Saturday, October 23, 2010

Saffron workshop at Salone del Gusto, Slow Food, Torino

I did manage to get into a Saffron workshop at Salone del Gusto, the Slow Food extravaganza .
The beautiful blue flowers, with such special stamens, the most expensive "food"in the world. What patience is needed. And they are now grown in Sardegna. Wippee!

Slow Food Salone del Gusto, Torino

We visited the huge Salone del Gusto in Torino on Saturday.... the bi-annual main event of the Slow Food movement, celebrating the food we eat and the growers that grow it and make it.

The exhivition building is always absolutely chock-a-block with thousands of interested people looking, tasting, learning. Generally enjoying themselves. A coupon frm the newspaper got me a free lunch. Also a great cheese tasting... I'm still trying to find the actual name of the best runny cheese I've ever tasted. I was too late to book a workshop or formal tasting, but a generous man at the table offered me a large spoonful of his.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Truffle hunting

Truffle hunting season is October and November in Piemonte. This links with the Truffle festival in Alba, and the truffle hunters are very busy, with the prized WHITE truffles. Make sure you find a REAL truffle hunter, and a REAL trained dog... woods are all around, many in the special Langhe area of the Region.
Here's Micchi, a beautiful fully trained truffle hunter. The dog, that is!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Vin Santo & Cantucci after dinner?

One of the traditional things to do, especially in Tuscany and Umbria, is to finish an evening meal with Vin Santo and cantucci. Many people like to dip their biscuits into the wine. Here's a recipe for the biscotti, named cantucci....

Ingredients: 2 cups of SR flour
2/3 cup sugar
Pinch salt
3 eggs
1 tspn vanilla
1/4 cup whole almonds (not blanched)
Set oven to 170 degrees C
Method: Combine dry ingredients in bowl
To the eggs , add vanilla, lightly beat and add to centre of flour mixture
Mix thoroughly
Knead with hands in bowl, then onto floured marble surface for a further short kneed
Set aside for 10 minutes
Flatten dough to approx 1 cm thick
Turn dough onto itself a few times and kneed briefly.
Divide into 3 equal pieces and form 3 cylinders or rolls approx 30cm long
Place onto long tray lined with non-stick baking paper, and put in oven for 30 minutes
Remove from the oven. After a few minutes slice carefully, on the diagonal, approx 1 cm wide.
Return to oven . Stand them upright (or turn once). Cook 15 minutes
Buon appetito !

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Torta di Pomodoro / Tomato tart

Due to popular demand... as they say!

This is simple, very popular (when ever I make it, people always ask for the recipe!), and tasty. You really do need to make your own pastry (easy!) though.
I find it best if you make this tart the day before , and serve at room temperature (although also OK straight out of the oven). Great for a relaxed lunch in summer with friends and a glass or two of Chianti Classico, out on the deck with overhanging grape vines. Or outside a villa in Tuscany, overlooking the rolling hills.

  • 2 cups plain flour, 125 gms unsalted butter. Mix in a whizzer until it looks a bit like breadcrumbs. Add 2 eggs, one at a time, while keeping the whizzer whizzing. It's ready when it all clumps together. Tip out onto glad wrap, push together into a flat pat, cover completely with the plastic wrap, and leave it in the frig for about an hour.

The Filling:
  • Cut about 8 onions (the red ones are best), finely sliced. Add to a large saucepan, with good extra virgin olive oil (about a cup), 2 or 3 cloves garlic finely cut, and cook slowly until the onions caramelise. This might take 3/4 hour. Stir a few times. Maybe add a tablespoon of dark brown sugar, and stir till amalgamated. Let this mixture cool.
  • In another saucepan, add 1 or 2 cans of peeled tomatoes and a bottle of Italian tomato sugo. Mix and heat,. Maybe add a spoonful of tomato paste if it looks too runny. Cool.
  • Roll out the pastry and place over a 30cm serrated edged, flan case (with removable bottom). Add the caramelised onions, and spread evenly over the pastry base. Add the tomato mixture. Pick a few sprigs of rosemary from the veggie garden, and decorate the tart with rosemary, black olives (halved, with pips removed) and anchovies.
Cook in preheated oven about 200C, atound 40 minutes, or until the pastry looks tan. Yum!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

San Giovanni Firenze

June 24 is a special day for Florentines: a holiday for their patron Saint, San Giovanni. In the afternoon, huge numbers dressed in Medieval outfits, meet at Palagio di parte Guelfa for the corteo, The Parade of the Florentine Republic. Led by 2 policemen on horseback , this year at the first corner (5 meters after the start!) one of the horses pooed, so for the entire Corteo it was necessary to break ranks slightly to avoid the large yellow mound - causing some amusement and toilet humour (!) so to speak. Don't miss this marvellous event.... remember June 24, every year. It's worth a visit to Florence just for this alone. Part 2 tomorrow!

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Arezzo & Giostra del Saracino 2

Central to the tornament is the "enemy", the effigy of the Saracen, attended by 2 men dressed in arabian costume. This effigy is erected so that it spins around when a certain spot (on its shield) is hit by the jouster on horseback. This warrior has to be quick and accurate, as the effigy spins around with strength from 3 hard balls attached to a rope: this can bludgeon the jouster. The jousting is spectacular. Each quarter of the city is represented by 2 horsemen/warriors/jousters, and points are awarded by the judges in the red box. Competition is fierce.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Arezzo & Giostra del Saracino

Going back to Medieval times, the Giostra del Saracino (Joust of the Saracen) originally provided military training exercises wherein enemy confrontation was simulated. Now, in Arezzo, it's a great event, held twice each year, involving most of the population of this georgeous Tuscan city.

As we wandered around the town in the afternoon we found skilled flag throwers practising their craft in Piazza Grande in preparation for the evening tornament. Despite the light rain, temporary stalls were selling huge stocks of multicoloured wares for the loyal followers - and a few travellers. Depending on which quarter of the city you support, you can buy flags, scarves, or drums in blue and yellow, green and white, scarlet and navy, or maroon and orange.

Around 8.30pm the corteo storico entered the cordoned off Piazza: a long parade of real and acting VIPs, musicians, flag throwers and finally, amid shouts, squeals and drum rolls , the marching warriors. All brilliantly dressed in traditional Medieval costume.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Pienza, Tuscany, Itay

The delightful small Renaissance hill town of Pienza is around 50km from Siena in Southern Tuscany. It's main piazza is Piazza Pio - simple and elegant. And its most famous food is pecorino cheese: we tasted several of their special cheeses at a shop on Corso Rossellino, and bought a Caprino, and a Pecorino Stagionatao to take home to add to our antipasti platter with drinks . Yum!

Monday, May 31, 2010

Porto Venere

On the way to the Cinque Terre, we stopped off at PortoVenere. A fisherman fixing the holes in his nets.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Da Rocco, San Ambrogio market, Firenze

San Ambrogio Mercato is one of the oldest markets in Florence: Fruit and veg under cover outside, and cheeses, fish and meat inside. It's near the Santa Croce area of Firenze, much smaller than the reknowned San Lorenzo market in the centre, but one of the highlights is the busy trattoria Da Rocco. We always look foward to lunch there, and sometimes have to wait a while to grab a table if our group is large-ish. Signore Rocco himself provides much of the interest: he doesn't stop running for the entire lunch service. He must be in his 60s, (or 70s?) but still has time to pose for a quick foto! Food is quick/slow (ie quick to serve, but offering many slow food dishes), traditional and local food, excellent value for money. And fun. Don't expect tablecloths or fine glassware: it's paper mats (often covered in interesting titbits of local information) and stemless water glasses to drink from (use the same glass for the wine and the water).

Friday, May 28, 2010


A fabulous day in the rolling hills of Chianti, and a few hours at Verrazzano, one of the oldest wineries in the area. (Their history includes the discoverer of the sea passage into New York.) A tour of the gardens and the cellars is topped off with lunch and a very generous wine tasting. Ahhhh those yummy sangiovese grapes!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Firenze: relax by the Arno River

When the crowds in the centre of Firenze become too much, take a stroll (or a little ATAF electric orange bus) down to the Arno. Near Ponte S Niccolo is Giardino Antonio, and a litle box of a bar Lungano dei Tempio. It's right on the edge of the garden and the Arno and a cool place to sit if it's a hot day. You can watch the rowers in their kayaks and sculls, up and down the green river in front of you (they can't go too far towards Pisa because of the cement restraining tables). Individual scullers with their relaxed windmill technique, and the occasional novice splashing past. You can buy a glass of wine and a generous serve of foccacio with salami or prosciutto or formaggio for less than $10. Just don't drink the water from the Arno. Or even put your toes in. Molto pericoloso!

Firenze: Santissima Annunciata

One of the beautiful buildings in Piazza Santissima Annunciata is the Ospedale Innocenti, designed by Michelangelo. On top of the arches at the front are some beautiful blue Della Robbia sculptures, and a few identifying the building as one that looks after abandoned babies. Inside, where conferences and art shows are often held, we saw some examples of students' work in terracotta- a modern example of the same swadlinged baby subject.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010


Ten minutes after arriving at my friends' home in Firenze, I had a helmet on, and had climbed aboard Adri's motor bike for a speedy trip to Piazza Santissima Annunciata to view an excellent (and moving) art exhibition, assembled by teachers and students in memory of Professore and friend Bruno Benelli, a Fiorentine maestro of sculpture, who died just one year ago.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Piazza Armerina, Sicily, Sicilia

On the way from Palermo we drove fast over a bridge (a road on stilts) about 28 km long. With the wind and the heavy rain, it was a touch terrifying. The sun shone briefly as we hit Piazza Armerina, an old inland town in the mountains of central Italy, with about 23,000 inhabitants. Its history dates back to C7th BC , with Roman, Middle Ages and Norman architectural evidence. We ate the best pasta ever (pasta fresca from Nonna Maria) at Ristorante Teatro. Then the rain came down again.

Catania, Sicilia, Sicily

Any day in Catania involves a traffic jam of some description. "Molto traffico!" Saturdays are often worse than others. It took quite a while to navigate the narrow streets, all of course with cars , vans and trucks parked at all angles, all over the place, sticking out to block the streets, and with much honking of horns/claxions. Finally we reached the equally noisy fish market. An experience not to be missed.
Today we also saw evidence of at least 6 weddings. And to make the traffic even worse it was Saint Rita's day, with many women dressed to please or remember her, in simple black long dresses with a white top. At first we thought those in these costumes may have been in a choir. Later we noticed young girls were wearing the outfits also. Most carrying a long-stemmed red rose. Still later at the Castel Ursino we met a family with a sleeping baby a few months old, in pram, dressed as Saint Rita. Without a rose.

Monday, May 10, 2010


My limo and driver were at Fiumicino airport to pick me up and drive (quickly) to my modest hotel, not far from Termini stazione, and on the second floor. My room is about 3m x 4m, with a single bed, plus wardrobe and ensuite.... but every possible thing I could need, including marble tiled floor, HD TV, desk, lights with functining globes, hot water etc.

I took the #40 bus from Termini to my favourite spot in all Rome, the Pantheon. I got off near the Vittorio Emanuele bridge, and wandered the old windey streets, pedestraians only (sort of), eventually reaching Piazza Navona. Unfortunately Bernini's fountain covered by white safety boarding as it's being restored. After a gelato, a side street leads to the Pantheon. It was raining lightly all afternoon. I put on my attractive blue plastic raincoat from the $1 shop, immediately identifying myself as a straniera: no Italian woman would reduce herself to such comfortable practical attire. Not "una bella figura".

The Pantheon exterior is presently half covered in scaffolding, but the half that can still be seen is grand and somewhat awe inspiring. No charge to enter today.... lots of people, some there obviously to evade the rain. With the large round hole in the roof, of course the rain came in, so a largish space in the middle of the floor was cordoned off, and for the first time I noticed small holes in parts of the floor for drainage, amomgst the beautiful mosaics. Raphael's tomb, Vittorio Emmanuel's grand tomb, and the fabulous ceiling with the light and shadows making it look even more spectacular... will put a few photos up on the blog when I get a chance.. not able to now, sitting in my hotel room without correct facilities.

Getting to Italy

My georgeous daughter made pasta and turned it into ravioli - filled with pumpkin and sweet potato, with a delicate sauce of sage and butter - for me and my family for Mothers' Day. A wondeful relaxing lunch in their back garden before I left for Italy in the evening.

Yes, it's a long way from Melbourne to Rome. One just has to accept it'll take about 24hours, and make the best of it. Emirates did a very good limo pickup to get me to the airport, and they provide a pleasant lounge in Dubai with champagne and whatever else I wanted to eat. My way of passing the time en route is to watch movies: On the first leg I watched 3: When In Rome... probably the worst film I have ever seen, followed by Lovely Bones - where a 14 year old girl was killed by a creepy sociopath , then Invictus which was great: Mandela and the South African rugby coach. From Dubai to Rome I watched a film whose actual name I have already forgotten... a legal one based on a real situation where the husband was found guilty of attempting to murder his rich but painfully drug addicted wife, and a law professor got a group of friends and students together to make a case to overturn the judge's decision. The second film was September Issue: let's just say I'm pleased I didnt pay to see it at the cinema last year. The best part was oggling Ms Wintours elegant simple clothes... dresses and heels daily. The main information I was seeking wasn't forthcoming: With all those racks of beautiful clothes, what happens to them? Does anyone who works at Vogue USA have to buy clothes? Ever? And the most "real" person in the movie was Grace... loved her.

An international news item on the screen at one stage informed us that UK passengers had again been forced to stop flying due to more Iclandic volcano ash. At Dubai, all flights, including those to and from Frankfurt were operating. No worries there.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The olives

About 10 days ago my family picked our olives. Big fat black olives. They are now soaking in strongly salted water, changed every day or two. But will they be ready to put into store in olive oil before I leave for Italy?? The extra virgin olive oil, with rosemary from our garden, is ready and waiting. Seasons the exact opposite here in Australia compared to Italy of course: over there olives are harvested in October.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Where is Alghero?

Alghero, an ancient town in the North-West of Sardegna , has a facinating archaeological heritage and very rich history. We find evidence dating back to prehistoric times, although it's now sometimes referred to as "Little Barcelona" - no help in guessing why. We're booked into a fabulous hotel in a spectacular position right on the ocean .
Will be there in a few days!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Italian travels 2010

This is our newest blog.... getting ready to fly off to Italy this week.

First stop will be Rome, then the next day, a short flight of only about one hour, to Alghero, a small town in the north of one of Italy's 2 big islands of Sardinia/Sardegna.

Come join us on this 6 week journey!

Ciao, Mardie