Friday, 30 November 2012

Home cooking at last

The temperature dropped several degrees overnight and although the sun shone, there was a hint of rain in the air. After breakfast I donned a rucksack and walked to the larger of two small supermarkets - about the size of a UK Tesco Metro - at the other end of town. My route took me along the lower road past the Parco G Colonna, Duke of Cesaro, who was behind the town's acquisition of the land, with its spectacular views of the sea and Mount Etna in 1923. It contains some very tall dark green conifers quite densely packed, providing a grand expanse of shade in the heat of the day. Needless to say, the ground cover is rather sparse, mainly shade loving flowering bushes planted in enclosed beds, framed by a pattern of pathways using brick and big pebbles laid in a rather stern minimal pattern.

The fascinating thing about the park, however is its arrangement of odd looking brick buildings of rough rustic construction. Some are simply human shelters, others are aviaries, considering the metal cages attached to them, but the largest is five storeys high with a basement at a lower park level. It's enclosed by security fences, as if for restoration, or because construction is incomplete, with interconnecting stairs and rails missing. It's hard to tell from how the building materials have been used. Even harder to imagine what its function might be. Is it the shell of an old mansion, being repaired? Or a whimsical play house, too dangerous in its present state for kids to use? Sooner or later I guess I'll find out.

On my way through winding back streets to the supermarket, I discovered an unusual site containing the remains of a Roman gymnasium, part of the town's forum buildings. It's in a long wide alleyway between two streets. Foundations of a 100 metre stretch of housing in the upper street rest on the top of a ten metre high arcaded brick wall built against a steep hillside. Houses at lower street level have courtyard gardens or are built out to a boundary wall, in the case of restuarants. One lower courtyard house is linked to a building in the street above by an iron staircase draped in foliage, possibly both are part of an hotel. As with other local archaeological sites there are daily opening hours. In this case, the evening hours are extended to allow restuarant-goers to leave through this atmospheric floodlit passageway. What remains of the glorious past is not only taken care of, but imaginatively integrated if possible.

I stopped to buy lemons from the same farmer as I bought fruit yesterday. He joked that they were worth fifty million, and praised the virtue of the lemon for its medicinal and well its food value. Three lemons for fifty cents - that's about 14 pence a lemon.

Finally, I got around to cooking lunch for myself. So far I've used up food left by the locum who left the day before my arrival - forgotten travel picnic food, he told me in an email. Anyway, having soaked some white fava beans in preparation last night, I fried some panchetta with a red onion, one small tomato and a clove for garlic, then adding the beans and liquor, some rosemary and black pepper, thickening the mix with a pinch of bread flour, and squeezing half a lemon over it to conclude. I've wanted to try this out since we were in Nerja eighteen months ago, but the obstacle was finding the right beans. At last, both opportunity and motive co-incided. A most enjoyable culinary start.

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