Four days in Arezzo

Working from home for six months has been interesting. It feels very safe, and I really appreciate that. It can be quite intense though, with back to back work calls and presentations and my ongoing failure to take proper breaks. Travelling to the UK or Norway was not an option, so a long weekend offline sounded magical. Where to go? I quite fancied Procida (a small island off Naples) but not the multiple public transport steps needed to get there. “Arezzo!” said my husband. Arezzo is in Tuscany, south-east of Florence. We took the train from Rome, then had a half hour walk to a nice quiet agriturismo on the outskirts of town. Our apartment had its own kitchen, so it was easy to maintain physical distancing. It was great.

I was really nervous about the train, but we took the InterCity Rome-Arezzo (a little over 2.5 hours) and went first class to avoid people. We used the “Insieme” offer to get 30% off for groups of 2-5 people. Every other seat was blocked, like the one below, and it was practically empty both ways. Masks are mandatory on the train, which was clean, comfortable and very quiet, and they checked our temperature at Termini in Rome in departure and on return.

We were staying on the outskirts of Arezzo with an easy walk in to see Piazza Grande (so empty!) and the frescoes at Basilica di San Francesco. We had booked tickets in advance online, as access numbers are limited. I did like the COVID-19 sign there.

We had pici with ragu bianco for lunch one day, sitting outside in the shade with a glass of wine, and it was incredibly nice being a tourist in Italy again. There were very few tourists around, but quite busy in the centre as people were out with kids getting clothes and things for school. Most schools in Italy opened 14 September.

Even the rubbish bins in Arezzo were tidy, at least compared to those in Rome. We went to the local PAM supermarket (wearing masks, of course) and bought pecorino-stuffed ravioli, wine, cheese, and food so we could cook do most of our own cooking. Then we just read books by the pool, looking at vineyards and cypresses. It was all very secluded and relaxing.

Balancing caution with mental resilience is something we are all learning, it is not easy. This trip definitely inspired more travel planning, and helped decrease my anxiety about travelling in Italy. I hope you’re able to do some small safe trips in your countries as well.

Tuscan weekend, and ceci cacio e pepe

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I was in Rome last month, and had a weekend in Tuscany with friends. Great company, excellent food, and a lovely time indeed. Just going to the local Coop was an experience: cheeses, wines, pici, ragu di cinghiale, fig jam with almonds, tozzetti……  We also stopped off at Nottola, where we bought wine.

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We took turns cooking,  and we made these ceci cacio e pepe one day as a side dish for lunch.  Super easy if you have tinned chickpeas and parmesan, olive oil salt and pepper. See Joy the Baker for the recipe: Cacio e Pepe Roasted Chickpeas

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Highly recommended!

Italian stopover: vongole, leeks and cannelini

Too much travelling the last few months, too little cooking. We just finished a lovely week off the Tuscan coast with friends. I am recovering from food poisoning  (never again samosas in Dar es Salaam…..) so ate little and cooked less, but this dish went down well. 

Italy is also in the grip of the heatwave named Lucifer. HOT here!

Same island every year, always wonderful. It seemed a bit quiet this year, the Italian economy must still be down. 

But we had a great week! Fresh fish and seafood from the fish truck, shouting Pesce Fresco each morning.

Vongole with leeks and cannelini

Bag of vongole (small clams)
Three cloves of garlic
Two leeks, cleaned and thinly sliced
One medium tin of cannelini beans or other beans
Generous handful parsley, chopped
Two tbs olive oil
Splash of white wine or water, half a lemon if you have one 

Toast  or crusty bread to serve

Cataplana debut! I bought this in Lisbon in June, took it back to Accra, but decided this holiday was a good time to try it. Special pan for steaming shellfish, it clamps shut like a low level pressure cooker and worked really well. 

First: soak clams in water in sink for half an hour, removing any damaged ones or ones that do not close. 

Hear pan with a little oil and white wine or water, tip in handful of clams and steam 4-5 minutes with lid on. You will hear clams pop open. With a slotted spoon fish out done clams and do next batch, I did this in three batches so they were not crowded. 
Leaving liquid in pan, add sliced leeks and garlic and cook 2 or 3 minutes while you de-shell clams and remove any that did not open. Optional step, we were waiting for a lunch guest.  Then add drained beans, chopped parsley and clams and heat briefly through. Maybe half a lemon squeezed over? Serve with toast or crusty bread.

Happy holidays!