to start again here in Italy; again, forming the mother from scratch from red and white wines but this time, I added some of the Paris vinegar to give a helping hand. As you can see in the photo below, I’m using a beautiful, small (6 litre) barrel, which I treated several times to dull down the potential wood flavour but we’ll have to wait and see if it worked or not.
The makings of my new #wine #vinegar! – First time experimenting with a small (6 litre) barrel (thanks @alessandro_maule!) Before, I used terracotta and fine porcelain!! I'm wondering how the wood presence is going to affect the final product… – I'm starting the mother from scratch…. but I've added some non-filtered vinegar from a previous batch. Now let's wait and see!!
Dried Oregano – I’m going to cut the large branches of oregano this week and leave them to dry while we’re away on holiday. Italians are very fond of dried oregano (especially in the south) and so I want to give this a try. I figure that I should leave them in a well-ventilated space, ideally hung vertically, to stop them from going mouldy.
Preserved Lemons – I had a glut of lemons earlier this year so I set about preserving some of them. Half have already been used (in tabbouleh and tagines) but the other half went to waste when the pot that was containing them broke. It’s pretty simple to make so I will start another batch after the holidays.
Sourdough Starter – even though I’ve made a lot of bread in my time, I’ve never made a sourdough starter. It intrigues me. Normally, I use a small amount of baker’s yeast and leave it to rise for a long time. I’m going to give the sourdough a try – probably in late August or September – but I’m concerned that it will suffer if I go away for a week or so and there’s no-one there to feed it. Any ideas, suggestions or words of wisdom to help me?
Butter, Ricotta and Kefir – I made all three of these at some point in Paris. They’re relatively labour-intensive and ordering unpasteurised milk from my local cheesemonger (it had to be ordered in specially for me) got me the reputation of being “the weird English girl.” However, the butter here in Italy is really dire (I was so spoilt in France!) that desperation may well drive me to risk my reputation again and ask my cheesemonger to put aside some milk for me…