Homage to the old Land Rover

Until recently we had an old series 3 diesel Land Rover. For months on end it would sit unused in the street outside our house in London. Driven maybe once, twice a year in the city, usually only to head for the channel and the European countryside. Then Boris the-great-mayor-of-our-times brought in his one size fits all solution to city traffic pollution in London. If we had kept the car in the city zones, the fines, the ongoing price to us would have been enormous. As usual the small user/offender gets targeted for political purposes, while the mega polluters with deep pockets and political clout get strategically overlooked.

It’s true the Land Rover was smoky at times and for that in this age there is little excuse, but it was also a wonderful wagon for getting-to, cruising the back roads of France, Switzerland, and crossing the alps into Italy. What I saw of France, if I were French, I would defend to my dying breath. After a day’s driving (a series 3 taking-in places in slow-motion) with all the wonderful local-commune-run-reasonable camp sites, we could pitch our wild made-up tents, attaching tarps to the back of the van, and exhausted from hours on the road sleep dry and warm as squirrels in the dead of winter oblivious to rain torrenting down on the roof. These overnights in out-of-the-way places in France, Spain and Italy makes me wonder what the 100km/hr + drivers on le péage, motorways, and le autostrade ever get to see.

So in homage to the old car, the transport that facilitated visits to the twig cracking quiet of the open French forests and back hills and small towns east, west, south and north of Paris all visited at speeds from 10 to 60 km/hr, those secluded empty, silent parts of France, Switzerland, northern Spain and Italy in all weather and times of year, places that afforded us so many extraordinary moments on the way to Tuscany and back, here is a photo-montage essay of those times we never want to forget. Why not buy a new car? I don’t want a new car.

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Lou Alba’s Italian cooking

SPAGHETTI ALLE VONGOLE takes almost nothing to prepare. Ally’s
mum used to knock it up in ten minutes. The ingredients you will
need for a dinner for four friends are: 400 grams of long pasta
(linguine, bavette or spaghetti); 1 kilogram of uncultivated carpet
shell clams; 1 tablespoon of oil; 1 clove of garlic; 1 small bunch of
parsley; 1 chilli pepper; and freshly ground pepper. Wash the carpet
shell clams very well eliminating all sand and having left them to
soak in water overnight, boil a pot of water for the pasta. Cook the
garlic and chilli lightly in hot oil and throw in the vongole. They will
be ready when the shells open in a few minutes. Wash and cut up
the parsley and mix into the vongole. Slightly undercook the pasta
(cooking ‘al dente’). Drain and add the sauce. Serve hot with chilled
white wine.                                                

p129      Uncorrected Proof by Louisiana Alba

YOU CAN’T MAKE Pesto alla Genovese without a marble bowl and a
wooden grinding stick. Not proper pesto you can’t. You also need
a lot of patience. The recipe is twelve hundred years old and has
changed little over this time. It’s best approached methodically,
lovingly. Do everything by hand. Lock up the electric mixer. First
up, wash four bunches of Basil in cold water, dry them in a tea
towel. It should be Basil grown in Genoa Genovese-style alongside
garlic, which removes the slight taste of mint. Crush and grind a
clove of garlic in the marble bowl (one clove for every thirty leaves of
Basil – there’s something mystical in these proportions). The garlic
should be sweet, ‘la dolcezza’ not too apparent but somehow there
in the taste. Remember a few coarse grains of sea salt. Don’t put
all the ingredients in together. Add the Basil leaves one by one and
using a technique of slow rotation lightly crush the leaves inside the
bowl. The essential oils of the plant are retained in ‘the veins’ of the
leaves. Don’t grind too hard. Allow the sap and perfume to escape
slowly, the rhythm of the movement in crushing the leaves guiding
you. When you see the bright green liquid appearing, add a handful
of the pine nut kernels (i pinoli). The pinoli soften and thicken the
sauce, balancing the garlic. The time has come now to add some
well matured Parmesan (parmigiano reggiano) and Sardinian sheep
cheese (pecorino sardo), as his mum liked it, preserving it all in extra
virgin olive oil, added a few drops at a time.


Spaghetti alla puttanesca is a Neapolitan recipe created by sex
workers with no time to waste between clients. Some claim the dish
has aphrodisiacal properties. Ingredients for four as usual are all
Mediterranean: 4 San Marzano tomatoes, 20 grams of capers, six
anchovy fillets, 200 grams of seedless black olives, 2 cloves garlic, 2
tablespoons of chopped parsley and 4 tablespoons of olive oil (one
or two chilli peppers). Preparation takes 10 minutes. Cooking is as
simple as it is rapid. Put the olive oil in a deep pan or pot. Add sliced
anchovy fillets, chopped cappers, peeled tomatoes, seedless olives,
thinly sliced garlic, and chilli pepper. Cook over a hot flame. Add
salt. The sauce will begin to get tasty in five minutes. Turn off the
heat and throw in some parsley.

And now for a word from our sponsor, The London School of
Cooking Arts. That used to kill Ally, the programme cutting away
for a commercial just as the plot got interesting.

p151 excerpts from Uncorrected Proof  by Louisiana Alba


Posted in bianco di Pitigliano, culture, Etruscan, Holidays, italian cooking, Italian holidays, Italy, La Maremma, Le terme, Saturnia, South Tuscany, sulphur hot springs, travelling, tufo, Tuscany | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Tuscan Retreat

Pitigliano,  in the hills above La Maremma,  the flat plains of south-western Tuscany stretching west to the Tirreno sea of the Meditterranean. The historic centre of Pitigliano sits high up on a volcanic rock. Originally the town was settled many centuries ago by the Etruscans. What is unique with Pitigliano is how the old centre occupies the entire rock it was founded upon – there are others in Italy, but the way new part is built entirely separately, not around it the old part, east across the entrance road, is unique. For this reason the town is still what it has been for centuries, a fortress town well defended by its natural position up high on the ‘tufo’ rock.

Posted in bianco di Pitigliano, culture, Etruscan, Hot springs, italian cooking, Italian holidays, Italy, La Maremma, Le terme, Saturnia, South Tuscany, sulphur hot springs, travelling, tufo, Tuscany, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment