Preserving Italy and Tropea onion jam

I’ve had this cookbook sitting beside my bed for weeks, trying to decide what to cook. I’d pick it up, let a page fall open — almost like letting fate choose the recipe — and get distracted reading. It continued this way for a while. It’s my favourite way to read a cookbook. But the problem for me is that I’m indecisive. Should I make the boozy cherries? That’s how long ago it was when I first started reading... Read More

Coffee, almonds and ice

Three ingredients, and there you have my favourite type of iced coffee ever, and my ideal pick me up on a slow, hot afternoon. ‘Caffe in ghiaccio’ or Caffe Leccese is a favourite summertime drink in Lecce, the beautiful capital of Puglia‘s southernmost area of Salerno, something I tried — and got hooked on — during my first trip to the baroque town about five years ago. In it’s simplest form, caffe in ghiaccio... Read More

Raw tomato sauce for hot summer days

Quite possibly the best way to enjoy really good, ripe summer tomatoes – as well as making the most of spending as little time in front of a hot stove as possible – is raw tomato sauce for coating pasta. It’s something Marco makes for lunch on a warm day when he’s craving pasta al pomodoro (his ideal comfort food), but either doesn’t have the patience to cook the sauce or the desire to turn on the stove (except to boil the... Read More

Making lady fingers at home

Lady fingers, also known as savoiardi in Italian, are widely used in dessert making, namely, for soaking up rum-splashed coffee and layering into a glass dish with that creamy, rich, sweetened and egg-fortified mascarpone for tiramisu. There are other biscuits you can use but I consider savoiardi indispensable for tiramisu. My Tuscan mother in law prefers to use Pavesini, which are thin, finger-shaped children’s cookies, but being so thin,... Read More

Dolce Firenze & Pride and Pudding Cookbook

A wonderful thing arrived on my doorstep the day before flying back to Italy: an advance copy of Regula Ysewijn’s Pride and Pudding (Murdoch books). A beautifully designed book devoted to the history of British puddings, both savoury and sweet, it’s been a labour of love for Regula aka Miss Foodwise (who not only wrote it but also did all the design, styling and the photography) and her husband Bruno Vergauwen (who did the absolutely... Read More

That Martini Rosso

Exactly ten years ago I noticed this cute boy behind a bar noticing me. It was a freezing February afternoon in Florence. I had just flown in from summery Sydney and my friend Audrey, a striking French girl, was insisting I come out and meet her for a drink. Despite my excuse of jet lag, she wouldn’t let up. And she’s quite the persuasive type. So I dragged myself out of my cosy, shoebox of an studio apartment and headed across the muddy... Read More

Minne di Sant’Agata

If you’ve ever studied art history, you’ll know how to easily spot Saint Agatha in a fresco painting – she’s the one holding her breasts on a platter, a hint at the legend behind her torturous martyrdom where they were cut off with pincers by a powerful Roman suitor when his advances were rejected. The young girl, said to be from a noble family in Catania in Sicily’s east, was buried in her home town where she still watches... Read More

Citron, three ways

On my recent trip to Sicily, I brought with me Helena Attlee’s beautiful ode to citrus in Italy, The Land Where Lemons Grow. It’s a fascinating, beautifully written account of the history and current situation of citrus through Italy’s best known citrus areas, from the Medici’s citrus collection in Florence to the mafia tainted mandarins in Palermo, the lemons of Amalfi and Garda and more. The last chapter is about Calabria’s... Read More

Pumpkin and chestnut gnocchi

“Cookbooks aren’t read in a linear fashion,” my editor explained when we decided to cut up my lengthy introduction to Florentine and place bits and pieces strategically throughout the book instead. I knew it was true. I, too, with very few exceptions (Alice B. Toklas’ cookbook and Rachel Roddy’s Five Quarters for example), love flipping randomly through cookbooks rather than reading them cover to cover. Especially when... Read More

Autumn salad of fennel, walnuts & pomegranate

My recent visit to the Val d’Orcia is still heavily imprinted on my mind. The textures of the hills that look like pencil drawings, that first chill in the air and the first roaring fireplace of the season. Everything looked and tasted like autumn. Just before we left we stopped for a visit to see the sisters of Puscina, a family-run flower farm between Pienza and Montepulciano. They took us on a stroll through their garden beds overflowing... Read More