orWine Tastings in the Comfort of you own villa or B&B while on holiday in Tuscany or Liguria

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Thursday, 29 July 2010

Wild Food of the Month July: the pine kernel

Before July is over, and as it's been raining today, here another installment of our popular series: Wild Food of the Month. Summer is a time when I do slightly less wildfood foraging, because there's such a glut of cultivated veg in the garden, which doesn't mean we cease finding free food altogether though. We eat purslane on a practically daily basis in salads and as part of mixed juices. Now I have discovered amaranth it's leaves feature regularly in soups and bakes. Not to mention early windfall apples and pears providing us with juice. But today I'd like to talk about something you may not readily associate as a wild food.

The seeds of all species of pine tree are in theory edible, however most are far too small and fiddly to bother with. The most commonly used pine kernel comes from the Mediterranean stone oak. You gather the cones around this time of year, checking them for evidence of seed. You will probably find some loose on the ground as well.

Then you peel of the scales on by one to reveal one or two seeds under each. This is an extremely messy and sticky job as you can see from the state of my hand, mind you it smells nice.

Next you have to crack the hard shell around the actual pine kernel. You can do this with a wee tap of a small hammer (sorry couldn't find a smaller one),

or with the narrow bit of your nutcracker.

If you are unlucky your shell will be empty, as happens with at least 50%

But if you are lucky you'll find a small precious pine kernel.

The shell is extremely tough so it took me the best part of an hour to just get a small handful. It explains why they are so expensive when you buy them in a shop, however, fresh like this they actually taste of pine resin and are really aromatic, unlike most shop bought varieties which only seem to add texture to your pesto.

Yes and pesto is of course the traditional way of using pine kernels in our parts, but it's lovely added to other dishes too. I used the other day to add to a squash, dried fruit and pine kernel Pilau. That was after I had finished playing silly buggers with the squash and pretending I was Johnny I'm-a-bit-constipated Wilkinson kicking a penalty in rugby

Monday, 26 July 2010

Tomatoes and other veg

Today I would like to bore you with lots of pictures of tomatoes. Due to the freak weather conditions I got my tomatoes off to a late start. The first lot frizzled to bits in my cold frame during hot March days. The next lot experienced extremes of cold and damp. The ones on the following photos are from the seeds Mr H. from Idaho kindly suppied me with. I only sowed them out late April, so I'm quite pleased that most of them are ripening already not much later than I would normally expect.

I must also admit I'm the world's worst organised gardener. I frequently forget what I sow where and even if I make a note I then forget where I transplant it to. It's obviously easy to distinguish a tomato from say a cucumber, but when it comes to tell different tomato types, I get confused. So, knowing this, I endeavoured to plant at least the first lot in alphabetical order to the 10 different varieties Mr.H sent me. The rest is all a bit higgledy-piggledy, but I have my first 10 as reference plants. So here we go

#10 Red

Black Cherry (delicious!)


Gruntovi Gribovski

Orange Smudge

Red Cherokee

San Marzano Roma (obviously not ready yet)

Targinnie Red


Turkey Unnamed

This was today's colourful tomato harvest. Looking forward to growing my very own "Heiko" tomato next year

For those of you not so much into tomato photos, here for something different:

Red amaranth flower. Yes another one growing spontaneously. And I'm pleased my red-stripe amaranth has taken too.

Green aubergine. It's well ahead of their purple colleagues.


Pears almost ready. It's an early variety and it's actually slightly late this year, but the more bountiful.

Florida Cranberry. After a slow start during the cold spring, the ones in more exposed positions are starting to look like proper plants now.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Images from a summer garden

Dwarf bean "Purple Queen"

Cucumbers galore

First tomatoes: a volunteer large grape tomato.

An apple tree I had almost given up on after some snow and storm damage 5 years ago, producing some early fruit again for the first time.

Butternut squash

The wild flower bed.

... and amaranth. That's it, isn't it?

Saturday, 10 July 2010

What to do with too many courgettes

It's the time of year again where we're struggling with a glut of courgettes. Here's my method of preserving most for at least a couple of weeks:

Roast Courgette sott'olio

  1. Slice courgettes diagonally to about 5mm slices.
  2. Heat a griddle pan to very hot and add just a drop of vegetable or sunflower oil (olive oil tends to burn at high temperatures and you might end up with courgette flambée). Throw in a single layer of courgette slices, sprinkle with salt, pepper, rosemary and chopped garlic. Grill a few minutes on both sides until done and clear juices run when you press a wooden spatula on top.
  3. Place the slices into a bowl with white wine vinegar. While doing the next batch, turn the slices in the vinegar ensuring both sides are covered, then place in a sealable plastic container.
  4. Repeat until you have used up all the courgettes. Cover with good quality olive oil and store in the fridge until needed. Not sure how long it lasts like this, but not very long in our household. If put into sealable jars and sterilised in a water bath, it maybe possible to store it for the winter, but haven't tried that yet.
  5. Makes an excellent antipasto or mixed with some pasta as a primo.
  6. You can also treat aubergines and peppers in the same way and make a mixed roast antipasto. Oh and, whilst it does use up quite a bit of expensive olive oil, you can of course re-use the left-over oil afterwards having acquired a nice rosemary and garlic flavour.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Furbo & Brutta Figura

We've just got back from a 3-night camping trip on our land to catch up with some work and I forgot to bring my camera, so no photos today. Summer has finally arrived with a vengeance and daytime temperatures have made work in anything but the early morning and late afternoon impossible. Currently my outside thermometer shows 35C in the shade!

So passing these hot lunchtime hours I thought I'll introduce you to 2 terms essential to understand the Italian mentality and I found occasion to use both in the last couple of days: furbo and brutta figura. The first is a desirable quality in Italians whilst the latter is to be avoided at all cost!

The word furbo, usually accompanied by an index finger tapped onto the side of the nose means cunning without the negative nuances it may have in English.
Cunning: artful, sly, deceptive, shrewd, astute, cute, on the ball and, indeed, arch. A word for for any praise and every prejudice. Cunning ... is a cunning word.
(quote from Unseen Academicals by Terry Pratchett

In Italy everyone is furbo. Any old way to get around paying your taxes or dodge cumbersome laws, rules and regulations. Who needs them anyway. When we got our beagle puppy (or Beagol as the Italians insist on pronouncing the breed) everyone said: "Sono furbi!", meaning they are cunning dogs, which have a way of finding their own thing and are therefore difficult to train.

While we were staying on our land we found a perfect example of his cunningness. There is no physical barrier between our plot and the neighbours except the narrow path down, which serves as access to both our properties. The neighbour, who is not the most sociable person and mainly talks to himself, comes to his plot every single day of the year, come rain or shine, if for nothing else to put some food out for the local stay cat population. So on more than one occasion he had to chase Eddie out of his land, so he wouldn't steal the cat food. On many other occasions I had to drag him out of there by the scruff of his neck while telling him off in a stern voice.

By now he knows exactly it's a no-go area. Every time he as much as moves in the direction of the cat food terrace he gets a stern word from either of us, which usually does the trick. So what does Eddie do? He either waits until both of us have turned our back before sneeking up there, or, even more furbo, innocently wanders off in the opposite direction, whistling obliviously, just to find a longer, but for us undetectable route to the same goal. Only after not seeing him for a while and us wondering where he'd got to, we'd start looking for him and invariably finding him... at the neighbour's cat feeding station.

The neighbour has even resorted to putting the food on top of some old rabbit cages out of small dog's reach. But Eddie just found a way of going to the terrace above and then kamikaziing down on top of the cages. That's furbo!

As for la brutta figura, that's what all Italians try and avoid and of course I'm owning up to one now. It literally means ugly figure but can best be translated as loosing face in front of your peers. No Italian likes to admit they are wrong about anything and they are all experts on everything. So a really bad brutta figura is when you trip up in your actual field of expertise!

For example if you would serve me as a wine expert and nasty Vin de Plonk and I would declare it to be a top notch claret, that would be a brutta figura. But my more recent brutta figura has come from another chosen expert field, that of wild food gathering. As my regular followers know I talk about it a lot and even do a regular feature of it.

Now in recent months amongst fellow garden bloggers, amaranth has been a bit of a buzz word. The ancient food of the Incas, which has been cultivated in ancient times because of it's nutrtious values both of the leaves and the seeds. I first heard of it from Kate in Australia I think. Then I heard my mate Mr.H and others mentioning it. Finally I got some seeds from GetSoiled all the way from sunny Florida.

I sowed the seeds and nothing happened, zilch, zero, niente. I thought, well that's it then, it might grow in Tasmania, Idaho and Florida, but it clearly doesn't like Italy. Shame, because I also read that it makes some good companion planting, helping to break up heavy soil, which I've got!

It started dawning on me when Ayak posted some photos of some weeds she found in her garden and Mr H commented that one of them could be pigweed, a variety of amaranth. Now erm... whilst weeding around my sweetcorn I discovered something very much like it. In fact I remember it going to flower in previous years and another look around internet land pretty much confirmed it: I've got at least 2 different varieties of amaranth growing wild on my land!

Whilst still camping on the land I actually added some to a potato, leek, courgette and bean bake I made on the BBQ and we've survived the experiment! (Nothing goes over the taste test: if it doesn't make you very ill, it's edible!).

Now unfortunately, as I said above I didn't have my camera with me, but will post some pics soon.