Happy New Year – Happy New Life – Happy New Pasta

New Year at the Olive Hill means that we are here full time!  No more packing up our chattels at the end of a working week, schlepping up the road and struggling to heat the house up from freezing, only to close everything up again two days later, and schlep down the road to work again.

Nope, that lifestyle is so 2018.

Which for Scott at least, means spending the first working morning of 2019 having a lesson in Italian bureaucracy at the local commune.

One of our major “worry beads” is now slightly less, um, worrying, as over the Christmas period, the Italian government announced that regardless of what type of Brexit happens this spring, they will continue to honour the residency rights of Brits who were already legally resident here before March 29th.  Which means that “I am alright Jack”, as I’ve already gained residency (in Rome, for now), but clearly Scott must gain his residency as a matter of urgency.  This is NOT a political blog, but whatever your views (or even lack of views) on Brexit, March the 29th is fast approaching, and we are very grateful that the Italian government has seen fit to provide us with some clarity for our future status here.  Now, as the owners of a future tourism and olive oil business, we are eagerly awaiting some clarity as to how we will be able to run our business post Brexit.  ‘Nuff said.

And so I’m here, at our beautiful inherited table (we bought the house fully furnished), looking over our neatly pruned olive trees (ok, so only half of the trees are neatly pruned, but they do make up most of the view), with a cup of freshly brewed coffee next to me, trying to work out how to describe how Darling Daughter and I made pasta for our New Year’s Eve meal.

Stringozzi are a local, traditional style of pasta, made with few, or even no eggs at all, and then worked by hand into shapes rather than rolled.   Here on the Umbria Lazio border, this is worked with hands that are coated with olive oil, to prevent the layers from sticking together.  Experience has shown us that the pasta is easier to work with at least some egg in the mixture, but it is possible to leave the egg out for a vegan version.  What you do need to know is that making any fresh pasta takes AGES.  MUCH longer than you think it will.  Work out how long you think it will take, then double that time, and add an hour for the dough to rest.  Basically, start making your pasta after lunch if you plan to eat it before midnight …

You can watch a professional making stringozzi in nearby Casperia here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cf-SMFHxW7c

Our version is simpler, but I still recommend watching the clip first!

Stringozzi al’ Olive Hill (Serves four)

For the pasta:

  • 400g type 00 flour
  • 1 free range egg
  • water – approximately 250 ml
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil

For the sauce:

  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 1 chilli, de-seeded and finely chopped
  • 150g mushrooms, chopped
  • four high quality sausages, removed from their skins and cubed
  • 100g of cubed pancetta
  • 50g of black pitted olives, halved
  • one can of chopped tomatoes
  • good quality vegetable stock
  • salt, pepper

To make the pasta:

Measure out your flour, and put it straight onto the surface which you plan to use for kneading.  Make a hole in the centre, and break an egg into it.  With a fork, gently beat the egg, and add a half of your water.  With the fork, gently start to combine the flour into your liquid centre.  Now it’s time to get your hands dirty.  Roll up your sleeves, and get working the dough!  Gradually combine all the ingredients, adding more water as necessary, until you have a soft dough.  Knead until it becomes soft and elastic.  This will take a good 10 minutes, and you will need to add water, and occasionally flour as necessary.

Once the dough is elastic and pliable, roll into a ball, wrap, and set aside to rest for at least an hour.

Cut your dough into four, evenly sized portions, then roll each into a ball.  Coat your hands with olive oil.  With your first dough ball, make a hole in the middle, so that it resembles a doughnut.  Using a kneading and stretching motion (as per the youtube clip), gradually work your “doughnut” into something that vaguely resembles a deflated inner tube of a bicycle tyre.  Place it back on the table and gently open it up, creating circular pasta that resembles shoe laces.

Repeat with the other three portions.  Once complete, coat all of your “shoelaces” with flour, and if not cooking immediately, set aside, covered with a clean tea towel, until you are ready to cook.


For the sauce:

In a large pan, heat a couple of tablespoons of quality extra virgin olive oil.  Add the onions and fry until translucent.  Add the chilli and mushrooms, and fry until they soften.  Remove from the pan and set aside.  Add the sausages to the pan, and fry for three to four minutes, then add the pancetta, and continue frying for a further three or four minutes.  Put the vegetables back into the pan, then add the tomatoes, olives, salt and pepper, then bring to the boil.

Once boiling, add stock, and cover.  Cook for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring a large pan of well salted water to the boil.  Add your stringozzi, and stir once.  Boil for two to three minutes, then remove from the heat and drain well.

Serve immediately, and rather than parmesan cheese, try serving with grated pecorino cheese instead.


Family Time

Christmas is coming. Our first Sabina Christmas.

Except that it isn’t.

Our daughter is having surgery in the UK on the hip complaint that caused us to learn how to make marmelade (or MarmalAID, as we called it) last year. And so I am sitting at 38,000 feet on a flight from Rome to Liverpool, with a couple of hundred Napoli fans, and a sports reporter called Massimo, who they all want to have their photograph taken with. This is slightly awkward for me, as Massimo and I are sitting on the front row of the aircraft, with an empty seat between us, and so that is where the fans sit for their selfies. At first, he apologized each time it happened, but now we just smile, roll our eyes and shrug our shoulders at each other. Luckily, there is a lot of turbulence today, so we are confined to our seats a lot of the time, which is keeping the seat invasions to a lower level than we would experience on a less bumpy flight.

A couple of hours ago, I had no idea who Massimo was. But our family have a “group chat” named viaggio, in which we post such mundane messages as “through security”, “boarded” and “landed” when we travel, and everybody gives a little thumbs up to communicate that they know where you are. So today I posted a pic of Massimo, and within a minute, my son had told me that
he was the Sky Sports Italia football correspondent, and that his Twitter profile picture was clearly rather out of date. He also shares his name with an Italian politician, apparently…


Back to Olive Hill, which will be without family cheer this Christmas, while Darling Daughter recovers from her latest surgery, and we catch up with family and friends at home.

A year ago today we visited the farm and took photos, which amazed me as I killed time at the airport this morning, so I thought that I would share them with you, dear reader.

This bottom photo was taken exactly one year ago from the ridge opposite the house. You can see the two arable fields, the vineyard, the rather overgrown, but otherwise healthy, green olive trees, and then, closer to the house, the sick trees, which we have pruned back so hard this year.

The top two pictures show the poor, sick olive trees, with their sad little leaves all on the ground. These two pictures show the scale of the problems that we took on with the olives, even before the hardest winter for many years struck, with its gelo and -14° temperatures, just as the olive blossom was attempting to form. No wonder then, that by the time we finally took ownership in May, these 100 or so trees were little more than living skeletons.  A year later, after serious pruning and lots of TLC, the trees are bouncing back to life. No wonder that olive trees are called eternal.

The picture of the citrus trees tell another story. This time last year these were in rude health, covered in oranges, grapefruits, mandarins, clementines and lemons, which one could pick directly from the balcony. The cruel winter caused them massive damage. Three of the trees are dead, and only one managed to produce any fruit at all this year, in the shape of four little clementines. We have watered, fed and gently pruned them, and as long as the weather gods are kind this winter, they too will provide us with fruit again one day.

The beginning of 2018 saw our little farm at its lowest ebb. The olives dying, the vineyard uncared for, the fruit trees unprotected from the vicious frost that would attack them. A year later and it is being nursed back to life.

Roll on 2019, we literally can not wait to get stuck in!

Renovations Are Coming

And all of a sudden, the pace of our Olive Hill Life is changing.

Scott has three weeks left in the office, then we will spend Christmas at home in the UK with our family.  Upon our return, the renovations will begin, and our casa campagna will be redesigned, renovated, remodelled, refurbished, reconfigured, revived, redecorated and reinvigorated.

The house is not actually that old, originally having been built in the early 1970s, in its day, it was probably TIMG_20180622_182504084.jpghe Most Stylish House in the village.

That day is long gone, however, and so we currently live in something of a shrine to a life long since left behind.  So long since, in fact, that some of our design features are apparently once again in fashion, thanks to a concept which I believe is called “seventies modern”.

I have no real idea what seventies modern is, to be honest, but if our current bath tub is “de rigeur”, I think that I’d prefer the “modern” to the “seventies”.


That said, trying to decide how to upgrade a house which is basically habitable is proving something of a struggle, albeit a vital one, as I have no plan to continue with our current level of “luxury” any longer than is absolutely necessary.

And yes, as you can see, after a long day outside, we do use the bath tub!

After the bath, top of the list of things to be changed, is the one and only modern appliance in the house: the three year old boiler, or furnace.  Oh, how I HATE the blooming thing.  On the one hand, it is wood fired, which is a good thing, as we have a lot of wood to burn.

On the other hand:

  • The wood that it consumes in a day takes an hour to bring into the house, then a second hour to clean up all the mess that you made taking ash out of, and wood in to the house.  Then a third hour to lie down, exhausted, and recover from the exertion that the last two hours took.
  • It burns at two speeds, either smouldering gently and producing no heat at all, or burning so hot that it boils all the water in the system, causing noxious fumes of burning paint in the boiler room, melting the thermostat, and creating the (hopefully) illusion that it is about to explode.
  • It needs to be stoked up with kindling, or great big lumps of wood approximately every thirty seconds, depending on whether it is smouldering or boiling the water.
  • Whichever you stoke it with, it will either go from smouldering to burning the paint, or vice versa.  There is no in between.
  • Before you leave the house for longer than ten minutes, it must also be stoked, causing it to either boil the water, or go out, leaving one in a constant state of anxiety about what will be found when one arrives home.
  • Likewise, it must be stoked up before bed, causing sleepless nights in case the blessed thing explodes while you are in bed.
  • It never, ever stays alight when you leave the house or go to bed.

The situation with the boiler leaves us very glad to have seen a couple of seasons through before deciding exactly what to do with the house, as it was not even on our “to do list” back in August, when all we were thinking about was air conditioning and a pool.

Just like the land, the house must earn its keep, so we will be incorporating a self contained letting bedroom into the design, as well as allowing for guest bedrooms upstairs.  This is where the renovations become rather more exciting for me, as I dream my way through magazines, glossy brochures and websites filled with gorgeous images of free standing baths, rain water shower heads and glamourous kitchens with eye watering price tags.  Scott is equally content making plans for solar roof panels, a bio gas plant in the basement, and a rain water harvesting system.

We must, however, start to become interested in each other’s ideas pretty soon now, as Giorgio the Geometra is starting to become concerned about getting our plans agreed by the commune in time to start work, in order to meet our self imposed deadline of the 1st June opening for the bed and breakfast unit.

GeeGee has already rained on our “glamping” parade, as apparently we will face a million bureaucratic hurdles to install our log cabins, so now we are trying desperately to add words like “yurt” and “hobbit hole” to his vocabulary, in the hope that they will involve less bureaucracy.  It’s true to say that glamping is not really a part of your average Italian’s vocabulary when it comes to holiday concepts.


Of course, despite the change in the season, work outside never stops.  To Bella and Holly’s delight, our Proper Agricultural Workers have been busily felling trees (to improve the view from the bed and breakfast room), carting wood up for the boiler, and have now commenced cleaning up the vineyard, in readiness to start pruning back the vines at leaf fall.  All of these activities are The Most Exciting Things For Dogs Ever, apparently.

This weekend, as well as viewing mobile homes (we’ll need a roof over our heads during the renovations) and finalising the plans with GeeGee for submission to the commune, we’ll be bottling up our first bottles of white wine, in readiness to take home for family and friends at Christmas.

If 2018 has been the year of doing “The Most Exciting Thing Ever” many, many times, I do actually think that bottling my own wine may just take the prize.


Six Months Later

We bought our little farm six months and one day ago, and now winter is coming. Today therefore seems like a good day to do a little reflecting …

If you have dreams of buying a property in Italy, you should already know that the bureaucratic processes involved in the purchase journey are long, complicated and tortuous.  But although you may know, you won’t actually KNOW.  Take it from me, buying a property in Italy is a roller coaster of epic proportions. As I reached the end of my tether, I wrote this blog post: How to Buy a Farm in Italy, in 50 Easy to Follow Steps … reading it again this morning, I laughed, but I remember only too well how writing the post helped to prevent me from tearing my hair out.  And then, finally, marvelously, the farm was ours, and we came up on a Saturday morning, to OUR farm, bringing along good friends who were staying with us, to attempt to watch the Royal Wedding, and to watch our first, stunning, Sabina sunset.  And it was all worth it: We Bought a Farm!

But, just in case you have read that second post and are wondering …


I never want to buy an Italian property, ever again.

However!  Here we are six months later, and we have learnt so much!

  • We have learnt how to make nocino from green walnuts (hold on a minute, we have learnt that walnuts have a green stage!)
  • We have learnt how to look after our 400 olive trees, and that no matter how hard you work, they may or may not produce olives, according to many factors which are utterly out of your control.
  • We have learnt that even when citrus trees appear to be dead, they may not be.
  • We have learnt that making passata is fun, but probably not worth the effort – much better to simply bottle tomatoes.
  • We have learnt how to pick grapes, and how to make wine!!!
  • We have learnt words in Italian that we don’t even really know in English, like “terzo punto” and “trinciatore”
  • We have learnt (well, Scott has learnt) how to drive a crawler tractor, and a million different ways to fix it when it breaks.
  • We have learnt that wild boar are bigger and dangerous-er than we had ever believed.
  • We have learnt how to light a wood fired boiler, but not what to do when it overheats and starts to boil the water in the pipes …

But most of all, we have relearned that childish delight of being excited to jump out of bed of a morning, and throw open your windows, and be rewarded with a view like this:


And, at the end of a long day doing manual labour outside, to sit on the balcony, wine in hand, and watch the most stunning sunset you will ever see … until tomorrow.

Yesterday, we went to Magliano Sabina to refill our various containers with diesel, in order that we can run our tractor for another week, and in celebration of the half year marker of farm ownership, we had a fabulous lunch in our new favourite restaurant, the Taverna Della Goliardi, , and counted ourselves as blessed to live the life we live.

And so.

Whatever part you have played in this bonkers journey of ours: whether you have unpacked boxes; de-woodwormed our furniture; picked grapes; cleared ivy; aimed our satellite dish in the correct direction; fed us; laughed with us; drank with us; read our blog; maybe even liked our blog: THANK YOU!

I have been blogging for almost exactly one year now, and am stunned to have discovered that my burblings have been read in no less than thirty eight countries! So, where ever you spend most of your life, if you ever find yourself in our little corner of heaven, do please pop in and say hello.




Slow Food, Olive Hill Style

November is one of my favourite months in Italy.  Every month is one of my favourite months in Italy, but November is utterly gorgeous.

Here in Sabina, the mornings are crisp and cool, days are warm, sunny and balmy, and the nights are cold.  That’s outside, of course.   Inside is a different story, and arriving after two weeks away last Friday, inside was absolutely Baltic, despite the outside temperatures being “t-shirtable”, as I like to call it – inside, having been closed down for a fortnight, was cold, damp, and in need of a fire.

So, I spent most of the weekend collecting and bringing wood into the house, both for the fire in the living room, and also for the monster boiler in its little boiler room.  It’s true what they say about “wood warming you twice”, and I feel that I got off fairly lightly on the injury front this weekend, with just one blood blister, and a broken nail as my war wounds to take back to the city!

With the fire going all day, every day, I decided to have a go at cooking on the hearth, and so yesterday, with friends coming for supper, I cooked this delicious stew on the fire:

Hearthy Beef Casserole (serves six)

  •  A slosh of Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • One large onion, roughly chopped
  • 250g squash or pumpkin, chopped into one inch cubes
  • Two cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 kg stewing beef, in large chunks
  • Three table spoons of plain / 00 / general purpose flour
  • salt and pepper
  • Three large tomatoes, roughly chopped
  • 500 ml red wine
  • 250ml beef stock
  • a bouquet garnis

In a very heavy (I used cast iron) pan, fry off the onion in the olive oil, until it just begins to change colour.  Add the squash, and fry gently until it just begins to brown.  Add the garlic, and fry for a further two minutes.  Remove from the pan.

While the veg are frying, put the flour into a bowl, and season well with salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Toss the beef chunks in the flour, coating them with a thin layer of the flour.  Keep the left over flour for later, as you will use it to thicken your casserole.

Add another slosh of oil to your empty pan, and fry off the beef chunks, turning them frequently to prevent them from sticking.  Once all the beef is browned, return the onion and squash to the pan, and give the mixture a good mix, before adding the tomatoes, and frying them off for a couple of minutes.

Add the red wine, and allow it to boil for three or four minutes, before adding the beef stock.  Bring to the boil, and put the lid on.

img_20181111_121523114For me, this is where the fun began.  I had lit the fire several hours previously, making sure that I had left space on the grate to place my casserole dish (a whole new take on “flame proof dish”).  I put a large, thick olive wood log onto the grate to keep the flames away from my stew, placed my pot onto the grate away from the fire itself, and simply left it sitting there for the next five hours.


If you don’t have a large, open fire to hand, cook in a warm (around 140 degrees) oven for as long as you can – at least 3 hours.  This dish would also work well in a “crock pot” style slow cooker, or in the simmering oven of an Aga.

Around half an hour before you plan to eat, remove the pan from whatever heat source you are using, and stir in the flour you set aside earlier.  Pop the lid back on, and cook for another half hour.

Eat with baked potatoes, and friends.

Rain, Rain, Go Away …

Scott and I spent much of 2016, and quite a lot of 2017 scouring the Sabina area for a second home.  A nice little bolt hole, within  an hour or so’s drive from Rome, in which to relax and recuperate at the end of our working weeks in Rome.  Rome is undoubtedly one of the most stunning cities on the planet, but it is also one of the most frustrating, and we are always ready to break out of the smog, dirt and chaos, and head for the hills on a Friday night.  This recent news article captures Rome’s problems brilliantly here

And so we looked for a nice little pad with a view.  Somewhere quaint and old, with chestnut beams, exposed stonework, a patio, a bit of garden, maybe an olive tree or two.  And that lead us to buying a  1970s villa, with 22 acres attached.  We have just spent a weekend in the UK explaining this fact to a series of, frankly, stunned relatives, so I thought that now would be a good time to revisit one of my previous posts, which explains our thinking process: How to Buy a Farm in Italy, in 50 Easy to Follow Steps …

But at least having bought the place, we had a calm and sensible plan.  Scott was to work in Rome until early 2020, so we would spend 2018 getting the farm back into productivity, and then 2019 getting the house into some sort of order.  A bed and breakfast suite is planned, a log cabin, and a couple of fancy tents for glamping will complete our new sensible and well planned business venture, all ready for us to move into in …


The reality of this latest madness hit home last weekend.  Rain had stopped play outside, and so we lit the fire in the living room for the first time, and attempted to fill in the 15 page application form for organic certification, finalise the plans for the rebuild, complete the business plan, explaining why our farm diversification project depends on us welcoming foreign tourists, choose a kitchen, choose a bath (freestanding, to benefit from the maximum views, costing less than five million Euros), choose a new boiler (yawn), and work out which furniture has the least woodworm, so that we know which pieces to keep, and which to throw.  And to drink wine of course.  Every New Life Plan should involve a glass or three of vino.  The weather was slowly but surely becoming quite alarming, and it quickly became clear that in fact, the first priority is waterproof windows:



And so all thoughts of business plans were forgotten, and we spent the rest of the day mopping, and mopping, and mopping.

The other “little problem” that we currently have can be seen in this little video clip of our new “pet”, Cinzia the cinghiale.  Cinzia likes to come into our orchard (next to the house) for her breakfast and dinner.  Apparently Italy is in the grip of a wild boar crisis, with numbers having doubled over the last ten years, and now standing at over one million.  Boar are generally harmless, but come between a mumma boar and her babies, and be in no doubt that your life is at risk.  And of course, Cinzia is a mumma boar, and we don’t know where her babies are.  She is also pretty good at camouflaging herself.  Despite weighing around nine stone (60 kilos), Cinzia is a mistress of disguise, and her favourite hiding spot is inside the fig tree, which we pass dozens of times a day.  Poor Cinzia is also rather lame, as a result of the large bullet hole on her right haunch, so as well as being frightened of her, we feel terribly sorry for her.  And so, we decided that it was time to summon “Eddie Grundy” (yes, dear reader, I am an Archers fan).  EddieG lives at the bottom of our hill, and it turns out that he is a very big deal in the local hunting club.  EddieG supplied us with his phone number, and promised to come and shoot Cinzia immediately, the very moment we called.  But not, it turned out, on a Saturday, nor on a Sunday, nor when it is raining, and not when it is windy either.  For EddieG is a very busy man, and, of course, busy men are never at home when the phone rings.

So this weekend, as usual, we’ll be attempting to finish all the jobs that we barely started last weekend, and trying to find another guy with a rifle …


Dish of the Day: Squash(ed) Tomato Soup

The season is definitely changing here at The Olive Hill.  The days are warm and bright, but the evenings are becoming chilly, and we are starting to think about thinking about lighting the fire.  We are less busy outside, with no more pruning to be done until after the turn of the year, and so we are firming up plans for the renovations inside the house.

We also seem to have acquired a new animal to feed, as we have a mummy wild boar joining us in the veg plot for breakfast and dinner most days.  This is rather frightening, as she has no fear whatsoever of us, and is not even the tiniest bit bothered about the dogs, who are absolutely determined to kill Cinzia, as we have named our wild boar.  Although Cinzia is obviously old and arthritic, and clearly lame due to having been shot on her haunch at some time in the past, our neighbours never tire of telling us that she will surely tear us from limb to limb if we get between her and her little wild boarlets.

With the changing of the seasons, come new gifts from Lovely Indispensable Neighbour, and so today I made this yummy autumn soup, as watching Cinzia munch her way happily through my windfalls, has rather put me off meat:

Vegan Tomato and Squash Soup:

Serves Six

  • three tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
  • three medium onions, finely chopped
  • A medium sized squash, de-seeded and peeled, cut into chunks
  • 1.5kg of tomatoes (ours were a mixture of under and over-ripe as the tomato season is nearly over), roughly chopped
  • half a red chilli pepper, de-seeded and finely chopped
  • Vegetable Stock to cover
  • salt and pepper to season
  1. Gently fry the onions in a large saucepan, until they turn opaque.
  2. Add the squash, and continue to fry off over a gently heat.
  3. Add the chilli pepper, fry for one minute
  4. Add the tomatoes, and fry until they start to bubble, and release their juices.
  5. Throughout this phase, keep turning the vegetables, in order that they cook evenly, and don’t stick to the pan.
  6. Bring the mixture to a slurpy boil, then add your stock so that the mixture is covered.
  7. Bring to the boil, season, cover, and simmer gently for 45 minutes to one hour, by which time the squash should be thoroughly tender.
  8. Remove from the hear, and either eat immediately, or, according to your preference, liquidise, whizz up in a food processor, or mash the mixture to a chunky soup.

Eat with crusty bread, and enjoy the view …