Pranzo con Alex

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It has been a bit of a slow start to the week for me. After a wonderful Sunday with friends (blog to come…just need to get photos sorted), I have found it difficult to motivate myself to write. It didn’t help that the week started with rain and I am not talking a light Irish shower. The path I walk the kids to school on has turned into a mud bath: this was how I found it Monday morning.

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Our path to home in January

The fact that the boys are at school from 8.30am till 4.30pm on Mondays means I am left to my own devices. However, with that much rain I was not in the mood for a run around the block or a stroll in town, so I sloshed back home after school drop-off, picked up my book and spent the day reading. I am really noting this for myself because I am sure there will be a few times in the distant future (Nov/Dec spring to mind) when I will be bitching that I never get to just stop and read anymore. So, I would like to document the fact that not only did I manage to snatch a few hours to read but I did what any sane woman would do on a rainy, cold day after dropping the kids off to school: I popped on my husband’s sweatpants (the ones he owns but never wears…they are sooo soft, warm and comfortable), turned the heating on and read for pretty much the entire day!

Tuesday morning was here before I knew it and so was the guilt…..OMG, did I really spend the entire day inside, on the couch in sweatpants?? Umm…YEP!

Right, boys off to school down the muddy path to the right, mum down the path off to the left for a morning run while the sun was out and a chilly 2 degree biting me on my couch-sitting bum. Alex was due to have a short day at school Tuesday (12.30pm pick-up…very short!) and there was a whole butternut pumpkin sitting in the fridge. So once I came back from my run (leaving yesterday’s guilt behind me) I attacked the pumpkin and made a warm, wholesome, ginger, coriander (cilantro) and pumpkin soup for Alex and I. I also managed to scrub the bathroom, mop the floor and stand on my head which makes up for my complete-and-utter useless day yesterday.

Alex was excited to hear I’d made pumpkin soup and wanted to help with the pranzo making too. I suggested he put together a picky plate (as I point out here in a blog I wrote in 2008). Alex loves to help out and he is old enough now for me to leave him to his own devices. As I was setting the table for lunch I was very happy to see him putting so much effort into his selections and even happier to see what he selected.

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Alex’s raw veggie and cured meat plate

For an 8-year-old-boy raw veggies, cured meats and pickles is a pretty yummy selection to have with soup. Once he popped the plate on the table he said to me,

‘Mum I hope you don’t mind I cut the carrots into rounds, it was safer than me trying to cut those sticks that you do’.

Alex has an eye for detail and doesn’t like to disappoint. A hug and a ‘whatever you decide is the right decision, after all you’re the cook today’ set his mind at ease. 

Now that the boys are getting older I also have to remember to let them into the kitchen and help out with meals. Kids love helping out and I tend to take over when they offer to help, not really thinking much of it. However, now I see Alex in the kitchen helping, and having pride in his work I have to make more of an effort to say ‘yes, please’ instead of ‘no, it’s ok I’ll do it’. The other thing I notice is the more fresh fruit and vegetables THEY cut, the more they eat and there can’t be any harm in that.

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Culinary school gem in Florence

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Entrance to Ganzo

Yesterday I was introduced to a fabulous restaurant called Ganzo. My friend Melanie who is also a chef in Florence had been telling me about this little gem for a while now and it wasn’t until yesterday that I finally got to see it for myself. All the food and service you receive at Ganzo is coming from up-and-coming hospitality cooks, servers and sommeliers who are under the watchful eyes of the teachers there. Ganzo is a restaurant run for the purpose of giving hospitality students a chance to ‘play’ the real game of restaurants. I remember working at my culinary-school restaurant on every other Friday and it was always so exciting to be cooking for the general public, unleashing your very newly learned skills on the paying public. Ok it was about 16 years ago that I was at culinary school, however, when you got to work in the restaurant it was always very exciting.

This type of restaurant is a win-win for students and customers alike. The students get to practice on customers, learning the pressures of a service, the speed, pace and temperatures needed under pressure; while the customer gets a fabulous meal for very little euro! I was very surprised to see the place was pretty much empty when we went and so I thought I would get the word out so local peeps from Florence/Tuscany can try it out for themselves. After all, it is in every diner’s best interest to give these students as much practice as possible, because when they are out in the kitchens of the world you’ll be eating their food and paying full price; so you want to know it is good! 

Ok lets get down to business…what we ate.

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Spritz

Our lunch started with a civilised Spritz, which is always the perfect way to start off a delicious meal with friends and I think Mel would agree. The restaurant is small and comfortable with the kitchen going down the hall and into another section of the building. They always have daily specials and I love to try the special menu because nine-times-out-of-ten the chef uses fresh, seasonal ingredients that usually have a bit of a twist or spin added to the dish. A ‘special’ as I know it is always the creative side to the regular menu so worth trying out. My zuppa was the special of the day. It sounded interesting and unusual. A white cabbage soup finished with grilled shrimp and a sprig of fresh thyme.

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white cabbage and shrimp zuppa

To be totally honest, this was the best soup I have tasted in a very long time. I couldn’t find a fault with it at all, it was perfect!

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See — I liked it so much I took another photo

The delicate flavour of the cabbage came through with a beautiful creaminess without it feeling heavy or forced. I absolutely loved the combination of flavours and its execution. It was one of those meals you want to cry over because you ate it all!

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Funghi zuppa

Melanie had the funghi zuppa and said it was delicious (and it was, I also dug my spoon in for a taste). A very earthy, full bodied flavour of the funghi that was cut beautifully with a salsa verde. A truly wonderful start to our meal. For secondo, I had pici pasta with a clam, broccoli rabe and sausage sauce.

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Pici pasta

When it came out, it looked great and colourful. The flavours were subtle and tasty; however, I think they forgot to add the sausage to my meal as I couldn’t taste it at all. I certainly was not disappointed with the flavour, however, the sausage would of been a great addition.

Mel chose the special risotto (I was very envious as I wanted that too; but you can’t have the same thing when you want to try everything!).

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Fennel and orange risotto

The risotto was fennel and orange which got Mel and I both excited to see how it was executed. I have to say I love these risotto bowls, it looks like a plate with a very slight dip in it so the liquid doesn’t slosh everywhere: fabulous. I would have to say this flavour combination was my second favourite of our meal. They executed the flavours beautifully, and it was very morish. However, the rice had more of a bite to it than I like and I thought if it had been cooked a little more then it would of been spectacular instead of fabulous.

Please don’t take this the wrong way. This is a school where students are cooking the food. You cannot expect to have all the i’s dotted and t’s crossed. Cooking is a constant learning game as any chef will tell you. The fact that they were pulling great flavours out of these dishes is brilliant and when they have more practice up their chef sleeves then I think these up-and-coming cooks will be stars in the kitchens around Europe, the USA and maybe even Australia. I will be going back to Ganzo again; this much I know. Not only is the service wonderful as well as the food but I haven’t told you the price… 

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White chocolate and raspberry mousse

We started with the spritz, followed by soup; then the pasta/risotto with a yummy glass of house red to complement our dish and then we shared a white chocolate and raspberry mousse for just under 50 euro (oh, and a carafe of sparkling water, of course). You will be hard pressed to have this standard of service and quality of food served to you for that price anywhere else and I encourage anyone visiting Florence to go and check out this culinary delight. They serve dinner, lunch, snacks and I do believe brunch on Saturdays for a limited time. It’s also exceptionally easy to find just off piazza Sant Ambriogo on via dei Macci. I think I might take the family for brunch one of these Saturdays, as I know it will be totally worth the walk into town.

 

 

Monday Fun-day

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Santuario di Monte Senario

Mondays are my longest time without the kids. They go to school at 8.30am and I don’t have to pick them up until 4.30pm. Normally I use my time pottering around the house: doing the housework, shopping, reading etc.  Nothing really exciting or out of the ordinary. I know I should go and discover the surrounds but to be honest I have more fun doing it with friends so I usually wait until someone has a few hours to spare and meet up with them. Mondays are house days…until today.

After the kids were dropped off at school and I’d chatted to my parents in Australia, I was just getting ready to put some tunes on and pull out the mop when my friend Ross texted and asked if I was up for a hiking expedition- hell yes! It was arranged that I would meet him in 10 minutes and we would take off on a trail and see what we could find. The housework could wait another day. As I ran down our path to meet him (it’s about 100m) I noticed he was in his car, hmmm. ‘Let’s have an adventure’ were his words as he handed me his trail guide book, all written in Italian. Ross’s Italian is much better than mine, however, both our partners are fellows at I Tatti and do most of the talking/reading when out in public; so whatever we were going to do was sure to be an adventure whether we liked it or not!

We decided to go somewhere we had never been and see more of the Tuscan countryside that was laid before us. Our direction was toward a little village called Bivigliano. Woohoo, let the fun begin!

Bivigliano is about a 15-20 minute drive from Fiesole (or 18km from Florence) along winding, narrow roads that give you a staggering view of the Tuscan landscape. It was a magnificent day to be out in the woods, quite a turn around from the weekend of torrential rain. Arriving in Bivigliano is like arriving at many Italian villages, blink and you could miss it; therefore, our plan was to park the car and take a walk up to Santuario di Monte Senario. In classic Ross and Camilla style, we didn’t actually have a map. However, we pulled up in a clearing, saw a red and white marker, decided it was in the general direction of Monte Senario and decided to take it and see what happened.

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Ross on track 65

Ross was sporting the ‘trendy hiker’ look, while I was going for more of a runner/hiker don’t-have-a-shower-or-brush-your-hair kind of look. The track was muddy and slippery and we loved every minute of it. After a few good uphill climbs we came across a track and had to decided which direction we would take. I was more inclined to trust Ross’s sense-of-direction as I have not a clue and would have walked for hours in circles!

Upon finding more red and white markers and hoping they led to our destination, we were in luck as we came to a road that looked like it was leading up to something a little bit fabulous.

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As the mist creeps in

After following it for a few hundred metres we fell upon the beautiful sight of Monte Senario!

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The beautiful steps of Monte Senario

This place was amazing! The sky opened up and pushed the clouds away for us to see the most spectacular views around and the best part was, we were the only people there!

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Breathtaking views of Tuscany

This is just a small glimpse of the 360 degree view, and here is a little more…

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A sight you can never get sick of looking at

Just to make sure we were definitely there, we did the only thing you can do…a selfie!

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The glamping selfie

After wandering around the Monastery and their lush grounds (looking for the grotto to no avail), we decided it was time to head back in the direction we came and see if we could, in fact, find the car!! 

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Trail 65…we are back on track

Not only did we find Trail 65 but we also (well, Ross spotted it first) found a natural spring running under our trail. Adventurous hikers that we are, decided to go down and take a better look. You forget how beautiful the sound of birds, stillness and running water can sound without the hum of traffic and city noise in the background.

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Fresh water spring just off our trail

Now, if I was out hiking by myself I would have finished my hike and gone back home, had a shower and made myself a sandwich for lunch. However, I forgot who I was hiking, or should I say ‘glamping,’ with (note my reference to his trendy hiking gear and my throw-together, dirty look in the beginning!).

“Let’s get some lunch” was the comment Ross dropped as we approached the car. At this point I was hungry, dirty, muddy and on a high from our adventure so I agreed that was a great idea. However, I thought we were going on a regular hike so I didn’t bring anything with me except my house keys. This didn’t matter to Ross, after all he looked like he could be seen in public!

It was decided we would venture over to a town called Pratolino. Ross was looking at this village the day before from a friend’s house across the valley and wanted to know what it was like (fair enough). It took us about 10 minutes to arrive and another 5 minutes to find a restaurant and park the car. 

Zocchi was our restaurant of choice, because of the fantastic panoramic views that were before us. Not expecting anything amazing we were pleasantly surprised with our lunch. We started with a delicious vegetarian crostini (forgot to take a photo…too hungry) that had a tomato bruschetta and a porcini bruschetta and also a fried polenta chip doused with more porcini mushrooms in olive oil and garlic…delicious!

Ross ended up having the homemade spinach ravioli with gorgonzola and walnut sauce

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Ravioli with gorgonzola and walnut sauce

While I was very excited to have homemade tagliatelle tossed with butter and shaved truffles…

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Shaved truffle butter pasta

 

The meal was fantastic and just what a couple of hikers needed after a morning in the woods of Tuscany.

I couldn’t have asked for a better day and to top it off with a delicious lunch of shaved truffle pasta and tiramisu (did I forget to mention that?), well it doesn’t get much better. Ross and I decided we should try to persuade our academic partners to perhaps take a morning off and have a Monday fun-day with us the next time we go for a hike. However, I will remember it’s more of a glamour hike when Ross is involved and will dress appropriately…with cash in my pockets!

 

Per favore, un più?

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Our local

Our favourite/local pasticceria, Cesare is a little ways down the road, a good twenty-minute walk from our place when you’re walking with kids. When I really want to have a break from being in the house I usually try and coax the boys into coming for a walk with me. As you can imagine getting your kids to come on a 40-minute walk (sometimes in the rain) isn’t exactly easy when all they want to do is play. I used to try out all sorts of tricks to get them to come along and then, not too long ago, the pièce-de-résistance came into play.

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It is winter and raining, why are we going for a walk?

I had seen the signs in the pasticceria when we first arrived but thought nothing of them as I had no clue as to what they meant: “bombolini caldi 16:00“. A few months had passed and I started reading a few more words, working out how to say more words and actively looking for words to read.

Guess what bombolini are???

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Bombolini con crema

That’s right- DONUTS!!!!!

And not just any donuts, HOT-out-of-the-fryer-and-into-your-mouth donuts.

Donuts filled with crema AND chocolate

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jam donuts…

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and plain donuts, that are the size of your head!

IMG_0977Not only do these bombolini taste and look superb but they are also chock-a-block full of whatever flavouring you choose and only cost ONE EURO each!!!

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As you bite into the bomboline you instantly feel the warmth of the marmalata, cioccolato or crema oozing into your mouth and down your chin. Children and adults alike all sit at the tables of Cesare with piles of serviettes at the ready because you just can’t help but get excited when 4pm rolls around and you happen to be in the vicinity of this pasticceria.

I know lots of other places serve bombolini and that is fantastic, however, for me this is the place I know and trust when it comes to bombolini freschi and I also know I have a 20-minute walk up hill to get home which means they come GUILT FREE!

 

Meatballs

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I was talking with my sister yesterday on FaceTime. It is a great way for us to communicate and for me to engage with my new little nephew who has just turned 8.5 months. He is the cutest little guy. Tarsh lives in Alice Springs, Outback Australia and right about now suffering a hideous heat of about 40 degrees. When it’s morning here, they are heading into the evening so often I get to watch Tarsh cook for her family and perhaps offer a few cooking tips along the way. The pork they had for dinner the other night was cooked perfectly, wasn’t it Tarsh?

Anyway one of our conversations was about meatballs (when your mum’s a chef and your sister’s a chef, you kind of get a lot of advice about food!). I mentioned that I had made some the other night and she also told me she too had whipped up a batch. This got me thinking and I asked her if she does hers in the oven? ‘No,’ was her reply; and then, ‘how do you do that?’ This then got me thinking: maybe others out there are also interested in a new, faster way of making meatballs, without compromising the deep, rich flavour… 

I have taken photos of the steps so it is easier to show you; and you will also note that I am talking about a method that you can apply to pretty much any sort of meatball, be it beef, pork and veal, chicken, turkey, pork and liver…etc. I change my meatball flavours all the time and usually serve them with pasta. However, it was wet and cold here the day I made these so I decided to go with a soft polenta and added green peas at the end because I can’t serve a meal to the boys without any vegetables!

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Ok, so starting off I got some delicious beef mince from the butcher and added finely diced shallots, pepper, paprika, whole cumin seeds, an egg, fresh parsley and oregano. Because I was using beef I wanted to keep the flavour light so I didn’t cook off my shallots beforehand — I like to have that slight bite once the meatballs are cooked. When the ingredients were all blended I got my hands in there and gave the mixture a good squeeze to meld the flavours and then grabbed a baking dish, pre-heated the oven to 180, lightly oiled the bottom of the baking dish and rolled out little balls, placing them in the dish until all the mixture was gone.

When the oven is ready, pop them in and cook until they brown, aprox. 8 minutes but note you do not want them to cook through at this stage, you only want them to firm up and seal so they don’t break in your sauce.

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Beef meatballs with herbs, I love how the parsley shines through at this stage

Once they are done, pull them out of the oven and let them rest while you are finishing off your sauce. At this stage you will notice the juice in the bottom of the pan: DO NOT THROW IT AWAY. 

Ok, so while your meatballs are cooking you start making your tomato sauce. Sauté onions on a low heat in olive oil until they are transparent then add about three cloves of thinly sliced garlic and a dollop of tomato paste. At the same time, I also add in a good chunk of speck or pancetta to enrich the sauce. I let this sauté until the oil turns red and the aroma is intense and making me hungry. At this point, I add a tin of whole tomatoes or a tin of whole cherry tomatoes, a slosh of white/red wine vinegar and a piece of parmesan rind and then bring it to a boil.

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Adding the tomatoes, parmesan rind and vinegar

Once it has come to a boil, turn the heat down to medium and let the sauce simmer for about ten minutes with the lid on. Somewhere around this stage, you will have pulled the meatballs out of the oven and so they should be resting on the counter. What you need to do now is tip in the juices from your meatballs into the tomato sauce mixture and continue simmering your sauce for a further 15 minutes (go and have a glass of wine because dinner is only about 15 minutes away from being ready!).

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Tomato sauce with added meat juices

After you have cooked down the tomato and meat juices you then add your meatballs and bring your sauce back up to a light boil. At this stage you can simmer for another 5 minutes or you can turn them off and cool the mixture down and throw it in the fridge/freezer for another night or cook whatever starch you are going to serve with your meatballs and have dinner almost ready.

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Tomato and meatball sauce

It is also at this stage that I add in green vegetables for a family meal. The kids don’t even care at this point, all they see is meatballs!

Just before you are about to serve, pull out the parmesan rind and pancetta, bring it up to a boil and then serve.

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Beef and herb meatballs with soft polenta and peas

For those of you who have never tried making meatballs this way I urge you to give it a go, the flavour is rich, delicious and the washing up is a lot less! Now that I have come to the end of the pictures I’m starting to wish that I hadn’t given Alex the leftovers for lunch yesterday!

 

The other side of Italy no one talks about

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I haven’t had an awesome experience or cooked anything that will impress anyone of late, however, I do have a few things I would like to talk about, one that ventures on the gross side. It is a side of Italy (and sadly I cannot contain it to just Florence) I didn’t really want to know about.

In the six months we have been living in Italy I have loved showing off the beauty this country has to offer on my blog; the wonderful walks in the hills, the historic city centres and not to mention the brilliant Italian cuisine. We decided before we came to Italy that we would go without a car for our year abroad. It didn’t make sense to buy/loan a car for the year and then stress about selling it back when we headed back home to Oz. All in all I am enjoying the long walks we take to get around the city of Florence and the continual exercise it provides the family and I. However, being on foot and walking the ‘hood’ has also shown me another side of Italy that I really am amazed at. I have been thinking this for a while but it wasn’t until Max, my older son brought it up on one of our walks to his basket ball training (a 20 min walk at a quick pace) last week.

“Geez mum, I can’t believe how much vomit there is in Italy!”

And there you have it, I said the V word. The reason Max bought it up was because we all just about ran into each other as we rounded a corner and nearly stepped in a fresh patch- YUCK!

You might think, hang on a bit luv I’m not sure this is blog worthy…but let me tell you it is all about the good, bad and the ugly. I’m kinda sick to death of walking around and looking down, especially when this country has so many beautiful sights to look at. You HAVE to look DOWN because there is so much dog shit on the roads and footpaths that it then spreads, that’s right, once someone steps in it, it gets spread even further so walking in a straight line can sometimes be impossible because you are avoiding the dog shit…then the dog shit smear and if your unlucky enough the pile of V at the end of the path! I wish I was carrying on like a pork chop and really hyping it up for you readers but lately I’ve gotta say it is getting worse. I mean the kids are mentioning it!

I am sure I am not alone on this subject? Actually I know I am not when it comes to the dog poop because I saw my 80+ year old neighbour walking back from her daily shopping trip the other day with her walking stick up in the air waving about and her buggy stuck in something; she was going ballistic at a lady near her and guess what she was ranting about?…Dog poop! If I had better Italian I would of gone over to her and said ‘I know it’s horrible but just be careful at the turn in the road because someone just lost their lunch on the curb!’

I know it isn’t the best subject to talk about but one that is on my mind and thankfully not yet on my shoe…sadly I can’t say the same for Alex!

Pesto from the Motherland

I remember being introduced to pesto in the 90s and I wasn’t a fan. It was the pine nuts that ruined it for me. All I could taste was nuts and I remember thinking to myself ‘well, I don’t know what all the fuss is about?’ For the next few years I’d make it for work but never really got excited about it and never made it for myself to eat for pleasure. It was also around this time that I started disliking nuts, they tasted so rich and fatty that I couldn’t stand the taste or texture in my mouth. Brazil nuts were my contender for worst nut of all.

It wasn’t until I met Nic in 1999 that I was re introduced to pesto- he loves the stuff! In fact his whole family loved pesto and I ate it more in the following months than I had ever eaten it in my life. The first time I sucked it up because I wasn’t go to say anything, I was trying to make a good impression. When I ate my future MIL’s vegetarian lasagne with a pesto topping I was pleasantly surprised. Nic being Nic saw the pesto and told his mum I didn’t like pesto (I died), however, I managed to say I just wasn’t big on nuts and Pam told me she also didn’t like a lot of nuts in her pesto. I started to slowly eat pesto and enjoy it.

I have made pesto in so many different variations, a little more parmesan than pine nuts; more olive oil, less olive oil; a mixture of arugula and basil; plain basil; walnuts instead of pine nuts; with garlic without garlic. The list goes on. I think we have all read a pesto recipe but it is one of those recipes that everyone has an opinion about and their way IS the ‘authentic’ way. It is a recipe that I now make up as I go and do it by feel rather than recipe but I have always been curious as to how they make pesto in Genova, the motherland of pesto.

On our trip up north Genova was always on our day trip list. I had never been and Nic had only been there once before. He is a sixteenth-century Italian historian and he’s following some leads in Genova. He wanted to take another look at the city, so it was set: we would spend the day looking around Genova and I could try out a few pesto samples.

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Pesto in Genova

Our first sample was the kids’ lunch! Yes, it is true I could have ordered my own bowl of pesto pasta; however, there are a few things you have to consider when visiting Genova:

a) The city is a port city

b) I hadn’t had a decent seafood meal (bar my 40th b’day dinner that E cooked) since arriving in Italy six months ago

c) I’d been smelling the salt sea air all morning and my body was craving seafood…FRESH SEAFOOD!

I did end up bribing the boys with chocolate for a couple of mouthfuls of their pasta and they dutifully agreed (and also ate large portions of our meals too…we got the raw end of the deal!) I know the picture isn’t the best but the pesto was fabulous and the boys really enjoyed it. From what I tasted it was very much like one I usually make but with more olive oil and maybe not as much cheese added, or pine nuts for that matter. It was fresh, packed a punch and devoured in minutes.

The cuttlefish Nic and I shared was delicious and stuffed with bread, sardines and parsley, served in a beautiful tomato broth (Alex liked this a little too much)

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Our other main was a beautiful clam and garlic pasta which was insanely tasty. I love it when the seafood is so fresh you can’t help but taste the sea in the sauce.

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Clam and garlic pasta

Lunch was very filling and satisfying, however, my pesto urges were not yet met so I decided to find a deli and buy some to take home with me. We did a lot of walking around Genova and it reminded us a lot of Sydney. The boys particularly loved the harbor area and would have been happy to stay the rest of the week there. Genova is a beautiful city with a seedy side that is slowly getting pushed out. Of course the boys had no idea what was seedy and what wasn’t.

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Alex hanging out at the wharf

 

For me, I guess it was the prostitutes standing on the corners of the old port streets that got my attention. It was just as we where coming out of the Palazzo Spinola, I didn’t mind but when they started pulling in business with my kids a few meters away we thought it might be time to find that pesto deli on the high streets. It was time to leave the port!

 I found a deli back in town (away from the port and prossies) and we went in. I was a bit blown away by the massive bowl of pesto in the fridge, not because it was so big but because of the colour, consistency and foam on the pesto.

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It was SO fine in texture. I got Nic to ask the lady at the deli if this was ‘typical’ Genova pesto and she said that it is a personal taste as to how you make pesto. She said they make theirs like this because this is how they like to eat it, someone else will make it differently. I love this answer because all those people I have met over the years telling me they make the most authentic pesto were in fact full of BS. Pesto is however YOU like it to taste and that is why my pesto has more cheese and less pine nut. One thing I did take away from this batch of pesto was the amount of oil used…sooooo much more than I would use. I am also guessing that this was made in a Thermomix because I don’t know of any other machine that would chop and blend to this consistency without ruining the basil leaves. You know it is blended at a high speed because of the foam on top and let me tell you that foam was jam packed with flavour- INTENSE!

So back in Turin that night I was dying to try out this pesto with the recommended pasta the lady also sold us. This is in fact the traditional way to eat pesto pasta with Trofie Bianche

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It was semi dried and extremely starchy. I was told some people like to add more pasta water to the pesto…but that is only if you want too! 

When all was said and done, the taste was deep, rich and flavourful. The pasta was very starchy and a little gluggy, something I wasn’t expecting as I was serving it, however, it didn’t taste gluggy when we were eating it. But I wouldn’t like to eat this cold. I loved it and can’t wait to go home and make pesto in the Thermomix to see if I am right. The boys didn’t enjoy this one as much as the one they had for lunch but that could also have something to do with me making them eat pesto pasta twice in one day!

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However you choose to make pesto, just remember it’s never going to be wrong; it’s just the way you like it and that’s all that counts.

 

 

 

Our New Year

For the first 15 years of my working life I spent NYE in a kitchen somewhere pumping out food with a bunch of other chefs all trying to get the service finished so we could sit around the kitchen benches and bring in the new year with a cold beer. This was always fun. You’d do a great service then a mad clean up and have the next 8 hours ready to party hard or in my case in the last 10 years, go home to my sleeping family, toss my tired body into bed and wake up without a hangover.

I think I have forgotten how to celebrate the new year with clubs, parties and copious amounts of alcohol because I haven’t done it for years. This year Nic and I were thinking of kicking up our heels with our friends but to be honest, we were a bit tired from all the touring around we had done that week in Turin, Milan and Genova so instead I suggested to E and Ross that I make a big pot of chilli and we kick in the new year with comfort food, prosecco (Ross lashed out and purchased a magnum which we had no trouble polishing off) and watching Florence’s firework display from our favourite spot over-looking this beautiful city. The boys were ecstatic to be staying up until midnight and I was ecstatic I wasn’t down in the crowded streets of Florence. 

Living in Sydney for the past 4-5 years and watching the very controlled firework display from the bridge didn’t quite prepare us for the sporadic lightening shows we were viewing at 12am on the 1st. It was like little parts of Florence were on fire and showing which part of town could out do all others and who had the longest display. As we were standing on the lookout a group of young Italian and German folk were starting their own light show which threw me for a minute because it had been a long time since I had a firecracker go off a few meters from where I was standing. The kids freaked out (see this is what happens when you live in countries that want to ‘protect’ you from everything fun!) though soon got into the spirit of fireworks and ash getting into their eyes. After about 20 minutes we had wished all a Happy New Year and proceeded to make our way down the hill, hoping to not get a firecracker up the butt (seriously the kids near us were pretty drunk!).

We woke up the next morning roaring to go (a holiday roar that started around 9.30am), Nic decided he needed to go into the office (a week off was more than enough) so the boys and I decided we would head over to the ice skating rink with E and Isabel to put a positive spin on 2014. The weather was cold but fabulous and the kids were busting to get on the ice. This makes me laugh because Max and Alex have only ever been ice skating once before and it was on a hot summer’s day in Sydney where Alex proceed to skate and fall on a regular occurrence (seriously the kid was up and down like a yo-yo) while Max stared at the ice with maximum concentration moving at a snail’s pace. With these thoughts in my mind I was not under any allusions that they were going to go pro unlike our American friends who grow up learning to skate in the womb.

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E and Isabel carving up the ice

As you can see it was a stunner of a day on January 1st, 2014 and a great day to skate outdoors! This was my first time skating outdoors so I was pretty stoked. Ok, so the ice wasn’t the best (I’d never known ice to have bumps in it) and there was no Zamboni coming round to remove the excess ice shavings, but that was just fine. The boys did an awesome job, Alex managed to stay upright more often than not and Max even found another gear and skated looking up every once and a while.

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Alex the normal bat-out-of-hell skater, keeping an eye on the railing

Isabel was showing the boys how it was done, however, she was a little annoyed these Japanese guys could skate better than her (it wasn’t until then that E had to remind her they get snow in Japan too). I do love her form, instead of getting all worked up about it, Isabel marched right up to them and asked for pointers on how to skate better-Love it!! (and who would of thought they told her exactly the same thing as her mum, E rocked the ice!)

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Isabel showing Max how it is done

Of course, the kids didn’t want to leave and we were having a lot of fun but collisions were happening and at one stage there were more people on the ice than actual ice itself (the sun was so beautiful that the corners of the dinky rink were starting to turn into slush). We marked the occasion with photos and then took ourselves off to the bar around the corner for a yummy pastry.

I am not sure how the rest of this year will pan out and I am a little sad that we are at our half-way mark for our year in Italy, however, one thing I do know and that is we have started off on the right foot. I can’t wait to see what we will squeeze into the next six months!

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Ice skating in Florence on New Years Day 2014

 

 

Seafood pasta

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Clam, prawn and local white fish poached in a prawn velouté and served with spaghetti

I am a massive seafood fan. Living in Sydney for the past 5 years, going down the fish markets has always been a favourite shopping trip of mine. Having seafood so fresh and so close to where I lived also turned me into a bit of a seafood snob. If it isn’t fresh then I’m not eating it.

On the 24th of December we were walking the streets of Turin looking for a fish monger so we could join the rest of Italy and eat seafood on the eve of Christmas….it wasn’t looking good. I couldn’t find a fish shop anywhere. I even looked at the frozen boxes of fish/shellfish in the ‘Express’ market wondering if it was possible for me to buy a box of frozen fish fillets (it wasn’t). We had all but given up finding some fish and decided on a vegetarian meal when we headed out that afternoon for a walk, however, we turned right instead of left for a change of direction and what was hidden behind a big old church under construction? A mobile fish monger!!! We couldn’t believe our luck, it was getting dark (around 4pm) and he was eager to go home and start his celebrations so we rushed over to him and told him we would take his last bag of clams and maybe a few prawns too. I am not to sure who was more excited, in the end he threw in the rest of his stock for free, wished us a Merry Christmas then hightailed out of there faster than a wild boar in hunting season. The walk was ditched and we took our bags home to look at our loot. I had more seafood than I knew what to do with…where were our friends when we needed them?

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Very happy looking through our bags of seafood and peeling prawns

I was giddy with excitement, not just because we bought some super-fresh seafood but I also had a supremely well-stocked kitchen to cook in! As I started peeling the prawns, I knew exactly what I was going to make: a massive bowl of seafood pasta and I was going to make a prawn velouté to poach the clams, fish and prawn meat in- Yippee!!

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Our seafood collection

Now I have to confess, I haven’t made a velouté sauce since my commis-chef days when I was working on the Sheraton Hotel scene. I remember I used to be pretty good at sauces way back then, so I was counting on my added experience and hoping for the best.

The prawns looked so good and very juicy that I peeled them all (we ended up getting about double the amount I actually needed which was great because the more shells and heads the better for the stock). I started by making a roux with equal parts of butter and flour then putting it to one side while I started on the stock. After wiping out the pot I sauteed some shallots and garlic on a medium-low heat to soften the shallots before adding the prawn heads and shells. If the prawns are super fresh I don’t wash them off, I throw them straight into the pot, turn up the heat to medium and brown them off for 3-4 minutes. They smell absolutely fantastic at this stage. 

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Prawn stock

Once I had a good rich colour going on with the heads I deglazed the pot with a spot of scotch (don’t tell Nic!) Your probably thinking, what??! Well it was Christmas eve and I usually would of thrown in a little brandy but scotch was the only liquor I had on offer (FYI: it worked a treat!). With the pot deglazed I then added enough cold water to just cover the shells and heads, brought it up to a boil and then turned it back and simmered for about 20 min, skimming the top to get rid of the scum and impurities that head straight into the foam (remember DO NOT stir or touch the stock at this stage; once the water is in, let it be).

After 20 minutes, I strained off all the heads and shells then put the stock back on the heat to reduce further (increasing flavour). It reduced by half again and was ready to be turned into a volute. For this you need a whisk, something I found out I didn’t actually have (arghh!!!). However, I managed to find a kind of whisk attachment for a mini blender that helped me out.

With the stock bubbling away on a medium-high heat I crumbled the roux into the stock whisking continually until the sauce thickened and I got the consistency I was after. I added some sea salt to bring all the flavours together and was tickled pink when I finally tasted the velouté; it was rich and punching with flavour, I couldn’t have asked for more.

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Prawn velouté – check out that colour!

The hard part was over, now all I had to do was wait for dinner time so I could cook some pasta, add the fresh seafood to the velouté and hey presto our seafood pasta feast would be ready. Because the sauce was hot and boiling it didn’t take long for the pieces of seafood to poach and the clams to open (approx. 4 minutes).

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Ready for the saucing

I would have loved to have some fresh parsley to finish the dish with, however, I didn’t even think I was going to be eating seafood  so I can’t be too disappointed. I will say, if you are going to try this method (you really should as it is dead simple) then make your velouté thicker than you think it should be. The fresh seafood will thin the sauce as it cooks and the beautiful salty water enhances the dish even more.

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Buon Appetito