The house is full of a delicious mulled wine smell - the first quinces of the season are slowly poaching in my oven. It's freezing cold outside and there is nothing I like better on a quiet afternoon than to have something bubbling away in the oven. I bought a few quinces when I was at the shops and thought that our house needed a homely smell today, to ease us into the coming weekend. So I peeled and chopped the quinces and slipped them into a red winey, cinnamony, vanilla-y concoction, popped the whole pot into the oven and left it there all afternoon. I'm not really sure what to do with them, but I'm sure I will think of something. Actually, I'd be happy just to cook them for the delicious house-warming smell.
This cold weather makes me crave comfort food, so I'm thinking to eat the quinces with a creamy, lemon and vanilla-infused rice pudding. The mere thought of that makes me very happy!
Our salt-of-the-earth lighthouse keeper went out fishing almost every day*. On our second day we happened upon him as he was unloading his catch and we chose these two fishy beauties for our dinner. Have no idea what type of fish they are, but the red one in particular was delicious. He gutted them for us (thank goodness) and we grilled them in the little wood-fired oven standing out the back of the lighthouse, using driftwood and branches we had collected earlier that afternoon. I parboiled some potatoes and wrapped them in foil and we roasted them in the embers of the fire (these potatoes, which had looked so terrible in the shop that I could barely bring myself to buy them - dirty, knobbly and shrunken - turned out to to the most fantastic-tasting potatoes I have had in a long time, with dense yellow flesh that was firm, flavoursome and sweet when cooked, not watery and pale like usual). We all reeked of smoke by the time the fish was cooked, and Bruno had burns all up and down his arms, but it was an absolute feast, heartened surely by the salty breeze, the glowing sunset and the deserted surrounds.
* He contributed some fresh calamari to our dinner a few days later. Poor Bruno got the job of skinning, cleaning and preparing it! But that story is for another day...
Well, it seems everyone is interested in the roadside truffles we bought on a whim as we whizzed through Slovenia on our way to the mountains. A tiny knob of white truffle, it stank out our car all the way through Italy, over the Simplon Pass and into the Valais. Truffles to me seem to walk that fine line between smelly socks and gloriousity. A whiff is heady but prolonged exposure can be fatal, especially in close confines. But the earthy, rich smell and taste is beautiful in small amounts.
I have to admit, my experience with truffles is limited. I had a fantastic truffle pasta in Berlin last year - freshly cooked, home-made linguine was bought to the table, heaped onto a giant split-open wheel of parmigiano and twirled and tossed on the open surface to coat every strand in a cheesy sauce. Then it was piled onto my plate and black truffles shaved onto it. Heavenly, i tell you! With a glass of red wine - bliss. At the beginning of our Croatian adventure we went to eat at a small konoba (small family-run restaurant) in Medveja and I had a perfectly-cooked grilled organic steak with truffle sauce (pictures and so forth to come in a separate post), which was absolutely delicious. Other than that, I've never cooked with truffles. I wanted to do something special with it, but we arrived on a Sunday and the shops were closed and we didn't have much foodstuffs with us by then (having eaten our way through my carefully prepared stash of deserted island goodies). So we arrived, starving and grumpy, and I ended up making a variation on the linguine I ate in Berlin. Ok, the pasta wasn't handmade, and I didn't have a wheel of parmegiano to toss it on, but it tasted pretty great anyway. No pictures unfortunately, we were too hungry to wait! Even Max enjoyed the truffle pasta (Lola stuck to butter and parmegiano, we were too tired to argue).
We had a small piece of truffle leftover, which I enclosed in a container with 4 eggs. The truffle aroma and flavour permeates through the shell to the egg, leaving the eggs beautifully truffle-scented. I scrambled the eggs the next morning, and grated the remaining piece of truffle over the top, with hot buttered toast. Actually, it was surprising how strongly the truffle smell and taste came through in the eggs before the truffle shavings, after just one night of permeating.
I wish we had bought more truffles now that it's gone! But we had only a few Croatian kunas left and either a 5 euro note or a 50 euro note. We weren't about to spend 50 euros on truffles! So we bought just a tiny knob. But that tiny knob stretched out to two meals, turning those simple meals into something quite special and luxurious. Bruno and I were out to dinner on Friday night and a waiter brushed past me bearing a truffled pasta...the merest whiff was enough to turn my head. Once you know the smell it is instantly recognisable, very distinctive. So maybe I shall have to hunt down more truffles this season, for just one more truffle hit...
A tiny, stinky knob of white truffle, bought with our last few remaining Croatian Kunas. Truffle pasta for dinner tonight, then!
(For the last week I've been travelling through Croatia with the family - see my other blog for updates)
Ok, so I am exaggerating slightly. We aren't going to be on a desert
island, just one that's a little bit deserted. BUT the travel info did
suggest that we bring our own groceries along,
so I've taken that edict very seriously and have packed accordingly -
there is nothing worse in the kitschenette household than an attack of
the hunger-induced grumps! Guaranteed to take the shine off any family
holiday, I tell you, no matter how idyllic the setting. I experienced a
strange satisfaction while packing up this hamper of goodies -strange
perhaps, because I'm not used to feeling so prepared :) or because I'm
tapping into my Italian mama instincts by making sure that whatever
else happens, we will at least be fed decently!
Here's what I'm taking:
bread flour (for pizza/pancakes)
That looks like enough to sink a battleship, or at least our car.
But, better over-prepared than under-prepared, I say. When I travel I
always get stupidly anxious about the food situation - my first
priority is always finding a food source that will keep us suitably
nourished and my notoriously fickle blood sugar levels happy.
it is truffle and mushroom season in one of the areas we will be
visiting. Woohoo! And the thought of having access to fresh fish and
seafood is just awesome - one of the things Bruno and I both miss so
much about Oz.
Stay tuned for reports when we get back - hopefully with tales to tell.