Tag Archives: food

Italy – A Land of Pizza, Coffee and Ice Cream

Leaving Vercors the trip became slightly more planned, mostly because we wanted to get the 08:00 ferry from Kavala to Lesvos on 22nd September.  So we had a choice, loiter in the alps or go to Kerkini in Northern Greece.  Kerkini won.  This meant going fast, so down to Grenoble, then up to the Frejus tunnel, down and around Torino and then find somewhere in Northern Italy.


Motorways in Italy are less sane than those in France, and there was lots of work being carried out on bridges which sort of slowed the traffic a bit, or maybe, or maybe not.  Speed limits seem to be more of an advisory thing.  But there are advantages.  Motorway service station coffee is as good as espresso can get, so way better than what was on offer in the UK or France.  Same with the sandwiches and other things served between slices of bread.  Toasted with raw ham, rocket and parmesan is always an excellent choice.

We ended up in Ovada which was very pleasant, and managed to dodge the thundery showers which started to pop up in the late afternoon.   We had icecream, Hilary had spritz, there was nibbles with the drinks, so much that we ended up sharing a pizza.  Almost needless to say the ice cream was fantastic, as was the pizza.

Next day was more of the same, going fast to Cattolica, near Ancona and the ferry we wanted to catch on the 18th.  Cattolica is a small resort on the Adriatic, way more sane than Rimini.  We had ice cream, we had drinks and nibbles, and pizza again.  For the record (though some may have picked up on this from our facebook) not once in a pizza restaurant did we see pinapple on the menu.

So, Italy, we went fast, we did lots of excellent food and drinks.

Next will be Ancona and the fun and games of the ferry to Igoumenitsa.

Mixing it up

We have not done anything food related for a while. so.  Time to correct this.

We have a load of basil growing in pots.  Far more than we can eat or give away, and the locals do not seem keen on the idea of using it in food.  It is not the Italian variety, but a local broad leaved one, just as tasty but a little less sweet.  Ashley thought it a good idea to make pesto.  Pesto can of course be made with many things, here it gets called ezme whether made with basil and pine nuts, or black olives.  Tapenade = olive ezme.  Pesto = green ezme, or herb ezme, or something else similar.  A Mexican habenero salsa would probably be chilli ezme.    I am sure you get the idea.  Anyway, I digress.

Back to pesto.  Pine nuts are expensive.  So we hit on the idea of using pumpkin kernels.  Sunflower seeds were also considered but the local Migros did not have any and other options  were closed for bayram, so pumpkin kernels it was.  We briefly considered grinding the kernels and basil by hand, it is hot, 36C hot, grinding stuff by hand, no, way too much sweat and effort.  So the huge pile of basil leaves went into in a pot, along with loads of pumpkin kernels and olive oil, and out came the hand blender.  Blend, taste, blend, add more oil, a little salt, a few more kernels.  Blend, taste.  Until it seems right.

Adding cheese was considered, but, we had no Parmesan, and cheese can always be added at point of use.  Talking of point of use, and the theme of mixing things up, today we went out and bought some manti.  Manti is sometimes called Turkish ravioli.  It is little pinched together pieces of pasta with a filling, so yes, much like tiny ravioli.  Commonly in Turkey it is served topped with yoghurt and flavoured oil, which is of course delicious.

So we cooked manti, it is easy enough simply drop it in boiling water for 5 minutes.  Then we spooned over some of the home made pesto and pieces of local goat cheese, turned it all very gently to coat all the manti, and served.  Delicious. Perfect with a salad of tomatoes dressed in oil and balsamic vinegar.

Ashley adds. I need to learn to make pasta.  So many different fillings and sauces.  So many options to mix things up.  Ravioli, Manti, Dim Sum, Gyoza,

Baking in autumn

StormsAfter a stormy autumn day and night we have had a few cooler days.  This has resulted in eating indoors and the doors and windows being closed.  It was chilly at night.  The new duvet has come out, Hilary made soup, we have started buying winter vegetables – the celeriac looked really good and the leaves go really well in lentil soup.

The temperatures are back on the rise, by mid-week the days should be really pleasant and the evenings cool rather than cold, but it is another reminder that the seasons are changing.  As they change so does what we eat.  There will be more soups for breakfast, less fresh fruit.  Soup is commonly lentil, usually with whatever else is around, beet leaves, celeriac leaves, cauliflower or broccoli stems, anything that might otherwise go to waste.

Swedish-Apple-CakeWe have also been experimenting with baking.  Today we have Swedish apple cake in the oven, made with local eating apples rather than Bramleys.  It was meant to be topped with a butter, sugar and cinnamon syrup which would soak into the cake, instead we ended up with toffee.  So we have toffee apple cake.

Recently we have discovered that caramelised onions, classically French, go really well with kaşar and yufka.  So a French / Turkish fusion, caramelised onion and cheese tarte tatin  borek.  Delicious.  One recipe for caramelising onions we have used in the past was was originally from Ainsley Herriot Meals in Minutes, has a cheat and fast method for caramelizing the onions.  This one does not cheat, being retired we have time not to cheat and to do a bit of experimenting to find the best shape for the actual borek….

The Recipe

For four borek you need one yufka, about 200 gm of butter, enough grated kaşar or similar yellow cheese to go round the perimeter of the yufka and as many onions as will sensibly fit in your frying pan when sliced.  I use 5-6 depending on size but it would be less if they were really big.  Slice the onions really thinly into half-moons (piyazlık) and put them in a frying pan on low heat with a slosh of oil (I use Riviera olive oil, not the virgin oil for this) and a bit of butter – maybe 15 gm.  Leave them there for a long time, stirring them occasionally.  Leave them until they are caramalised (it takes about an hour, sometimes more, and they need stirring more towards the end).  I put in a small slosh of balsamic vinegar (again, I would not use the good stuff for this, even if I had it) and stir it round till the onions are evenly brown.  Then take them off the heat and let them cool down a bit.

The yufka gets spread out on the counter and brushed all over with melted butter.  That’s what most of the butter is for.  Keep a little back for the top.  Cut the yufka into four segments (I use a pizza cutter which is perfect  for the job).  Now arrange the grated cheese and caramalised onion around the perimeter of your yufka.

Start rolling.  Take each segment separately and roll up from the perimeter to the centre, enclosing the filling.  Once you’ve done that, wind the sausage shapes into spirals, tucking the ends underneath and put them on a baking tray lined with baking paper.  When they are all done, brush them generously with butter and put in a preheated 200 degree oven where they should get nicely done in about forty minutes.


Seasonal Produce

Last of summer peaches

Last of summer peaches

Today is half way from the longest day to the shortest.  Solstice, Equinox….  For those who celebrate, have a good day, night.    Here the weather remains lovely and will for some weeks yet.  Gone is the searing heat of July and August, and it does not really get cold until into December.

On the market there are signs of the changing of seasons.  The peaches are no longer so good, coming out of storage rather than straight off the trees.  The tomatoes are coming to an end though, like the peaches, there are still loads on the market – they are just not quite so delicious.  There are still many different sorts of beans but the summer fruit and veg is coming towards an end.

The broccoli is fantastic right now, as are the apples and the grapes.

Radishes are appearing, early mandolins (in our opinion not ready to eat), cauliflower, broccoli, celeriac, beet, and cabbages are becoming increasingly abundant.  There are the lighter skinned courgettes mixed with the darker green summer ones.  Autumn and winter gourds are starting to be around and the spinach is looking increasingly tempting.

Breakfast in autumn

Breakfast in autumn

But the real dilemma is this, to start on the winter veg knowing that come January when there is nothing else we will be fondly remembering summer food, or to continue with the summer fruit and veg which we have been eating loads of for the last few months and a change might be nice.


peaches1Recently we have been eating on our roof terrace.  It’s just too hot inside and the back terrace table is not big enough to house dinner (we manage for breakfast and snacks).  As it is Ramazan and our roof is very overlooked, we do not eat until Iftar.  That’s currently around 20:40 here.

Yesterday, a neighbour called us over and passed a bowlful of peaches and apples from her orchard over the wall that separates our roof terraces.  Today, as a consequence, Hilary made a slightly unplanned cake.

Our neighbours were not on their roof tonight but, after dinner and taking out the bin, Hilary found them in their courtyard and handed over half a peach cake.  In return she got a plastic bag containing over a kilo (5) huge peaches.Peaches

And, the next morning, whilst we were discreetly eating breakfast on the back terrace, a neighbour from across the road, came round with more than a kilo of peaches.

That is how things are here.  Wonderful!

Baked Helva

We are currently relaxing in Ayvalık, one of our favourite haunts for a short break.  We’ve been to Bergama, eaten fish dinners on the sea front at Cunda, and generally relaxed.  Tomorrow is Ayvalık market which is fabulous and great fun.  There will be pictures and more when we get home and don’t have to work on the tiny netbook.  But for now….

Yesterday as dessert we were served helva.  This is fine, we like helva.  But this was baked in an oven, it melts and forms a chewy crust on top, was then sprinkled with chopped nuts.  Absolutely delicious.  So, a question.  Has anyone else come across this dessert?


cake-and-cherriesMarket is now full of early summer fruit.  A couple of weeks ago there were  just strawberries and unripe plums, with a few cherries and apricots at ridiculous prices.  Now the market is full of strawberries, plums, cherries, apricots, melon and watermelon.  There are some peaches but these are not really anywhere near their best this early.

Cherry season does not last very long, and apricots have a very short season so we are making the most of them whilst they are plentiful and cheap.  We have not got around to preparing cherries in any way.  They simply get eaten.

Breakfast apricots and yogurt

Put a tablespoon of Suzme yogurt in a breakfast bowl. Top with chopped apricots (3 is about right depending on size).  Top with regular yogurt, we use sheep yogurt.  Drizzle with honey.  Eat.

Then there is the cake

This is a Turkish recipe so quantities come in glasses.  A water glass contains pretty much the same volume as a UK mug for coffee or tea.  A tea glass is half of that.  The oven should be at 170 degrees centigrade by the time you’ve finished mixing.

Chop up your fruit (removing any stones and inedible bits).  The original recipe said 6 peaches but I don’t think you could fit that in a sensibly sized cake tin.  I use what I have.  This one was about 8 apricots.  I’ve used apricots, peaches, plums and pears in various combinations and all of them have worked fine.

Whisk 4 eggs with a water glass of sugar.  We don’t get caster sugar here so I use the equivalent of granulated.  I also use the whisk attachment on my hand blender  but it’s not a very powerful one.  Whisk it till it looks like snow.  Put in a water glass of ordinary yoghurt, a couple of spoonfuls of really thick yoghurt and a tea glass of light olive oil.  Mix it a bit (not too much though I often use the electric mixer for a few seconds to get it all blended in, you don’t want to lose the air you whisked in originally).  Stir in two water glasses of flour with a sachet of baking powder and a sachet of vanilla sugar.  Just mix it so there’s no lumps of flour (again, I sometimes use the electric whisk, but carefully and not very much- this is the point at which I tend to get it down my t-shirt).  Then lightly stir in the prepared fruit.

This goes into a prepared cake tin,  it is a very soft mixture so I pour it  – I use a silicone ring mould which is brilliant as it doesn’t stick.  Recipe says 45 minutes.  But test it.  My oven always takes longer.

Artichokes, Broad Beans and Preserved Lemon

This is a very non-Turkish recipe taken from Claudia Roden and, as usual, vaguely adapted.  Preserved lemons are not generally used here in Turkey, are much more of a north Afrıcan thing.  The artichokes are finishing here now and the broad beans are starting to get too big for this recipe.  But we will be enjoying it again next year!

It starts with half a kilo of broad beans and two large artichokes.  Tartichokehe broad beans need to be big enough to be podded but not so big that they need their inner skins removing.  You pod the broad beans.  You reduce the artichokes to the bottoms (or hearts or whatever you call the ediblebroad-beans bits), cut those into sensibly sized pieces and put them in lemony water.  Slice up a quarter of preserved lemon peel (I can’t find this in Turkey – I make it myself).

Then you heat some good olive oil in a pan with a teaspoonful of cumin/jeera/kimyon.   Throw in the beans and the artichoke bits, stir them in the oil for a minute or so then almost cover with water, ram on a lid and simmer for about 40 mins.  The peel goes in towards the end (though I have put it in at the beginning with no discernible ill effect). The timing is not critical as long as the artichoke is tender and the beans are not burned.

It is not particularly photogenic but it is delicious.


Seasonal Fruits

What-we-got-from-marketIt is becoming hard to find good oranges.  The apples are no longer looking up to very much.  The spring fruit has not really got going yet.   It is that difficult time when the autumn and winter fruit is finishing and we are waiting for the spring fruit. There are strawberries but in another month or so they will be so much better, right now they do not taste of much.  We have seen melon and watermelon but these are imported, expensive and probably not that good.  There are local green almonds but neither of us are fans.

At least there are good local bananas and kiwifruit.

There are workmen across the road, building a new house.  Next door to them has a plum tree.  The fruits are tiny, green and probably very acid.  The builders are helping themselves, the Turks seem to really like unripe plums.   Our wild-asparagusneighbours have not as yet noticed the scrumping.

This weekend we managed to find some really nice apples.  The tomatoes are starting to become good enough to eat fresh rather than just fit for cooking with.  More varieties of beans are appearing, the peas remain wonderfully sweet but are finishing.  We are no longer on the limited selection of winter vegetables.

One of the joys of seasonal foods is seeing the first summer courgettes, the first baklapeas and broad beans.  And hopefully soon the first cherries.  We never really know what we’ll find on market until we go, sometimes there are surprises like the first time we found kohlrabi (with full explanations of what it is, how good for you it is and how to cook it, in Turkish), but generally it is very seasonal local produce.

Summer is Coming

Most evenings it is staying above 18C in the house without any heating, so we decided we no longer need the wood soba.  It if gets cooler (and there probably will be some cold nights) we have plenty of other heating options, but we can dispense with burning wood.  Today we cleaned the flue, a messy task, soot gets everywhere, and put the remaining wood away.  As a result of using a wood stove the walls need a wipe down and a lick of fresh paint, this will get done over the next week or so.

Whilst we were cleaning the flue and packing wood away our neighbours decided it was a good day to gather in their garden and cook outside, their first such event of the year. We therefore had to stop work late morning to eat gözleme and be social, and then mid-afternoon another enforced break for kısır and coffee, followed by reading of the coffee grounds.   Apparently we are going to come into lots of money, go travelling on a plane and a boat, attend a wedding and so on.  Odd that, we are going to a wedding on Saturday, and we are planning a trip to Greece in the summer which would cover the boat part.  It goes to show the coffee readings are never wrong!

The swallows have returned, more are arriving every day.  For the last few days there has been one on the wire outside our house.  It might be one of the pair from last year, they nested next door and raised several broods.  Today there was a pair, singing together, investigating the nest from last year.  It is good to hear them, good to see them, and good to know the rising number of flying insects is going to be hunted and eaten.