Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Matera, Italy, a weekend among the stones



Matera in Southern Italy has been awarded the title of European City of Culture 2019, beating off stiff competition from fellow Italian rivals Cagliari, Lecce, Perugia, Ravenna and Siena. Known in Italy as "la città sotterranea" (subterranean/underground city), it is a unique and special place. Full of narrow streets, history, atmosphere, it is waiting; ready to be explored by you. 



The ancient city has been established for over 7000 years, the initial dwellings being caves carved into the soft sedimentary rock. So important is Matera historically, that in 1993 it was given protection as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The historic centre is known as “the Sassi” (the stones), with beautiful narrow streets climbing up the hill as the city spills down with its white stone houses. 


Matera is in the Basilicata region of Italy, neighbouring Puglia. Just in case you look at my pictures and feel a sense of déjà vu, don’t worry. You are right to think you’ve seen it before if you have seen the Mel Gibson directed film “The Passion Of The Christ” or the Richard Gere film “King David”. Both had scenes filmed in the ancient and evocative city. 


My base in Matera was in the heart of the “Sassi”, in Guiseppe’s gorgeous cave house “La Suite de Nei Sassi”. A historic ancient cave, carved by hand into the soft sedimentary rock, it has been a dwelling for centuries. 


Restored to clean away soot deposits from thousands of indoor fires and to put in plumbing and electricity, Guiseppe has turned a primitive and basic place to live into a romantic home away from home. Small niches for candles and poultry are cut into the stone, and in the ceiling are dotted the odd sea shell, giving away the way in which the stone of the caves was created, millions of years ago. The Suite can be booked online: https://www.booking.com/hotel/it/la-suite-nei-sassi.it.html
 


If you want to get a feel for the city, you can get a whistle stop tour in an “Ape” van. Not ape as in primate, but app-pay as in bumblebee. The Ape van, made by Piaggio is the big brother of the Vespa (wasp) scooter. There are several firms offering Ape van tours of Matera, but I recommend Ape Vito, run by Vito as his family have lived in Matera for generations, and his tour gives a real insight into the twists and turns of the city’s history, including his stories from the era of his grandparents. You can check out Vito’s website for more details: www.apevito.com.



Walking around the Sassi, exploring the churches and small museums will keep you busy during the day. But what about food? The very south of Italy boasts some wonderfully vibrant local produce, and the food of Puglia and Basilicata is earthy, rustic and utterly delicious.


La Abbondanza Lucana


After receiving a recommendation of this restaurant from a Materan foodie, we had to visit a couple of times in the hope of getting a cancellation table, so popular is this restaurant. It prides itself on serving traditional recipes made with the best local produce, garnering it an entry in the Michelin guide. 


The mixed starters are a must-have here, because not only does it give you a chance to sample the best of local, seasonal ingredients, but also the best of the traditional cooking techniques of the area. Take a look at the photos on the wall while being shown to your table. Anyone who is anyone who visits this town comes here to sample this superb foodie experience. I recommend the shared starter platter, which promises and delivers Puglia on a plate.  


Vico Bruno Buozzi, 11-11 Bis Sasso Caveoso, Matera


Telephone number: 0835 334574





EGO Restaurant and Bistro


EGO, standing for “enoteca, gourmet, origini”, rather than a person with a big ego, this is a restaurant and bistro with ambitions to use the best of ingredients in highly original ways and/or the utmost of care. The restaurant is on the ground floor level, where Puglian food is reinvented and revolutionised into something very intriguing and individual. The kitchen is in full view of diners, through the huge glass windows and glazed door to the dining room. Downstairs is a bistro serving excellent cocktails and more informal nibbles. Run and staffed by passionate food lovers, you will receive great recommendations and fabulous food. We visited both the restaurant for their tasting menu (highly recommended) and the bistro for evening drinks and were thoroughly impressed by the attention to detail and high quality of the food in an area of Italy where pride in food is very strong indeed.


Via Stigliana, 44, Matera


Telephone number: +39 392 90 30 963





La Cola Cola Ristorante Pizzeria



La Cola Cola is not a fizzy drink tie-in; the name comes from a cockerel like ceramic figure made in the local area. When you need a light meal and pizza is the only thing which will fit the bill, this is the place for you. Set in a small, pedestrian-only road behind the main square, you might find Cola Cola a little difficult to locate. Ask people who live nearby, or follow the hungry locals on their way there. When you get there, the small doorway is immediately underwhelming. However, once you are in, you will realise this is a huge, cavernous temple to pizza. 

Made in the burning hot wood fired oven you walk past to get to your tables, the pizzas are big, thin and generously topped. All the produce is natural and sourced locally. Booking is essential, as this place is very popular with the Materans. If you haven’t booked, you may find yourself joining the queue for tables which gets distinctly longer as the evening progresses. Built in 1700, much of this place has been dug out of the Tufo rock, giving you something to think about when you see there are three large spaces in this restaurant. What a labour of love!


Vico Spartivento, 21, 75100 Matera


Telephone number: +39 339 706 8259




This writeup and reviews represent the genuine views of Snigdha. Snigdha paid in full for her trip to Matera, and these views represent her experience. Snigdha has received no incentive, financial or otherwise for posting this blog post. 

Saturday, 24 June 2017

June 2017 Favourites List

This month I want to share my pictures from the Kraftwerk 3D gig (at the Royal Albert Hall) I went to very recently. The show was immensely enjoyable. Kraftwerk embody some classic contradictions; cold, hard synthesiser sounds playing catchy, tuneful melodies; presenting the band as “robots” or a “man machine” when they are clearing, living, breathing, creative human beings. Only one member of the original line up remains, but still, the chance to see this talented and unique band could not be missed!



Their show featured music from throughout their career, one which has been hugely influential. David Bowie became obsessed with Kraftwerk, their Autobahn album in particular during his “Berlin phase”. Coldplay borrowed heavily from Computer Love (from Computer World) for their ridiculously catchy hit single “Talk” (from X & Y). Not to mention the many synth bands of the 80s who soaked up the sounds, rhythms and obsession with the future which Kraftwerk made central to their act.


Kraftwerk played their number one hit single “The Model”, the only full song with lyrics. Their set list included many of my other favourites “Numbers”, “Computer Love”, “Tour De France”, “Autobahn”, “The Man Machine”, “Computer World”. The 3D visuals were striking, and whilst not as perfectly executed as a cinema 3D experience, still achieved a depth. The use of colour and imagery made them a highly effective fifth member of the live band. 


This month I have been immersing myself in music. This weekend I intend to continue to gorge myself on Glastonbury live sets, having thoroughly enjoyed the Radiohead show from last night. Their career spanning set was played with conviction and style, proving they are still at the height of their powers. Twenty years on, OK Computer is still an amazing, groundbreaking album, which has pulled me towards my other favourite album of theirs, In Rainbows. (Don’t worry, there are many of their other albums I enjoy, it is simply those are my two favourites if I have to be pushed.)


I do realise this is a reaction to the bad news in the UK recently. Manchester, Westminster, London Bridge, Grenfell Tower and Finsbury Park are devastating events. After reading and listening to the news, I need somewhere to seek solace. Am I merely fiddling whilst Rome is burning? No. I’m not in charge. I do what I can. I remain very aware of what is happening around me. It is just my way of making it through these times. If you have been affected by these events, my heart goes out to you. Too many people have suffered, it is heartbreaking.

Food articles and food writing:

Aaron Vallance writes poignantly about how Borough Market, London foodie paradise, stands strong (in the aftermath of the London terror attack): http://1-dish-4-the-road.blogspot.co.uk/2017/06/london-bridge-is-staying-strong-tribute.html


 
Hate food waste? How about regrowing your knackered fruit? https://www.buzzfeed.com/merleoneal/how-to-regrow-fruit
 
An international look at street food: http://www.saveur.com/street-food-around-the-world
 
There are 5 "Blue zones" where the highest percentage of people live to 100. They eat beans, greens, nuts and seeds (among other things) in their diet. Is it the secret to long life? http://www.today.com/health/blue-zones-diet-foods-help-people-live-100-t112105
 
Love to grow your own? Here's what to plant in June! http://www.deliciousmagazine.co.uk/stories/what-to-plant-in-june/
 
Genius or madness? Guy gets a drone to pick up his fast food... Seriously - does this mean people won't even pop out to pick up their fried chicken? http://www.today.com/video/blogger-sends-a-drone-to-pick-up-his-kfc-order-955512387529
 
Which garden flowers can you eat? Ideas and inspiration from the Royal Horticultural Society. (Please - if in doubt about identification, do not eat garden plants! Some are toxic!) https://www.rhs.org.uk/advice/profile?PID=764
 

New Scientist debunks cooking myths. I am rather amazed to discover risotto doesn't actually need constant stirring! http://www.telegraph.co.uk/food-and-drink/news/dont-bother-stirring-risotto-rice-kitchen-myths-debunked/

Recipes:

A Bengali style bowl of comfort food from Rinku Bhattacharya. A great recipe and a heartwarming read: https://food52.com/blog/18966-a-bowl-of-bengali-comfort-food-for-when-life-is-turbulent

12th June was World Meat Free Day. So here is a vegetarian, vegan salad inspired by M&S by Petra Kravos: http://www.behealthynow.co.uk/healthy-meals/herby-quinoa-salad-with-broad-beans-and-pomegranate-seeds/

10th June was World Gin Day. So, however you like yours, enjoy! Here are some gin recipe ideas in case you're looking for something new: http://www.deliciousmagazine.co.uk/10-ways-with-gin-and-not-a-drink-in-sight/
 

Anyone considering their weekend baking options? May I suggest Rose and lychee cupcakes? https://www.finedininglovers.com/recipes/dessert/cupcake-recipe-rose-lychee/

The Korean classic Bulgogi reimagined into a weekday supper dish: http://www.olivemagazine.com/…/meat-and…/steak-bulgogi-bowl/


How to pep up a potato salad. Especially since it is Jersey Royal season! https://food52.com/blog/19709-how-to-make-a-potato-salad-that-ll-upstage-the-classic
 

What you might have missed at Snig’s Kitchen:

Cheating at cooking is OK. Cheater’s Chicken Satay. http://snigskitchen.blogspot.co.uk/2017/06/cheaters-chicken-satay.html

Music:

Kraftwerk – Autobanh

Kraftwerk – Computer Love

Radiohead – OK Computer

The xx – I See You


Please note: as with every monthly Favourites List, all of these items have been selected by me simply because I love them. I do not receive any money, benefits in kind or other incentive for posting these links or recommendations.

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Cheater’s chicken satay



There is a perception that foodies, food authors and food bloggers only ever cook from scratch. Of course we must! Just look at the Instagram pictures and recipes we write and share! Naturally, we must painstakingly achieve each step with our own two hands…


I may be disowned by the fraternity by spilling the beans. Plenty of us cheat. Making our own pastry? Why? The wonderful Lorraine Pascale (you can’t argue with her baking expertise) advocates using frozen. Adam Creme, a foodie and award winning lawyer put it like this: “Life is too bleedin’ short to make shortcrust pastry unless it’s a special event” (via Twitter). Italians do make fresh pasta, occasionally, but to celebrate something. Valentina Harris once said that the celebration wasn’t just a mere birthday, but perhaps a graduation, or someone selling their farmhouse or similar; a landmark moment. 

Anna Symington, a fellow foodie and lawyer tweeted this: “only a crazy person makes puff”! I couldn’t agree more. For me, it’s too time consuming and difficult to be worthwhile. Although, if you want to make your own, go ahead. If I have to put together other elements of a meal, do I really want the faff of making my own mayonnaise, trying to maintain its consistency whilst mixing and pouring in my oil? 
In the weekend, I do sometimes set myself longer cooking projects. But I do that to enjoy the process. If you make your own pastry, mayonnaise, bacon or cheese because you love the task, fantastic. Carry on, and please do send me pictures of your handiwork.

All I am saying is, there’s nothing wrong with a little corner cutting, a little time saving and people should not be made to feel guilty for a little cheating. If it results in better taste, commensurate with the effort used, then I’ll do everything from scratch. Adam Creme puts it differently: “Part of the art of being a good cook is knowing which bits to cheat at". Brilliant!
Otherwise, there’s nothing wrong with cheating. As fellow food blogger Kavey said on Twitter “We don’t all live off the land anymore so no one does everything from scratch”.


So I am sharing how you can use a sachet of Lobo Chicken Satay mix, available from Chinese and Thai grocers shops, to make a delicious chicken satay better than your local takeaway. It is based on the instructions on the back of the Lobo packet, but with some Snigdha tweaks. For example, making 1kg of chicken would be suitable for 4 people (I have reduced to two), the cooking time on a domestic grill risks uncooked chicken (a food poisoning risk) and there were no amounts for the veggies for the cucumber salad.

Cheater’s chicken satay

(Serves 2)

You will need:

Ingredients: 
1 pack Lobo Chicken Satay
500g pack skinned, boneless chicken thighs
1 can coconut milk (will be used for both marinade and sauce)
3 tablespoons ground nut oil
Half a cucumber, halved again lengthways and sliced into 5mm slices
1 large shallot, halved and sliced finely lengthways (I mean the echalion “banana” shallots; if you are using the very small Thai shallots, you will need 3-4)
1 birds eye chilli, seeds removed, diced as small as you can manage (or halve if you want it less hot)
4 tablespoons white rice vinegar
5 tablespoons caster sugar
¾ (three quarters) teaspoon ground sea salt
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh coriander leaf

Equipment:

Bamboo skewers
Grill pan
2 small saucepans (even a milk pan will be the right size)
2 non-metallic bowls, 1 lidded or capable of being covered
A tall bottle, tall enough to contain the bamboo skewers
Measuring jug (or equivalent)
Grill, Hob, Kettle, non-metallic spoons, whisk
Gloves; food preparation gloves and oven gloves
Aluminium foil

Method:


1. Put the kettle on, boil some water. Empty into the tall bottle and soak the bamboo skewers. The longer they soak in hot water, the better. Hot water will help stop the skewers from burning when grilling. 
   
2. Remove excess fat and other inedible stuff from the chicken thighs. Slice into half inch long strips. 

3. In the lidded (or coverable) non-metallic bowl, empty 60ml of the coconut milk, plus the ground nut oil. Whisk together lightly until combined.

4. Open the marinade mix sachet, tipping it into the bowl, and whisk lightly until mixed. 

5. Put your food preparation gloves on, because the yellow marinade has a lot of turmeric in it and will dye your fingernails yellow.  

6. Add the chicken strips and with your gloved hands, ensure the strips are coated thoroughly in the marinade. 

7. Put the lid on the bowl, and put in the fridge for 50 minutes.  

8. Open the sauce mix sachet, tip it into one of the saucepans. Add 180ml of the remaining coconut milk and whisk lightly to combine and ensure there are no lumps. Put on the hob on a low heat. 


9. Remove the chicken from the fridge and leave at room temperature for 10 minutes.  

10. Heat the sauce for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat, and leave to cool. 

11. Line a grill pan with aluminium foil to avoid marinade spillage during cooking and put to one side. Donning your food preparation gloves once more, make up your chicken skewers. The strips should be capable of being threaded 3 times onto the skewer (as if you were sewing running stitch). Push the chicken pieces up tightly together on the skewers. Place on your foil wrapped grill pan.

12. Heat the grill to a high setting. I used the highest setting on my grill which is 270 degrees Celsius.

13. Cook each side of the skewers for 3-4 minutes, turning 4-5 times. You will need to cook the chicken for 12-15 minutes, or longer, depending on how fierce the heat on your grill is. 



14. For the cucumber salad, here are your instructions:



15. Serve and enjoy.