Eat Like an Italian

Eat Like an Italian

When I feel a little heavy I have a tried and tested recipe for losing a few pounds. It’s nothing new, just cutting back on carbs and bumping up the fruit and salad. In our family, dinner is sacred so I have always saved myself for dinner. That means I get desperately hungry in the later afternoon but I hang on. It’s quite hard work but it’s especially hard work in Italy where pasta and pizza are constantly available along with wonderful breads and cakes from my local bakery.

I look around me at my Italian neighbours and there is no big weight problem going on here. There is less obesity than there is at home in Britain and that goes for children and adults. The shops still close (out of season) for four hours at lunch time and I guess that many Italians are still going home to eat pasta. Likewise many of my neighbours breakfast in the local bar with a delicious cappuccino and a croissant or little cake. I wondered how this was possible when I eat so little and put on a pound at the drop of a hat. Why isn’t that happening to them? I don’t know but when I’d been here a few weeks I thought I’d give it a try.

Usually a croissant is a treat for a weekend so it was counterintuitive ( and wonderful) to have carbs for breakfast – in the name of science I forced myself! I went to the bakers about eight when everything was fresh and chose my pastry. A few hours later I cooked pasta for lunch and I had a small glass of wine too. It felt like a holiday. For supper I have been sticking to fish or meat and vegetables (and more wine) with maybe a mouthful of bread or a small pudding but more often fruit and a mouthful of cheese. It is an absolute treat to have all this wonderful food.

Newsflash! Within a couple of days I lost the remaining two pounds that were troubling me and after two weeks of my new regime my weight is constant at the place I prefer it to be. But also I am never hungry. I am never desperate for food or a drink in the evening. It feels really balanced. I am also sleeping better and my digestion is great.

It’s not about bingeing. Just one croissant or a couple of pieces of toast with some fruit is easy for breakfast  if you know there is a decent lunch coming. After that I am full all day and ready for a proper dinner. I have not been controlling the olive oil either because it is so good for me and also brings out nutrients in fruit and vegetables which are not accessible without it.

The more I hear about nutrition the more it seems it is a matter of balancing many unknown factors as well as some we know about. It obviously varies from individual to individual and also from season to season and from one age to another. I’m sharing with you what is working for me right now because I was really surprised how well it worked. If you are tied up with a low-carb diet in an effort to maintain your ideal weight you might want to try it too. At least experiment – I have had to let go of many ideas I had and it has been well worth it. It feels really kind and in tune with my body and has reduced the stress of choosing what to eat by one hundred per cent. Recommend.


Asthall Manor

asthall-manorThere is really no excuse for this photo here in my blog except that I was out walking the dog about 7.30 yesterday morning when it was minus 7 and I was bowled over by the beauty of the manor in the frost. I wanted to share it with you. We are renting a small flat in this wondrous building whilst there are builders in our own house and we count ourselves pretty lucky! Former tenants include the Mitfords before they moved to Swinbrook down the road but these days the manor is known for the astonishing sculpture exhibition that happens here every two years and called Onform. The gardens are also exceptional and open to the public in season so we have landed in a very blessed spot.


Since it is proper Winter now I also wanted to offer you this pudding that I made with a glut of cooking apples from the manor’s vegetable garden and the end of a small loaf. I suppose it is an Apple Charlotte but not one of the beautifully constructed sort. This one

apple-charlotte  is rather haphazard although I have to say very delicious. Bread and butter and sugar beneath and on top. Stewed apple in the middle. Cook in the oven on a moderate heat until the bread and butter is crispy. It felt sensationally English and full of historical resonance to be eating this in our manor flat deep in the Oxfordshire countryside.


When I was little we used to visit the local bakery, Bromwich’s, where my mother would buy bridge rolls, cob and cottage loaves, tea cakes and iced buns. On a Thursday, my half day, we would take custard tarts and pineapple tarts from Bromwich’s to my grandmother’s for afternoon tea. This was an old fashioned bakery with a wonderful smell, a long queue and a great selection of plain, English bread, buns and cakes. My father, unaccountably, always sent a  request for a macaroon and this increased his mystery for me.- for who could choose a macaroon when there were pineapple cream tarts in the offing?

breadHome-Made Bread

Be patient if you haven’t made bread before. Even if this is your first attempt your bread will be totally irresistible when it comes out of the oven. Once you get familiar with the dough you will be able to make bread that is also delicious cold.


1000g strong white flour

2 x sachet easy bake yeast

1.5 pints of hand warm water

Salt to taste

  1. Put your oven on its highest setting and set a shelf low down for the bread.
  2. Put all the ingredients into a large bowl and bring together with a flat knife into a dough that you can eventually tip onto the counter.
  3. Knead briefly and scoop back into the bowl. Cover with oiled clingfilm and leave in a warm place for 45 minutes to an hour.
  4. When the dough has grown and has visible air bubbles in it after about an hour tip it back onto the counter with some flour and knead it back and forth again. When it feels like a baby’s flesh, soft and springy, it’s ready to go into the baking tray.
  5. Cut some baking parchment to cover a baking tray and divide the dough in two. Roughly form two loaves and put them side by side in the baking tray.
  6. Again leave for 45 minutes to an hour – maybe on top of the oven which is heating up. After an hour or less the dough will have expanded and this time it is ready for the oven.
  7. Bake half an hour at your oven’s highest temperature and then check the bread is cooked. Turn the load upside down and knock on the base. When it sounds hollow it is cooked.
  8. Cool on a wire rack.

If this is your first attempt your bread will taste delicious hot but may take some practice to be edible cold. Make bread each week and you will quickly get to know the texture that will bake into good bread.

Now rejoice. You have joined thousands of years of bakers. You are celebrating your links to thousands of years of history across many other cultures. Before the Flood they were eating bread like yours.bread-2

With bread like this you can upgrade all kinds of meals from shop-bought hummus to home-made soup. A lettuce, a piece of cheese and a home-made loaf is all you need. Or to quote Omar Khayyam ‘A jug of wine, a loaf of bread – and Thou!’ I have a feeling this is the loaf he had in mind.

After a month or so you when your bread is pretty reliable you can try variations. Add cooked onion to the dough for a wonderful sweet onion bread. Top with seeds or grated cheese. Add pitted olives to the dough and some olive oil for an authentic Mediterranean taste. You can let your imagination off the leash here. There is nothing you can add to your bread that won’t be worth trying. Let me know what you do!

Radio Four’s The Food Programme


Syrian Bakeries

The World Food Programme supplies ingredients to support the running of Syria’s bakeries.

Today I want to pay tribute to one of the most intelligent radio programmes on the airwaves, Radio 4’s The Food Programme. It has been going as long as I can remember and it tackles pretty much all aspects of food including the political. It informs, it educates, it delights and without fanfare it also investigates ethical and scientific questions around food. What is good for us? Who can afford to eat what is good for us? Who is making our lives better through their attempts at more ethical farming? Which small businesses are winning prizes for their new foods? The foods may be cheese or beer or biscuits. Quality and innovation and integrity are championed by this splendid programme.

Recently there have been two TFPs on the food of the Syrian people affected by conflict. Despite bringing the suffering of that war-torn country much closer and making it more personal, these programmes yet contrived to include the uplifting face of our own humanity. I was especially moved by the interview with the lady who had taken her small family caravan from the UK to Calais and from its limited facilities now feeds hundreds of refugees every day. On TFP website you will see pictures of her undertaking. Thanks to The Food Programme I learned how such food as reaches Syria succeeds in doing so but I also understood something about  the attacks on aid convoys and how people can starve surrounded by fields of healthy crops – a tragic conundrum that I had not understood at all. There is no hand-wringing here but real respect and fellow-feeling for the people and the aid-workers because food is something we all have a relationship with. When we hear that Syrian bakeries have had to close for want of flour and firewood we can relate to that. Bread is a cornerstone of our diet as it is of theirs.

The Food Programme has a venerable history and I shall come back to it to share with you the pleasures of its archive. For today just let me add that when a controversial subject is explored there is very little finger-wagging because they let the facts speak for themselves. Most often in the external world the facts do not arrange themselves so simply that blame falls squarely and conveniently on one party but if that does happen Dan Saladino and Sheila Dillon assume we are all intelligent enough to notice for ourselves. For me this beats being hit over the head with the interviewer’s opinion hands down. (Today and World At One, please note!)

Tomorrow the recipe is for bread. For today the recipe is to offer ourselves and others some of the warmth and respect in our hearts, even when we know we have not done our best and to refuse to indulge the finger-wagging part. As one of my wise sons said to me, ‘People know when they’ve messed up, Mum. You don’t need to tell them.’ Spot on.