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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Porcini dinner party

I promised myself I would make the most of everything whilst spending a year in Italy. It’s almost like making a bucket list consisting of all things Italian and why not?  Aim high and see what happens!

Ever since I tasted my first fresh porcini mushroom about a month ago I have been wanting to eat more of them as often as possible. We decided to have a porcini dinner party with other mushroom lovers to really celebrate the fact that a) we don’t have to sell a kidney to buy them (hence the reason this was my first fresh porcini); b) embracing what the season has to offer, right here and now.

I was bursting to make a few dishes but I didn’t want the others to miss out on all the fun so each couple made their own dish to bring which is a great idea for a dinner with friends in my opinion. Shelly isn’t really a mushroom lover, in fact she cannot stand the texture of the fungi, so I left it up to her to decide what she would like to bring.

The dinner menu consisted of the following

Arrival: Antipasto platter and prosecco

Acquacotta

Tagliatelle tossed with porcini, garlic and parsley

Slow braised beef with rosemary

Cavolo nero sauteed with chickpeas, chilli and caramelised onions

Polenta and thyme chips

Porcini and long beans braised with tomato and lemon

Roast pumpkin, feta, pomegranate and arugula salad

Dessert: Fresh orange slices served with mascarpone and a burnt orange syrup

A lot of food right?

Two of the guest were vegetarian so I wanted to have variety and lots of flavour, and OK I might of been a bit excited to be cooking for more that 2 adults and 2 kids…..if I was to be honest. I have decided to do a photo collage to put the night into prospective otherwise I could run the risk of boring you all to death with description after description of the dishes so please sit back and get your creative juices flowing because you might just be throwing your next dinner party after reading!

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The antipasti plate was kept pretty simple seeing as we had so much food to taste. Some beautiful new season artichokes, to-die-for San Daniele prosciutto crudo and this mind blowing, pick-yourself-up-off-the-floor blue that Shelly and I spotted on our most recent trip to the markets. It is a blue that has been aged in Mirtillo rosso, it was out of this world good and with a little grissini it was demolished within minutes while sipping local prosecco. It is at this point I should declare my love for prosecco and if the following pictures are not as sharp as usual than I am sorry but it is a price I pay for my own pure enjoyment.

Once we had the boys and their friend set up in the other room with home made pizza (FYI you can buy the best pizza dough ready made at the supermarket for just over a euro and it is delicious) juice boxes and a movie we were ready to sit down for our first course- Acquacotta made by the fabulous E!

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E used the recipe from The River Cafe cookbook and we were all smitten. She uses porcini in her base flavour which brings a beautiful richness to this soup. Before serving you grill a piece of Toscana pane (bread without salt), place it in the middle of the bowl and then ladle over the soup and finish with olive oil and parmesan cheese. I think I would of been happy to just eat this and continue with the local wine samples, alas we had a few more dishes to go!

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Brava E!

If I can’t make porcini and risotto then it has to be with fresh pasta. I sauteed the porcini with some finely chopped onion, salt and pepper then cooked them until they started to brown. Once brown I added a good slosh of veggie stock and reduced it down to almost nothing then added enough cream to reduce and coat the pasta (took about 3-5 mins to reduce and thicken). Just before I was about to serve the dish I added chopped parsley mixed with freshly minced garlic to the cream sauce and poured it over the pasta. It smelt fantastic and tasted just as it should- of porcini, garlic and parsley, simple but yummy.

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It was about now that I wanted to have a little nap, however, I was poured a splash of vino rosso and the conversation started getting interesting so I was back on track. As I was pulling dishes out of my trusty toaster oven Shelly whipped up her delicious salad and our work was done…

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Polenta chips are a great starch if you want to make a few dishes ahead of time, they heat up in a hot oven perfectly!

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Not to mention how well they pair with braised beans….Ross is excited!

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The chickpeas were a hit and couldn’t be simpler. First caramelised onions in a bit of butter then add some garlic and chilli flakes at the same time you add the greens and sauté until they are wilted and easy to toss. Add in a tin of chickpeas, salt and pepper then toss to combine. I added about half a cup of water and a half lemon (throw in the whole thing). Put it in a baking dish, cover and place in a slow oven until needed (about 30min). All the juice was absorbed but it doesn’t matter if there is still liquid. The flavour is hot and bitter lemon which I love and thankfully so did everyone else.

It was about here when we were all feeling a little full, surprise, surprise! This was the reason I decided on a very simple dessert. If you didn’t want the mascarpone then you could have orange slices…….Yeah, that didn’t happen. With a good pause between courses the dessert was attacked.

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I absolutely love dinner parties, it is a great way to spend an evening with friends that doesn’t burn a hole in your wallet and if everyone contributes a dish the only big decision you have to make is who house will host the next one!

When was your last dinner party?