This frugal dish is authentic in its simplicity and makes for a substantial, economic and tasty meal.
Out of all the dishes to come from the Mediterranean, I adore those which exemplify the movement and oneness of its people. Although made by many hands, essentially this dish remains baked chickpea flour batter, embellished with localised flavours.
Named Farinata di Ceci in Liguria, it is also known as Karantita / Karane / Kalinti in North Africa and Calentita in Gibraltar. It is also a testament to my second favorite saying ‘Una Faccia, Una Pancia‘ – One Face, One Belly!
I like to eat this dish when still warm, either topped with a light salad (think healthy pizza!) or with Harissa paste in a sandwich. Any spicy pepper or tomato sauce such as Luteniza or Aivar will do equally as well!
As a child I sometimes cowered on my visits to Napoli. For a naturally quiet soul from the leafy suburbs of West London, the city seemed chaotic and frightening. People hollered from pavement to balcony, vehicles honked furiously and yellow canaries in cramped cages sang their tiny hearts out in a futile bid for freedom. The only relief from the suffocating heat in our apartment were the cool tiles underfoot, tiles which although chipped and worn were beautiful never the less. The memory of being robbed never quite escaped me either. We had decided to travel to Palinuro in an attempt to escape the city’s sticky humidity and just as we set off several mopeds blocked our car. Suddenly there were hairy arms grabbing at our bags through the open passenger window, just millimeters from my sister’s little blonde head. My mother scratched the arms until her hands bled and my father’s only victory was to close the electric windows. Fortunately their mission failed: we managed to keep the bags. The bandits sped off leaving us shaken.
Yet even from the youngest age Napoli fascinated me. It’s a land of contrasts steeped in history and legend; Chaos and beauty, pain and joy, abundance and poverty, light and dark, generosity and injustice. As for the people they’re the best people you could ever meet (Please come in, eat, eat!!) but if you’re unlucky, also the worst.
“Napule è nu paese curioso: è nu teatro antico, sempre apierto.” Napoli is a curious land: it’s an ancient theatre, always open. That’s it: its like an opera.
The people of Napoli have a distinction in the university of life, for wherever you go in the city it is expressed with a huge degree of passion, both joyous and tragic. There is a wild air about the city, its essence is both beautiful and dark. A streak of danger looms behind backs and lurks in the shadows yet the sunlight reveals such blinding beauty.
It had been an overwhelmingly humid day in Durres. Ida, my raven haired friend, drove us to the Tropikal resort for an early evening dinner and sitting back in our comfy chairs we watched the sun slump low in the fiery sky.
Welcoming the cool evening breeze, we dined on succulent fish and mopped up its juices with plump bread. When the chef, Giampiero, emerged from the kitchen to greet diners I was surprised to hear his thick Barese accent. We discovered that in the bizarre reversal of trend Italians were now emigrating over the tiny slither of Adriatic sea to seek work in Albania’s booming economy. How the ways of the World have changed!
Inspired by my recent trip to Istanbul, I made use of this season’s quinces and poached them in Pomegranate syrup, serving them with Pistachio nuts, marscapone and jasmine flowers. Complicated? No, no. Really easy.
I had always wanted to visit Istanbul. I imagined it would be similar to Napoli, an ancient chaotic city of contrasts on the Mediterranean sea with the added allure of straddling two continents. Arriving at Sabiha Gökçen airport on a humid Autumn day I joke to Murat, my partner, about not having the right visa to get into Turkey. At Passport control a young man checks every page of my passport and asks
“Didn’t you get a visa?”
“Queue over there.” I look back to where he is pointing and see hoards of confused tourists waiting to part with 10 British Pounds.
Finally, I cross Turkey’s threshold and we greet two of Murat’s smiling friends. I try to take in my surroundings while whizzing towards the Bosphorus Bridge.The traffic is chaotic, but then I expected that. Sezen Aksu plays on the stereo, her sultry voice echoing the tired building facades surrounding us.
I’m leaning forward in my seat with my nose pressed against the window like a child without realising. Gokhan smiles in the rearview mirror. We can’t communicate in spoken word yet, only in signs and gestures.
A chubby man called Manolis leads us to a tiny red Micra. My suitcase struggles against stones on the ground and on noticing, Manolis picks it up with a giant hand, as if filled with feathers.
”This is your car. And this is for you,” he presents my father with a bottle of red wine, a product of Crete of course. After loading our suitcases into the boot, Manolis hands us his mobile number on a scrap of paper and insists that we call him if we need anything at all during our stay. He then bumbles into the distance of the pitch black airport car park.
My father starts the car and the stereo comes alive with bouzouki and cheery Greek song. He dances in the driver’s seat in excitement of the coming week and off we go to find our hotel, a good 45 minute drive away.
Crickets line the roads singing their hearts out in the arid grasses. The unmistakable perfume of pine resin floats in the humid air and a huge orange crescent moon hangs low in the night sky, its reflection splayed out on the sea to our left.
Families dine on terraces by the dim light of lanterns. Huge insects crash and die on our windscreen. The music plays on, familiar words and rhythms lament.
I have that feeling in my gut, the one I get every time I am here, not Crete, but here in the Mediterranean. A feeling of excitement and homecoming. I am about to fall in love all over again.
In anticipation of visiting Istanbul, my other half laid out a ‘Raki Table’, in essence a party for two. This kind of spread is best when accompanied by suitable Turkish/Balkan music and good company. On the table aside from the Raki itself is melon, cheese, dried fruits and nuts and crisps. After the first two drinks, we could easily have been overlooking the Bosphorus, not in the back streets of London.
Raki is an aniseedy aperitif like Ouzo, Arak and Sambucca. It is drunk in the same way, accompanied by ice and water and often diluted to a dreamy cloud colour. But beware, especially of the homemade stuff, once you start to feel it you may have perhaps over done it!! It’s a potent drink which can either bring your mind to the presence of angels or demons.