Sunday Breakfast

This morning the sun was out radiating it’s warmth, something it hasn’t done in what seems like weeks! Nic and I had a Sunday sleep-in (awesome, as did the boys!) and then we went for a run to really embrace the sun and lack of rain (I’m trying to be positive here).

We returned home to cries of “I’m hungry!”…”What’s for breakfast?”…”We are starving!”

As I was running up the last bit of our hill I had the same thoughts running through my head. What I really felt like, what I really wanted to eat, was poached eggs. Not just your garden variety, I’d had a brilliant day the day before with my lovely friends E and Shelly. We took E out for lunch because she had a pretty full-on week at home single-parenting and a ‘girls day’ felt like it was in order as soon as Ross got back from his business trip.

On this ‘girls day’ we had lunch at one of my favourite places, Aquacotta and then proceeded to stroll casually through the streets looking into boutique shops (something you do not do with the family in tow). One of the shops we looked at was a foodie haven (will have to get back to you with the name) and instead of buying a lovely top or dress I was hell bent on the delicious looking sale al tartufo staring me down!


Heaven in a jar

Like anything new you want to use it asap and considering our lunch then turned into an apperitivo before we headed home for dinner, Sunday breakfast was the first chance I had to test my delicious looking sale al tartufo.

I think after many years of poaching eggs in restaurants I can turn out a pretty awesome poached egg and to make it even more appetising than usual, a sprinkling of truffled salt was in order.


Poached egg perfection

The sun shining, a run out of the way and beautiful poached eggs with truffled salt was an awesome way to start the day. I love, love, love truffled anything but with the addition of salt, well the list is endless as to what I can create.

What is your perfect Sunday breakfast?

I Tatti Kitchen


I Tatti chefs tour

It’s about this time of year when Villa I Tatti opens up their kitchen to the professors and their wives/husbands/partners (covering all bases) and lets them come into the bowels of the building to see what the chefs get up to every day. I of course put my name down for such a tour and yesterday was my turn to take a look into the I Tatti underworld (a.k.a main kitchen). We were a group of four and managed to get right to the crux of lunch time, snack time and afternoon teatime preparations.

The lovely Anna met us at the heavily secured biblioteca and escorted us through to the main kitchen where our chefs were waiting. Like all chefs I have known they were busy getting on with the daily prep. However, you couldn’t help notice the calm of the kitchen and the relaxed nature of the chefs, especially considering they had about 70 people to feed in a few hours time.


Making semi dried tomato bread rolls

All the bread is made on the premises and we came in just as Chef was stuffing some semi dried tomatoes into dough and cutting them into rolls. I was feeling very much at home with a feverish urge to push in and have a go myself, alas, I restrained myself and stuck to taking photos. The schiacciata is always wonderful to see drizzled in olive oil and salt, because you know how good it will taste when it comes out of the oven!


Proving for the oven

I know, from long experience, that people who aren’t chefs love to get a peek into professional kitchens and to learn a few tricks of the trade, so here are a few things that I picked up. The more I read, ask questions and watch Italian chefs in action the biggest difference I can see between my cooking and Italian cooks is the amount of time they take to cook and develop flavours. I have been taking more time and keeping the burners lower than I normally would to reproduce the deliciously rich flavours I am eating here, and I am loving the difference in flavour.  I noticed the guys cooking a simple porcini and prosciutto cotto pasta sauce, backing up my ‘slow it right down’ theory and seeing it in practice. We were also told a way to increase the flavour of the sauce with your pasta: just before the past is almost ready (cooked in salted water, of course), strain the pasta and finish cooking it in your sauce. That way the pasta has time to absorb the beautiful flavours you have created.

A very simple step but one I am sure many of us miss because we are so used to doing everything quickly. You never stop learning in the kitchen, I think this is one of my favourite aspects about being a chef, cooking doesn’t get boring, you just have to keep learning.


The ‘bible’

I did manage to sneak a peek at the kitchens ‘bible’, it is a book stacked with recipes they have been using for the past 12 years, the tried and true ones. So, I thought I would take my time and translate this recipe and give it a go! I’ll let you know how it turns out.

Once the bread was made and the pasta sauce was simmering away it was time to whip up a batch of cookies for afternoon tea- the fellows are so spoilt! Chef made the cookie mix in a matter of seconds (I’m thinking he could do it with his eyes closed!) and then we got a lesson on piping the dough around the edges of the baking paper first so it holds down the paper while you pipe the remaining and the paper doesn’t ride up- nice!


Cookie time

I didn’t catch all that was spoken but it didn’t seem to matter, I was still learning and enjoying myself as were the other guests, and while chef was popping on the red cherries you know I was gunning to do that job too. I can’t tell you how hard it is to stand in a professional kitchen and not do anything!!


Thankfully the cookies didn’t take very long to bake, and so I joined in and ate as many as I dare…come on, fresh out of the oven how do you resist that?


They were like eating clouds

After eating a few too many pieces of schiacciata and cookies we then went around to the stores to see the workings of the kitchen and I was surprised to see such a small storeroom for their dry goods, along with the fridge space. We were told that the fruit and vegetables get delivered daily, as does the fresh meat. On average they feed about 70 people a day and serve two to three different menus. The I Tatti fellows get morning tea and schiacciata, a two-course lunch and then afternoon tea in the drawing room, so all in all that is a lot of food to be prepared, not to mention feeding the staff of I Tatti, including gardeners, librarians, office workers, farmers and a few others who I have forgotten.


The dry stores and fridges, they were spotless!

I really enjoyed the guided tour and seeing how the kitchen operates but if I ever get the chance to go back again I don’t know if I’ll be able to hold back on doing some cooking! It makes me want to cook for large groups again. So Sydneysiders, Melbournians and Launcestonians, after July pop on over to and book a class or dinner with friends and I will come to your place and cook up your very own Tuscan fare.

Don’t be afraid of the fat

I’ve been wanting to post about these sausages for a while but I thought I had better try them out a few different ways to make sure they are as good as I first thought they were.

I love a good sausage, and I also know there are many of you out there who despise them and think they are only scrapings from the floor put into casings; but let me tell you, when you come across ones with fantastic flavour and texture they are pretty hard to beat. Sausages thrown on the barbie, totally fine and smokey; put them with mash on a cool night, completely satisfying, or doing as I do with these Toscana sausages and taking them out of their casings and cook them up with veggies is an absolute favourite with the whole family!


These bad boys are full of flavour and also full of fat, I mean just check out that photo!!

However, don’t be afraid of the fat, I mean you don’t have to eat it all but you do want some of it to add maximum flavour to your meal. As I said before, I usually take them out of their casing and brown the sausage in pieces then add onions and vegetables and a tin of tomatoes and a splash of red wine vinegar. Turn the temperature down low and let all the flavours meld together. When doing it this way you have ample opportunity to drain off quite a lot of fat and still be rewarded with the flavour. For the sausage and zucchini dish below I drained off about 1/4 cup of fat. As much as I love sausages I don’t like the feeling of oily lips when you have eaten something swimming in the stuff so draining off the oil before you add your vegetables is the perfect way to eat them.


Another reason why Tuscan sausages rock is the speed in which it takes to knock them into a really tasty dinner. They are perfect for busy families and also a great way to get more vegetables into the families diet. As you can see I didn’t hide the zucchini (because they taste so good all soaked up in the juices), however, the boys HATE zucchini but LOVE sausages. It’s a part of life in this family that you need to eat your veggies and instead of serving it all separately (so the boys can pick out what they want to eat) I make a great big saucy dish so some of those terrible, disgusting zucchini work their way into the mouths of the young! You can say that is a horrible thing to do (can’t possibly think why you would?) but I did the same thing with peas, beans and tomato and guess what? beans and tomato are now loved by all while peas are still the most awful things Max can think of…. along with brussel sprouts of course!

For the dish above I added lemon juice instead of red wine vinegar; it was a hot summers night and I thought the zing of lemon cutting through the pork and tomato would work really well which it did and it also blended beautifully with the chilli flakes Nic and I sprinkled on top of ours. The dish below, however, was cooked in the exact same method but I did use the red wine vinegar and reduced the sauce further for a yummy, deeper flavour (I think it was a little cooler…like 31 degrees!). Nic makes rocking good mash potato so he kindly whipped those up and there you have it, another dinner cooked exactly the same way but tweaking a few ingredients and changing the side of carb to make it a totally different meal (mash also helps the zucchini go down so I’m told!)


Ok so for my last Tuscan sausage dish I decided to cook it a little differently just for an experiment and to use up the left over veggies. I absolutely LOVE cavallo nero and it is young, fresh and in season here right now so I am wanting to eat it with everything.

The boys on the other hand really do not like it, I think it has something to do with the bitterness which is one of the reasons I do really like it. I served it one night and cooked it the way I usually do with ginger, garlic, tomatoes and lemon and served it with lots of couscous but it really wasn’t well received which is fine but I still had a few bits left and I thought if I sauteed it with the sausages whole then they would be coated in all that yummy flavour…or was that fat??


Let me just warn you, this smells sooo good when you are frying it all together, sausages and onions are just made for each other! The greens, like collard greens and silver beet love to be cooked and can take a lot of heat and that is why I decided to put them in first. Once they were coloured and smelling delicious I threw in mushrooms and capsicum and then let it saute down for a good 15-18 minutes on medium to low heat, tossing occasionally.


After about 15 minutes everything was getting a beautiful caramilized coating and looking really delicious but I did get a bit concerned about all that fat as I didn’t drain any off. In fact it got to the point when I couldn’t leave it so I drained off the excess (which was about 3 tablespoons).

Before serving it over a bed of couscous and rocket, I cut the sausage into slices and threw in a tablespoon left of the pesto (it really was a throw together dinner)I had in the fridge just to give it a lovely parmesan, basil finish.


The end result I have to say was really, really tasty and the boys loved it which also makes me think maybe I will stick to my original method of cooking sausages so I can drain off more fat before adding the veggies, as there was very little complaint about their most hated vegetable thrown into the mix…….plus I’d feel better about eating my gelato afterwards!

Note: If you can’t get Italian sausages where you are then beef or pork (esp. with fennel) will also work, just make sure they are a little better than the store brand variety as I can only wonder what they have in them.

The olive grove


It’s not everyday you re-connect with a person you met 8 years ago when life was throwing you a few curve balls; for example……living in a foreign country with a new-born baby and a toddler; your husband going off each morning to bury himself in the archives of 16th-century Europe, or trying to work out when you should leave the apartment so it fits in with feeding schedules for the baby, toilet stops for the potty-training toddler and last but not least, trying to figure out how to make friends.

I met Melanie at a local English speaking church (St. James) where a bunch of mums started a mother’s group for English-speaking mums living in Florence. It was something I really needed and a chance to speak to someone other than my 3-year-old son.

Melanie also had a boy the same age as Max and a new born a few weeks older than Alex so I’m sure we had lots to talk about….Oh did I also mention she is a chef and one of the best cake designers I have seen; her website should explain her work better than I can write about it. Anyway, I say ‘I’m sure’ because to be quite honest I don’t remember a whole lot of the early days when Alex was only weeks old, however, I did remember Melanie and I did remember talking to her about food, cooking classes and a few other bits and pieces even though we never had a strong connection as I left about three months after meeting her. Thanks to Facebook we reconnected a few years ago and have been following each others career ever since.

When we found out we would be heading over to Florence this year I was so excited to reconnect with Melanie in person and basically pick her brains about all she had been doing in the 8 years we have been living in separate countries. I was also happy to learn she felt the same.

Once we settled in to our place in Florence I gave Melanie a call and she invited us all out to the family olive grove for a much needed swim in the pool, a relaxed, delicious meal, vino and lots and lots of talking. This was an offer I was not going to refuse!

It was a really hot day when Paolo her husband came to pick us up at 4 in the afternoon. Foolishly I thought it wouldn’t be so bad re. the heat, and when I stepped out of the house into what felt like an oven on full range, all I could think about was a pool and a cool breeze.

I had never met Paolo, and we laughed at the fact that we really were complete strangers getting together on a chance meeting that happened 8 years ago when our lives were very different. This is stepping out of your comfort zone; if I’d never of connected with Melanie over the internet once back in the comforts of the world I knew, we would never of arrived at the olive grove and we would of never been able to talk for 4 hours straight about our lives both in and out of the kitchen- it was fantastic!


Melanie has since had a third son and all 5 boys got on like a house on fire; swimming until their fingers were shrivelling like dried prunes; gathering sticks for bows and arrows, making swords, daggers and anything else you can whittle out of a piece of wood. Running through the olive grove trying to catch the fat bunny that feeds on all the vegetables will be forever in their memory, this I can guarantee!


As the air cooled Paolo stoked the BBQ while Melanie took me around to the outdoor kitchen and we played with produce that was grown a stone’s throw away (seriously, a dream come true for me). We used olive oil that was pressed from the trees around us and I had a hard decision wondering which tomatoes I would use for the salad.

ImageWe decided to keep the food simple and stress free. I made one of my all time favourite faro salads before we left home. I can’t seem to get enough of it at the moment, though I’m sure this will pass when I eat it one too many times…….well maybe?


We were in for an absolute treat. As Melanie was cutting off slabs of pecorino cheese onto a plate she was telling me of their family’s butcher who goes and hand picks the animal he slaughters and then lovingly butchers the beast, then sells it from his shop in the back hills of Southern Florence (I have been promised a visit to his shop as it is quite difficult to get to if you don’t know the area……..YES, I am excited!!)


So a quick reverse, the pecorino Melanie was cutting (pic below)  and also the prosciutto we ate with the melon were from their wonderful butcher, honestly the man can do no wrong in my book!

The other treat Melanie had in stall was the 35-year-old balsamic vinegar she drizzled over the pecorino: a brilliant flavour combination and the texture of the balsamic was syrupy, sticky, rich and divine to put it simply.


Melon, prosciutto and homemade salami..I could of eaten this all afternoon..


I don’t have to tell you the olive grove holds a special place in my heart and being asked back for a second week was heavenly for all four of us. We will have many more fun days/nights with Melanie and her family this I am sure of but for me this will be a memory I will hold onto when I’m wondering what an earth I have done with my life……I feel very lucky indeed.