I can’t believe I’ve been an Italian for nine months! Some things are familiar now, but it’s my first Abruzzo winter, so radiators have been flushed, the electric blanket is on the bed and the soup maker is dusted off and ready for action.
The seasons are so much more vivid and defined here than in London. Right now it’s mostly clear blue skies with green rolling fields and, off in the distance, the Gran Sasso (after the Alps, the highest mountain in Italy) is dusted with snow. Grapes have been harvested over the last few months and magicked into lovely Montepulciano rosso; but after a poor growing season for olives this year, what there is has been taken off to be pressed and farmers are busy cutting back the trees. I love having the window down a bit when I’m driving home at night to breathe in the sweet smell of burning olive wood drifting across the valleys.
It gets dark by 5.30pm and temperatures drop rapidly in this old, un-insulated house of mine, so the zoo and I tend to stay in the living room with the radiator on and doors closed. Because it’s not just me and Orbit Cat to keep warm any more – we’ve been adopted by a little black one year old cat, now named Stella. There are lots (lots!) of stray and farm cats round here, thanks mostly to a very cavalier, “sink or swim” attitude to animals, and neutering in particular. Most shy away from the house, but this little one shouted to be let in from the moment I saw her and has now become a member of the family. As a friend commented: “What a sweet early Christmas present”. Alas, Orbit is well miffed. She thinks she’s been usurped as Supreme Ruler of the Household, despite me spoiling her rotten with attention and treats. Stella will win her round though, I’m sure. She is a poppet, although moving a little gingerly at the moment, having just been spayed. The vet thinks she was abandoned, as she was already litter trained and very cuddly – or maybe she’s just a fast learner! Both are sound asleep right now, so peace reigns and I chat with a friend about what to have for dinner.
Anywhere in Italy, at any time, the main theme of any conversation is food. What you had for dinner last night, what you’re having today and what you’ll buy for tomorrow’s meals. Food shopping is dictated by what’s fresh, rather than what’s been flown in from all over the world and put in deep freeze storage. When I first arrived I’d feel slightly peeved that some things just weren’t available to buy here, as opposed to any UK supermarket, where consumers demand lots of everything, despite them not being in season. However, I’ve learned to go with the flow and enjoy fruit and vegetables as and when they are grown. So, on the menu tonight is cime di rape, a slightly bitter cross between spinach and broccoli, which I’ll toss in butter and serve with piquant locally made, rusk and filler free sausages. Home grown pumpkins are also being offered to all and sundry before they grow to the size of Cinderella’s coach, and tomorrow I’m meeting a friend to relieve her of a couple, which will be headed for the freezer as pumpkin soup and chunks, ready for slow cooker curries after the inevitable Christmas excess.
Happily, Christmas is only just making a retail appearance here – such a relief after a UK mate reported Christmas decorations on sale there. In August. After the obvious religious significance, again an Abruzzese Christmas is mostly about the food. At dinner last night the hostess produced fried scrippelle, which are only made in November and December. They originated in Teramo, another province of Abruzzo, but their version is very thin crepes made from flour, eggs and water. Here in the Chieti region, fried scrippelle is made from bread or pizza dough, fried in olive oil or seed oil, seasoned with salt or sugar and served hot. It was love at first bite, and my low carb diet is seriously in danger!