We have been watching quite smugly over these weeks as Northern Europe has been held in the grip of a particularly fierce winter. Here, it didn't freeze and, finally, when the snows arrived it was greatly pleasurable to see La Faula under an unfamiliar white blanket. So it was a rude shock yesterday, having left my warm bed at 9.00 a.m. planning to go to my local pasticeria, drink one or more cappuccini, eat scrummy cakes and read the local paper, to find all our boilers switched off. When you have 11 bathrooms in your house and the temperature is minus 10 degrees outside and the heating has failed, and it is Sunday, you know you are in big trouble! And so it was. We fired-up the wood-burning stove but the back bedrooms had already arrived at freezing point. Luckily the boilers hadn't frozen but the clock was ticking while we tried to establish what had happened and put it right. Eventually, having luckily found our plumber, we established that no gas was arriving to the boilers - the reducing valve in our lpg tank having frozen solid. Some nifty work with a hair drier resolved the problem but the last frozen radiator in the house only unblocked this evening so we had a very lucky scrape. This is the real problem here in Italy. The real cold snaps are rare but when they come we are not prepared - today there were a number of people looking over the burst solar panels mounted on their roofs. A RECIPE FOR A QUICK PASTA DISH This evening's dinner was fresh tagliatelle with tomato and anchovy sauce. Fry one or more onions in a frying pan with olive oil (not to hot because olive oil is not suitable for frying at high temperatures). Just before the onions are golden brown add as much garlic as you want (I crush it in a garlic crusher - our cleaning lady users a garlic crusher and, more Italian than her you won't find, so even though our garlic crusher was purchased in England, it is used in preparing Italian meals here in Italy!). Then add and fry the anchovys until they break up. Add, and fry for only a short time pitted black olives before adding the tomato part of the sauce. You can add passata of tomato, chopped peeled tomatoes, whole tomatoes - whatever is fine for you. We use Louisa's tomato sauce - Louisa is a lady who comes to help us, generally in the Autumn and she makes our tomato sauce. First we buy the tomatoes from a local farm, then we dry them outside in the sun on a table, then we boil them with salt and finally we add fresh basil before preserving them in preserving jars. Allow the sauce to boil for 5-10 minutes and go for it!
For us, winter is a time when we can dedicate ourselves to more contemplative pursuits - such as writing the diary. The days are short, the work is wholly physical and outdoors, so the evenings are spent doing all those things that we cannot do when the agriturismo is in full swing. We visit friends, go on trips, take Sunday breakfast in a local bar, have proper weekends - it's all pretty luxurious! Looking back at last year it is possible to feel well contented. The barn - which we had never previously had - was completed. This has changed our management of the cows - we now have some little calves fattening up on hay and ground maize; our tools are finally all in one place and the farm implements under cover. The agriturismo was really a pleasure - our strategy of having people to stay who could and would appreciate what we have to offer - the animals, countryside, good cooking - really paid off and we had extremely nice people more or less all the year. Financially it wasn't bad either but the barn soaked-up all that came in so we will have to wait a while before buying that new Roller!