Posts Tagged With: Italian

“Ordinary Objects” Exhibition of Art Works by Elizabeth Varley

Grapes Cheese and Pears On Linen - $350 - 75cm x 50cm

Grapes Cheese and Pears On Linen – $350 – 75cm x 50cm

Solo Exhibition of Art Works by Elizabeth Varley  

“Ordinary Objects”

“In the right light, at the right time, everything is extraordinary”.  ~Aaron Rose

You are invited to the Exhibition Opening : Saturday 10th September 2016, at 2.00pm

The CTC Robertson, 58 Hoddle Street, Robertson NSW 2577  Viewing and sales: August and September 2016

 Hours:  Thursday to Friday 10am – 4pm,  Saturday – 10am -1pm

Visit my Page for all the images – pricing, dimensions and more information

Categories: Art, Cooking School, Food, Wine and Cooking, Italy, Mushrooms, Photography, Recipes, Travel, Uncategorized, Wine | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Lucca – A Secret Gem

Another week has passed by in a bit of a haze. After spending 4 hours every morning in Italian lessons trying hard to look on the ball and somewhat engaged, I find that my head is spinning by 1.00pm. The lessons are conducted all in Italian – totally from wow to go. To add more pain the use of dictionaries is prohibited.  When you have a question, the teacher attempts to ease your dilemma by using a convoluted example in Italian and by the time he has finished his explanation, you have hopefully grasped the concept.

This week we had a new bunch of recruits from Holland and Germany and Australia plus the same 2 chaps from Japan (one of which is a right pain in the backside!) -10 in total.  Consequently, the group exercises are like deciphering Morse code with cotton wool stuck in your ears. It is all babble!

What really did my head in was our final exercise on Friday – a passage (about an A4 page) that we had to read, translate and then undertake some grammar exercises. The subject was about a scientist who became fascinated by snails and wanted to write a book about the life of snails. However, no matter how he tried to conceal himself in the bushes, the snails were up to his tricks and hid inside their shells. So he had a bright idea of disguising himself as a snail. He made a shell out of paper mache that he could fit himself into, a rubbery nose with rubbery horns that waggled about and silvery saliva that he painted onto the ground. This pastime quickly turned into an obsession, and eventually he was sleeping in his costume and asking his wife to make him worm fritters.  She in the end, told him he was a loon and he could stick his worm fritters and left!

Now – I am confident that in my next conversation with someone about snails and worm fritters I will be able to acquit myself well. Handy don’t you think?

On the plus side, I feel more confident in conversing with the locals in Italian (not about snails). Some are very patient and will give you time to express yourself. Others revert to English straight away.  At least no one is speaking German to me.  There are plenty of Germans and Dutch here but very few Asians.

Lucca is a really pleasant and friendly place. The city is flat and cars are not allowed in the walls unless you have parking permits and a place to park, which are very limited. Consequently, this is a great place for a bicycle and which there are hundreds. The streets are narrow and cobbled with the buildings rising up on either side for three or four stories containing 4 to 8 apartments where the residents live in close quarters with each other.  So hearing the domestic chatter (and arguments) from your “vicini” is not unusual. For example the family who live behind me have a toddler named – wait for it… Galileo! My goodness he has a big name to live up to.

IMG_1201Yesterday the weather was a lovely so I spent a couple of hours wandering the main shopping streets (lanes) and poking my head into a number of stores.  But the highlight was another lingering lunch in a quiet corner, watching the passing crowds go by. On perusing the menu, I was unable to make up my mind between the chicken liver pate or the Tuscan salami and figs – so my very congenial waiter suggested that I have a half portion of both. This I followed up with a light main of vitello tonnato.  One of my all-time favs – cold sliced veal with a mayonnaise made with tuna and capers.  This was accompanied by a lovely local white wine – Trebbiano which dates back to the Roman times. (This photo is for my brother Peter who is the most patient husband of a champions shopper – Mary)

The best sight of the week was when I was on my way home from class, I passed a couple of older ladies (70’s) – done up to the nines. Blonded hair (yes, I am a culprit of some chemical assistance in this department), large pouting red lips (possibly some filler, and Botox to boot) skin tight black pants and patent black boots, rather flashy jewellery and pushing a very smart baby pram with a hood. From the back they looked like a couple of glamourous (!?) grannies out with the new baby while mum is at work. As I drew closer, I looked into the pram  – my jaw hit the ground – there sitting in pride of place was not a baby but the biggest, white, furry cat I have ever seen. I have since discovered that this was a state of the art bespoke cat pram. Can you believe it!

Today I am indoors as it is raining and thundery. So I have been busy doing some catch up homework in readiness for class tomorrow. Please God, no more stories about invertebrates please?

ci vediamo

Categories: Food, Wine and Cooking, Italy, Language, Photography, Travel, Uncategorized, Wine | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Wild about Mushrooms


The days have turned cool as winter is beckoning. The leaves have started to fall from the trees and the clouds lie in heavy grey banks along the horizon. Today is a foretaste of winter as the temperature is only 6 degrees Celsius. My mind has turned to all the delicious hearty dishes that you can enjoy at this time of year.

It is an opportunity to curl up with a cup of tea and a slice of orange cake and bring out the cook books and browse through the pages for those comfort food recipes.

During the Easter holiday I had a houseful of guests and served this easy to prepare soup. I was pleased that it was rich in flavour but not too heavy as the first course to a lengthy and filling dinner.

Zuppa di Funghi (Mushroom Soup)

• 1 kg fresh mushrooms such as: porcini, chanterelles, chestnut, Swiss browns, shitake, portbello etc
• 4 T spoon olive oil (extra for serving)
• 1 medium white onion, finely chopped
• 2 cloves of garlic chopped
• 250 dry white wine
• 1 sprig fresh sage (5 leaves)
• 1.50 litres vegetable stock
• 6 thick slices of country style bread
• 100g freshly grated parmesan cheese

1. Carefully clean the mushrooms with a damp cloth if they are a bit dirty, or wash carefully and dry on paper towel
2. Trim away any hard stems
3. Slice finely or cut into dice
4. Heat olive oil in large pan and add onion
5. Sauté on low heat until soft
6. Add chopped garlic and Sauté for a few mins
7. Turn up heat and add wine, simmer off the alcohol
8. Add mushrooms and sage
9. Sauté for a few minutes to lightly colour
10. Add the hot stock and simmer for 25 minutes until mushrooms are soft
11. Check the seasoning – add salt and pepper
12. Coarsely puree about half the mushrooms and return to the pan
13. Grill the bread slices on both sides
14. Place a slice of bread on each bowl and ladle the soup over. Sprinkle the grated parmesan cheese and add a drizzle of olive oil. If you like a little kick you can use chilli oil as the garnish – but just a touch!

Special note:
If I cannot find fresh porcini mushrooms I add a small packet of dried porcini mushrooms that have been reconstituted in 250 ml of boiling water (reduce the amount of stock by 250ml in the listed ingredients if you do this). Roughly chop the softened mushrooms. Use the mushroom liquor in the soup but be careful not to pour in the dregs as these can be a bit gritty.

I served this with a full bodied chardonnay (preferably not too oaked). Or, if you prefer, it would be well-matched with a light red such as, a Pinot Noir/Red Burgundy.

Enjoy!

,

Categories: Cooking School, Food, Wine and Cooking, Italy, Mushrooms, Photography, Recipes, Travel, Uncategorized, Wine | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Olive Oil – The Life Blood of Italy

Last week I met Gabriella, for lunch at a winery on the south coast of NSW not far from the village of Milton and the town of Ulladulla. Cupitt’s Winery sits snuggly on a hillside overlooking a lake and in the distance, the hills rise up to meet the clear blue autumn sky.

Over a delicious lunch and a glass of mulled wine (to keep the autumn chill out of our bones) we reminisced about the time that we’d first met in Italy in October 2012. We were both attending a week-long photographic workshop at the magic destination of Dievole winery in Tuscany.

Dievole is the quintessential Italian experience. The rolling Tuscan hills are covered in olive groves and vineyards where the vines leaves are changing to vibrant reds, oranges and rusts in the crisp autumn weather; quaint hillside towns and villages; cafes where you can sit in the sun sipping strong coffee and let time pass you by; small family-run restaurants serving fresh, local produce such as autumn truffles, freshly picked mushrooms of many shapes and colours, fresh farm cheese and a variety of meat and poultry. Every meal was an excuse to try something new, a specialty of the area prepared by the chef in his/her own style, or that of his/her mother and grandmother and all the generations of cooks before them. Culinary traditions run deep in the Italian kitchen and are held in awe by those behind the stove.

Sunrise over the Vineyards - Tuscany

Sunrise over the Vineyards – Tuscany

We woke early on our first morning to find the valleys shrouded in mist which created an ideal atmospheric “shoot” for our first photographic excursion. During the week we enjoyed many wonderful forays into the countryside, towns and villages snapping away to capture “the moment”.

One excursion I remember most fondly was visiting a nearby farm and oil press. Which was in the midst of its annual harvest and oil production. The owner gave us a tour of the press which was “all systems go” at the time as many local farmers had bought their olive crop in for pressing. At the end of the production line the oil was decanted into a variety of cans, bottles, flasks and any other suitable containers that could be mustered for the occasion.

Olive oil is a staple in Italian cooking and runs in the veins of every Italian. We were treated to the fabulous experience of tasting the year’s production on-site. In the pressing room, there is an open fire-place where crusty bread was toasted over the coals then doused with lashings of rich, peppery olive oil fresh from the press, on top of which were placed generous slices of pancetta and pecorino cheese. This mouth-watering combination was washed down by the vineyard’s red wine.

We stood next to the fire, chatting to the hum and clatter of the machinery as the giant stone wheels whirred around pressing the olives and extracting every last drop of liquid gold.

Categories: Cooking School, Food, Wine and Cooking, Italy, Photography, Recipes, Travel, Uncategorized, Wine | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Holiday Rental Abroad – A Checklist for a Hassle Free Holiday – Part 2

OK – now you know what “must have”, you can start looking and the first step is ….

Research, research and then some more research.

Sounds like a lot of hard work – but it is not if you look in the right places.

1. The internet
This is the easiest way to find a villa/apartment. But you may be overwhelmed by the volume of choice. My tip is refine your search as to the
• Location
• Type of accommodation
• Key characteristics that are important to you such as pool, golf, mountains, seaside etc

So examples search strings could be:
• “Luxury villa” + Tuscany + pool
• Budget + “holiday accommodation” + Italy
• “Apartment to rent”+ Venice + “San Marco”
• Beach+pool+villa+amalfi

When your internet search is delivered, look at the first few sites and see if they carry the stock of accommodation that you’re looking for. If not – refine your search string.

Don’t spend too long on each site but bookmark (add to your favourites) the websites that look interesting to come back to later for an in depth search. I tend to shortlist about 5 sites.

Now that you have your rental checklist of “must haves” as well as a shortlist of sites, the fun really begins.

Most sites have search criteria from which you can select, so plug in your “must haves” – number of bedrooms, rental period, pool, location, etc. Now carefully read the detailed descriptions and inclusions of each of the accommodations. If the details do not match your “must haves” there is no point getting hooked on the pretty pictures – move on. When you see a property that matches your criteria either print off the details and pictures, or bookmark that particular property.

I admit that I have a secret pleasure. Once I have a shortlist of say 10 properties I love to get into bed that night and read the detailed descriptions and peruse the pictures at leisure without interruption. I have found that during the night, while I sleep, one or two properties percolate up through my subconscious and in the morning, I have the shortlist in my mind. I then rate the property descriptions by most liked and least liked. That way I can concentrate on a handful of “most liked” properties for in-depth investigation.

Above all, make sure you carefully read what has been described, not what you “want” to read. It’s all too easy to “think” you read about some attribute only to find when you excitedly arrive at your destination that the swimming pool you’ve been dreaming about is in fact a paddling pool, or some such other disappointment!.

2. Ask friends and associates for referrals
Referrals are a great way to source accommodation. If other people have had a good experience when dealing with a particular vendor or renting a particular property, then half the hard work is already done for you.

However:
• Trusting someone else’s opinion is great as long as you have similar tastes and/or requirements.
• How long ago did they rent this property?
• What could have changed since then?
• Has the property been well maintained?
• Is the same vendor and or agent managing the peoperty?

3. Check out the bona fides of the agent/vendor before you send any money
I hear loads of people say they are nervous about dealing with vendors over the internet. I completely understand and have felt the same in the past. The following are a few tips that I use to check the bona fides of the vendor I am about to deal with:
• do they have a corporate website
• are there testimonials on the website
• check out the reviews the villa/apartment on Trip Advisor – contact the most recent reviewers and post a question
• start an email conversation with the vendor and get more information about items and conditions that are on your “must have” list
• ask for a phone number and call them
• ask for references from previous clients
• make sure that you have adequate travel insurance before you send any money

Money, Money, Money!

Once you have the numbers of participants confirmed, you need to receive a non-refundable deposit from them. This deposit is refundable only if other participants take their place. Otherwise other members of your group will have to absorb this extra financial burden.

OK – Now you have your ideal villa/apartment sorted it is time to get the finances sorted.
Show me the colour of your money
When renting with friends and family members you need to make sure that you get a firm financial commitment from them prior to you parting with any of your own hard earned cash. You certainly don’t want to commit to renting a 6 bedroom villa and then a month before you leave on your holiday, someone pulls out of the deal and leaves you carrying the financial burden.

So my advice is to get all your companions to “show you the colour of their money” (and commitment) early! Well before you have to make your initial deposit payment to the vendor.

I work on the basis that the individual cost will include:
• rent
• optional outgoings (air-con, heating, pool, chef, maid service, etc)
• housekeeping (this covers groceries, wine and liquor, household incidentals, etc).

What about housekeeping?

In the past I have found that asking everyone to chip into a housekeeping kitty prior to leaving is the best and the most hassle free way to manage the day-to-day expenses while you are living it up in your villa or apartment.

I have loaded the housekeeping kitty onto a designated credit or debit card for the sole use of making your purchases or getting cash from the ATM. I keep all the receipts and regularly reconcile these against the housekeeping kitty. This is the best way to make sure that everyone feels that there has been an equal contribution to the running expenses and also, as the organiser, you are not out of pocket.

Depending on your anticipated lifestyle, and the group that you are renting with, the housekeeping kitty can vary from $100 per day to $200 per day. That should be ample. Towards the end of the rental period if there are surplus funds in kitty, I have also paid for some meals when out at restaurants, entrance fees and bar bills etc.

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In the next blog I will give you some ideas of making the most of your holiday such as:
• discovering those exciting out of the way adventures
• finding the best local produce
• dining with the locals
• shopping
• making your villa a home away from home .

Categories: Food, Wine and Cooking, Italy, Language, Photography, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Holiday Rental Abroad – A Checklist for a Hassle Free Holiday – Part 1

“La Dolce Vita“

A Guide to Renting a Villa/Apartment

Do you want:
• a hassle free Italian vacation?
• to experience living in Italy and being part of the local scene?
• to be not just another tourist
• to eat great food just like the locals?
• to experience “la dolce vita”?

Yes?

Then the answer is; rent a villa or an apartment and get in touch with the real Italians and the unique experience of living the Italian dream.

Renting a villa or an apartment is a sure-fire way to have a fun holiday in Italy. Going to the local supermarket and doing your groceries, getting to know the butcher, the baker, the fruit and veggie man, the wine merchant (really important!), eating fabulous food at restaurants the locals go to, and discovering all those hidden out-of-the-way places that are not in the guide books.

I hear from lots of people that they would love to do this. But for many it just seems too hard, or they don’t know where to start, or they are afraid they will get ripped off.

I have rented apartments and villas all over Italy (and other countries) and I would like to share with you my guide to hassle free renting. Here is a checklist that will help you along on your journey:

Work out precisely what type of accommodation and location you want:
1. Who will your companions be for this rental; just you, or are your family joining you, are your friends coming along as well, and how well does everyone know each other?
2. How many bedrooms and what type of beds will you need in each room – – single, double, queen or king and is the linen provided? Also – be careful if bedrooms join each other, or you have to walk through a bedroom to the shared bathroom/toilet. Very difficult if you have a call of nature in the middle of the night.
3. How many bathrooms do you need – bath or shower? There is no point on having 12 people in a villa and have only 2 bathrooms/toilets. If the bathrooms are not en-suite, I work on the basis of one shared bathroom to 4 people. Separate toilets are a good idea if you have a large number of guests.
4. Is there a washing machine? Finding and then washing your clothes in a laundromat is no fun when on holiday.
5. Is there an outdoor entertaining area? You will want to eat your meals “al fresco” and enjoy those wonderful warm evenings.
6. Is there a pool? Usually pools are open from late May to October. Also, are there any costs incurred in running the pool?
7. Is there air conditioning or heating? Will you need to use this? Italy can be stiflingly hot in summer and freezing in autumn and winter, and importantly, is the cost included in the rent? If not – how is it calculated and paid for?
8. Are there extra cleaning services available and what is the cost per hour? When you are on holiday the last thing you want to be doing is scrubbing the toilets. It is a good idea to organise at least one to two extra cleans a week if there are a large number sharing over a period of a few weeks. Often, there is a weekly clean included in the weekly rental.
9. Is there a chef that will come to the villa and cook for you? Does the chef bring all the ingredients and is this included in the cost? Having a chef is a great idea if you are not in close proximity to restaurants, and after all, you are on holiday and you don’t want to cook dinner every night. Also, you can learn a few cooking tips to impress your friends when you return home.

I remember a holiday where I organised a chef to cook every second night. He was very open to showing us a few of his cooking techniques however most of my friends were uninterested in cooking lessons but when this Adonis turned up there was not one female left on the couch. Not only did he bring all the ingredients, prepare the food, serve and cleared the table, he then washed up and left the kitchen spotless. Worth every Euro I say!


10. What is the access to the villa? Are there many stairs or a steep pathway to your front door? Remember – everything that you carry in also has to be carried out and that includes your suitcases, groceries/wine, and no doubt, the many wonderful purchases that you will make during your Italian vacation. Also remember that all the trash has to be deposited in the communal garbage and recycling bins on the street.
11. Check the restrictions for car parking. Is there off-street parking and for how many cars? If not, what are the restrictions for on-street parking?
12. Is the accommodation in a quiet area? Check out Google maps/earth, or ask the vendor if it is close to a busy road, train line, industrial or commercial area. I once rented an apartment on a pedestrian only street in Taormina, Sicily. Great I thought – a really central location and no cars. Alas, people partied till the wee hours up and down the street and then all the commercial deliveries had to be made before 7.00am. Thank goodness the windows were double glazed.
13. Is there an Internet connection and/or mobile phone coverage? We are now totally reliant on easy communication and expect that we can call our family and connect to the internet anywhere we go. However – that is not the case in Italy. Find out if your accommodation is connected (wi-fi or dial-up) and is there a cost to you.
14. Is the accommodation child friendly? Stairs – internal and external, a fenced-in garden, a fenced- in pool area, is the garden area safe for children (water features, steep cliffs etc)?
15. Do you want to be close to a village or town? This is important because you will need a car to get around if you are in the countryside. If you have a car and you rent accommodation in a town or village what are the parking arrangements/costs?

16. What services does your local village or town have? Restaurants and bars, supermarket (co-op), specialty food vendors, bank and/or ATM etc, doctor, chemist, etc
17. What are the closest transport links? Train services vary in Italy from rapid express to very, very slow! What is the closest airport and car hire place?
18. What area of Italy do you want to vacation in? Are you hankering for a remote location to commune with nature? Or, are you an urbanite that needs to be near all the action? Or are you someone in between – nature and action? Check out what your locality has to offer: culture, art, music, scenery, nature walks, parks, gardens, boating, beaches, golf and tennis etc, shopping, wineries, food, historic locations, museums etc…
19. Consider the time of year that you take your holiday in Italy? Spring (March to May) and Autumn ( September to November – however take note that late October and November can be cold) are the best. Summer (June to August) can be really very hot especially late July and August. Note – Italians take their holidays in August and tend to holiday in Italy. Consequently, many shops and restaurants will be closed and the prime holiday destinations such as the seaside, islands and the mountains will be very crowded with holidaying Italians.
20. What are the costs?
• Rent per week/month (Remember to ask for a discount for longer bookings or when making low season bookings).
• Rent per week/month (ask for a discount for longer bookings or low season bookings)
• Money transfer costs/bank fees
• Consider the exchange rate – are the rental costs quoted in your currency or the Euro
• Security deposit (refundable how? and when?)
• Chef – paid directly to the chef or the booking agent/vendor
• Extra maid service – paid directly to the maid or the booking agent/vendor
• Extras such as – air conditioning, heating, pool etc
• Are there any other staff such as a gardener or housekeeper who may need to receive a tip?

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OK – now you have your list of “must haves”, you can start looking….

Next blog we will discover how to go about finding your ideal villa or apartment.

Categories: Food, Wine and Cooking, Italy, Language, Photography, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Italy on a Plate – Pasta and Porcini

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Dievole is an enchanted valley not far from Siena. The name is synonymous with the vineyard that was established here over 1,000 years ago and has since been lovingly cultivated by generations of the families who have made this valley their home.

Today, Dievole is still an enchanted place. I spent ten wonderful days here sampling the wine, relishing great local food and fresh produce, enjoying warm Italian hospitality, and above all, marvelling at the fantastic and beautiful scenery; the lush valleys, the rolling hillsides covered in vines that were adopting their autumn colours of gold and red, the deep green oak forests that are home to wild boar, and the quaint stone-built villages clinging to the hillsides.

What bought me to Dievole was my interest in photography. I came to learn and refine my skills with a fantastic teacher – Chris Corradino from New York. It was a great experience to see Italy with fresh eyes and a different perspective through the camera lens.

Our week flew by with excursions to interesting and different vistas; an urban shoot in Firenze, exploring small villages, nosing around old buildings, capturing open spaces and dawn shoots to get that special light. We were faced with all sorts of technical and artistic challenges along the way which were quickly resolved with Chris’ encouragement. A sample of my photos accompanies this blog.

Dievole has a wonderful gastronomic history. I enjoyed many memorable meals and the opportunity to talk to the chef and waiters who are passionate about serving great food as they are about eating it. A couple of culinary highlights demonstrate the essence of Italian cooking to me – the use of fresh, local produce and letting the flavours of the food speak for themselves. In typical Italian fashion, dishes are not complicated by conflicting tastes, textures and are not swimming in sauces. Plates are simply and beautifully presented where the ingredients are king and not necessarily dominated by the person in the kitchen that put it altogether.

Pasta is a dish that illustrates the Italian food ideal of simplicity. Every locality and region in Italy has its own signature pasta and here in this corner of Tuscany, it is pici, also known as pinci. This is a hand-rolled, eggless thick spaghetti and a good example of “cucina povera” (poor man’s cuisine) — utilizing only flour, water, green Tuscan olive oil. Originating from the Val d’Orcia region (the area between Montalcino and Montepulciano). This pasta is best served with sauces such as: briciole – breadcrumbs, aglione – spicy garlic tomato sauce, boscaiola – porcini mushrooms, and ragù – a meat based sauce, game meat such as – cinghiale – wild boar, leper – hare and anatra – duck.
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Cooking Tip – What is the correct pasta serving size?

Firstly, how much pasta you need to cook depends on a number of factors – whether you are cooking a first course of a main course, the type of pasta you are cooking, and how hungry your guests are.
The general rule is that the amount of pasta to cook per person should be roughly:

•75g-115g/3oz-4oz dried pasta;
•115g-150g/4oz-5oz fresh pasta;
•175g-200g/6oz-7oz filled pasta, such as ravioli ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I have two recipes for you – one a quick and easy dish for a light lunch, and the other, is a heartier meal with complex rich flavours. You won’t be disappointed…

IMG_0296

Pici con Pomodoro e Porcini (serves 4)

Ingredients
• Pici pasta – fresh or dry (amount per the above guide)
• 2 tablespoons cold pressed extra virgin – a must
• 1 punnet ripe! cherry tomatoes
• 2 cloves finely chopped fresh garlic
• 250 mls dry white wine (and a glass for yourself)
• Thinly sliced porcini mushrooms (or others if you can’t find porcini)
• Salt and pepper
• Parmesan cheese

Method
1. Prepare the pasta according to the packet instructions and for the number of serves required
2. When the pasta is just al dente drain and coat with olive oil and keep warm
3. In a frying pan heat the olive oil and toss in chopped garlic and stir for a minute
4. Splash in some white wine and cook off for a minute
5. Toss in washed cherry tomatoes and heat through
6. Toss in the cooked pasta and heat through
7. Season to taste
8. Place on a flat serving plate and arrange the sliced fresh mushrooms on top
9. Offer parmesan cheese and a crusty bread roll.
10. Perfect with a dry white wine – pinot grigio or similar

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Ragu di Anatra (Duck Breast Ragu (serves 4)

Ingredients
• 20g butter
• 2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
• 2 duck breasts (3 if small) trimmed of skin and excess fat, thinly sliced into strips
• 6 slices chopped pancetta
• 1 finely chopped onion
• 2 garlic cloves finely chopped
• 1 finely chopped carrot
• 1 finely chopped celery stalk
• 2 bay leaves
• 2 tbsp. tomato paste
• 250ml dry red wine such as Chianti (and of course a glass for you)
• 600g good-quality tomato pasta sauce
• 1 cup (250ml) chicken stock
• Grated parmesan, to serve

Method

1. Heat the butter and oil in a frypan over medium-high heat.
2. Cook the duck, in batches, until browned.
3. Remove duck with a slotted spoon and place in a bowl.
4. Drain all but 1 tablespoon oil from the pan and heat over medium heat.
5. Add pancetta, onion, garlic, carrot, celery and bay leaves to the pan and cook, stirring, for 2-3 minutes until they start to colour.
6. Return the duck to the pan with any resting juices,
7. Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring, for 1 minute.
8. Add the red wine and cook for 2-3 minutes until the liquid has reduced slightly.
9. Add the tomato sauce and chicken stock, bring to a simmer, then reduce heat to low, cover and gently simmer for 45 minutes or until the duck is tender and the sauce has thickened slightly.
10. Season the sauce to taste and serve the ragu with the cooked pici
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Do you know any foodies? Please forward my blog to them and ask them to sign up – more fab recipes to come!

In my next blog I visit the olive oil press for an amazing treat.

Categories: Cooking School, Food, Wine and Cooking, Italy, Language, Photography, Recipes, Travel, Uncategorized, Wine | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Italy on a Plate – Pumpkin and Parmesan Custards – Yummy!!!

Italy has many festivals and “The Festa della Zucca” held in October in a small town Venzone – in the Friuli–Venezia which is Italy’s most North-Eastern region. Venzone is pumpkin central. The town center transforms itself into a Medieval carnival with fire eaters, jugglers and street dancers all parading in the streets which are lit by torches and candles. The locals get into the mood by dressing as nobles, knights and ladies, innkeepers, shopkeepers and merchants. The atmosphere is enhanced as the shops are decorated with pumpkins and gastronomic delights such as pumpkin pizza, pumpkin gnocchi, pumpkin crostini and more. The humble pumpkin is elevated to royal status for the occasion.

The origins of the Pumpkin Festival are legendary. The Noble of the village of Venzone wanted to beautify and fortify the town and used the townsfolk as labourers. On completion of the restoration, the workers were not rewarded including a special craftsman who was to decorate the copper dome of the Cathedral of Venzone with a golden ball. But he too was not paid for his work so he craftily replaced the ball on the golden dome of the cathedral with a pumpkin. The Noble realized that he was tricked by the artist only on the day when the ball fell from its position on the dome and smashed to the ground.

Recently I had 8 friends for lunch and like every cook, planning the meal is half the fun. Poring over the cook books, being inspired by far a way places and cuisines and salivating over sumptuous and mouth-watering food photos. However, this time I decided to cook lunch using some of the recipes that I received at the Casa Ombuto cooking school in Tuscany last year. You can read more about this in my other blogs.

The lunch menu was:
Antipasto – Filo Cups filled with Aubergine Sauce (salsa con melanzane)
Prima Piatti – Pumpkin and Parmesan custards (Copette di zucca e parmigiano)
Secondo Piatti – “Jump in the Mouth” Veal with Sage and Ham (saltimbocca alla romana)
Dolce – Tiramasu (this literally means “pick you up”

The Pumpkin and Parmesan Custards were real winners as they were a new taste sensation and a different approach to serving pumpkin. The result is a lovely creamy custard that is slightly sweet from the pumpkin and the complex hint of the smoked cheese. I think the smokier the cheese the better.

So here is the recipe for you to try….
Ingredients
• 350 gms of cooked and pureed pumpkin
• 320 ml pouring cream
• 2 eggs
• 1 tablespoon grated smoked cheese (I used smoked cheddar)
• 50 gms grated parmesan cheese
• Salt and pepper to taste

Method

1. Preheat oven to 150 degrees
2. Pass cooked and pureed pumpkin through a sieve
3. Mix pumpkin, cream and smoked cheese and salt and pepper until smooth
4. Add the eggs and mix well
5. Pour into individual heat proof ramekins
6. Bake in a “bagno maria” (a water bath) for about 45 minutes or until the cream has thickened when you give it a gentle shake
7. Take out of oven and sprinkle about a teaspoon of grated parmesan cheese on top of each custard
8. Place under a hot grill until the cheese is golden brown
9. Serve warm with some crusty bread and a full-bodied white wine – maybe a pinot grigio from Fruili.

Happy cooking and eating… do you have any other favourite Italian dishes that you would like the recipe for? Just drop me a line in the comment box below.

For information, prices and dates for cooking schools in Tuscany please contact me at varley.e@gmail.com

Categories: Cooking School, Food, Wine and Cooking, Italy, Language, Photography, Recipes, Travel, Uncategorized, Wine | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Italy On A Plate – Il Ragu, The Best Bolognese Sauce Recipe Ever!

In Australia, like the rest of the world we eat Bolognese sauce by the litres. Commonly known as “Spag Bol” – this dish is to be found on menus everywhere, and in every instance, there is a variation made by the chef. Sometimes this is successful, but in most instances, these Bolognese sauces bear little resemblance to anything that you will find in Italy.

However, recently I attended an Italian cooking school in Tuscany, and Paola our chef says this is the “real McCoy”. Bolognese sauce is an Italian meat-based sauce for pasta which originated in Bologna, a city in Northern Italy. There it is often referred to as Il Ragu. It is a rich, thick and hearty sauce that unctuously clings to the pasta. Italians do not eat pasta swimming in sauce but prefer a “drier” sauce that has bold and clear flavours and is equal partner to the pasta.

Bolognese is a complex sauce which involves long slow cooking to let the flavours develop and intensify. This is not a dish for people in a hurry or the impatient. It is based on a soffritto which uses finely diced onion, carrot, and celery which are sautéed in olive oil until the mixture reaches a state of browning appropriate to its intended use. A soffritto is a building block to many Italian sauces and dishes.

Ingredients
• 1 Medium Red (Spanish) onion
• 2 cloves garlic
• I small carrot
• I stalk celery
• 100gms minced pork
• 200gms minced beef
• 400gms peeled canned tomatoes (crushed or chopped)
• 2 tablespoons of torn basil leaves
• Olive oil
• Salt and pepper
• 2 glasses red wine
• 1 glass of red wine extra
Proceedure
1. Mince the onion, carrot and celery in a food processor or chop very finely by hand
2. Brown these with the olive oil in a large pan over medium heat and season with salt and pepper
3. Add the combined meat and brown well
4. When the meat starts to stick to the pan add half a glass of red wine and leave on low/medium heat to reduce again
5. Repeat this 3 times, each time adding wine, stirring and leaving it to reduce
6. Mash tomatoes (if whole) and pour over to meat mixture and leave to slowly infuse with the meat for 10 minutes and then mix
7. Stir in basil leaves
8. Cover and simmer for 2 hours
9. Stir occasionally and add extra hot water if necessary
10. While il ragu is cooking drink the extra glass of wine!

To serve – use any type of pasta that you prefer, but tagliatelle is the Italian choice. In the absence of tagliatelle, you can also use other broad, flat pasta shapes, such as pappardelle or fettuccine, or with short tube shapes, such as rigatoni or penne.

Offer freshly grated parmesan cheese and a hearty red wine such as Shiraz or a Sangiovese.

Do you have any favourite Italian dishes that you would like the recipe for? Yes? Please just leave a comment below and I will blog that recipe for you….

Recipe with thanks from http://www.tuscookany.com

Categories: Cooking School, Food, Wine and Cooking, Italy, Language, Photography, Recipes, Travel, Uncategorized, Wine | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Stockholm – Venice of the North

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The flight from Rome to Stockholm via Munich was uneventful but I was fascinated to watch the Italian landscape change from the chaotic patchwork of farms to the cool green meadows of the alpine region of the Alps. The stone houses and barns of the Italian countryside are surrounded by brown fields, newly ploughed or a tapestry of ripe wheat and corn waiting to be harvested. Dense oak forests hug craggy hillsides where small hill top towns adorn the summits and spill over the edges like icing dripping over a cake.

As I fly across the Alps, the landscape changes to a vivid green in the deep valleys that vast glaciers cut between the mountains long ago. Nestling in the bottom of these glacial valleys, are quaint villages of white houses with red roofs which cluster along the river banks that meander through these picture book valleys. On either side of the valleys, the mountains rise up vertically from the valley floor. The verdant meadows give way to rocky grey summits where in some sheltered pockets there is perpetual snow.

The view from the aeroplane window could be described as panoramic unlike the sight of my lunch tray which drew gaps of horror not delight from my lips. Lufthansa as you know is the national carrier for Germany so this nationalistic fervour may account for a dinner of meatballs (closely resembling male anatomical parts) floating in a soggy soup of sauerkraut. This may not be the wisest meal to feed to 100 or so people who are trapped in a tin can 30,000 feet above the earth for 4 hours -the atmosphere in the plane may get a bit ripe after consuming this dinner!

My wish for cooler weather after the unrelenting heat of Italy was granted. On arrival in Stockholm, I was greeted with driving rain and a cold blustery wind whipping the fallen leaves out of the gutters. The drive from the airport was through dense pine forests and after about 45 minutes we are in the centre of Stockholm. What a beautiful city this is. There is water everywhere. The buildings are low rise and this makes for an intimate city on a human scale. No soaring canyons that block out the light and create great wind tunnels.

Founded around 1250 Stockholm is a conglomerate of 14 islands on the coast in the south-east of Sweden at the mouth of Lake Mälaren and it has a population of around 1.5 million. Sometimes called the “Venice of the North” Stockholm is known for its beauty, its buildings and the many styles of architecture. The first part of the name (stock) means log in Swedish, although it may also be connected to an old German word (Stock) meaning fortification. The second part of the name (holm) means islet. We explored the city by foot, bus and canal boat gaining an insight into the life of the City and its different sectors.

One of the islands is Stockholm’s core – the present Old Town – Gamla Stan which was built on the central island in the 13th century. This small island is a warren of cobbled streets, interesting buildings dating from the Middle Ages and later, cute little squares and tiny green spaces. There is a central square which is surrounded by beautiful buildings and is a congregation point for many tourists who flock there to people watch or take a breather to rest their feet after navigating the treacherous cobble stones.

Gamla Stan is also the site of the royal palace, an imposing square building that overlooks many parts of the city and other islands. Today this is the administrative centre for the Royal household and a place where important ceremonial duties and functions are carried out. It is an impressive sight when it is time for changing of the guard at the palace as a large cavalry troop parades through the streets, all gleaming, pressed and handsome on their chestnut horses.

The city originally rose to prominence as a result of the Baltic trade between many of the neighbouring countries: Denmark, Estonia, Norway, Germany and Poland. This ideal geographic position also brought many wars and disputes to its shores, the aggressors hoping to steal more land, power and wealth. These battles see-sawed over the centuries particularly between Denmark and Sweden and to this day there seems to be some underlying tensions often disguised as humour.

The next leg of the holiday is a 2-week cruise around the Baltic. We made our way to the harbour where we could see giant ferries that traverse the Baltic from Stockholm to St Petersburg, Helsinki, Estonia and other ports to the east and to the west Copenhagen, Oslo and other ports along the way. These giant ferries take hundreds of passengers and trucks, bikes and cars traversing the shipping lanes of the Baltic.

Our ship was easily identified by its gracious nautical profile and the 5 masts that will carry the sails when we are out to sea. It is the largest sailing ship in the world and carries about 300 passengers and 150 staff. All your creature comforts are catered for, a beauty salon for massages and facials, gym (I am not inclined to venture in there), a coffee shop where you can get a coffee and sandwich, 3 restaurants, a pool deck with a small pool and 2 hot tubs, 2 bars and lounges, quiet nooks to lounge both in and out of the sun.

We set sail around 6 pm and head out to sea through the myriad of pretty islands that make up Stockholm’s harbour. We turn east and head for St Petersburg – a 2-day sail away. I sink into life on board – relaxing by the pool in warm sun (no scorching Mediterranean heat here), reading, gazing out over the deep blue sea, contemplating the world from the other side of my eye lids, lulled by the quiet as the only sound is the swishing of the wind and the waves.

Some people say that the only clock needed on board is the one in your tummy. The day starts with breakfast where there is an ample buffet of fruit, yoghurt, smoothies, juices, hot savoury dishes – prepared and on order, smoked salmon and the trimmings, freshly baked bread, rolls and pastries. Lunch is a buffet – a range of salads and cold cuts, cheeses, fruit, deserts, ice creams and a daily bread and butter pudding, to supplement this there is a made to order pasta dish. Afternoon tea is served on deck – mini rolls and cakes and cookies. At dinnertime savouries are served with cocktails in the lounge and then dinner comprises a selection of appetisers, salad and soups, main course and finishing with cheese and dessert. After all that if you wake up at 2.00 am and have the munchies there is 24-hour room service.

If you enjoyed this blog please leave a comment below and forward this onto your friends. Thank you.

Next port of call – St Petersburg – stay tuned for more fun on the high sea.

Categories: Food, Wine and Cooking, Language, Photography, Stockholm, Travel, Uncategorized, Wine | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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