” Another time, but soon”…a little trip to Normandy

May 3, 2024

”Another time, but soon”- is what we said to each other when we postponed our little trip to Normandy during Easter this year.

It wasn’t long before we firmly agreed: ”it’s almost like a now or never situation; soon we may not even have enough time to go and if it rains-we’ll just take a rain coat and a pair of adequate boots”. The same evening we made and confirmed the reservations, booked the Channel Tunnel ticket and even the weather forecast looked promising.
Within a few days we finally departed on our little journey to the land of delicious apples and pears; to the land of cider and Calvados, to the vast lush and green landscape on which healthy looking cows are left to graze, producing a rich and much sought-after milk. Just think about the best tasting butter, soft cheeses, delicious milk and creamy fresh natural yogurt for breakfast- the best we’ve had in a long while.

We arrived in Honfleur, a charming harbour town, on a sunny Friday afternoon. The Dégustateur had chosen our accommodation and he did well. After we parked our car under an avenue of plane trees, we headed towards our guest house, unusually for us, as we are more hotel people. The house however, looked just lovely the minute we saw it, moreover, we were greeted by a true copy of Madame Duflot. If you’ve seen Ridley Scott’s „A Good Year”, you’ll immediately smile and remember the charismatic character of Ludivine, with the sweetest French accent. It’s a fabulous romantic comedy that I really recommend viewing. Warning! You may irreversibly fall in love with the Luberon part of Provence after having watched it.

Once we left our bags in the room we strolled to the harbour for a glass of cider (always dry for me) and to soak up the last rays of the warm afternoon sun. We spent the last hours of this glorious afternoon ambling back and forth along narrow streets, squares and corners, inquisitively looking at the menus of bistros end restaurants (we had asked “Madame Duflot” for some recommendations), we couldn’t resist the very appealing spice shops with all manner of salt and spice mixes piled high in neatly arranged containers. We stumbled upon a wine fair and a shop next to it, that felt just right to purchase (on the last day) a lovely bottle of aged artisan Calvados Pays d’Auge, to sip after a meal by candlelight back home.
Calvados is one of the “big three” French brandies along with Cognac and Armagnac.
Whilst its respective cousins are based on grapes, Calvados begins its life in the orchards of Normandy (in the form of apples and pears). It’s governed by three sets of overlapping AOC regulations (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée) and each one of them has slightly different rules on the type of still that may be used and the proportion of apples and pears that can go into the mix. The Calvados AOC, for example, stretches over all Normandy and allows apples and pears to be used in any proportion.

We opted for Calvados Pays d’Auge, which covers an area just east of Caen, stretching from Deauville on the coast to about 30 km south of Lisieux, and the producers may use only 30 % of pears at most (as well as use only copper pots to distill their spirit). After having tasted a few brandies, we both agreed on the most fragrant and lesser known bottle of Calvados (aged for 6 years instead of 10 – as one would normally go for by rule of thumb).
We also purchased a couple of bottles of Calvados AOC to use for cooking and baking, something simpler with just 3 years of ageing.

Duck Parmantier & Le Lingot

Whilst we were taking a back ally leading to “our” townhouse, all of a sudden we came across a charming elegant restaurant, with perfect white tablecloths, aqua coloured checked windows and doors, which were left open as an invitation. Lots of hanging plants above the windows, tall candle sticks and historic images dotted on forest green walls. I had a positive strong feeling about “Le Lingot”, to the point that we swapped the reservation we had already made in order to be able to dine there. And the meal was truly amazing, exactly what we were both longing for: beautiful, traditional fresh produce (mainly foraged on the day) turned into a creative but not overly elaborated menu, accompanied by a bottle of Sancerre from the Loire Valley. We got invited to the kitchen to meet the chef and the team of just two, working very hard and proud. I’d go back to Honfleur just to eat at “Le Lingot” again.

Our late breakfast, after a couple of early morning coffees near the harbour, was a selection of brioches, canelés (a speciality from Bordeaux), kouign amann (a buttery layered pastry cake from neighbouring Brittany) and a punnet of fragrant strawberries from the Saturday market stretching across the entire historic part of the town. We love markets, correction: farmers’ markets, selling clothing or bed mattresses perhaps could be avoided, but c’est la vie! Going back to the food itself, it was a very authentic market with people coming to shop for the weekend. Despite the fact that Honfleur is both a national and foreign tourist destination, nobody was taking pictures at the market (except a few snaps taken my me). It’s just not a tourist attraction, you go there to shop.

The weather was beautiful and the sun was getting stronger and stronger. There is a gorgeous, cleverly designed park separating the town from the waterfront. Towards the end of that park leading to the beach, there is a pond. The pond has some water lilies, a little blue bridge and a line of trees around it, under which a couple of families were picnicking on the grass. The scene was so evocative of Monet. The beach itself is very wide and easy to walk on but not the prettiest. With no better plans we just walked along until we saw a beach front restaurant, a very happening place thronging with locals. We had a great lunch: oysters, a seafood platter, cold beer and we got some sun on our faces too, finally.

Deauville

After two nights in Honfleur we drove inland stopping in Deauville on the way. Deauville is a rather posh and pretty coastal town, very popular with Parisians for the weekends. It was Sunday, a market day in Deauville with a bustling happy atmosphere. We sat down for a coffee and a couple of waffles soaked in salted caramel, absolutely to die for. In Normandy you’ll see caramel everywhere: plain, salted, with Calvados or even cider. Pancakes are served at a later hour of the day with all the array of flavoured caramels to choose from. We had stayed in Deauville in the past and we both have very fond and tender memories of it. It had been during an autumnal weekend and it felt slightly more demure back then. A lot has changed over the years, the restaurant we wanted to go back to wasn’t the same anymore, so we settled on a portion of “Moules à la Crème” -with a creamy cider sauce- in a happening bistro, before driving to our next port of call, somewhere between the villages of Camembert and Livarot. Pays d’Auge is Normandy’s most emblematic verdant green area exuding rural charm. It’s here where the picturesque apple orchards meet historic towns, half-timbered manor houses and farm-fresh produce. The weather turned, the temperatures dropped and it started to drizzle. The earthy notes of nature had never smelt better.

Beuvron-en Auge&My Normandy Apple Tart

Duck Parmentier with Pipérade

On the fallowing morning we drove to a large local (food-only) market in the village of Saint-Pierre-sur-Dives. It was here where I bought 2 kg of glistening in the early spring sun white asparagus, 3 kg of fragrant and flavoursome chantecler apples (for baking and eating back home), some fresh cheeses, bread with figs and a cured ham from Sardinia for supper. After that we visited the quaint and quiet Beuvron-en Auge village. It started to rain quite heavily by then and luckily we found a cosy restaurant for a long lunch, with hearty traditional food eaten by the fire. It’s here where I tried a Duck Confit Parmentier, I imagine you could call it a duck confit pie, for the first time. Back in London I made my own version of it, alternating the duck confit meat with a Basque style stewed peppers spiced with pepper d’espellete. All covered with a layer of garlic and thyme potato puree, baked until slightly crisp and golden in colour. It is a great dish, easy to make, a sophisticated version of a crowd pleaser. The white asparagus I turned immediately into a velvety potage finished with some chives and a few pinches of pepper d’espellete. Steamed, both white and green asparagus, we truly enjoy alla Veneta, decorated with chopped boiled eggs, partially turned into a thick sauce along with olive oil and a splash of a good wine vinegar. The Calvados, which works wonders in the kitchen, I’ve been using for baking a whole Camembert cheese (also with honey and thyme) to be scooped out with hunks of fresh baguette and/or crunchy endive leaves. After our recent Normandy trip I baked us an apple, cinnamon, crème fraîche and Calvados tart, something I used to bake in the past, this time with the addition of cinnamon. So delightful, even when reheated!

“My crêpes au Calvados” drizzled with salted caramel or caramel au Calvados may actually become our regular treat for a spoiling lazy breakfast at home.

In a few words, our long weekend excursion to the continent couldn’t have been any more delicious !!


When the Plans Change…

April 10, 2024

The weather forecast was showing grey or grey and rainy days for almost the entire week.

The week in which we had Easter and also it happened to be my birthday. Our initial intention was to go to the continent, as you say here in England, to Normandy to be precise. A trip we had been planning and plotting almost forever, but as it often happens in life, there has never been enough time, too far to go or the need to travel in the opposite direction. Being in London at the moment makes for a perfect opportunity; we just need to book the Channel Tunnel ticket, take the car and drive to France, not a lengthy distance for us this time. Unfortunately, the weather was going to be not exactly travel friendly not only in the UK. I believe almost the whole continent was under a bad spell over the Easter period. Subsequently, we didn’t go to Normandy. „Another time, but soon”, we said.

As it turned out, something that happens often here, the initial weather predictions were quite far off from the truth and we had a few beautiful and blissful days in London.

We had no plans for Easter, well, almost. You see, The Good Friday was also my birthday and the Dégustateur swiftly booked counter seats (our favourite – you can watch the chefs at work), at Zuma. A pair of heels and a dress on, a few glasses of rosé champagne by the bar first (it used the be a very happening bar and it still is) for a small toast, followed by the best Japanese food I believe there is in London at the moment. We live very close to Zuma but going there is always a spacial treat for us, most importantly because the food quality and its choice has not changed over the years and recent difficult moments for the hospitality industry.

Green Park & Smoked Haddock

When I arrived in London to our little house, a pied-à-terre to be precise, whilst cooking and preparing our evening meals I started putting Zucchero’s playlist on youtube, among a couple of other Italian artists. It would always cheer me up and the Dégustatuer soon became a fan of his. One evening when my hands were busy chopping and stirring in the kitchen I asked the Dégustateur to check for any upcoming concerts of Zucchero in Italy. He on the other hand replied: „Listen to this! He will be performing at The Royal Albert Hall for three evenings at the end of March, starting his world tour in London”. We kept that in mind and since we had said a definitive no to the Normandy trip we were lucky to get a pair of tickets to the concert. It was just perfect. After an early dinner at home we strolled to the venue. It didn’t rain and the atmosphere started to build up once we were approaching The Royal Albert Hall. All you could hear was the Italian language all around us.

We had a glass of champagne at the bar and the second one in our box (we treated it as my birthday weekend), and then we were just taken away by the great show that Zucchero and his team put on, with myself dancing almost the entire evening along with the rest of the public.

Oh!, I almost forgot: my birthday cake – Tarte Tropézienne – we got it from The Birley Bakery in Chelsea Green. They add an orange blossom water to it and it’s the best one I’ve ever had. It’s also sold per slice, really worthwhile paying a visit if you would like a real treat.

Cooking is my passion and I spend more time in the kitchen than in any other room. It’s where I try new recipes, cook again our firm favourites, where I flip through cook books (I also do it in bed before falling asleep) searching for something different to try, it’s where I have most of my conversations with the Dégustateur, over the dining table and by candle light- not because we are extremely romantic but because I really loathe the lighting we have in our rented house. My solution to the problem was to buy a few side lamps and lots of candlesticks. Subsequently the atmosphere over a meal is much nicer, calmer and yes, more romantic, plus everything and everybody looks better in a flickering soft candle light. Our kitchen is also the room with the poorest source of natural light, and if you know London a little, you will know what I intend to say. It’s also the reason why I almost never take any pictures in there. There will be a new place in the future and a new kitchen to come, something to look forward to.

I’d usually plan a day or two ahead what to cook, but this Easter, however, I left it to play by ear.
I decided just to go the shops and see what caught my eye. In London most of the grocery shops and food halls were open anyway, so why not take the advantage of it? For the Sunday late breakfast (after the concert) we had eggs with smoked haddock and chives. I was only poaching the haddock just after 11am, but that is what I truly love about slow mornings, which don’t happen that often. I made us a very simplified, nonetheless very comforting and delicious take on the Arnold Bennett omelette. In fact I prepared scrambled eggs with some flakes of poached smoked haddock (poached in milk with some garlic and bay leaf), crunchy baguette with lashings of good butter and lots of Earl Grey tea.

Thyme & Mustard Roast Poussin

We had a beautiful sun pouring through the dining and living room, the morning clouds burned off and we fancied a walk. We took the back streets along distinctive crescents and townhouses which are homes mainly to embassies or the super wealthy, who are hardly ever there, making the streets and pavements peaceful, slow paced and enjoyable to amble along. We reached Hyde Park Corner, passed along the newly opened Peninsula hotel and crossed towards Green Park. Glowing yellow daffodils, blue skies, verdant green grass, happy faces of passing crowds and very oddly, just a couple of squirrels around (they must have gone back into hibernation, it was rather bitterly cold before Easter) searching for food. We passed The Ritz and walked to the Fortnum & Mason food hall to buy more tea, and then to our favourite book store, Hatchards, right next to it.
I accidentally found a book that I hadn’t been able to trace a few years back: „A Month in Siena” by Hisham Matar. I’ve just finished reading it and in case you were thinking of getting a copy as well, it’s not a guided story describing daily life in Siena, but it’s a moving exploration of an impact of Sienese art on the author’s life and his grief over the loss of his father.

After I made my happy purchase we walked through St James’s passing Britain’s oldest wine & spirit merchant Berry Bros, where you could also have your wine stored, heading towards Pall Mall and from there through a sneaky passage back to Green Park. Just before returning home we stopped at our local pub „The Grenadier” (the images of it are in my previous post), we were finally able to stand outside, in the sun and sheltered from the wind, we watched the world go by, we had a little Guinness each and a few sausages with strong mustard, as you would often do in a pub. For a little while we’ve swapped a glass of wine for a small Guinness. È la vita!

This surprising and very welcomed change in weather dictated what I wanted to cook. Something nutritious, delicate but still with some character- a sun kissed proper dinner, eaten by candle light of course. We relished golden in colour mustard and thyme roast poussins, which I had marinated for half of the day. They were roasting snuggly in a baking dish surrounded by pre-cooked potatoes, which would gain a hint of mustard, garlic and thyme too. They were a dream served with a tomato, thinly sliced shallot and parsley salad (drizzled with a simple olive oil and vinegar dressing). And whilst the baby chickens were getting ready in the oven we nibbled on black olive and parmesan biscuits I had just baked, something very different to my usual repertoire and with all honesty – I regret not having baked them earlier, sipping a glass of wine. At home it’s always a bottle of wine, mostly red, Guinness I leave for an occasional visit to a pub. Salute !


Sometimes Fresh Rosemary is all You Need

March 17, 2024

La Pavoni La Pavoni

Banana Bread

As winter slowly draws to a close – the days are longer and warmer, the sun is still very shy but I can hear that whisper of Spring around the corner – I’ve found myself still holding onto cosy wintery cooking, as if I almost didn’t want to let it go and say goodbye properly. The truth is that I do want to let it go, but in London the winter lingers for a little longer, outside it’s grey more often than not, frequently overcast, little drizzle here and there, or it’s simply wet- that’s when I use the expression “it’s raining cats and dogs” most often. A couple of the past weeks however, have been surprisingly dry, but cloaked in a very silent, almost romantic haze and a gentle fog. The kind of weather I truly enjoy here in London because it’s different and atmospheric. It sets the tone and the pace of the day, of what I’d like to cook or bake for us, and how many milky coffees we feel like having.

I always start my day with a large coffee made in an iconic moka stove pot. That is when I have a little moment just for myself (I wake up earlier): freshly brewed coffee and a few pages of a good book that has been captivating almost my entire attention, or I’d open The Times newspaper on my phone app and play Italian news in the background, a good blend of both: news and languages.

After the first coffee I’d have my second one, and here is where a delicate variation might comes in to play: La Pavoni coffee maker. It’s all copper and it takes a while for the water in the chamber to reach the desirable temperature. So whilst sipping my first coffee and looking through the window at a still dark and slow morning, I press the switch button on, patiently leaving the coffee machine to get ready. The Dégustatuer would be up be then. He loves the coffees I make, which is still a work in progress, with lots of frothy milk, English weather style as I call them. We bought our La Pavoni coffee maker over a year ago for Christmas, choosing a slightly more complex model with two pressure bars. The second bar signalling the pressure at which I pull an espresso took me a while to feel comfortable with. Well, it only took exchanging the coffee machine once and eventually buying a La Pavoni coffee grinder (they are not the cheapest; one thing at a time), which made all the difference. Because of the practicality and the timing we don’t’ use our copper gem daily, instead, we make more of an event out of it. The coffee beans I usually bring from the Sant’ Esustachio coffee shop in Rome, which apart from the flavour is a sentimental affair for me. Each time when we are in Piedmont on the other hand, I get a bag of Caffe Vergnano 1882 beans, and in London I buy Harrods collection number 14. Iconic Fortum & Maison I save for a real spoiling treat.

Aside from improving my coffee making skills I’ve found myself baking brioche bread a lot recently. With all honesty it’s quick to make and all the kneading is done by the standing mixer. A thick toasted slice of a brioche loaf with melting butter on top and a bitter orange marmalade is just heaven for breakfast, and it tastes better, as certainly you can imagine, accompanied by a good coffee, especially on a slightly dark and peaceful morning.
Currently my plan is to test the brioche recipe with different kinds of flour to find the texture that pleases me the most. I shall keep you informed on my progress.

As of late The Dégustateur fairly often would mention to me how much he likes banana bread and that his late mother used to make a very good one. I think it’s so lovely to have these kind of memories of the loved ones that are no longer with us, and the food they used to make that surely was the best food in the world.

I had never had banana bread before, I hadn’t grown up with it and somehow it had never caught my attention in the past. Until now. Combining The Dégustateur’s sweet childhood memories and a recipe I accidentally stumbled upon on Instagram (a great joy of social media) I used exactly four ripe bananas that we had left to make a truly delicious and moist banana and walnut bread. I can unabashedly claim that this recipe is a triumph. It’s not mine, I found it on Cherie Denham’s Instagram account (click here) and I’m terribly tempted now to order her book “The Irish Bakery”.

Our local pub

There is almost no better place to cook with wonderfully thick and firm, gleaming with freshness cod fillets coming from the cold waters that surround England. To really appreciate and enjoy preparing cod for your meal, the fillets should be thick, and they will just flake apart when they are cooked. I’ve eaten so many variations of baked cod rolled in Parma ham accompanied by some lentils, or pan fried with spicy chorizo and beans, both ways so popular in the UK, but at home I wanted something different. I wanted to taste and smell fresh rosemary. I can still remember the sauce that accompanied a whole baked turbot we had at La Petite Maison in London almost five years ago. I remember its earthy notes of rosemary and the freshness deriving from lemons, and a mild punch of Dijon mustard. I also remember a hint of sweetness in that sauce, just enough to offset the lemon juice ever so slightly.

At home, for my cod fillets however, I want the sauce to be even more pronounced, I want the flavours to be slightly bigger and bolder, especially when the two are baked together rather than served separately.

There is a trick I’ve learned from watching Rick Stein cook: poach the fish or seafood first (for one or two minutes) before baking, it will prevent it from releasing too much water into the sauce. You could, of course, omit that step should you prefer or when rushed for time.

If you wish to make the baked cod in a rosemary, lemon and mustard sauce, prepare a copious amount of fragrant rosemary, a good lemon (not too sharp if possible) and two kinds of mustard: a whole grain and Dijon. Whisk it along with a few more of the ingredients, cover your cod fillet with the sauce and bake for about 20 minutes (full recipe here). We love it with some roast potatoes (with garlic and sage for example) and a fresh salad.

Scones with clotted cream and raspberry jam

There is one more recipe I’d love to share with you for something uniquely British: Scones.

Have them for breakfast or an afternoon tea. Traditionally they are eaten with jam and a clotted cream (a very thick cream). There has been an ongoing dispute about how you should eat scones: cream first topped with the jam or the the other way round? Butter or no butter? Personally I smear them with the cream first, and bake them with raisins. Apparently they should always be made with raisins. Eat them as you like, preferably still warm, they work extremely well with a raspberry or strawberry jam.

I’m also leaving you a few book recommendations that I’ve been enjoying recently (they all have an Italian theme) and you may find them of interest:

1. „Hemingway in Italy” by Richard Owen

2. „Italian Hours” by Henry James

3. „Venice: The Lion, the city and the water” by Cees Nooteboom

4. „Death at La Fenice” and „The Anonymous Venetian” by Donna Leon

Buon appetito,

Aleksandra xx


Colourful Autumnal Salads

November 25, 2023

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:

– Pear, Green Tomato, Green Beans, Comte & Hazelnuts Autumnal Salad

– Beetroot, Pomegranate and Red Endive Salad

-Cucumber, Little Gem Lettuce and Lovage Salad

-Beetroot, Red Cabbage and Red Onion Salad

-Crunchy Carrot Salad

-Cucumber and Dill Side Dish

and I truly hope you enjoy them xx


A Pied-à-Terre in London Overlooking Elizabeth David’s House

November 2, 2023

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


Forgotten images and a birthday in Piedmont

April 16, 2023

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.


Tales of Turin

February 23, 2023

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:

Chocolate:

-Guido Gobino

-TOC

-Peyrano

Bicerin at Caffè Al Bicerin

Before dinner have an aperitivo, usually presented with a delightful array of nibbles.

Eat at:

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


After every storm the sun will shine again, something to look forward to

October 13, 2022

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.


Le Buchette del Vino and White Beans Cooked Three Ways

June 28, 2022

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.


Tales of Pesto, a Weekend in Camogli and a Ligurian Dream

April 11, 2022

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.


My favourite Florentine walk and autumnal flavours

October 29, 2021

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


Not so much Florentine cooking in our new home in Florence

October 2, 2021

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.