Italian Table Talk: Artichoke tart

Italy in the spring. It means blossoms and longer, warmer days. Early on, it usually means rain too but also a gorgeous landscape of luminous, bright green pastures of new growth. It means fritelle. It means Easter and plenty of fresh eggs, especially from my sister in law’s busy hens. But, most of all, to me, it means artichokes. There is nothing, and I mean nothing, like the variety and availability of good artichokes in Italy. The varieties... Read More

On wild vegetables and acquacotta

A surprise find at one of my favourite markets in Florence last week led me to this beautiful and ancient dish, acquacotta (literally, “cooked water” but also meaning “cooked in water”), a tradition of southern Tuscany and Lazio, where the fields are filled with mounds of curly, jagged-edged weeds and other wild vegetables and greens that I had never seen and certainly never cooked with before. There’s something about eating wild vegetables... Read More

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

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

Caprese: the ultimate summer salad

The first time I grew my own tomatoes was in an unlikely spot: in terracotta pots on a sun-drenched rooftop spitting distance from the Palazzo Vecchio. They were a great success and now that we are lucky enough to have our own little vegetable patch, where we’ve grown many more things from broad beans to kale, we’ve continued growing them from seed. I’ve found there’s nothing more satisfying than eating a tomato that you’ve... Read More

Broad bean pesto

I’m on a broad bean kick lately. The beans we planted five months ago have grown outgrageously. They’re taller than me and are producing lovely, long velvety fingers of pods, which all of us (the 11 month old bean-eater included) have been picking, opening and eating right there on the spot. They’re just so good like this when they’re young and tender that I’ve hardly had them any other way. Broad beans (also known as... Read More

Backyard broad beans & how to eat them

I began dabbling in gardening in the most unlikely of places – a rooftop overlooking the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence. It got a good bit of sun and we had a wide terrace, so we decided to experiment with some tomato seeds in little terracotta pots that matched the rooftops. It was a step up from the previous pots of sage, thyme and basil that I’d kept on window ledges of tiny apartments. Like magic, they sprouted and grew. We moved them into... 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

Lessons from a Florentine market & Fennel salad

“What are you going to do with those?” Asked an elderly woman eyeing the artichokes I held like a bunch of flowers towards the busy fruttivendolo, waiting my turn to pay. There are many reasons why I prefer shopping at the farmers’ market to shopping at the supermarket, and this is just one of them. Each and every visit to my local market in Florence has always been a learning experience. Particularly when this happens. Fellow market goers... Read More

Italian Table Talk: Braised artichokes with calamint

From Melbourne’s Indian summer, I’ve been propelled into Tuscany’s spring – and apparently I brought the warm weather with me. Though the trees are still bearing winter’s naked branches, the hills and fields are covered in a brilliant green cloak, often dotted with flowers. Even the cracks of the concrete and stone footpaths of Florence are filled with chickweed (a fresh tasting leaf with a slight pea-shoot similarity, lovely... Read More