Recipe

What to do with a desiccated lemon

A breath-taking spring morning here in the Garfagnana, home to The Factor House – the type that starts with an unmistakeable dewy freshness, but is full nonetheless of the promise of a balmy afternoon – finds me staring forlornly at a stylish arrangement of twigs in a handsome terracotta pot.  Not an as yet untested and contemporary approach to Tuscan garden ornamentation, but the despondent remains of a previously robust lemon tree, the leaves stripped by a single night’s unexpectedly bitter wind which swept down unannounced from the majestic snow-tipped Apuan Alps opposite – mockingly visible on this pellucid crisp morning.

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When are tortelli not tortelli?

As the suggestion of summer warmth takes over from the dewy freshness of spring, Saturday morning finds me hard at work alongside Paola, a cook renowned locally for the quality – and bounteous quantity – of her authentic Tuscan fare, as we make batches of stuffed pasta for this evening’s dinner.  For a group of The Factor House guests are celebrating an important anniversary and have elected to use the services of one of our chefs for the memorable occasion.  A sensible choice, I muse, because however competent you might eventually become in the art of Italian cookery, and however slavish you might be to the authenticity of your recipes, you will simply never be able to source ingredients like a local.

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How to pick a Tuscan olive

A strange but comforting sight greets visitors to our corner of Tuscany towards the end of autumn.  Despite the distinct chill in the air at this time of year – a symptom of the seasonal arrival of the gregale, the strong and cool northeasterly mediterranean wind generated by a low pressure system located somewhere near Malta – entire families can be found congregating in olive groves, for it is time to harvest those precious precursors to liquid gold.

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Winter’s bounty: a culinary cornucopia

You might think that – here in the Garfagnana, home to The Factor House – winter would herald the limit of the land’s largesse, leaving only memories of a summer when we were obliged to make ever more inventive use of unceasing amounts of invitingly coloured and lusciously fragrant fruit and vegetables.  But, no – changing pace a little, and slowing perhaps in productiveness – the orto (vegetable patch) goes on magicking all manner of tasty things.

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Water makes rust

water-makes-rust-resized“Acqua fa ruggine” (water makes rust) replies Alberto, a little sniffily, I think, and reaches instead for a large flask of the earthy, vibrant home-made red which passes for practically everyone’s house wine in these parts.  (Bought here in bulbous green 50L demijohns and bottled at home.)  We’re in the middle of the vendemmia (the grape harvest), helping out our neighbour, and we’ve paused for a well-earned breather.  I say middle, but actually I mean mid-morning, since we started at a crisp and dewy dawn, and now the crew of exhausted, but resolutely enthusiastic, grape-pickers has assembled at trestle tables at the flatter end of the vineyard.  My mistake, even after all these years, was to assume that a glug of mineral water was the accepted idea of refreshment for the parched.  But, no, it’s explained to me – now cast clearly in the role of weird foreigner – the bottles of mineral water are there to rinse stained and vine-nicked hands, while the wine is the only refreshment any of us might need or want.

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Mushrooms and the moon

mushrooms-and-the-moon-resizedThere is much consternation in the local bar this morning, as I stop off for a cappuccino en route to the local store to pick up some mortadella for lunch.  The beautiful hot, dry summer weather continues.  Not much cause for concern, you might say: no need for a while yet to close down the pool and put away the sun umbrellas.  But here in the midst of the Garfagnana, home to The Factor House, where the quotidian rhythm is unchanged for generations, all is not calm.

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