I believe this blog post is the shortest post I’ve written so far, purposely done bearing in mind that in late November most of us already think, plan and prepare for the Christmas affair, which is the most beautiful and festive time of the year.
Whilst we start to leaf through the glossy magazines, cook books and our own firm favourite Christmas recipes we still (I hope) try to eat well, healthy and creatively in some way.
For me, vegetables, conventionally categorised into starters or antipasti and side dishes, have always played an equally important role during any meal, especially when we eat at home.
In Italy we’ve been spoiled for seasonal choice and variety. The vegetables: all manner of fresh salad leaves, artichokes, multicoloured beans, puntarelle, bitter chicory, Swiss Chard, porcini mushrooms and so forth, are prepared in a very simple way, where the flavour and texture of the vegetable is the main focus, without extra, and very often unnecessary, embellishments. No need to mention that the food markets are open six days a week. A hustle and bustle activity that I miss in London dearly. In the Italian restaurants the „contorni” (side dishes) are anticipated and to be searched for rather than dismissed as a boring filler and another addition to the bill. When in Rome for example, look out for the artichokes alla Romana (slowly cooked) or alla giudia (deep fried), or „le puntarelle” with anchovy dressing. Very seasonal, traditional and absolutely delicious way of celebrating the autumnal-wintery greens.That’s only one of the reasons, why you should open the „contorni” page on the menu.
In London however, the variety of the fresh produce and its choice is different. I can find Italian ingredients here too, even very close to home, but then, occasionally there is the problem with its freshness. Lets face it, a wilted radicchio leaf is not a joy to eat.
Therefore, whilst we temporarily live in London, I have found my way around how and where to shop, and subsequently I conjure up different kinds of salads or side dishes for us. Having said that, I’ve never liked the confinement of starters and side dishes to an almost secondary role, lets celebrate together the importance, enjoyment and deliciousness of different flavours, seasonality put together on a plate.
I’ve just shared a few new recipes for:
and I truly hope you enjoy them xx
Some time ago the Dégustatuer came to me with an announcement: we have to live in London.
Live? I felt like I didn’t really know the meaning of this word anymore, out of fear. Fear of relocating but mostly fear of not living in Italy.
I felt that I had settled in Italy already, despite the fact we moved around a little, first Rome, then Venice and Florence to follow. I had started to feel that this adopted country has become a home to me, which was about to collapse and the entire world to fall apart. But the world didn’t fall apart and instead of relocating we have had to come to terms with sharing our time between London and Florence, with myself being, at least initially, mainly in Florence making a fairly smooth transition, with a few bumps on the road, to spending more time together in London.
Our „little” pied-à-terre, is a mews house, when we collected the keys it needed some love.
All the beautiful plants climbing on one side of the house had died during the abnormally dry and warm English summer (over a year ago by now). Sadly nobody took care of them in the meantime and there wasn’t a lot we could do to save them.
The unfurnished property needed to be turned into a liveable space almost immediately: we had found online a French antique dining table from a dealer based in London, which couldn’t be any easier; the very big and super comfortable bed came on the first day too (perfect, no need for a hotel), which found its way to the top floor and the largest bedroom in the house.
We made our first trip to London by car bringing lots of little necessary items and utensils for the kitchen, a few cookbooks and some clothes. After a couple of months we also shipped more of our belongings from Florence and the rest we’ve been buying gradually. We may not furnish our pied-à-terre completely, there is no such need for it as yet, but the kitchen however, is very well stocked up and fully equipped. Each time when we make a road trip from Italy to the UK I bring so many specific ingredients like taralli from my favourite shop, vinegars, hazelnuts, anchovy sauce „la colatura di alici” and different kinds of flour. From our latest adventure and drive through various places in Tuscany and Alba I managed to get a whole year’s supply of olive oil (also a very young one, not filtered and extremely fragrant) and wine, mainly from the Langhe region, always red.
The usual scene after a trip to The Pimlico Road Market
Before our life changing Italian adventure which started in Rome, we both had lived in London and it’s where we met. It should feel more natural being back, especially to the same area and on a relatively temporary basis, but somehow, it isn’t. A lot has changed in the meantime. There was Brexit to begin with, followed by Covid. The demographics, the choice of produce (I mean food here) and its availability, the restaurant scene has changed. In some ways I had to rediscover London again. We eat at home a lot, by choice, a lot more than we had envisaged. I thought I’d cook more non Italian food here, like French or experiment more Oriental and spicy cuisines, but that hasn’t fully worked out. Our taste buds have shifted and got used to the Italian culture of eating and preparing meals. Moreover, I’d always find a new recipe to try out, which in turns becomes our latest favourite, so we stay close to what we like best.
In London I’ve always enjoyed going to the Pimlico Road Farmer’s Market, which opens only on Saturdays. There is this one particular stand where I manage to find delicious and crisp apples, colourful bunches of fresh Swiss chard (so hard to find otherwise in central London), crunchy spinach leaves, wonderful cauliflower and carrots.
At the very beginning of our new living situation, before I found my proper way around the old and new grocery shops, when mainly root and cabbage family vegetables were in season,
the St John’s „Beyond Nose to Tail” cookbook came to my rescue. All of a sudden everything got better with a dollop of crème fraîche, mustard and a handful of capers. Now, when St John restaurant opened its doors in Marylebone, it’s much easier for us to hop on the tube or even walk to dine there. I immediately shared with you two recipes: for a thinly sliced beetroot salad and roast pumpkin (or squash) with beans and a dollop of greek yogurt. Surely there will be more to come.
The top floor bedroom in our mews house with eaves has two sets of opposite windows.
Along one of them (with a nicer view) I organised my desk where very often I’d write and edit the recipes for the blog, and occasionally get distracted watching the world go by.
From the left corner of my window I can see a short polished street lined with terraced white properties on both sides, just like a mirror image. In London it’s a custom to elegantly display on buildings blue plaques containing the information with the relevant years when a famous person (an actor, artist, musician, writer and so forth) had lived at a given address.
I take Halsey Street most often than not when I stroll to my fishmonger. One day when I suddenly looked up at the number 24 I noticed a blue plaque commemorating Elizabeth David (1913-1992), a cookery writer, who lived and worked at this II grade listed house between 1947-1992. I can see her house each time I approach the window or simply work at my desk. A destiny? Call it as you wish, but since that day I’ve been a happier person in London, more creative and relaxed about sharing our living situation between two countries.
I own two Elizabeth David’s cookbooks. The first one I bought had to be „Italian Food” of course, and the second one „Is There a Nutmeg in the House?” the Dègustateur gave me a couple of years ago whilst living in Venice. It was one of the very few items he got left by his late mother. This is the book that I, fully unaware of the Elizabeth David’s house across our future London base, packed and shipped from Italy to my new kitchen.
In early September, upon returning from our annual summer family holidays in Poland, I decided to get reacquainted with the „Is There a Nutmeg in the House?” book and chose a few recipes that caught my attention. This particular book is a direct sequel to „An Omelette and a Glass of Whine”, it contains a selection of the author’s journalistic and occasional writing as well as material from her files, notes and letters, none of which has appeared in any of Elizabeth’s nine previous books.
My initial intention was to build a whole menu (and cook a big dinner for us) out of the selected recipes: a starter, maybe a mid course, main course, some vegetables and a dessert. But instead I settled on choosing a few dishes that I really wanted to try out and prepared them all on separate occasions, adapting the recipes ever so slightly as the quantities of the ingredients were not always indicated.
My very first dish was: pork chops, spiced and grilled, and this is what the author says about them: „This is an effortless and delicious lunch or supper. It does however presuppose a supply of the home-made Italian spice (white peppercorns, juniper berries, nutmeg and cloves)…”. I served the spiced chops with a crunchy green salad and a potato and onion frittata (something new that I wanted to give a go at the same time).
On the following weekend I made us a spinach and potato tian (there are anchovies involved too which truly elevate this potato, spinach and egg bake onto another level), which coincided perfectly with warm weather in London. It’s meant to be eaten once it’s cooled down enough (it needs to set before slicing) and works a dream for a picnic. I had watched a video by Elizabeth’s editor, Jill Norman (link here), which helped me a lot to put this recipe together. We absolutely loved it and I can’t wait to bake the tian again.
Finding new pasta recipes is always a winner for me and I didn’t have to force myself much here either. The minute I saw „Tagliatelle al Mascarpone” with walnuts and parmesan I said to myself: I just have to make it. I used tagliolini instead, and worked with the ingredients and their amounts to my liking. This mascarpone pasta recipe is the easiest and the quickest dish to make, and extremely enjoyable indeed.
Speaking about quick, easy and effortless; years back whilst visiting one of my favourite kitchen stores in London, David Mellor, I found a wonderful book on the shelves by Caroline Conran: „Sud de France. The food and Cooking of Languedoc”. One of the puddings I’ve always wanted to make from the book are chocolate pots with chestnut cream. You literally just have to melt some dark chocolate, stir in some cream, fill little pots or tea cups with the chocolate and drop a dollop of chestnut cream or puree in each. Since we are on a sweet note now and I haven’t decided yet what to make from the Elizabeth David’s book, I’m leaving you with this simple and indulgent chocolate recipe, which you can always modify, if you wish.
Buon appetito xx
Photographs, hidden in drawers, tucked in between pages of old books, or left somewhere in between paperwork on a desk top. The memory is like a drawer. You put something in, close it and most likely forget about it.
To open the drawer again means to bring the memories back to life, to tell a story and let those images left in disorder spark and start a new narrative.
My disorganised collection of images that I stumbled upon recently was in a form of a memory card the I hadn’t fully forgotten. I’d rather say that I had left it for the right moment.
I haven’t even glanced yet at the whole set of the higgledy piggledy pictures taken here and there, but I knew that there were a few moments saved from my birthday a year ago.
More often than not, we celebrate our birthdays by going away for a couple of days, just the two of us. A convivial sharing of a birthday cake comes afterwards.
It was end of March and that year we were undecided between The Amalfi Coast, Sorrento, and a little medieval town in Piedmont called Guarene. During the period after Christmas and before Easter very few places are open on the Costiera Amalfitana, and the hotel we wanted to stay at was waiting for Easter to open its doors to welcome its guests. Usually at this time of year the weather is rather unsettled and after having checked the weather forecast, we abandoned the idea of Sorrento and left for Piedmont instead. We had chosen to stay at Castello di Guarene, an exquisitely renovated and restored 18th century former summer residence of the Counts of Roero, built where in the Medieval Era a fortress used to stand. Guarene is perched on a hilltop and the castello boasts unparalleled views over the vine growing hills of Langhe and Roero. Its gardens are very elegant and vast, landscaped in the Italian style in the first half of eighteen century. Guarene was also just a perfect base for us to go to Alba, Canale and Bra on our last day.
We ventured to Alba for my birthday, a little seafood lunch followed by the purchase of some local specialities to take home with us. I’d always buy some carnaroli rice, hazelnuts, tajarin pasta, ganduiotti and some wine. We also ended up with a bag Corinth raisins (sold per weight) which I love baking with, deliciously looking big jars of tuna in oil (perfect for salads) and a couple of bottles of Tuscan wine, only because the price tag was more attractive (which is often the case).
After an afternoon spent at leisure in the spa and a few lengths in the swimming pool, we were set for an intimate birthday dinner in a private dining room, where we relished some samples of the best known Piedmontese classics. Then a morning walk in the gardens, more of the spa (as it started to rain) a dinner in Canale, our much loved and happy place. I think it’s perhaps because it was in Roero where we started our relationship and appreciation of Piedmont, in a lovely agriturismo a few minutes outside Canale.
Just after our last breakfast in the most stunning room with high ceilings, Murano chandeliers, hand painted walls and secret doors we drove to Bra. I managed to quickly run to the nearest butcher and get some Bra sausage literally two minutes before all the shops closed for their lunch break. In Italy closing lunch times are sacrilegious.
A delightful surprise and a present for both of us was Fulvia, my friend from Turin, joining us for lunch at Osteria Boccondivino. A very warm, joyous and laughter filled time spent together, an absolute highlight and a perfect ending to this trip.
And that is exactly how this untold story and almost forgotten pictures have shaped my recent cooking and dictated what recipes I would like to share with you.
First is the La Focaccia della Befana (La Focaccia Dolce Piemontese).
I came across this particularly appealing recipe whilst searching for a way of making the focaccia dolce I once had in Southern Italy, in Basilicata to be precise. It was a form of a slightly sweet sourdough and olive oil bread with a sugared crust.
Instead I found this almost forgotten Focaccia Dolce Piemontese, studded with raisins and candied orange peel which has a beautiful and heart warming story behind: it used be prepared for the Christmas festive season all the way up until Epiphany, but it was also baked on occasions when people just wanted to gather to spend some time together, share a meal and enjoy each others company. I baked it twice in a row as our pre-Easter treat. It’s also a dream toasted with lashings of butter and cheese or a marmalade.
Also for Easter I made us Uova Ripiene alla Piemontese, hard boiled eggs with tuna and anchovy filling. A delicious and slight deviation from they way we would normally have them.
Recently I’ve been spending some time in London, in our pied-à-terre. As you can imagine, the markets, which are few and far between, or grocery stores don’t offer the same array of produce as we have gotten used to in Italy. Whilst I’m here however, I conjure up meals and work with what’s available, but still lean towards Italian cooking. So I’ve got reacquainted with jerusalem artichokes and cooking them with garlic and parsley is a loose adaptation from a cook book I bought recently in Turin. This side dish couldn’t be any simpler: peeled and sliced topinambur stewed in olive oil with a few cloves of garlic, then tossed with freshly chopped parsley and seasoned to taste.
Patate alla Savoiarda, buttery potato and Fontina cheese bake, is another cosy, very enticing and comforting dish from Piedmont, that you need very little to go with, perhaps some grilled vegetables or just a crisp green salad.
I remember the first time I baked the hazelnut and chestnut cream tart. Chestnuts and hazelnuts are a timeless and delicious combination which I’ve grown deeply fond of, and I have to thank Piemonte for this as well as the Ristorante Tre Galline in Turin. I tend to use a shop bought sweet chestnut puree (or cream) for the sheer ease, spread it inside the buttery pastry case and finish it off it with a generous layer of whipped egg and ground hazelnut topping. I find the traditional torta di nocciole slightly too dry for my personal liking, but this tart is a perfect matching of the shortcrust pastry, creamy filling and a moist crunchy layer of hazelnuts. I’ve baked this tart for us for Easter to pair it with chocolate Easter eggs, in a nutshell the essence of Piemonte flavours and a very delectable way to unearth some sweet birthday memories.
I met my friend Fulvia on social media, on Instagram. I can’t recall exactly how it all began, but we followed each other and she would often leave a kind comment under my posts. And I’d always reply.
I was living in Rome at that time, a few moons back, and one morning I got a message, that she was travelling to Rome for work commitments.
We met at the Termini Train Station, it was already late, almost past dinner time and her train was delayed. But we both wanted to meet, and time didn’t matter. We only spent a couple of hours together, but it turned out to be enough to connect and start a long term friendship. It would be the only time we saw each other in Rome. Venice was next.
We lived in Venice for a year, in a red palazzetto with a terrace on top. A few months after we had managed to settle in I received a fabulous text that Fulvia, her husband Michele and son Ruggero, a cute little boy, would be in town for a weekend. Michele loves sailing and he can navigate through the floating city with great ease. His father used to work in Venice as a professor and Michele would come to see him very often. Now it was his turn to show Fulvia and Ruggero around, and take them sailing too. This way, they would have a fun and exhausting day out, the humidity in august can be really tiring. The last dinner we had was in our palazzetto. I quickly came up with an idea of what to cook and rushed to the market. Fulvia and Michele come from Turin, and they love their meat, fish so so. I cooked a mix of Italian dishes, from Bucatini all’Amatriciana (a Roman pasta dish we love) to Sicilian Caponata. Having been initially slightly apprehensive about cooking an Italian feast for Italians I didn’t know that well yet, I decided to relax and just let it be. Some prosecco for an apreitivo always helps to put everybody at ease. The dinner turned into a terrific evening with lots of laughter, good food (we all truly enjoyed it), lots of wine and making plans to go to Turin. Ruggero by that time was already asleep in the room next door and the Dégustateur was finally convinced to go. „It’s a grey and industrial city”, he used to say, but now some curiosity sparkled in his eyes. Since then our friendship with Fulvia evolved and grew stronger, even without seeing each other for a very long time. A good test of a friendship is to be close when things turn difficult. And she was, more than I could imagine.
In January 2023 we made a decision: we are going to Turin, sooner rather than later.
We have a little pied-à-terre in London now and it was more convenient for us to fly from London rather than to go back to Florence first. We took an early flight and we left for almost ten days.
Once we arrived to a sunny and very cold Turin, I was in desperate need of a good coffee and a cornetto. I didn’t sleep very well that night and I needed a little pick me up. The hotel room was ready and we got a little surprise in a form of superb accommodation on the top floor with views over Turin and the white Alps in the background. It was almost midday and I had no idea where to go in a search of a coffee shop that would still serve breakfast. I walked into the first place that looked promising, had my cappuccino, orange juice and a cronetto alla crema for myself, and one alla gianduia for the Dégustatur, who stayed in the hotel for a work related matter.
After having warmed up a little we set off to search for a place for lunch. We didn’t know Turin at all. We just decided to discover it whilst being there, trust our observations and our own judgment, and we did well. It was already getting quite late and we had to move fast. After a few turns here and there, a few „no” to certain places, we stumbled upon Galleria Subalpina, with its iconic Caffé Baratti & Milano, the city’s institution, where ladies and gentlemen meet to talk, sip hot chocolate and immerse themselves in a Turin of other aristocratic times. Café Baratti & Milano, however, is also an excellent spot for lunch and our pasta dishes were just divine. After a lovely lunch accompanied by a glass of Barolo we completed our first meal with a coffee and the very first bicerin at Caffé Mulassano (IG), another well known and frequented establishment. Our first taste of Turin didn’t disappoint.
Italian breakfast, where it’s all about coffee, sweet pillowy soft freshly baked pastries and conviviality has become our favourite. We’ve been eating cornetti alla crema together again and enjoying this little pleasure in life more than in the past.
Our morning routine in Turin varied slightly: after a couple of coffees, la spremuta di arancia and cornetto we would walk to Guido Gobino for a rich and thick hot chocolate. Usually we would order a classic hot chocolate with whipped cream, or with a dollop of home made gianduia spread.
Another way of starting the day in Turin was to begin with a glass or two of bicerin, and then make our way to Farmacia del Cambio for a cappuccino and some of the best pastries we ever had. I’ve tried bicerin at a few coffee shops so far, and the one I’ve enjoyed the most belongs to Caffè Al Bicerin, exactly where it was born. The recipe is a safely treasured little secret. In order to obtain a good bicerin you have to combine three main ingredients: caffè, hot chocolate and crema di latte, all of which have to be of a very good quality. The hot chocolate is cooked patiently for hours in particular copper pots according to the „ricetta antica”, a special light and aromatic blend of the coffee must be selected to follow the original recipe, which has been passed down through the generations. Once the bicerin arrives on the table, the instructions will follow: don’t stir it, just sip it as it is. And that is exactly how we had two generous bicerin to start „our breakfast alla Torinese”. It may seem marginally excessive, but Turin is the city of chocolate, of traditions that I love and greatly enjoy. It wasn’t the time to count calories or feel guilty, moreover, it was very cold in January, we walked a lot only building our appetite for more.
We truly had a wonderful stay. On the first evening we were warmly welcomed by Fulvia, who started by giving us a tour around the historic centre and drove us to beautifully lit Monte Dei Cappuccini across the river Po, to admire the fascinating panorama of Turin. Slightly chilly and with red noses we all came back to our hotel for a super quick change into black dresses as we were meeting Michele for an elegant aperitivo followed by a birthday dinner at Arcadia restaurant (right next to Caffè Baratti&Milano). A very elegant venue with high ceilings, a timeless atmosphere and a very curated local cuisine. Perfect start to savouring Turin.
I must confess, after having lived in Rome, Venice and Florence, travelling a fair bit across Italy, it was so refreshing to eat in a restaurant and hear no other language but Italian. It didn’t happen in every single place we went to as you can imagine, the most „international” restaurants were the ones listed in the Michelin Guide, and they made their way onto the list for all the right reasons.
Turin is known to have been one of the greatest capitals of Italian industry. Whilst the memory of Fiat is slowly fading away, the name of Ganni Agnelli, a perfect example of discipline, charm and sprezzatura is still alive and growing stronger. La sprezzatura is an Italian word for something that is actually hard to categorise or define fully: it’s an elegance without showing almost any effort, nothing is overdone as if it always comes naturally, a nonchalance, that very few posses, and many want to achieve.
Nowadays the city tries to find its perfect balance between tourism, attracting new investment, creating employment, maintaining high levels of culture and education. It’s also extremely rich in green public spaces and by being located at the foot of a hill, it’s lazily cuddled by the longest Italian river, the Po.
Turin is a city of arcades, a historical and architectural heritage, made in different styles and of different materials. An 18 km stretch of the history, grandeur and elegance (12.5 km are interconnected). With the play of lights and shadows they make for a majestic setting of the salotto-like city of Turin. Just take a walk along Via Roma, then cross Piazza San Carlo (where the iconic red lit Martini sign hangs) all the way up to Piazza Castello. Next turn on Via Po and walk straight to the vast Piazza Vittorio Emanuele to be able to experience the sheer scale of this symbol of Turin and to feel like if almost entering a bygone era.
I’ve always had a soft spot for Piedmont and we’ve travelled to this region during various seasons of the year. Without a shadow of a doubt colder months are the most magical for me. Perhaps by paying a visit in January, and experiencing both sunny and very cold days as well as misty, sombre and atmospheric ones, I’ve found myself to be the happiest. I absolutely love the hot chocolate and sipping bicerin culture, the most suitable time for me to do this are the colder days of the year.
But my soft spot goes beyond the hot chocolate and coffee, it’s the wine and the manicured hills that make the wine alive and of a distinctive character, it’s my firm favourite vitello tonnato, thinly sliced cooked veal with lashings of tuna sauce (the version I make at home you can find here), brasato al vino– slowly cooked beef in a local red wine, then there are the peppers served with anchovies or an anchovy sauce, decadently rich in egg yolks tajarin pasta, or silky smooth panna cotta, or a creamy rich amaretti and cocoa custard called bunet. To name just a few. Oh, then there are the hazelnuts, the best ones in Italy. I have brought a new supply of hazelnuts back home with me and I’ll be baking (I think as soon as I finish this post) my forever favourite chestnut cream and hazelnut tart.
Before I list a few restaurants that we truly enjoyed and are hoping to dine at again, let me tell you a few words about „Fulvia’s risotto”.
One Sunday afternoon we drove with Fulvia and Michele over the hills of Turin up to Basilica di Superga. Our friends now live on one of the hills in their lovely family house with frescos, little church (yes, a church, not a chapel) and a red brick cantina below the house. We had our Sunday dinner at their house with Fulvia’s deft cooking, Michele’s wine entertainment and Ruggero’s help to lay the table. A fabulous meal with great food, wine, Michele mother’s hazelnut tart and each others company, all the main ingredients of an unforgettable evening. I definitely will not forget about the pumpkin and sausage rice dish (almost like a risotto but not quite) seasoned with cinnamon that Fulvia made.
When possible I bring back home a very particular Bra sausage, produced only in the city of Bra. It’s thin and rolled in circles, sold per weight, and it’s meant to be eaten raw, consumed within a two or three day window. I brought 1 kg of the sausage back. I used roughly three quarters of it, combined with minced veal, for a ragù to be tossed with tajarin or tagliolini pasta, and the rest I left for the risotto, my interpretation of Fulvia’s dish.
First I baked in the oven delica pumpkin sliced into half moons.
I opened a brand new pack of carnaroli rice and proceeded as with any risotto: I fried finely chopped onion in a mixture of olive and butter until it softened, then I added the rice and waited, until every grain of the rice got warm. Then I poured in some white wine and waited, until it almost evaporated but not completely! Next I tossed in the crumbled Bra sausage, started adding small quantities of warm light chicken stock along with pieces of the baked pumpkin. Somewhere in between I was adding ground cinnamon (be generous) and waited until the rice turned al dente and the dish creamy enough. You could stop here, but if you choose to follow the risotto making process fully, turn the heat off and energetically stir in some cubed cold butter and grated Grana Padano cheese, the process called mantecatura.
Wait two minutes and serve the risotto, always alla onda (a dense creamy consistency) and accompanied by a glass of red wine.
Find your favourite raw sausage and have fun in the kitchen, make it your own risotto with personalised ingredients.
When in Turin try:
Bicerin at Caffè Al Bicerin
Before dinner have an aperitivo, usually presented with a delightful array of nibbles.
Ristorante Consorzio, a very particular and creative journey through the regional food of Piedmont, I also loved the stripy pink-red tablecloths
Magazzino 52, an informal but of great quality and style eatery, with a vast and particular, well curated wine list
Tre Galline, a traditional and sophisticated establishment in Torino. I’ve wanted to eat there since my friend in Rome told me about it years back, and it was so worth the wait. Their famous bagna càuda is a must try, and it’s best shared: it comes almost overflowing with a generous selection of cooked and raw vegetables, as well as carne cruda (raw meat)
L’ Ancora– for the seafood lovers
Arcadia, next to Barrati & Milano, for an elegant and traditional meal as well as an impeccable old fashioned Italian service
The summer is gone. Florence is shrouded with grey clouds as the rain settles. A sight I haven’t seen for a long while in Italy after the hottest and longest summer we’ve had in many years.
The saddest part is that when it’s too hot to do almost anything, you just wait for the temperatures to drop. Once they do, the moment of the enjoyment of the balmy weather is so short, almost gone with a blink of an eye. It’s exactly what happened this year. But I’m trying to hold on to summer, I don’t want to let it go. The will and above all the need of seeing the sun coming out again is stronger than ever, also in my personal life.
Almost every August means for the Dégustatuer and I a trip to my home village in Poland, to stay with my parents. Two weeks in the midst of the rural countryside, the place I grew up in, the place I love. It’s nothing special really, apart from a vast and beautiful landscape of farm land and golden crops ready to be harvested, and fond memories of my simple childhood, when life felt simple, safe and careless.
The time seems to always fly there, even faster towards the end of our stay. Isn’t it always the case anyway? The days at home in Poland have a natural and seamless flow, breakfast either together or separately, on the terrace, amongst my mother’s bountiful and well looked after flowers. Lunches and suppers however, are the meals which we have together, sitting down properly at the table. Evenings especially are accompanied by wine and lots of laughter, easing the unfortunate language barrier of the Dégustateur.
My mother traditionally cooks for us, as she enjoys having us all together and it gives a great joy (the cleaning afterwards is another story). But this time I did a lot more cooking than usual, as my mother wasn’t well. I did a lot more other things than usual too, dedicating a lot more of my time to my parents, following the natural changes in life.
My only routine and constant when back home is to go for a long walk, taking our two little family dogs with me. They absolutely love it. As soon I put my trainers on they start to jump to my face from the excitement, bark and make all sort of right noises, as dogs do when they are happy. For the first few meters they tend to literally pull us (the Dégustaur often joins me) on their leeds, once we turn onto a back road the run freely, enjoying a deferent surrounding and the smells in particular. On our way back, they walk behind us. Then there are the cats, three to be precise. Two of them, twins, found their way to our home as kittens during the first lockdown, and of course they got all the love and attention that there is. Luckily we have a lovely garden to play in and enough space for the „little zoo” to have their own sofa or armchair to sleep on.
After the everyday business comes time for supper, my favourite meal. On several occasions I made us risotto: risotto allo zafferano and a mushroom risotto. I’ve always loved cooking risotto, some people find it daunting, but believe me, there isn’t anything scary about it. My mother sat in the kitchen, watched me cook and made notes. The Dégustateur also contributed with an occasional stir and wine top up. I also made my favourite Italian style meatballs in tomato sauce, and I made lots of them, so my mother could freeze them and conjure up an easy yet delicious meal any time she wants to after we’ve left. Additionally, I left behind a few jars of pomarola, a Tuscan tomato sauce, to be stirred with freshly boiled pasta any time of the day.
There was also an apple cake, twice. I had been wanting to make a proper apple cake for months. By proper I mean lots of apples and a lovely moist dough, exactly as I like it. I’ve never been a fan of dry cakes or crostatas in Italy. The only crostata I’ve ever enjoyed here was a fig and hazelnut crostata in Piemonte, a gastronomic heaven.
I grew up with apples and I miss them in Italy. In fact, I stopped eating them. Once we had a chat with Leo, my favourite fruit and vegetable vendor at Mercato di Sant’ Ambrogio about apples. Most of the varieties started to disappear with the international food companies entering the Italian market, reducing the number of varieties from plenty to just a few. So I took the opportunity and baked us an apple cake in Poland. I followed the recipe from the Letitia Clark’s book „La Vita è Dolce” and it was a sheer delight. My father was also at home when it came out straight from the oven, we almost finished it all before it managed to cool down.The only change I made was the method of making it (easier for me) by whisking everything together using an electric mixer, and the sugar quantity as per my personal liking (you can follow the recipe by clicking here).
Chocolate and almond cantucci dunked in Vin Santo were a big success. Even I was surprised how big of a success, I can call it a triumph. After the apparently filling risotto, everybody still found a space for them, lots of space. Even the Dégustateur couldn’t stop himself from eating them, whilst back in Florence he wouldn’t even have touched them. Somehow, on rare occasions in life things do fall into place.
After August September came, along with certain changes in my life.
Cooking and sharing food or a meal has always been a way for me to express care and love. It still is, but lately I had to realise and actually learn to cook for one, for myself. Something I hadn’t done in many, many years. So what to cook when all of a sudden you are truly on your own? When you hope for that rather bitter filling to disappear soon? How do you start?
I started to encourage my almost non existent appetite with what I can always eat and will always have a craving for: cornetto alla crema, an Italian croissant filled with a vanilla custard. It’s soothing both for the body and soul. My latest favourite cornetto and coffee spot is the Caffè Gilli, where I stroll in the morning trough the very elegant Via Tornabuoni and then turn into Piazza della Reppublica to reach it. Then there is Forno Ghibellina on my way to the market Sant’ Ambrogio. The staff there are really wonderful, and when they run out of my preferred choice, they ask the pastry chef to fill a plain croissant with the crema pasticcera for me. It’s the best thing. Anything with a creamy filling is an absolute winner for my tastebuds and appetite. When I come back from the market I sometimes bring a cornetto home with me, to have it on the terrace with a large cup of coffee. Last weekend this fresh filling was so generous that my breakfast must have weighted almost a kilo. I happily skipped lunch.
Recently I’ve been leafing through a cookbook that I brought with me from Bologna (almost a year ago, gosh, time really flies). No photographs, just stories and honest local recipes. I stumbled upon a chicken dish, perfect for one, or two or eight. It may sound simple at first but the end result is so satisfying, along with its baking juices, which are so rich in flavour that I could make this dish just for that reason (served with some crunchy bread to soak it all up). All you need is a chicken breast, nutmeg, parmesan and a few tablespoons of a good vegetable or chicken stock. Then the magic happens in the oven.
Another recipe that caught my attention which I adapted from that book is for tagliatelle (egg pasta of course) with a walnut and dry porcini sauce. To lift this dish and add some freshness to it I like to stir in towards the very end of cooking the sauce a little bit of lemon juice and freshly chopped parsley. The proportions are generous enough to feed four (three if very hungry), but the sauce keeps well in the fridge for a few days. For a dish from Emilia Romagna we can’t forget about grating some good aged parmesan on top to make it complete.
I’ve just started baking again. A whole cake is a bit much for one, even over a couple of days.
As a solution and perfect timing I’ve been sharing my dolci with my usual vendors at the Sant’ Ambrogio market. Whilst living in Rome I always managed to spread my baked goodies among my friends. Raffaella in particular was appreciative of it, as her son Pier, could eat a horse during his student years.
Let’s face it, unfortunately freezing cakes or tarts, is not the most delicious idea.
My next plan for baking is an apple cake with Calvados (I make one with a custard filling using créme fraîche, but this one will be different) and a walnut and chocolate kranz/babka. In fact, the very delicate yeast dough is slowly rising under a warm cover as I write these lines. I am looking forward to the end result and the smell of a baked yeast cake travelling from the oven, to hopefully share it with you soon.
Do you also think that the things which are right in front of you are sometimes the easiest ones to miss?
When you find yourself surrounded by the great beauty and the architectural achievements of Italian historical towns, your eyes can be lost in the history and the excellence of the artistic details.
Le buchette del vino, called „little wine windows”, a particularity of Florence, but already spread across other parts of Tuscany, are a kind of arch-shaped holes located in the main facades of the Florentine palazzos, on the ground floor, in the vicinity of the main entrance or on the side of a palazzo. They can also be cut in the wood of the main entrances tall heavy doors.
Despite the fact that In most cases they are positioned at eye level in the palazzos of the Renaissance, the pride of the city, most often however, they are passed unnoticed even by the most inquisitive of observers. Occasionally they are even mistaken and taken for a little tabernacle.
By now these little windows are out of use, but for centuries the descendants of many prominent families sold wine through these little doors. To be more precise, only dedicated workers assisted the direct sale of the wine, which could happen only during well specified hours. The buyers would knock and ask for a specific wine and its quantity, and the seller passed the desired units of wine through the buchette. That way the payment was made directly from the customer to the producer.
The size of the buchette is not accidental. They are as high and wide, approximately 30×20 cm, to fit a fiasco di vino, a typical glass container for wine (flask) used in Tuscany, until recently.
These little windows differ in their shapes, material and a style of the framing, for pure aesthetics and not the practicality.They were always in line, however, with the architectural style of a given palazzo. We find the buchette very similar to each other, but never the same.
Le buchette del vino were a very intelligent and profitable way of selling the surplus of wine made at the estates, cutting out the middlemen. This particular form of sales reached its pick towards the end of the 18th century. Another very significant stimulus to open more of new „wine windows” was the bubonic plague epidemic (1630-1633). In order to avoid the spread of the disease and keep it under control, a measure to avoid any kind of gatherings was introduced. It also meant a ban on consumption of food and beverages outside the premises at which it was purchased. Once the doors of the osterie and trattorie remained closed for a long while, the only way to stock up on wine was to buy it through le buchette del vino (along with the official guidelines).
Le buchette fully stopped operating in the 50’s of the 20th century, but in May 2020, during the first lockdown due to coronavirus, some of the buchette found a new life, providing a perfect solution, yet again, for social distancing.
In fact, Il Bistrot Babae in Via Santo Spirito reactivated its little wine window during the summer 2019 but it wasn’t until the pandemic of Covid-19 that this antique tradition was reborn in full swing, selling spritz, wine, coffee and gelato. Currently I think it’s the only one open in the city. Other places, like La Gelateria Vivoli in Via Isola delle Stinche, followed the idea, at least during that specific period of time. We live right next to the gelateria Vivoli, its wine window is definitely closed, but the Vivoli ice cream is regarded as the best one in Florence, a must try.
Another must try are beans, a very important ingredient of the Tuscan and Florentine cooking.
The Tuscans really know how to cook them, very slowly and gently, so they turn soft from the inside but still hold their shape and literally melt in your mouth.
One very simple way of cooking them, is to flavour them with garlic and fresh sage, then generously drizzle with olive oil before serving.
A tuna, white bean and red onion salad, which I tried at Alla Vecchia Bettola many moons ago, I’ve found myself making most often. It’s dressed with olive oil and seasoned with a good red wine vinegar and black pepper. With hunks of crunchy bread it makes for a perfect and nutritious meal.
I treat myself to it especially when I’m on my own at home for a couple of days. It just couldn’t be easier and more delicious at the same time, and I couldn’t recommend it more.
Fagioli all’Uccelletta are white beans cooked with sage, garlic and tomatoes. The way that I’ve tried only just recently and was fully beguiled by the deliciousness of this dish. Of course we can’t forget about the olive oil and the seasoning, salt and pepper.
These are very traditional and simple recipes, where you have to make the most of and be creative with a few available ingredients, quintessentially Italian cooking.
More than anything it’s a story about fragrant verdant pesto, some new local dishes and our ever growing love for Liguria. Before I move to that however, let me first take you a few months back.
The New Year has brought a few changes into our lives and routine. I almost feel like correcting myself here as somehow we don’t have a routine and perhaps these fairly unpredictable times and spontaneity in our lives can be called a routine of sorts?
So far our life in Italy has had to be divided between commitments in The UK and my home town in Poland. Currently we are very busy with that but happily busy at the same time, given the strange and difficult periods of lockdowns, which hopefully we can finally put behind us.
Since we moved to Italy we haven’t owned a car. We were renting one as needed or travelled by train or plane. And it has worked for us so far, until recently.
The reason behind not having a car was that when we lived in Rome we had all the amenities at our door steps making our lives and travels easy to manage. The limited traffic zone for the Tridente part of the Historic Centre of Rome, where we lived, as well as the availability of a parking space, or rather lack of it, was a problematic affair. In Venice, as you can imagine, there isn’t much car use, problem solved.
But now in Florence things have changed for us and we have organised ourselves with a permanent means of transport. We are now proudly independent and mobile, and take advantage of it when time allows, which means mostly at weekends.
We know Florence fairly well by now and it was high time to make the most of its „stratigic” positioning and start visiting parts of Italy north of Rome. First we went to Siena (more than once because we love it) and Bologna, by train for convenience. Next it was Lucca, Arezzo, Anghiari, Cortona to name but a few and the Tuscan coast for the seafood, and for the sheer pleasure of seeing this part of the world „crowded” with locals only. Weekends are tricky at this time (pre-Easter) of year and the reason behind it is that many restaurants outside major towns are still closed or open for weekends only, hence a lunch or dinner reservation is highly recommended, trust me on that one.
Very often we just set off for a day and the main activity evolves around lunch. A few weeks ago we went to La Spezia for a meal and after that we drove to Portovenere, which was as busy as ever. Tuscany and Liguria are neighbouring regions but it does feel like almost travelling to a different country, especially gastronomically.
I had booked us for lunch in La Spezia. The restaurant was unassuming from the outside but very elegant and traditional inside, with white table clothes, dark walls and furniture. A long running establishment that has seen many generations enjoying their meals at these premises. The food was a sheer delight. Sophisticated without being over the top, a fine balance which is most important. To my joy I finally had my first ever cappon magro. It’s a very elaborate traditional Ligurian dish, beautiful to see and eat, but it’s also time consuming to prepare.You will not find it in every Ligurian restaurant. It requires fresh fish, shellfish and seasonal vegetables like cauliflower, green beens, artichokes, carrots, broad beans and so forth. Every component is carefully cooked (separately) and then layered on a serving plate, starting with the vegetables first, resembling a pyramid. As you can imagine it’s quite a spectacular affair.
Since that moment we knew we had to go back to Liguria soon. So we did.
Liguria, a tiny narrow arc on the sea below Piedmont, stretching from the border with France to Tuscany. Liguria is all hills that rise up spectacularly from the sea into the high mountains of the Alps and the Apennines. Perched on the coast towns and fishing villages attract, dare I say, almost everyone with their cosy bays and pastel coloured buildings, which in the old days served to help the fishermen find their way home. It is such a lovely and romantic story behind these colourful palazzi, especially when they still form part of a working fishing village with the men folding their nets deftly after their morning’s catch.
Camogli is exactly all of the above. Charming, peaceful, colourful and with lots of working fishing boats. We went there (not for the first time) not so long ago, in mid march. Although the weather had just turned and the wind was a bit chilly and the sun shy, it was one of those kind of trips where I long to return as soon as I leave. It wasn’t just my feeling, the Dégustateur loved every minute and bite of it too. We started our weekend with snacking on soft focaccia and a whole baked fish with artichokes and potatoes, all accompanied by a generous glass of a crisp Pecorino wine. I still dream of that lunch. Dinner was also a delicious surprise. After portions of raw sweet langoustines and red prawns, unique to the deep Ligurian waters, I ordered chestnut trofie pasta with pesto, dotted with green beans and small cubes of potatoe. The Dégustatuer and I utterly enjoyed the combination of chestnut and basil, to the point that I bought myself e new pestle and mortar just for making pesto and trying out new recipes at home. Making a chestnut pasta at home is not what I was planning to do. Instead, I had little pillowy soft chestnut gnocchi in mind, to be tossed with freshly made pesto, an ode to spring.
Ligurians adore herbs but it’s the basil that is like a Ligurian flag to them. They grow basil in every available space: on little plots of land, in window boxes, vases or anywhere around the house. The basil, like all the herbs that grow in Liguria, is highly perfumed, and when crushed it releases such a wonderful scent, that it is worthwhile and most satisfying to use a mortar rather than a blender.
The secret of a beautifully aromatic pesto lies in the quality of the basil and the perfect sweet leaves to pick are the smallest ones. Make your pesto when the herb is plentiful, buy a few big pots (rather than little packets of leaves) and select the tastiest leaves. Make a larger quantity of it and keep it under oil in the fridge for a few months.
There are only six ingredients that make up pesto: nuts, garlic, salt, basil, olive oil and cheese. Some people use almonds or even walnuts, but I like to add ever so slightly toasted pine nuts. Then there is cheese. There are those who favour parmesan and those who opt for pecorino (from Sardegna!), or a concoction of both. It is truly a matter of a personal taste and fun to play with the ingredients. If using a mortar, there is a certain sequence to follow which makes the best creamy paste. First smash the garlic with the salt, next add the nuts and crush them, but be careful not to over work them. Next drop the basil leaves and work them as quickly as you can. Then add your cheese and finally the oil. Now you should have an imbued with a fresh green colour Ligurian pesto. If you can, buy a very delicate in flavour olive oil from The Riviera, which will not be overpowering the delicacy of the basil.
Surely there will be times when you will use a blender. In that case make sure that the blade is sharp turning very fast all the ingredients into a paste. Otherwise, under the generated heat, the leaves will loose their fresh colour and your pesto risks turning dull.
On this occasion I’m preparing my pesto with the pecorino Sardo and to celebrate the arrival of spring I’ll cook a minestrone soup (a delicate vegetable soup using seasonal ingredients) and once it’s served on the plates I’ll stir in some pesto. The released aromas are just tantalising and the minestrone boasts all things fresh, subtle and is just heaven to eat.
There are manifold ways of using pesto and another fabulous way to enjoy it during the forthcoming warmer days of spring is to make a tuna, pearl barley and pesto salad, dotted around with olives, preferably Ligurian, and the best possible tomatoes you can find in season.
Torte salate, savoury pies, are something you will always find in Liguria and they are just lovely.They are made either with swiss chard, spinach or borage, mixed with a local cheese and flavoured with herbs like oregano or marjoram. Whilst assembling the pie you could make a few wells, drop a cracked egg in each and bake everything in order to get an Easter Pie Torta Pasqualina. Sadly borage is almost impossible to find here in Florence limiting my culinary options. Having to choose I’ll almost always select swiss chard for the pie above spinach.
During our weekend in Camogli, on the Saturday morning we took a ferry to finally visit The Abbey of San Fruttuoso (as previously the sea was too unstable and ferries were cancelled), which can be reached only by the sea or by precarious hiking trails. A real gem and a very picturesque journey. Once we returned we ran for a decent portion of focaccia di Recco for lunch. We ate it sitting on the benches outside the bakery, joining everyone else. You see, this is not an ordinary focaccia or a pillowy bread. This focaccia consists of paper thin layers of dough with a soft cheese sandwiched in between and is sold warm. A pure joy, especially when eaten by the waterfront and kissed by the sun. Rather than trying to make a poor imitation of it at home I’d rather go back to Liguria and have it there. It’s one of those things that are hard to replicate without proper ovens.
But what I can do at home is to master sardenaira, a typical pizza of Sanremo. It actually looks more like a pillowy focaccia which can be very confusing. The pizza is rich with a tomato, caper, taggiasche olives and anchovy topping. We can’t forget about the ever present Ligurian herbs in this recipe, which I will be delighted to share with You once I’m fully happy wit it.
The view over the city of Florence admired from Piazzale Michelangelo is unquestionably the most panoramic. You only have to climb a little and there it is, The Arno River, Ponte Vecchio, the Uffizzi Gallery and the entire Florentine architecture in it’s full glory.
A vast share of the visitors make their way to the Piazzale in order to stop for a little while and marvel at the breath taking view, perhaps they also pause for a drink in the nearby caffé, take some photographs and then they either come down to the humming centre of the city or (hopefully) head slightly further up to the Basilica di San Miniato with it’s poetic cemetery behind.
Upon our arrival in Florence we found our way to the Piazzale without knowing what to find there. We were looking at it from our terrace and kept on saying to each other: it must be an interesting spot!
You see, I deliberately didn’t do any research on what to see and what to do in Florence before we arrived here. I had decided to get to know and find my way around the city of The Renaissance by walking and stumbling upon places without any guidance. That is how I discovered Gardino delle Rose. I know, I have already referred so many times to the fact of being able to live in quiet Italy during and just after the locdowns. Well, Florence in my first a few weeks was of no different.
I was on my own in the garden for quite some time. I sat down on one of the benches end enjoyed peaceful undisturbed views over Florence. It was the end of May and the roses still had their vibrant petals on whilst warm humid and heavy air with the smell of a forthcoming thunder storm made a perfect excuse to linger in the garden for a while longer. The sign to leave was signalled by the arrival of vlogers (we all know how strong the social media is), walking and filming whilst speaking to the camera, sadly oblivious of the beautiful moment they could also have had. The magic disappeared. So I slowly walked further up, without stopping at the Piazzale dedicated to Michelangelo, and by turning right I made my way to the Basilica di San Miniato al Monte. After having cooled down a little inside the basilica I visited the cemetery just behind it. Poetic might be a slight understatement, or perhaps it was the combination of the sun, still air and darkened and marked by the passage of time ornate family tombs. All by myself, it felt surreal but after a while of reading names and looking at black and whites faded photographs, I felt slightly uneasy.
While walking up to the Rose Garden and then to the Basilica di San Miniato and Basilica San Salvatore al Monte you will be regaled with magnificent views of the city. And that is exactly where my favourite walk starts.
If you have some spare time and and a pair of comfortable walking shoes, instead of heading back to the centre of Florence, walk in the opposite direction, leaving Piazzale Michelangelo and both basilicas behind you. Cross the street and keep to your right the whole while. By now you will have set off on a wonderful journey along Viale Galileo. You will enjoy the panorama of gradually disappearing Florence in the depths of vibrant green parks and gardens, with very elegant and iconic villas dotted around.
Once you reach Via di San Leonardo, you can either turn left and walk along past one of the most fortunate houses of Florence towards Largo Fermi. Arriving in front of Cristo di Ottone Rosari make a U-Tturn and cross again Viale Galileo in order to continue going all the way down on Via di San Leonardo, until you arrive to Forte Belvedere. In the meantime you will have passed Tchaikovsky’s residence on your left, the church San Leonardo in Arcetri on your right and a row of majestic, representative residences of Florence. If you are lucky enough and one of the entrance gates is open, take a look at the splendid gardens and appreciate the unique views. Sometimes whilst walking along this sweet, narrow, stone paved street I ask myself, what would it be like to live in one of those houses and to enjoy that view daily. But then I come back home and say: I have an amazing view from our terrace too. From Forte Belvedere, once crossed under Porta San Giorgio carry on walking down along Costa San Giorgio, which will take you near Ponte Vecchio. As for myself, I love turning into Via di Belvedere, just before Porta San Giorgio and walking down along olive trees, where my countryside feel walk ends.
During the months of fall I immensely enjoy walking up the hills where the earthy notes and smells are, of course, more pronounced. Usually before reaching Forte Belvedere I have already thought of autumnal flavours and what to cook at home. Any form of activity stimulates my appetite.
During the months of vendemmia, in September and October, most of the Florentine bakeries sell schiacciata all’uva. It is a beautiful way of using wine grapes, small, firm and almost black in colour, into making something extremely seasonal, simple and delicious. It is a kind of sweet bread filled with grapes and with an extra grape layer on top, soaked in the sweet baking juices. A must try.
I’ve become almost obsessed with baking it and finding the recipe that works best for me. Not too thin but not too much bread dough either, lots of grapes and glossy ruby red baking juices are mandatory, which are to be drizzled on top of the ready to eat schiacciata.
To my enormous joy the artichoke season has finally started. Upon reflection I believe it’s my favourite vegetable. Not the easiest one to handle but so versatile and rewarding, moreover, it’s taste is incredibly addictive. In one of the trattorias in Florence I’ve recently tried tortino di carciofi (carciofo means artichoke). It is actually a frittata which the Florentines call tortino, just to confuse things a little for the newcomers. To make it at home you will need eggs, already cooked artichokes and lemon juice, which brings the ingredients together. Don’t be discouraged by the note of already cooked artichokes, it’s really easy to do. Once you’ve cleaned the artichokes, cut most of their stems off (I actually use the stems in the frittata too, but that is me). Next cut the cleaned artichokes lengthways in half or into quarters. Fry them in a small pan with a couple of cloves of garlic in olive oil and butter for a few minutes. Pour in some white wine and wait until it has almost evaporated. Add some vegetable stock, just to half way cover the vegetables, and some fresh parsley, season with salt and simmer covered until tender.
At the moment I’m buying artichokes from Sardinia. They are a bit different in flavour and size from the ones I got used to in Rome and Venice. I use three artichokes to make a portion for four as an antipasto. All you have to do now is to place the cooked artichokes in a small frying pan, cover them with beaten eggs and fry slowly until the eggs set. Season with salt, pepper and lemon juice. Shavings of parmesan and fresh parsley can be a lovely touch to the modest frittata.
On a pudding note, a worldwide famous by now tiramisù will have it’s own interpretation here in Tuscany as well. Think of cantucci biscuits and Vin Santo instead of savoiardi and coffee solution. A grown up and indulgently creamy dessert served in a fine tea cup. It has become the Dégustateur’s favourite, so is mine. Buon appetito xx
A very unpredicted chain of events has caused Florence to become our new home. It was never a plan or an idea to come and live here, even for a short period of time. Although I’ve always wanted to get to know this city of art better (short visits in the past don’t count) I had never imagined ourselves moving to Florence.
The truth behind this new and unexpected adventure and leaving Venice lies in the welcome, or rather lack of it, that Venice shows to new potential residents.
The constantly diminishing number of residents (full time residents, not the ones who spend just a few months a year) in Venice is a hot topic. In a city dominated by holiday short term lets of all kinds (from teeny- tiny apartments to grand palazzos) and service driven industry, this is unlikely to change. As the Dégustateur says: it’s a very much a closed shop and it’s the cancer within, which is what made us leave. A fundamental problem with our house, which became apparent after the first night, was fully ignored, for months (cutting a long story short). But above all, it’s the arrogance and a substandard product offering that we refused to tolerate.
We left with a bag full of wonderful moments but also with a fairly unpleasant aftertaste. This unfortunate experience by no means will stop us going back to Venice, in fact, I can’t wait. There are so many things that I deeply miss. It will be interesting to see the lagoon filled or even brimming with tourists again and more importantly, how we feel about it. You see, our year in Venice was quite a serendipitous one. Upon our arrival Italy was just lifting the very last lockdown related restrictions from lockdown one and just after a couple of months, we were in another, a very long one this time. Which meant complete lack of tourists all the way. To be able to have Venice „to ourselves” was an utterly magical and one off experience. It will never happen again.
We were initially supposed to stay for a year and a half to two years (in the house we had found) and then probably never even leave Venice. But in the end, after a summary of many problems, we made the decision. We did’t have too much time left to travel in order to search for a new home (crossing between the regions wasn’t really allowed almost until towards the end of our stay in Venice). We thought we were lucky and found something after three days of viewings, but in the end, we came back to square one . Since our clock in Venice was ticking, we called an agent in Florence, that we had just established a relationship with over the past winter, just by sheer curiosity (of mine). We said to each other: Florence can be fun!
We didn’t know what to expect and it wouldn’t be a long term thing, six months or so. Well, now I can say that we will stay a bit longer than that, in the city of the Renaissance, artisan shops, botegas and perfume makers.
We are happy with the apartment, bear in that mind we took it sight unseen, so there was always room for compromise.The star of our new adopted home is the roof terrace over looking the Filippo Brunelleschi’s Dome as well as the tower of the Palazzo Vecchio in it’s full glory on one side and the Basilica of Santa Croce with the Basilica di San Miniato al Monte behind it on the opposite side. In between we can see a stretch of hills, something which makes us feel as if we were not living in a city centre. While moving to Florence dominated by carnivores we were pleasantly surprised by the restaurants. Not only by the food that is just outstanding, and there is a lot to chose from apart from la bistecca, but the approach to the customers. Even during our first meals in this new town we were not treated just like another tourist that will most likely never come back. We immediately were remembered and felt very welcomed on our return, also given the same table if available. Florence is very busy right now and it is fascinating to observe this slight subtle difference in hospitality among the Italian cities of art.
First weeks we left to our intuition in regards to where to eat, with one exception, a trattoria just outside the old city walls, to which we were introduced about 8 years ago. Still very good.
Most of the dinners however (lunches are quick and simple, adequate to the Florentine summer heat) we’ve been having on our terrace. Long, pleasant, warm and occasionally humid (still nothing compared to Venice) evenings, just the two of us, enjoying each other’s company, chatting about everything and nothing in the setting of dreams.
My recent cooking has been a higgledy- piggledy mix of dishes, the ones that I haven’t made in a long while, those that we’ve particularly craved for and a few new ones. The new dishes are the ones that I had marked „to make” in my cook books whilst leafing through them and the time for them has finally arrived here in Florence.
We haven’t fully immersed ourselves yet in Chianti drinking culture but I will be making more of the red wine jellies with the Sangiovese wine grape instead of Cabernet Sauvignon. I am already thinking of Christmas, it is never too soon. Torta Tenerina, a soft almost flourless chocolate cake, can always be made without cherries (as you can find in the recipe) and spiced with some brandy for a different touch to it.
There is a bread that we particularly enjoy and I buy it often from Mercato di Sant’Ambrogio. It is made with raisins and fennel seeds and I am totally taken by this flavour concoction. That is how Yogurt Bundt Cake with Fennel Seeds and Dry Figs was created. Suitable for any time of the day.
When we go home to Poland, my mother cooks for us. I would never take this pleasure away from her. I always have a typical Polish soft, pillowy yeast cake with sour cherries (my favourite) and a crumbly topping waiting for me still warm. In Italy I can’t buy sour cherries but I make it with apricots (or plums) instead and drizzle with a lemon and lavender icing.
After several years of not going to Sicily due to covid I made us Pesto alla Trapanese, refreshing paste made of toasted almonds, tomatoes and basil (or mint, which is just lovely) followed by Gelo di Limone. It’s a wonderfully fresh jelly, a staple in Sicily and flavours can vary: watermelon, orange, almond and jasmine, and many more. Sicily for me is the cornerstone of unforgettable inventive flavours. The secret lies in infusing the water overnight with grated zest of the most fragrant lemons you can possibly find. Worth a try. While I still dream of Sicily, I am delighted to share a recipe for Little Ricotta, Marsala and Bitter Cocoa Balls. They have totally stolen our stomachs and I’ve been making them very often, especially recently as for me, they do taste like a late summer evening. It’s the gentle warmth of amber Marsala.
There is always Pesce al Sale in my repertoire. Very simple and unbelievably good, especially when made with a wild fish. Little calamari in a sauce with capers and olives, as I used to prepare them in Venice, were also delicious. I do miss that fish market near Rialto Bridge. Here the choice of fish and sea food is limited, I can’t be extremely creative and I have to make the most of what is available. But we’ve found a really fun enoteca with oysters and champagne. Love it.
Whilst the tomatoes are bountiful and sweet „we” make in Tuscany Papa al Pomodoro, a thick tomato bread soup. The essence of simple, hearty and seasonal cooking, a great example of the poor man’s food. You will need ripe, vibrant and sweet tomatoes, stale bread, basil and olive oil (and some garlic). You cook it slowly, it should be gently bubbling away, and never underestimate the value of a good bread, a good sourdough bread. A generous drizzle of a fragrant olive oil just before serving will make this dish complete.
Peas alla Fiorentina will be perfect with a Sunday roast, although I will be most likely using frozen peas as it’s way too long to wait until Spring. What I also enjoy a lot in La Toscana, mainly during autumn and winter, are crostini. Can’t wait to start making Chicken Liver Crostini al Vin Santo followed by Stracotto al Chianti Classico (Slow cooked beef in Chianti Classico wine). There is so much comfort in both. The Dégustateur is away for a few days and I’m planning to make a trio of crostini accompanied by a bottle of excellent Chianti we had just bought in Castellina in Chianti village. Crostini are nothing else than sliced crunchy bread, best if toasted and served still warm. There will be a cristino with the chicken liver and a mousse of mortadella. On the latter I still have to decide if to add some creamy ricotta to the mousse or not. I am also testing a new recipe right now for a lemon and bean crostino, which I had in one of the restaurants that we really enjoy going to. I shall find out the verdict soon. Should you feel like making them too, be adventurous with the bread, if available try the one containing olives, walnuts or raisins.
The temperatures are turning much gentler right now and the sun is very soft during late afternoons, just perfect for ambling through the streets until late. Walking up to the Piazzale Michelangelo seems much easier, definitely more pleasant, and the stroll up the hills to marvel at elegant villas and Florence from a distance is a real joy, which I can’t wait to share with you soon.
Our initial plans for our life in this magical city went far beyond a year. Plans in life change however, and unforeseen circumstances appear. All of which is part of our lives making it more interesting, as some people might say.
We have just settled and almost fully unpacked in Florence and we are enjoying it a lot. A new Italian city for us to get to know as well as it’s culture, flavours and a wonderful culinary scene.
But despite the above I still would like to share with you some of my favourite places in Venice, a little taste of this truly unique city. Places that we already knew from our travels and some new jewels that we frequented during this unforgettable year, all of which we are looking forward to visiting again in the near future. I hope that they will make into your list too.
I will start this culinary journey from the Sestiere Dorsoduro. Not only because it’s where we lived but it truly is a little hub of the Venetian food scene.
Pasticceria Dal Nono Colossi
Focaccia Veneziana, a traditional Venetian delicacy is a must try.
It is similar to panettone but without the candied peel or sugared almonds. Instead it is decorated with nothing else than a sugar crust. The velvety soft dough delicately smells of citrus zest and the delicious effort involved in making it.
And once you’ve tasted the thin and delicate Venetian biscuits called baicoli, you will find that they are second to none.
Perhaps the most famous pasticceria in Venice and it truly is an amazing place. You can literally loose yourself in the vast array of choice between warm breakfast delicacies (raspberry crumble and chocolate focaccine being my favourite) and small portions of Italian dolci like tiramusu of course, zeppole with four different kinds of filling, babà soaked in rhum and many, many more.
You will enjoy the coffee in signature blue cups too.
You will find it wandering along the route between Campo San Barnaba and Ponte dell’Accademia. Right in front of a local school it turns very busy when the classes end and the children run to devour their favourite sweets before making their way back home.
Zeppole with a marsala filling have always been my favourite here, followed by strudel, best eaten still warm.
Bar Canton in Campo San Barnaba for tramezzini
In this unassuming little bar with a much larger outdoor space I’ve found one of the best tramezzini in Venice. Tremezzini are little triangle shaped sandwiches with a copious amount of filling, a staple and just another must try in Venice. In contrast to many other bars, here they are always fresh and don’t have a chance to turn soggy as they tend to sell out pretty fast, mostly by lunch time.
Osteria ai Pugni
It immediately became our „local” place, either for a snack, aperitivio or even a bottle of wine. This is one of the places where the locals go but I can assure you that the tourists receive the same attention. You can’t miss it, it’s right next to the fruit and vegetable barge at the foot of the Ponte dei Pugni.
Situated in Fondamenta Zattere al Ponte Longo with tables facing the open waters of Giudecca Canal it offers one the prettiest spots in Venice and an unforgettable experience of enjoying a good gelato. It’s most requested speciality is „Giuanduiotto”, a portion of a gianduia ice cream covered with whipped cream. There are other flavours to choose from of course, but this place with it’s strategically positioned tables that are bathed in sunshine for almost the whole day is a great place just for a coffee or a Spritz. Being away from the San Marco area, you will be positively surprised with the pricing.
For an aperitvo or meal with wonderful views of Giudecca. I actually particularly enjoyed it’s garden overlooking a dreamy and peaceful canal. During the prime season I’d advise to book a table.
Osteria Da Codroma
A historic place amongst a vast array of Venetian trattorias. Opened in 1896 it doesn’t seem to have changed much. The renovation of this eatery has been done very carefully and with a special attention of retaining it’s original features like wooden panels, floor and the bar counter.
Stop here for a traditional Venetian meal or at least for a few cichetti and a Spritz enjoyed along a canal.
A very charming and elegant restaurant a few steps away from the Salute Church and the Peggy Guggenheim museum.
It’s menu is based on the Venitian tradition but leaning towards the meaty side of it, accompanied by vegetables from the Sant’ Erasmo island, the orchard of Venice.
It’s is slightly more expensive but so worth it.
Cantinone del Vino già Schiavi
An iconic enoteca with it’s walls filled top to bottom with wine bottles and a generous display of cichetti.
It is extremely popular with locals, students and tourists and it’s a must stop for a plate of it’s famous cichetti accompanied by a glass of Prosecco, or any other local wine served by the glass.
If the weather allows, you will se a large crowd enjoying a convivial drink along a canal, moments away from the Academia Bridge.
A contemporary Venetian cuisine with a well curated natural wine list and display, served in a very cosy, professional and friendly environment. The restaurant is fairly small and I highly recommend making a reservation.
Sestiere San Polo
Antica Birraria la Corte
Campo San Polo is the second largest campo in Venice after the Piazza San Marco. The tucked away Birraria with it’s neat outdoor tables can be very often easily missed, especially when following the tourist thoroughfare rout.
It is a pizzeria and a restaurant, a reference point among the residents.
The local ingredients and tradition based menu is very versatile, seasonal and never disappoints.
The wood fired oven baked pizza is truly wonderful, thin, crisp and the toppings are of an amazing quality. In case you can’t get an outdoor table the inside courtyard is equally charming, if not better.
The oldest pasticceria in Venice making a part of it’s history. It has been baking dolci since 1742 and they are truly exquisite.
Very often I would stop here for a cappuccino and something sweet for breakfast whilst on my way to Rialto Market, and it’s tiramisu is to die for. The premises are very cosy and small (15m2), also closed every Tuesday.
You can really feel the passion for the traditional Venetian cuisine here.
Perhaps it’s clear message: „No Pizza, No Lasagne, No Menù Turistico” doesn’t need an introduction anymore.
The menù evolves around fresh fish (but not only) and seasonal vegetables chosen from the nearby Rialto Market. The restaurant doesn’t compromise on food and has built a very strong clientele over the years, hence it is best to book a table well in advance.
Centred around Rialto Market bacari that can’t be missed:
All’Arco, Cantina do Mori, Cantone do Spade, Al Mercà.
All of the above have a slightly different atmosphere and a selection of cichetti.
What they have all in common is a convivial, happy and welcoming atmosphere as well as sharing delicious little snacks that Venice is famous for. They are all well known stops in Venetian guidebooks, but they are still the best places to experience a quintessential Venetian food tradition for a midday snack.
Sestiere Santa Croce
Enoteca Al Prosecco is a perfect example of the essence of the Italian simplicity and sophistication whilst making the most of the ingredients.
At Al Prosecco you will find that the delicacy, flavour, attention to detail and just love for food is transmitted into every single dish or a sandwich.
Here you can enjoy chichetti, little sandwiches or sit down to a proper lunch. Just ask what can you eat and you will be given a choice of what is made on the day. I was very fond of the thinly sliced angus beef platter decorated with a delicious selection of grilled (then kept in olive oil) and fresh vegetables. But the fantasy of this family run place goes far beyond than this. Something not so easily found in Venice.
Enjoy your food with a vast selection of mainly organic and biodynamic wines whilst watching the world go by at Campo San Giacomo da l’Orio.
And perhaps after a lunch at „Al Prosecco” stop for an artisan ice cream at the Gelato di Natura, literally two steps away. All flavours are sublime and my favourite one is walnut and fig.
Osteria La Zucca boasts an incredibly cosy setting by one of the quiet Venetian canals. The dishes served are an ode to the seasonal flavours of locally grown vegetables, with a creative touch to it. This by no means implies that the restaurant is vegetarian and on the menu you can find lamb, rabbit or chicken.
I particularly enjoy it’s atmosphere during autumnal and wintery months, but there are outdoor tables as well should you visit over the warm sunny days.
Pasticceria Dal Mas
When crossing the bridge Ponte degli Scalzi from the sestiere Santa Croce you will set foot in the sestiere Cannareggio. I crossed this bridge on numerous occasions walking from Dorsoduro to Pasticceria Dal Mas in order to pick up something sweet for breakfast. This pastry shop, among many others, stays invariably true to the tradition and the passion for good things that is felt at it’s door step. You could be overwhelmed by the choice but I have developed a soft spot for the marzipan Kranz.
Fondamenta della Misericordia along with Fondamenta degli Ormesini is a very lively part of Cannareggio. Just walk along Rio della Misericordia and you will stumble upon countless bars and restaurants. You will be literally spoilt for choice. Most of the places have a rustic feel to them making the area more casual and convivial. It is a very busy part of Venice (residents, students and tourists) so it wouldn’t harm to make a reservation.
Try Vino Vero for a great choice of wines and some cichetti (crostini), bookshop Sullaluna where you can enjoy tea or coffee with something sweet to go with it. Il Paradiso Perduto is a real fun and bustling place. It’s brimming (Packed) with locals but tourists are well looked after too. Try the mixed antipasti platter, bare in mind that the portions are very generous. For a fancier experience try the very elegant Osteria da Rioba.
Osteria ai Quaranta Ladroni
Slightly hidden in the depths of Canareggio, situated on a canal parallel to Rio della Misericordia. Very welcoming atmosphere offering a vast choice of fish and seafood dishes with big flavours.
We were eating here very often during the lockdown period (where opening times were limited) and the place had a truly fun and local vibe, something amazing to have been able to see.
This is my favourite place for gnocchi with granzeola (local spider crab), a staple dish in Venice.
Osteria Ca’ d’oro Alla Vedova
Hidden in a dark alley lies one of the best known Venetian osteria known not only by the locals but also international visitors. A bacaro where you stop either to sit down to a proper meal or to snack on the legendary warm deep fried meat balls. Lovely and crisp from the outside and delightfully soft from the inside. Worth giving it a try.
Osteria Alle Testiere
Humble, little and unassuming premises but wait until you try the food. It offers one of the best (food) experiences to be found in Venice. Here the menu is created daily according to what looks appealing and what is available at the market that morning. It’s hard to believe that such a small kitchen and team can happily feed so many hungry faces. I was beguiled by Alle Testiere and what I particularly enjoy is the use of spices in it’s dishes, a legacy of Venice’s history as a merchant city at the top of the Spice Route. No wonder why it is claimed to have been able to capture the culinary heart of the city. Book your table well in advance and check for the opening/ holiday period.
Corte Sconta in other words „hidden courtyard”, which is exactly what you can expect.
What you can also expect is a sophisticated Venetian cooking attracting the residents as well as the international crowd but yet the atmosphere is very relaxed and serene. Walking around sleepy alleys of Castello trying to find the restaurant is a pure joy.
Salvmeria, a contemporary bacaro in via Garibaldi, situated just a few steps away from the Biennale Gardens. Apart from delightful cichetti you can order beautifully decorated cheese or ham boards, a plate of fresh pasta, prawns in saor, parmigiana di melanzane, grilled octopus and many more. The dishes on the menu vary according to the morning shopping.
The wine and beer list is very well curated which always adds to the experience.
If you have the time to explore the islands I strongly encourage you to do so.
Each has it’s own character: Murano is known for it’s glass making and Burano is dotted with colourfully painted houses. Torcello is very peaceful with just a handful of residents but has a quite strongly developed food scene, especially for such a small island. Visit Locanda Cipriani (Ernest Hemingway used to stay there) for a picturesque setting in the gardens during summer or a cosy meal by a fire during colder months.
Try Al Gatto Nero and Da Romano, both seafood establishments on Burano island. If you like risotto then Risotto ai Gò is a must have.
Making it’s own wine Venissa on Mazzorbo offers an idyllic, peaceful and a lovely setting for a meal, overlooking the garden and vineyard. There is a more casual contemporary osteria and the gourmet Venissa Restaurant to choose from.
I have so many fond memories of Osteria Ae Botti on Giudecca. Elegant inside, lovely tables with white linen outside, overlooking Venice. The food is wonderful, traditional but you can find a modern twist here and there, especially in a raw seafood platter. It is also a place where the locals go, either to sit down to a proper meal or for a tramezzino paired with glass of prosecco or Spritz. It’s where we had our last dinner before we left Venice, sitting by the open water of Giudecca Canal devouring moecche, a local soft shell crab, served on creamy warm polenta and sipping Lambrusco.
It has finally rained in Venice. And by rain I mean a steady rainfall for a few days. This very much awaited moment has come.
You probably must be wondering, why do I like wet weather so much.
It’s not so much about the rain as such but about the changing weather fallowing the seasons. You see, I was born and grew up in Poland where I lived with four distinct seasons. The smell of young grass, first snowdrops followed by daffodils, bright and shiny cherry blossoms and the fresh air of the woodlands with all their earthy notes accompanied by the sounds of the indigenous wild life is what I have in mind when I think of spring. What I also miss is our Polish Golden Autumn, warm post summer months embellished with gradually falling leaves, which change their colour into a panoply of yellow, red and brown hues. I can imagine myself right now walking along the majestic tree lined avenues feeling a golden light gently caressing my skin before it cools down towards the evening. After autumn comes winter, most memorable and beautiful when shrouded with white, crisp and light snow flakes. Both the cities and country side resemble a fairy tale-like and almost unrealistic land of dreams.
So far I’ve experienced snow in Italy once whilst we were living in Rome. It was an early morning and we rushed from our bed, got dressed in a frenzy and walked from Piazza del Popolo towards La Scalinata joining Piazza di Spagna leaving the first foot prints behind us on the untouched snow. Then we walked through little allies and enjoyed a very Narnia-like moment, knowing that it wouldn’t last long with the rising temperatures.
Apart from (mainly) sudden and short lived heavy downpours it didn’t rain much in Rome.
In fact we were going through periods of a couple of months of clear blue skies and summer heat temperatures where even the most resistant plants turned yellow and just dried out. Hence my nostalgia and inner longing for proper weather changes and a desire to experience storms, lighting and the entire aura surrounding the life by the open water. If you’ve read any of my previous posts mentioning Venice, you will know by now that for me La Serenissima is most charming, atmospheric and majestic during cold misty wintery days.
On the second day of rain I sat down at my desk by the gothic tall windows overlooking our canal and decided to write a few lines and share my latest culinary home adventures.
We are still in a period of another lockdown and the restaurants have only been able to open for take away service. As much as I enjoy being in the kitchen and using almost all of my pots I’ve started making more one pot dishes, those that are easy to reheat the following day and that are just a matter of stirring, tossing and assembling.
On top of that I’ve found a perfect formula to break the daily home cooking routine. Twice a week we have take away food. There is a kebab, which we always crave, so good, and Japanese food, from a restaurant next door, luckily the best one in Venice.
I’ve been cooking some of the dishes that I make time and time again which provide me with great joy, but also I’ve been conjuring up many new simple, flavoursome, delicious and brimming with solace meals. Firm evidence that when it comes to food, simple things are often the most exquisite. Italy of course is no exception to this rule. In fact, Italian (regional) food is a celebration of simplicity.
Some of my latest culinary adventures have been dictated by the local produce, weather, restaurants I’ve eaten in, articles and books I’ve recently read or culinary programs that I’ve been watching lately. Cosy and warming comfort food like: leek an potato bake; buckwheat, Toma cheese and Swiss chard gratin; different kinds of meat stew in a tomato and juniper berry sauce or a fish and shellfish stew in a fennel, tomato and red wine sauce coming from older BBC programmes with Antonio Carluccio (who sadly is no longer with us). These programs are not new to me but with honesty I must admit, that after having lived in Italy for a while now, I have a greater appreciation and understanding of the message they are sending.
Just before the latest lockdown we were frequent visitors to the Island of Giudecca.
By accident, as it happens very often, we found our latest favourite osteria. We judged it by stopping for an aperitivo followed by a bowl of pasta as we got hungry almost immediately.
We booked a table for Sunday lunch, and the next Sunday lunch and so forth. Only local food of the lagoon, made to perfection and extremely welcoming, relaxed and just fun characters running the place. It was the beginning of the season for moeche, the Venetian lagoon soft shell crab, deliciously sweet, deep fried and served with a creamy yellow polenta (best one I’ve had). You can spot the moeche on the menu if you are in Venice in spring or autumn, and that is something worth trying. We used to finish our lunch with a glass of a chilled dessert wine made of wild strawberries. The flavour was so honest end evocative that I travelled with my tastebuds back home to Poland, where strawberries, raspberries and wild strawberries are second to none.
The wine is made by a family friend and you can’t find it on the wine list, it’s a little treat for the regular crowd enjoying their food accompanied by some wine.
The dish Tagliatelle Gratinati / Baked Tagliatelle with Ham and Béchamel Sauce came about as a result of recent trips to Giudecca Island whilst passing by Harry’s Dolci eatery. It lends itself very well to storing and reheating, therefore I always make a larger portion and we happily finish it off the following day, something that you can’t underestimate the value of during the full on home cooking covid time.
The asparagus season, both for white and green, is well under way and a few weeks ago I shared a recipe for an Asparagus, Speck and Soft Cheese Tart. Speck is very often used in the region of Veneto and it is a catalyst of flavour. It gives a subtle salty smoky note to the tart and creates a perfect harmony with the asparagus, which is cooked through but still retains some crunch.
In Veneto asparagus is usually served with lashings of an egg sauce. You basically crush hard boiled eggs with a fork and stir them with a vinegar and mustard dressing (or you can blend the sauce into a smooth paste). A very simple way of having them and it is almost a dish on its own, perhaps with a slice of crunchy bread.
While reading „Che la Festa Cominci” by Niccolò Ammaniti, a novel depicting a certain Roman social scene and events, I stumbled upon one line that particularly caught my attention. It refers to frittata di macceroni made by auntie Imma in Gaeta. Gaeta, in the region of Lazio, is known for it’s olives. I can’t buy them here, but instead I used olive taggiasche from Liguria, added some capers and tomato sauce, stirred in some pasta, effectively making Pasta alla Puttanesca, from which I made a frittata the next day. In Italy it is a very common way of using up what is left and transforming it into another meal. And by simply frying a firm flat disc of pasta from both sides we have a crunchy and delicious frittata. In the traditional recipe you will not find anchovies, but I like adding them. They bring more flavour and a certain character to the dish.
Delving into the depths of simplicity combined with a good produce and the passion with which Italians cook I would put forward Spaghetti al Limone e Mascarpone as a very strong contender. Again, fresh mascarpone, a dash of cream and an intense, refreshing and vibrant perfume of a good lemon is all you need to throw together a very summery, easy and immensely pleasing lunch.
Occasionally I pick up for us a selection of small pastries from different pastry shops as they all have a slightly different offer and insight into the Venetian sweet tooth. I very much like little and very neat bite size portions of tiramisù sold at Pasticceria Tonolo.
Moreover, apart from swapping savoiardi biscuits with thin slices of a sponge cake, a layer of crunchy dark chocolate runs through it, which makes all the individual components come together beautifully. Vanilla and Crunchy Dark Chocolate Tiramisù is my humble version of the tiramisù served at Tonolo (Dorsoduro) and I hope you will find it as simple and exquisite as I do.
My dining table, a marble work space for rolling out pasta sheets, my desk, situated right next to the highest windows I have ever had in any place I’ve lived in. The windows, floor to ceiling tall, widely open to a gothic styled balcony, on which we planted jasmine once we moved in. The plants are still small, but give them some time and they will spread across turning vibrant green generously dotted with white little flowers of the most magical scent.
A red-hued palazzetto (a little palazzo), perched on a canal, has become our home in Venice for the time being. One starts to automatically imagine grand Venetian buildings stretching along the Grand Canal when you see the word: palazzo (palace). You see, in Italy it is how many representative residential buildings are generally called. Our’s is a lot more modest than that but still, think of a long piano nobile room with the high dark beamed ceilings and granite mosaic floors .
The lapping water of the canal that runs alongside our house sets you immediately in the right mood. There is nothing more pleasant than listening to the gentle sound of splashing water, listening to the falling rain or passing little boats, mostly with a dog on board, whilst having a meal or catching up on some writing. Gondolas pass below our windows too. I get the treat of hearing anecdotes and stories being told and exchanged between the gondoliers and the tourists, this year a lot less so and predominantly Italian.
Venice is a dream at the moment. Completely empty, so beautiful and romantic. Selfishly, it’s a really incredible and unforgettable experience, but it’s impossible not to feel the devastating impact on businesses.
While I am sitting at my desk my mind is drifting away for two reasons.
The first one being the very relaxing sound of the rain. And the second, I am pondering in my head over a Valentine’s dinner menu. We have never made a big thing about Valentine’s Day. This year however, when the course of the day is dictated by breakfast, lunch and dinner at home (and a occasional aperitivo if premises are open), I decided for this day to feel a bit more special than in the past and different from the every-day meals we have. I’m thinking of the Dégustateur’s latest favourite pasta dish for our main. A homemade walnut paste with a hint of garlic tossed with just a touch of fresh herbs. Chopped winter tomato adds freshness and elevates this dish onto another level. The walnut paste can be prepared in advance, later on it is lengthened with the pasta cooking liquid turning it into a very cosy yet elegant and delicious sauce.
Seafood or shellfish has always been in a treat for us. Somehow it has the notion of something special, perhaps because it’s seen as a slightly more sophisticated produce to handle or more complicated to prepare. I’ve got scallops in my mind, perhaps baked with some prosecco and baby artichokes in their shells. In Rome I managed to buy scallops twice over the entire period of us living there and we have been craving for them a lot ever since. But Valnetine’s Day is on Sunday so perhaps I will give the scallops a miss. Although I’ve never had a bad experience with my fish monger, I am always quite apprehensive about leaving fish or shellfish for the following day (based on a past bad experience).
I will buy an octopus instead which I always feel it’s a safe choice and it literally just cooks itself. All I’ll have to do is to watch the timing so it turns out just perfect and tender. Making it a la Gallega: seasoned with flaky sea salt, smoked paprika and finished with a splosh of good olive oil is so stress free but the end result is extraordinary and it’s the Dégustateur’s firm favourite. Whilst I am playing around in the kitchen we will start the evening with little nibbles (in the kitchen) like sliced cured ham, Gorgonzola Dolce and Mascarpone log with hunks of a good fresh crunchy bread and a glass of prosecco (extra chilled for me).
A special occasion requires a special wine, which I have already bought. I’ve always wanted to try Orto di Venezia fine white wine made on the Island of Sant’ Erasmo. It could’t be more local if you tried. I am so excited about this meal already.
It’s time choose dolci. There is one in particular that we both feel strongly about. Every so often I make this decadent, moist melted chocolate and chestnut puree cake which smells of hazelnuts. For me these are the quintessential flavours of Piedmont, the flavours we love.
Over the Christmas festivities and New Year’s Eve our dining table was lit by a twinkling of candle light only, lots of them. And that is how I’ll prepare that same table for the Valentine’s dinner with hope of creating a different and special atmosphere, suitable for the occasion.