Veglione – New Year 2005

I hope y’all had a good run-up to 2005! We are at Albenga on the Italian Riviera with my brother-in-law. For our festivities we hired a beach cabana normally used in the summer as a beachside bar. About 12 families, 40 people in all, seated on beach chairs and tables, with plenty of space for the kids to run about when bored. We all had to take some food, with a central group being the catering organisers, but the final result was an overwhelming abundance of home-cooked delicacies!

A whole array of starters was lined up on the bar:

tortino di verdure (mini quiche with cheese, ham and artichokes)

panizza fritta (deep-fried chick-pea polenta, a dish so ancient you can imagine the roman legionaries eating it during their assaults on the Ingaunum tribe)

insalata di carciofi e gamberetti (salad of thinly sliced artichokes with shrimps)

Bagna Cauda (a delicious entrée from Piedmont, a warm anchovy, olive oil, garlic and milk sauce into which you dip fresh vegetable crudités)

crostini toscani (chopped liver on salt-free Tuscan bread), Lardo di Colonnata and other salamis, tiny pizza slices and much, much more.

As you may imagine, going through all these starters filled us up nicely, so not much space left over for the pasta course, but still I greatly enjoyed the penne alla puttanesca with tangy olive sauce, and al pesto with the locally made pesto, served plain with no potatoes or green beans.

By this time, we had rolled on towards midnight, so we suspended proceedings to open a dozen assorted bottles of spumanti and champagne. Obligatory round of greetings, then we continued with the ultra-traditional cotechino alle lenticchie (boiled pork sausage with lentils, supposedly to bring you loads of money in the New Year) and finished off with panettone and pandoro.

A great occasion! The only off note, as it were, was the music selection blaring from the ghetto blaster in the corner. The self-appointed DJ had stacks of CDs, but these were exclusively of 1970-80s disco music!! Yes, the main public was 40-something fogeys as myself, but at the umpteenth Barry Manilow and Bee Gees numbers and yet another conga-dance routine, I was yearning for something more modern!


I’m spending the Christmas holidays in Albenga, on the Italian Riviera on the way to France. Plenty of family occasions, that are naturally a good opportunity for gastronomic discussions. A good example yesterday night when we spent an hour debating the the finer points of the making of the fish soup we will enjoy on New Year’s eve!

Awaiting the foodie treats to ring in 2004, we went to sample a local speciality, namely _farinata_. This is a “poor man’s” dish, eaten all along the Riviera and also in Tuscany. Ingredients and procedure are basic: mix chickpea flour 1:3 with water and let stand for 4-5 hours. Pour the lot in a wide baking tray smeared with olive oil, sprinkle with rosemary and pop in a hot (preferably wood fired) oven. The liquid mixture will cook rapidly and a golden brown crust will form on top of a creamy white base. It is then cut up in small chunks. Very simple and delicious served with a glass of local _Pigato_ white wine. Eat in or carry out from *Puppo*, Via Torlaro, Albenga.

School dinner!

As you may know, the school year is drawing to an end – in the case of Marco’s school, this is celebrated in true Italian manner – yes, by going out to eat – twice!

First occasion last Saturday evening – the whole class goes to an agriturismo – a local farmhouse that also serves meals as a side line (in many cases this sideline is more profitable than the farm work!). The food is plain and simple, and you can’t get more local than this: Risotto agli asparagi as a starter, featuring the white Bassano asparagus. As seconds, a plate of polenta, a few slices of soppressa veneta (a large, rather fatty salame much beloved by the locals but mostly reviled elsewhere..) and fagioli in salsa (brown beans with an anchovy base condiment). A slice of crostata (jam tart) to finish. Large jugs of local plonk, both red and white. Well, I did say it was plain and simple, didn’t I? But on the whole, a suitable place, considering we had 19 kids running around screaming between courses!

Sunday – boiling hot today, but another end-of-year celebration beckons, this time at the school itself, with the whole body of parents, teachers and children present! The kids are entertained with games and amongst the hubbub, the kitchens are commandeered by willing parents and a barbecue is organised to feed the assembled masses (about 250 or so). As the evening draws on and the sun finally sets to general relief, tonnes of sausages, veal chops, and spare ribs are laid to cook on the griddle. No messing about here – the four chefs have a forbidding appearance and anyone proffering “advice” on the cooking is briskly shooed away. The dining room tables are all brought out on the playground and laid out with water and orange juice for the kids and plenty of jugs of vino for the parents.

School dinner.jpg

Finally the meal is ready! Again, the cuisine is simple – what can be more so than a plateful of grilled meat, french fries and coleslaw? And a huge selection of home-made cakes and biscuits to follow! The atmosphere was lively and convivial, the wine and spumante flowed freely, and a great time was had by all!


Christmas has come and gone, with its usual festive cookery. In our family we have a so-called “cena di magro” on the 24th, as well as a main Christmas lunch on the 25th. The Cena di Magro is supposedly lighter fare, based on fish, in expectation of the heavier celebratory meal the following day.

We had an assortment of antipasti – prawns with insalata russa, pâté of salmon, tuna mousse in aspic, home-made pickled artichokes, olives and baby onions. As a first course, tagliatelle con zucchine e gamberetti (courgettes and prawns).
Tagliatelle con zucchine e gamberetti.jpg

Main course of Scottish smoked salmon and gravadlax, with a side of mixed salad.

Dessert of Panettone together with a delectable Zabaglione alle mele e cannella (with apples and cinnamon).


The wine was an excellent Gewürztraminer from Alto Adige/Südtirol, namely Feldmarschall von Fenner zu Feldberg 1999, from Kellerei Tiefenbrunner, one of the highest vineyards on the world, located at over 1000 m.!

Christmas lunch was a panic start, as once we had lazily arisen, kids opened presents and had our selves dressed in suitable attire, it was already 11:15! Aargh! Rush to switch on the oven and get the roast in! This is only natural, what would a Christmas lunch be, without a panic in the kitchen and the chefette throwing sharpened boning knives at anyone entering her lair? The guests troop in at the appointed time, (well, the guest, my mother!) whist I try to wave away the burning smells with a teatowel. I fix her a quick G&T an instruct her to look after the kids whilst I assist the chefette. Finally, we are ready:

First course: Consommé with cappelletti (little tortellini) e capellini (little tagliatelle). Wine: Clivi Brazan 1998, Brazzano di Cormons (Collio Goriziano – just on the borders with Slovenia)

Main course: Roast veal with olive and shallot stuffing, side of duchesse potatoes, caramelised shallots and grilled radicchio di Treviso. Wine: Teroldego Rotaliano Zeni (an excellent full-bodied red, from an area between Trento and Bolzano)

Dessert: Bavarese al Vin Santo, more panettone, nuts, chocs. Wine: Vin Santo Antinori

What can I say – everything was absolutely delicious, hats off to the chefette, not to mention the woman who knows how to make me happy, Luisella!


With all the Christmas shopping done last week, we decided for an excursion on Saturday with a visit to Verona, always a lively town and just one hour away from our home.

The weather was fine and not too cold, so we wandered around, with stops at the Arena and along the commercial Via Mazzini on the way to Piazza delle Erbe. By this time it was lunchtime and we decided to stop at La Taverna di Via Stella in Via Stella 5c. This is just round the corner from the family home of the Capuleti (you know, the balcony where Giulietta pined for her Romeo, etc, etc.), so this homely trattoria is frequented by tourists, but also by local office workers and shopkeepers who stop at the bar and have a glass of wine and a selection of the many antipasti offered. The large dining room is attractively furnished with wide benches and tables with proper linen tablecloths and napkins, and friendly and attentive service – most important when dining with kids! The wine list has a selection of a couple of hundred bottles, with a dozen also available by the glass.

The menu is decidedly regional, with polenta being the staple, but the quality is quite a few steps above the ordinary trattoria level. I chose the Ravioli della Taverna as the first course, very delicate with a cheese filling and sprinkled with assorted herbs.
Ravioli della Taverna.jpg

A glass of Lugana (the white wine grown on the southern shore of Lago di Garda) went very well with it. As a second, I selected the Pastissada de Caval, a typical veronese dish – a hearty horsemeat stew cooked with red wine and juniper berries, served with polenta. Very tasty indeed. Unfortunately I had selected a glass of Valpolicella to accompany it, but this proved to be a wrong choice as the Pastissada completely overwhelmed the taste of the wine. I should have chosen something decidedly more robust.

Pastissada de caval.jpg

As a dessert, I chose a Sbrisolona, a crumbly, buttery tart, rather like a large biscuit, another typical dish of the Veneto. Here I felt really in need of a dessert wine, and after a quick consultation with our friendly waiter, I was brought a glass of Passito di Pantelleria – mellow, fruity and just with the right degree of sweetness! Excellent.

Highly recommended and excellent value at EUR 95 for five.