Beans Cooked in a Tuscan Jar

“First you need good beans.” The good advice of Elizabeth David always goes straight to the heart of the matter. We arrived back in Tuscany a week ago for what should be a few good months of family time, visiting friends and research, all peppered with good doses of eating and drinking. No sooner had we arrived at my mother in law’s house, weary from traveling halfway across the globe, did the pantry and kitchen doors open wide in invitation... Read More

100 year old apricot jam

This is a 123 year old recipe for apricot jam. It comes from my battered and worn pocket sized edition of Pellegrino Artusi‘s Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well. I only bought it a few years ago, it’s just battered because I use it all the time. I carry it around in my bag and read it’s old fashioned Italian like a novel. It’s often held open on one page with one hand while the other whisks or stirs. I don’t... Read More

Italian Table Talk: Zuppa di moscardini

Soup is the measure of a good cook. It may be a simple and humble vegetable soup or an extravagent bisque, but either way, it needs to be made with the knowledge of how to get the flavour out of your ingredients. Layers are key. As is texture. And a good stock goes a long way. It’s a dish that takes not necessarily time but a certain amount of skill and instinct in the kitchen. We decided that soup should be this month’s theme for our Italian... Read More

Bronzino’s Panzanella

Summer wouldn’t be summer without that perfect salad, a must when it’s simply too hot to cook and all you crave are the season’s fresh offerings. Things like this caprese salad, made with heirloom tomatoes straight out of the garden and torn hunks of buffalo mozzarella. In Tuscany, it’s always and forever, panzanella, a rustic bread salad born as a way of using up day old bread and the abundance of fresh vegetables straight... Read More

Cozze Ripiene – Stuffed Mussels

This is a clever and thrifty dish with peasant origins from Puglia, the most southern tip of Italy’s peninsula. It’s an area which is rich and abundant in seafood, grains and vegetables but over the centuries has seen some of the worst poverty in the country. It’s famous port city, Taranto, is known as the city of two seas as it’s home to two geographically interesting bodies of water known as “The Great Sea” and the flat,... Read More

A summer cake: plum and ricotta tart

A neighbour’s plum tree hangs over into our courtyard. By a lot. Dark plums, with a matte grey-blue coating a sometimes dark blue, sometimes pinkish-purple skin. Inside they’re sweet yellow, but when picked a little early, like I did to beat the birds (they wait until that crucial moment when the plums are just ripe – somehow they know – then they strip the tree at the blink of an eye before you’ve even had a chance to get out... Read More

Bonci’s Focaccia Pugliese

Few things are as good as really well-made, fresh bread. That initial crunch, then the springy softness of the inside, perhaps still warm. Even better when it’s homemade and the smell of bread baking fills your kitchen and lingers throughout the house. I’m lucky to have a passionate home baker as a husband. I love having homemade bread around but if it weren’t for him, I probably wouldn’t be able to get all the way through... Read More

Italian Table Talk: Torrone sardo, the perfect homemade gift

It’s crept up on me this year. Here I was still thinking it’s October, but suddenly it’s December. Time to start preparing gifts and thinking about the Christmas table, though my mind is elsewhere as I’m really trying to plan my baby’s first birthday! I knew having a Christmas baby would make the holidays different and I have this feeling that from now on my Christmasses are always going to creep up on me and the birthday... Read More

The simplest dessert

When it comes to choosing a recipe, length does matter. Short, simple recipes always appeal to me. Carefully chosen ingredients that you can count on one hand. A gentle tousle, a sprinkle of this or some other straightforward preparations and it’s done. The good ones are balanced, even elegant, and seemingly more elaborate than they are. These are worth having up your sleeve. The second thing that matters to me when choosing a recipe is authenticity... Read More

Back to basics: The soffritto

I remember my mother telling me when I was a young teenager in the kitchen that the key to a good soup or ragu is the way that the onion is cooked – softly, gently, sweating in butter or olive oil until transparent. I’ve followed that advice ever since. The gently cooked onion is a foundation for flavour in the dish. It’s something magical and this is also what it behind the Italian soffritto and the French mirepoix. The soffritto,... Read More