We’ve been snowed in here in Rome since Friday. Even though it has really only snowed once, the snow turned to rain and then that turned to slush and then it froze making sidewalks and roadways nearly impassable. The snow was spectacular when it was pristine and white, but once I got over the surprise of seeing Rome transformed into a wintery wonderland I started getting impatient for it to go away. I’m with the Pope on this when he said the snow is beautiful but let’s hope spring comes soon.
The snow made me long for some comforting food so I went to the market in Monteverde Vecchio. During the truck drivers’ strike this market remained open because a number of the stands are held by people who grow and sell their own food. But this time, nearly the whole thing was closed. The people I usually buy food from, Loredana and Domenico, pick their vegetables early on the morning that they intend to sell them. I can only assume that their crop was under snow. I hope the broccoli survives. Theirs was the best I’ve ever eaten.
I also went to the supermarket where people were clearing the shelves as though they were stocking a bomb shelter. (In fact, our friend Enza said an elderly woman told her she hadn’t seen empty shelves and markets like this since the war.) It surprised me to see that so many people were turning to ready-made and processed foods instead of stocking up on staples. And then it occurred to me that I ought to get out of the supermarket and go somewhere I could find real food.
I started to worry a little bit because I once took a wilderness survival course in Canada where I was voted the one most likely to be dead by morning (bad sense of direction, didn’t know edible from poisonous weeds, unwillingness to eat bugs, etc.), but then I remembered that I would have a kitchen and even heat as long as the poor little heating system could hold up against the colder than normal temperatures.
I went to our local organic food market, Spazio Bio, which was nowhere near as busy as the supermarket. I had already bought some vegetables and a pork roast at the market, which we doused with wine and cooked for dinner that night. At Spazio Bio I bought lots of dried beans and grains for soup, some corn meal for polenta and some organic sausage to go with it, along with a few kilos of flour.
While I’ve been hearing reports of the empty shelves at the supermarkets and bakeries without bread I’m really happy that I learned a few basic cooking skills. So, we’ve been riding out the storm on bean and barley soups and freshly baked bread. For the longest time I thought baking bread was difficult and when I finally taught myself how to do it I was surprised at how easy it is. Taught myself seems a bit exaggerated. There’s little to learn. I just read a few recipes and did what they said and it worked.
In this case I mixed about 3 cups of whole wheat flour with a teaspoon of salt and ¼ cup of a yeast that I found at the organic market. It’s half way between commercial dried yeast and a live pasta madre or biga as it’s often known (one of these days, I’ll make that pasta madre). Then I mixed a spoonful of honey into a cup of luke warm water and let it dissolve. Then I slowly mixed the water into the flour mixture until it formed a ball of dough that I could knead on a floured surface. Then it just sat around puffing up and Nico punched it down a few times until it was time to put it in a bread pan, let it rise there one last time and bake it.
It’s really good. It’s so simple and has no weird processed food ingredients. It’s a small survival skill that ought to get us through a few more days of Siberian cold winds and ice before the flour, the beans and the barley run out. If we had really planned ahead and did things like canning tomatoes in the fall and freezing vegetables from the summer we would be managing even better.
We are in Italy, however, and this cold weather should soon pass and we will be back to shopping for fresh produce every other day, assuming most of it makes it through this unusual freeze. But, it has reminded me that these old fashioned, though newly fashionable, skills like cooking and preserving our own food can be life sustaining in some places or, in other places, just important enough to get you through a cold snap in comfort.