Caffé Desiderio

Italy take two is a blog I started writing just over a year ago, highlighting my families trials and triumphs of moving to Florence, Italy for a year. I am conflicted on many levels, as our year has come to an end. On one hand I am happy to go back to Australia and re-start my life of cooking, seeing friends, walking on sandy beaches and enjoying the Sydney lifestyle, while on the other hand I am sorry to see life as I have known it for the past year being wound up and put away as a memory of the past.

The boys and I flew back to Australia a week ago and I find myself sitting at my parents’ home in Tasmania by the heater on this cold winters day, looking out over the hills of Launceston and thinking to myself…I have so much more to say about our life in Florence, places to tell future travellers about and photos I want to share. So while I am now back in the land of Oz, I want to dedicate the next few posts to the favourite places and spaces I have grown to love about my year living in the Tuscan hills in a small village called Ponte a Mensola.

A beautiful summers evening

A beautiful summers evening

Food as many regular readers will know, is one of my favourite topics to photograph and talk about. It doesn’t have to be the latest gourmet meal I’ve eaten or a restaurant that’s in all the travel magazines, it just has to be good, honest food that tantalizes taste buds and makes you want to get in the kitchen and cook, or at the very least be cooked for.

Caffé Desiderio is situated in the small town of Settignano (take the number 10 bus all the way to the last stop) and was the place we chose to have our last family meal together. The owners, Michele and his lovely wife, are wonderful hosts, who are extremely welcoming and have a wealth of knowledge when it comes to Tuscan food and wine. Not only can they cook delicious, traditional Tuscan food, but they also source the highest quality ingredients that make even the simplest of dishes taste divine. I have eaten at Caffé Desiderio a few times throughout the year and have always looked forward to a return visit. It is here that I must mention Michele’s unique understanding of Italian wines. His wine list is big and bold; and for anyone who thinks they know about Italian wine he is the man you need to meet. Michele speaks beautiful English and can stand by your table for hours talking about how each bottle was crafted. For our last night we lashed out on a beautiful 2010 Barolo that Michele paired with our meal and with each sip it kept opening to new levels as the night went on.

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We started our meal with a selection of antipasti to wet any carnivore’s palette: cured meats, pickled vegetables, delicious marinated prunes to accompany the fennel-studded salami (so, so good!), just to name a few. It’s about now that you wish your kids didn’t have a developing palette and empty bellies, alas we did share and they loved every last bite, especially the cured meats.

Antipasti

Antipasti

Now I could talk about every dish with glee, however, I think you should just go and experience it for yourself and enjoy the wonderful selection they have on offer. The menu changes regularly and there are often wine and food nights for a set price. You can checkout Caffé Desiderio’s Facebook page for up and coming events and you might even be lucky enough to try the donkey ragu pasta Max spotted on the menu the night we dined.

I  have to admit I was a little stunned that he was so intrigued to eat donkey; however, I was also wondering what the flavour was going to be like…

Donkey pasta

Donkey pasta

It was delicious, morish and reminded me of wild boar a little. Max devoured it before I could take a second bite and then tried to eat my delicious, robustly flavoured tomato pasta! It was here that I pulled out the promise of dessert!

I’d like to tell you I have photos of the créme caramel and cassata cake, however, I was too busy polishing off a plate of eggs served with chorizo and lardon that tasted as if there was a party in my mouth. It is here I leave you with a photo of the lovely Michele himself and (hopefully) an eager desire to pop Cafe Desiderio on your list of ‘places to eat’ when you arrive in Florence, I can promise you, you won’t be disappointed…oh and FYI they make the best coffee too!

Michele

Michele

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Day trip to Pisa

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Alex adjusting the bell tower

One of the best things about living in a European country is the fact you can do ‘day trips’ without the travelling taking up 90% of your time. If you have ever been to Australia and wanted to ‘get out of town’ for the day, the travel side of things always seems to be longer and more painful than the actual ‘trip’.

I wanted to take a leisurely trip to Pisa with the boys, reasons being;

a) It really is just an hour up the road (on the train)

b) I know we have been before when Alex was younger, but he really didn’t remember it and I wanted him to see it again

c) I love this beautiful little town with its relaxed atmosphere, vibrant student buzz and of course the food…I have never had a bad meal here

Last Saturday the sun was shining without a cloud in the sky so we decided to jump on the bus and head to the train station for a relaxing stroll around Pisa. I know the city gets lots of attention and I myself love to look at the leaning bell tower, walk on the ever-so-green grass surrounding the cathedral and bell tower. But what is most wonderful about this town is the fact that tourists (I’m really talking about the hoards you see in big groups like in Florence) make a bee line to the bell tower, a bee line to a couple of other churches, then hightail it on out of there leaving Pisa’s beautiful streets free for you to wander around without being crushed to death by a pack of Germans/English/Japanese or whoever tourists.

Now I am sure there are 101 things to do and see in Pisa, however, whenever I go all I want to do is wander the streets, look in shop windows, lay on the grass and eat, so here are a few snaps I took to inspire the more relaxed visitor/tourist and also to pass on a great place for lunch!

This is the first time I have seen this beautiful building without scaffolding- a treat!

This is the first time I have seen this beautiful building without scaffolding- a treat!

I couldn’t believe it when we were crossing the river, one of the boys piped up and said ‘Don’t you think this looks like Florence?’ Ummm NO!

The Arno in Pisa

The Arno in Pisa

I also love going to Palazzo della Carovana which was built-in 1562-1564 by Giorgio Vasari. It is a great feeling to stand in this large, open piazza and take yourself back to another period in time. They just don’t make buildings like this anymore.

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It was about this time when I needed a rest from strolling and to feel the grass (I found out later that I had strep throat on this weekend, so now I know why I wasn’t feeling in top form!)

Get mum!!!

Get mum!!!

Nic has been to Pisa several times and was telling me about this one trattoria he went to that had great, flavoursome food and was run by women. We walked past it on our way to the bell tower and I loved the small square it was on, so we decided to lunch at Al Signor Mimmo, situated on via Cavalca, 44. This is an address you will want to write down before you arrive in Pisa!

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We started lunch with the caponata (a sweet/sour eggplant, caper, vegetable dish). This is one of my all time favourite ways to eat eggplant and I have to say this was one of the BEST caponatas I have eaten…even the boys got stuck in, much to Nic and my disappointment.

Caponata

Caponata

We all decided on pasta for lunch and were not disappointed. Nic had spaghetti with breadcrumbs and anchovies (it was awesome) while I couldn’t go past the medley of seafood with cavatelli. The seafood was super fresh and the pasta cooked to perfection, not to mention the flavour of the sauce it was tossed through. I was in heaven and I have to say, it takes a lot for me to say that when it comes to seafood pasta as I have had some pretty ordinary ones in my time…this was DIVINE!

Perfect pasta

Perfect pasta

While Nic and I were busy with the seafood end of things, the boys both jumped on the cinghiale bandwagon. They know we are running out of days when they will be able to order wild boar pasta so they did not hesitate when they saw it on the menu. I tried to bribe Max for a taste but he refused, thank goodness Alex loves mussels otherwise I might not have got a taste, it was VERY good!

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Alex thinking, how am I going to keep mum and dad away from my bowl?

Desserts were all home-made and looked delicious; however, we finished  our meal with an espresso and decided to meander on back to the train station with our full bellies and fond memories of this beautiful town.

Tips for Pisa:

Arrive before lunch (no stress if you take the train)

Walk on the grass around by the cathedral, costs nothing but brings you great joy

Walk off the beaten track where the streets curve round and people say buongiorno to you

Go to Al Signor Mimmo for lunch and don’t fill up on the deliciously morish salted fried bread when you first sit down because it only gets better