Archive | October, 2012

The Perilous Search for a Free Breakfast

19 Oct

Mushrooms are great

Free mushrooms are better.

Free Chanterelles are the shizz.

So you can imagine my face of idiotic glee when I stumbled (quite literally) onto a huddle of free wild Chanterelles one early morning this week. I did feel slightly ashamed though, 3 Christmas’s ago I received John Wrights River Cottege Handbook on Mushrooms and it has taken coming to Italy to actually use it.

Because in Ireland we seem to have lost our knowledge of mushrooms, nowadays most people wouldn’t know the difference between a tasty field mushroom and a Destroying Angel (myself still included) and every autumn the newspapers are full of the foolhardy attempts of people who try. In Italy, however the penchant for a spot of fungi foraging is still very much alive (as the numerous cars parked haphazardly on country roads here are testament to).

So inspired by all the gluttonous Italians around me, I had set off to get some breakfast that I hoped wouldn’t have me in the morgue by sundown. Thrashing my way through the woods I came across so many I was unable to resist taking a sample of each back to Settima, housekeeper and forager extraordinaire. However, after a rudimentary conversation (as my Italian suck balls) of me pointing to each mushroom asking “This one? Can I eat this?” and her condescendingly shaking her head, it would seem the Chanterelles were the only thing I discovered that were edible/not going to kill me.

So if you do find yourself with an inkling to forage find yourself an old Italian lady or a good guide-book (I suggest the latter as an easier, more portable option) and remember if you can’t name it, don’t eat it

Happy Hunting!

Chanterelles on Toast

(Any mushrooms you can forage from the woods/market will do the job)

Clean off any bits of dirt/insects/general outdoorsy stuff with a slightly damp cloth (do not wash as it will make your mushrooms soggy)

Heat some oil and butter in a wide pan on medium/high heat until the butter foams

Add a small pinch of fresh thyme and then the mushrooms, add salt to help release the water and then raise the heat a bit

Move them around enough to stop them burning but not too much (you want them to caramelise, not steam)

When they have turned golden, dump on top some toast (I toasted mine in the pan while the mushrooms cooked to gather up all their flavour, waste not want not people), throw some parsley and black pepper on top and dig in!

Carmen: Orto Mama

4 Oct

So this summer I abandoned my blog to work on a farm, in Italy, where I ate too much great food and drank too much great wine. So now that I have you all sufficiently green with envy I want to tell you about Carmen, the “head gardener” at Spannocchia.

I have, as you may have noticed, put head gardener in quotation marks because Carmen is, in fact, the only gardener of Spannocchia. It’s Carmen’s single and sole responsibility to produce enough fruit and vegetables throughout the year used in the 4 course dinners had every evening in our villa. She does this with “help” of two interns that change every three months, so by the time they have learned to stop overwatering the beetroot seedlings and to weld a zappa without harm being bestowed on the plants and co-workers alike, they leave and the whole arduous task starts again.

I was convinced when I arrived on my first day of work in the Orto (that’s Italian for garden by the way, I type smugly, being one of the six words of Italian I learned this summer) that Carmen was an actual machine. We each had a row of young squashes needing to be weeded by hand, as myself and fellow Orto intern April sweated, panted and complained under the early morning sun Carmen had finished her row and started to help us with ours without so much as a begrudging look . See? Obviously a machine.

But as time went on I got to see the passion and love that Carmen has for her garden. Whether it be her shouting “Aspetta!! Guarda!!” when I inevitably trampled on/overwatered/pulled up the young growing vegetables or her proudly remarking on the microscopic growth of her courgettes from the day before, you could see that the Orto is Carmen’s kid and you couldn’t help become proud and protective of it too.