We’ve been back for a while now

Hello!

Look, I have found my way back to the bloggersphere and things have changed a little in the few months I have been away. That kind of sums up the whole reason for me poking my head back in for a visit. Now that we have been back in Sydney for a few months, and are settling into the Australian way of life (which is a lot faster), seeing old friends and adjusting to living in a big city again, my attention has been drawn to a few things I really miss about our year in Italy.

Of course this is to be expected. However, what surprises me most is the feeling you get when you arrive home and for about a month you feel a little off kilter then someone says, ‘Does it feel like you were ever away?’ If I am honest, I really do have to stop and think about it…’did I really just spend a year in Florence?’

I know I did because I am finding things quite a bit different here, for example…

I learned to appreciate the beautiful flavour of the Negroni while living in Florence and I used to drink them at the bar they originated from. In Italy there is no measuring out exact quantities of alcohol and here in lies my problem. Nic and I went out for a drink to our local watering hole the other week and I decided I wanted a Negroni. In my head I was thinking I was getting one of these…

Italian Negroni

Italian Negroni

When in fact what I got was a glass full to the brim of ice with just a hint of red colour floating around. I really missed Italian bar culture on that occasion.

We went to the shops to buy ingredients for a pizza a few weeks ago, we had everything covered until we thought about the cheese. Gone are the days of buying three fresh, soft, delicious mozzarella balls for a couple of bucks. Instead you have the choice of one large (not really that large to be honest) rubber-looking ball pretending to be mozzarella that will set you back about $7.50 or a bag of pre-grated yellow cheese…pizza Aussie style, I dreamed of PizzaMan that night.

Anyway, it isn’t all bad. As I was heading out the door for an early morning run last week I did remember the rolling hills of Tuscany, passing by the odd vineyard on my run and thinking life didn’t get better than this…

Rolling hills of Tuscany

Rolling hills of Tuscany

However, I must have forgotten how beautiful Sydney is. As I was coming up over the second hill on my run, turning right to go under the beginning of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and then trotting down the steps next to Luna Park, I pulled my head up to take in the beautiful Harbour view and thought to myself…not bad at all!

My morning view in Sydney

My morning view in Sydney

Italy the Baker family does miss you; however, I think you’d love it here… Just b.y.o cheese and booze! 

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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

Italian BBQ

The Spring weather has been an absolute delight these past few weeks and with this comes one of my favourite food activities – barbecuing!!

I was put onto a very good local charcoal maker from a friend of mine whose Persian husband highly recommends it; and I have to say it has a delicious smoky flavour we are enjoying. I am not an expert on Italian BBQing but what I do know is when I BBQ in Italy, there is always plenty of food with fantastic flavour and I really don’t have to do anything to the food except enhance the flavour that is already there.

Last night was a beautiful evening for a spot of grilling so I am going to show you my ideal Italian BBQ when the weather is deliciously warm and begging for us to sit outside again while stoking the Weber.

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We first started with peperini dolci, these wonderful small peppers have a sweetness to them that intensifies when lightly grilled. We then marinated them with thin slices of garlic, a pinch of chilli flakes, extra virgin olive oil and a good splash of vinegar. Left to marinate while the other food’s cooking, they are a treat worth waiting for.

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Once the peppers are marinating it’s time to put the sausage on which usually takes about 5 minutes longer than the beef steak and if you have never tasted grilled Italian salsiccia then you really need to book a flight to Italy and find someone with a BBQ!

The sausage is delicious, extremely flavoursome and very, very morish. As for the bifstecca, I pay a little more and by the ‘Naturara’ beef which is hormone free, bursting with flavour and on the more expensive end of beef (the one in the photo cost me 15 euro), BUT an absolute bargain for any Australian buying quality beef. For example, if  I bought the same cut and size in Sydney from my butcher (excellent quality also) I would be looking at paying about $30-$40 for the same piece.

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While the meats were resting it was time for Alex’s favourite: grilled cheese.

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It is called tomino and it is like a mini brie with an extra tough outer rind that allows the heat to warm and melt the middle while keeping the outside intact and offering a lovely BBQ-ed flavour to the cheese. And because this is Tuscany, you can also buy tomino with a layer of speck for added flavour (no vegetarians for dinner tonight). I have to admit this is one of my new favourite foods too and I really have to limit us to one per four people, because if it were up to Alex and me, we would have a whole one each… I mean just check out that center:

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That is pure heaven!

With all the foods resting and the cheese cooked to perfection it was time to eat. Nic had whipped up a delicious pesto potato salad and a rocket and parmesan green salad to accompany all our wonderful barbecuing. To say this was a feast is a bit of an understatement and the fact that my only job was to sit down, sip wine and wait for this all to appear on the table…well that was a true delight for me.

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What is your favourite food to grill? I can only answer this question if I’m allowed at least 5 different  things because I haven’t even talked about pork yet!

Spring in a bowl

I think it would be very easy for me to sit here and list all my favourite foods I have enjoyed this year and no doubt bore you to tears. No one wants that. However, one of the best foodie tastes I have had this year (and I am putting it right up there with truffles) is the creamy, delicious, succlent, mouth-watering delight called burrata. I was first introduced to it on a pizza at PizzaMan (awesome pizza in Florence). The pizza was thin with a smearing of tomato sauce and mozzarella melted into the crust, then topped with fresh cherry tomatoes, rocket leaves, dollops of burrata and lashings of olive oil: HEAVEN!

Whenever I see it on a menu I order it without a doubt and think there is nothing greater. So when all the delicious spring veggies started popping up in the markets and begging me to buy them, I knew there was a salad I just had to make: spring vegetables seasoned with truffle salt and burrata.

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Fava beans, fresh peas and rocket leaves finished with parsley, truffle salt, burrata and olive oil

I could eat fava beans and fresh peas all Spring long and still want more; however, when they are paired with the creamy goodness of burrata and the peppery leaves of rocket, the taste just ignites your senses and you can’t say no! The only way you could make this even better would be to serve it with grilled asparagus…

Grilled asparagus with shaved parmesan

Grilled asparagus with shaved parmesan

And with that said, this would have to be my most favourite meal this Spring…

 

Ricotta doughnuts

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I have realised that Easter came and went faster than a speeding bullet this year and I haven’t posted anything about the food we ate. I won’t rehash the whole day but I must make special reference to the delectable ricotta doughnuts I made for dessert. I was looking for something that wasn’t chocolate seeing as the kids’ bedroom was overflowing with chocolate wrappers.

Of course, it helps if you have delicious, fresh ricotta at your fingertips, however, if you do not and regular store-bought is the only option then the lemon zest will help boost the flavour.  I wish I had a better photo of these delectable, morish balls, however, I have to confess these were made at the end of a very long and fabulous day of eating and drinking way too much so I was somewhat blasé when it came to the photo… I was also caught off-guard when I opened my icing sugar and found it had formed into one solid block, hence the lack of white powder elegance on the above balls. I was also supposed to make a lovely orange glaze to drizzle over these delectable doughnuts, alas I discovered that the oranges had never made it home (can’t say the same for the extra bottle of Prosecco). So I improvised and used pure maple syrup which worked a treat.

I love it when a recipe is very quick and easy, and I love it even more when I can improvise with the ingredients. I’m not sure we really needed these at the end of the day but I know I was pretty excited to eat them when they were fresh out of the oil. However, next time I will make the added effort to check my supply cupboard before I drink a bottle of prosecco and maybe even make a pot of lemon curd to serve with them…that would be really decadent!

Mini fried ricotta doughnuts

1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 cup castor sugar

3 eggs

8 oz fresh ricotta

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 tablespoon lemon or orange rind

In a large bowl add the flour, baking powder, sugar, eggs, ricotta, vanilla and zest.

With a wooden spoon, mix until just combined.

Heat olive oil in a large saucepan (approx 1 inch in pot) then gradually drop in heaped dessert spoon sized balls of dough and fry until golden. Repeat until dough is finished.

Drain balls on some paper towel then sprinkle with icing sugar and serve with either lemon curd, orange syrup, maple syrup or whipped cream.

Just be warned they are very morish!

The burn off

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Burn offs all over the countryside

The olive harvest is well and truly over, just about all the farmers have finished trimming the olive trees, getting them ready for the next season. Scattered around the open fields of Tuscany you will see stacks of sticks, twigs, branches and anything else that will burn. Burn off is an Italian tradition around this time of year which I personally love to hate (especially when I have just hung laundry on the line!) For the past few months there have been small smoke fires burning off all over the countryside and a week or so ago Roberto, our landlord finally got around to burning the massive pile of olive twigs and branches he has been collecting over the past few months…Alex was ecstatic!

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The end of the olive tree cycle

 

In the beginning there was smoke…a lot of smoke, so Roberto went and did what any sane farmer would do and tipped a bottle of kerosene on top to really get the juices flowing, which of course did the trick to Alex’s delight.

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Farmer Alex

When all the action was at it’s peak, Roberto’s wife came out with celebratory beverages. To salute the flames perhaps? I am not sure, but I wasn’t saying no to home-made crema di lemoncello that’s for sure…even if it was only 10-am.

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Refreshments

I know they got rid of burn offs in Australia in the mid 80’s (something of a relief for my mum if I remember correctly) however, they are still going strong here today. While it is a pain with the washing and the air is polluted with smoke fumes, I can’t help but love a good bonfire. Alex and I might have to befriend an Australian olive grower just to experience it all over again.

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Beautiful bonfire

 

 

 

Vasari Corridor with Alexandra

The boys and I had a wonderful opportunity very few people get to experience in Florence on Friday, we got to cruise the halls of the Vasari Corridor with the lovely Alexandra and E,  and what a combination they are!

E (Italian Art history guru/prof.) and Alexandra (Florentine tour guide extradonair)

E (Italian Art history guru/prof.) and Alexandra (Florentine tour-guide extraordinaire)

Firstly I have to point out Ross had his family over for a beautiful Italian vacation where they toured the streets of Rome and Venice. However, when they settled in Florence for a few days we got to meet the gang and spend a few hours with them hanging out at the Vasari Corridor and eating cake in a very beautiful Airbnb apartment where we celebrated Miss P turning 4. What a day!

E was in the Uffizi bright and early with Ross’s family showing them the highlights of the collection while the boys and I were busy at home scoffing hot cross buns on Good Friday morning (as you do!). We were to meet Ross and our tour guide, Alexandra, at the doors of the Uffizi gallery so we could then embark on our tour of the corridor.

Part of the Vasari corridor situated on top of the Ponte Vecchio

Part of the Vasari Corridor situated on top of the Ponte Vecchio

For those of you who don’t know, the Vasari Corridor is an elevated passageway that stretches over 1 km, joining the Palazzo Vecchio with the Palazzo Pitti (across the river Arno) via the Uffizi. It was designed by Giorgio Vasari in the 16th century for Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici. The corridor was used by the ruling family as a means to walk safely through the city, above and removed from the citizens of Florence. Alexandra also went on to explain that the corridor was pushed to be finished in time for the wedding of Cosimo’s eldest son (the future Grand Duke Francesco I) to Giovanna d’Austria of the imperial Habsburg family, which made the art of discretion and walking above the streets of Florence an absolute necessity in the eyes of the Medici.

Looking through one of the many windows of the corridor...views to-die-for

Looking through one of the many windows of the Corridor…views to-die-for

The boys and I greeted Alexandra with a million questions about living and working in Florence while we waited for Ross and Miss P to join us. In this short window of time I had the great pleasure of being ‘cursed’ by an old gypsy lady. She was annoyed I wouldn’t empty my purse into her cup and proceeded to accuse me of being a part of the worlds oldest profession-nice! Good to see she was not sparing the kids of her foul thoughts. With that out-of-the-way and my life apparently hanging by a thread Ross and Miss P arrived and we went on to meet the rest of the gang at an entrance to the Corridor which is situated in the Uffizi.

Entering the Corridor was like entering into another world, a world of quietness. As soon as we closed the door on the rest of the tourists it felt like we were separated from the rest of the city. I could see how this would of been appealing to the Medici family. As soon as the tour started Alexandra’s enthusiasm took us all off to another part of Florence, back to the beginning of the 16th century when she was telling the tales of the Corridor’s wicked past. There is something enchanting listening to a person who loves their job and is passionate about the art and history that hang on the walls of the corridor. We couldn’t help but be swept up. Of course E had her favourite paintings to talk about too and we all listened with hunger, the kids asking questions feeding their knowledge just that little bit more. I now know more about the Greco-Roman gods than I ever thought possible!

One of the many beautiful views from the corridor

One of the many beautiful views from the corridor

The tour takes about an hour and you can’t help but be in awe of the power the Medici family must have had as they walked these corridors secretly listening to the voices on the streets all those centuries ago. The walls are lined with fantastic art works from Florence and abroad; you are but a hair’s breadth away from paintings that were painted some 300 years ago.

The last 100m of the corridor leading into the Pitti Palace

The last 100m of the corridor leading into the Pitti Palace

The end of our tour came with the last 100-meters of the corridor  leading into the Pitti Palace out-of-bounds, instead you are lead out another doorway into the Boboli Gardens (situated at the back of the Palace).

The Grotto at the Bobbli gardens

The Grotto at the Boboli gardens

Here the voices of tourists and clicks of cameras suddenly brought you back to reality of today’s Florence. Once the grey doors closed and the sun was beating down on us the tour was over and we were left with all the wonderful stories and tales that filled our heads. Alexandra was so warm and friendly it just felt like she was a very knowledgable friend who you wanted to keep talking with over  coffee. I can’t recommend Alexandra enough for a tour of Florence and especially the Corridor. If you are coming to Florence and interested in the history of the city then I urge you to contact Alexandra, book a tour and relax in the knowledge your mind will be full of stories from the past. After all it is hard to walk the streets of Florence and not wonder what was going on when the Medici reigned.

Alexandra’s contact details are:

email a.lawrence@theflorentine.net

cell +39 333 8689 458

 

Foraging in the country

As you well know I love to take walks up in the hills above Florence and it is also the place where Shelly and I foraged for wild asparagus a few weeks ago. After our asparagus foraging Shelly and I wondered if there was anyone we knew who would be able to take us on an expedition in the Tuscan hills.

Alessandro digging up  wild carrot root

Alessandro digging up wild carrot root

Alessandro was our man. His beautiful wife is another fellow up at I Tatti with our husbands and so we thought seeing as he was Italian and a man of the land we could pick his brain a little on what he knew about foraging. As it turns out Alessandro knows a lot about everything and anything in the great outdoors of Italy and he was more than happy to take us on a field trip.

After we dropped his lovely wife at work for the day, the three of us and Alessandro’s adorable 9-month old baby drove out behind Fiesole to a rundown monastery he knew of. It took us about 25 minutes from Fiesole in the car and when we arrived the views were breathtaking.

My dream working space

My dream working space

I find it really hard to believe that such a beautiful building could be left to slowly decompose with the sands of time. I couldn’t help but look at the monastery and think it would make a magical B&B or a fantastic cooking school retreat where guests could come and learn the secrets of Tuscan cooking while taking in the breathtaking views sweeping off to the right. Yes, I could see myself running a very nice business here indeed!

View from the field to the right of monastery

View from the field to the right of monastery

The field before us looked like many we have walked past on a regular basis, however, it wasn’t until Alessandro started talking about the different tracks, flowers, bushes, birds and plants that the field came alive and the day started to get interesting. Here are just a few of the things I learnt on this day…

This was a hedgehog hole where it would be furrowing for food, Alessandro knew this because of the size of the burrow (very small and narrow, very easy to step in and twist your ankle).

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Did you know orchids grow wild in the Tuscan countryside? I did not and what was most strange was the fact that there was one in this field in early April. They are usually seen anywhere from September on. Isn’t it beautiful?

Wild orchid

Wild orchid

We tasted wild rose hip that was very sweet, tangy and full of white seeds. It almost tasted of those fruit straps that you can buy for kids snacks, but with more flavour. Apparently they make a jam with the berries but after eating one I though it would be a lot of work for little reward so I stuck with picking them off the tree and eating them a-la-natural.

Wild rose hip berries

Wild rose hip berries

One of the most interesting facts we learnt was one regarding these golfball size, brown almost tumbleweed like balls.

Zespa womb

Vespa womb

The story goes something like this…When a local wasp (vespa) is laying its larva, it drills a tiny hole into the stem of a tree and inserts its larva before flying off. The tree then protects itself by growing and covering the said tiny hole with small twig like branches that form into a ball around the larva deposit. This then provides a place for the larva to grow and feed from the tree. When the larva hatches, the vespa flies out of its coocoon and eventually the twig ball gets blown off by the wind. Isn’t mother nature just the most amazing, magical power there is? The tree’s protection enables these wasps to grow.

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Way too many vespa pods on the ground for my liking!

The only freaky thing about knowing this, is how many little tumbleweed balls you then see. There are thousands of these pods lying on the ground all over Tuscany!

A wild carrot plant...yes it's the black speck in the middle of the picture!

A wild carrot plant…yes it’s the black speck in the middle of the picture!

My final tip/tale I have for you is about wild carrots. I have seen these wiry, dried looking sticks in the field near our house and never gave them a second thought. However, Alessandro told us that when the new shoots start to grow and the top starts growing little white flowers the wild carrots are ready to be eaten. Hares, boars and deer love them and when they are in season the root of this plant looks and smells like carrots.

Dried up wild carrot root

Dried up wild carrot root

The one Alessandro pulled up for us to take a look at was old and dead, however, you couldn’t help but notice the shape of the root. I am now waiting with bated breath for the new season’s wild carrots to appear. I know humans don’t eat them but I just want to see the root.

There is something wonderful about looking out the window into the surrounding fields and actually knowing there is a whole ecosystem out there buzzing about. Now that I have just a small insight into the local land it gives me even greater pleasure to walk around trying to spot the things pointed out to me on this wonderful day up in the hills with Alessandro and Shelly. Maybe now I’d have a better chance of survival if I ever got lost on a hike.

What do you know about the natural surrounds where you live?

 

A Spring Brunch

The day could not of been more perfect on Sunday just gone. E, Shelly and I had worked out that it was a rare Sunday we were all in town together and so it was quickly decided we should have a brunch. These events seem to work better for us when no great amount of time can change the plan, a day and a half of planning was sufficent.

Shelly announced her backyard should be a perfect destination, I announced I’d just read some great food blogs lately and I was eager to make some new food and E was also up for some spring cooking- the day was planned! At 10am on Sunday morning as the sun was peeking through the clouds Shelly sends a photo of her backyard saying maybe they needed a lawnmower?? E and I on the other hand were throughly excited with the prospect of sitting in a buttery looking yellow field, what do you think? Although, if little miss P (aged 3) had decided to walk off without her big sister then I’m afraid we might have lost her!

The butter field Shelly calls her backyard

The butter field Shelly calls her backyard

Sitting in it felt like something from a period movie. In fact all four kids thought the field an absolute delight and we only saw them when food was brought to the table. Perfect!

Talking of food, I had recently read a delicious post from Italy on my mind about Sicilian cauliflower fritters. Her photos looked beautiful, the flavours sounded wonderful and I thought they would be perfect for a brunch addition. I made them Sunday morning and I have to tell you it was very hard getting them out the door as I LOVED them! A very easy and tasty recipe perfect for brunch, they tasted so good all the kids ate them as well as the adults.

Cauliflower fritters

Cauliflower fritters

Granted my photo isn’t as pretty, however, I was getting myself in the weeds with remaining cooking jobs and needed a quick snap before I forgot.

The second dish I made for brunch was the kids favourite; bean nachos with guacamole. My boys love this dish and as I popped it on the table I soon found out it was a favourite of a few adults too. You can’t really go wrong with kidney beans sauteed in a cumin, paprika, tomato sauce and drenched in melted cheese on crispy corn chips. One of the guests at the brunch was floored to be served nachos in Florence…and yet I didn’t hear any complaints!

bean nachos

Bean nachos

E made a delicious asparagus and orange salad and a divine dish of sauteed poatoes finished with red onions, mini capers and sweet peppers which was an instant hit.

Asparagus salad & serving of the eggs

Asparagus salad & serving of the eggs

It was a feast for all the senses and just in case you were wondering where the eggs were (seeing as it was brunch), Guy made a delicious pot of tomato-poached eggs that never seemed to end. With all the food ready to go and prosecco being poured like water from a tap, I can honetsly say it was an extremely memorable afternoon. A feast for the eyes as much as the stomach.

My third contribution to brunch was inspired from blogger, the seasoned traveler, who posted a delicious looking piece about phyllo cups filled with lemon mascarpone and fresh strawberries. I thought it was the perfect sweet to bring for Sunday brunch, however, as I looked through my cupboards I realised I didn’t have anything to make the phyllo cups in. I then decided to add an Australian touch and serve the lemon mascarpone on mini-scones. Because I didn’t have the yummy crunch of the phyllo I need to ramp up the mascarpone so I made a lemon curd and folded it through so there was an extra kick of tang.

Strawberry and lemon mascarpone scones

Strawberry and lemon mascarpone scones

Lunch was over, the scones were devoured in seconds and we were all sitting back feeling quite fabulous (the tap of bubbles hadn’t stopped yet). It is hard to feel anything but happy when you are sitting in a field of yellow.

Shelly relaxing in her backyard

Shelly relaxing in her backyard

Coffee was offered around about an hour later and the sun was really warming us up so I suggested I’d like an affogato. This was met with a lot of agreement, however, no one had the inclination to get the gelato. A further conversation of our favourite flavours of gelato then got the wheels turning and my darling husband and friend offered to fetch the gelato if someone else made the coffee, this was the end result…

Gelato for the kids

Gelato for the kids

Mascarpone and caffè gelato with a shot of coffee

Mascarpone and caffè gelato with a shot of coffee

I have often said I love our year in Italy and it is gatherings like this that make it so special. We all feel like we are still living in a dream, and for now I am quite happy to keep it that way.

 

 

Asparagus foraging

Wild asparagus

Wild asparagus

I’m back! Our plane got in yesterday from New York and I am still on a high from the trip; however, a couple of days before we left for our US adventure Shelly and I went wild asparagus foraging. It was so much fun, so I want to tell you about it before I get carried away with NY.

Has anyone else foraged for wild asparagus? The season isn’t very long and you know when it has started because a lot of the older folk start walking up into the hills, carrying plastic bags and walking around the fields with their hands behind their backs, bending over inspecting the ground. Shelly and I weren’t exactly sure what we were looking for, or where to find it, however, the day before we went forging my landlady pointed out that we had two wild asparagus growing in our garden: perfect!

I didn’t know where to find it, however, Shelly had asked an elderly Italian guy what to look for when foraging asparagus and he pointed out a spiky bush and mumbled something about ‘look out for this stuff,’ and then hurried back into the fields (I think the locals would rather we didn’t know about it…makes sense really).

With the minimal information gathered (but  plastic bags forgotten), we set out on a beautiful Thursday morning walk with the sun beating down on our bodies and hope in our hearts. We were wandering around one of our old haunts talking about what we should be looking for, when all of a sudden we stopped, scanned the nearest area and, lo and behold, I spotted one lone asparagus! I’m not going to lie, we were excited. Shelly couldn’t yet see them, however, when I spotted another and another she soon caught on and we were off with our hands behind our backs and our eyes glued to the ground.

wild asparagus foraging

wild asparagus foraging

At first we just grabbed all that we could see not really looking at quality. It wasn’t until we came across a few brown-red ones with a very crisp ‘snap’ that we decided some of the ones we were picking might be a little old and gone to seed. However, that didn’t stop us from looting more from a farmers field! As you can see in the photo above they are very easy to miss and shoot up on their own around the small prickly green bush that Shelly is holding back.

A big batch under an olive tree

A big batch under an olive tree

We were wandering around in this field for about an hour happily picking away when we heard a dog barking. Our first thought was to ignore it, that was until the barking came closer and closer. For a few minutes Shelly and I thought it might of been the farmer coming to shoo us off the property, fortunately, it was just an elderly gentleman walking his dog up our road.

He knew right away what we were doing and complimented us on our forage. We had a small chat with him and then he started breaking into words Shelly and I didn’t recognise, we had a feeling he was giving us a recipe for the asparagus but that was for the ‘too hard basket’, so we gently said goodbye and took our stash further up the hill.

Of course we were buzzing with excitement and dying to try the wild asparagus, so I offered to cook it for lunch. After finishing our walk in the hills I popped a pot of water on for some poached eggs. Once the asparagus was washed and trimmed I simply melted butter on a low heat, added sliced garlic, asparagus, salt and pepper and gently sauteed until cooked.

Sauteing wild asparagus with butter and garlic

Sauteing wild asparagus with butter and garlic

The smells were fantastic and the asparagus darkened to a very deep green as the stalks became tender. Once they were cooked, I poached a couple of eggs, added a generous sprinkling of truffle salt and finished it with slices of pecorino cheese. The end result was fantastic!

Poached eggs with wild asparagus

Poached eggs with wild asparagus

The truffle hit your nose as soon as you sat down and cutting into the egg letting the yolk run through the asparagus was pure heaven. Not much talking was done while we still had food on our plates. The flavours all infused beautifully and enhanced the asparagus. To say we loved it would be an understatement. No wonder the Italians didn’t want us knowing the secret places to forage, it really is a wonderful spring treat if your lucky enough to lay your hands on some.

Finished with slices of pecoreno cheese

Finished with slices of pecorino cheese