all the articles tagged as:

fruit

Ever since losing my ice cream maker (I lent it to a friend who put it in the dishwasher — never do that!), homemade semifreddi and granita have taken over as my go-to summer desserts when it is truly unthinkable to turn on the oven. The beauty of making semifreddo, which usually has a base of pure whipped cream, whipped egg whites (an Italian meringue) or both is that you can flavour it with whatever you like — I’ve used it with some abundant seasonal fruit that we had too much of, but you could also add (or replace with) liqueurs, coffee, chocolate in any form, nuts, or even nougat.
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It’s not every day that you walk into a butcher shop and come out with a few kilos of bitter oranges aka Seville oranges or arance amare in Italian. But it’s also, I think, not every day that you find a butcher shop that has this sort of garden out the back with a sweeping view over the valley and terraces of mandarins, lemons and Seville orange trees.
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In late October I spent a week on the island of Andros, back in the same beautiful place I was in in June, charming Melisses. And can I say, late October was, unexpectedly, perhaps even more beautiful than in June? It was warm and sunny, punctuated by a few intensely windy days, but perfectly warm actually to be in summer attire on the beach (the girls thought the water was great too, though it was definitely chillier than it was in June).
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I’m back home in Australia for a couple of months, a blissfully extended holiday with the family before a busy and exciting book tour! It’s been a long time since I’ve spent Christmas and New Year’s here, let alone my mother’s January birthday, so I wanted to create a very special birthday cake for her. Around this time, the raspberry bush — taking over a large corner of the garden — flourishes and every day there is ripe, juicy fruit for the taking.
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What would you do – you’re driving past hundreds of citrus trees. With a better look, they’re mandarins, or, more precisely clementines. On the roadside is a truck selling crates of them for 1 euro a kilo. You stop, right? And buy a crate of 10 kilos. Even though you have to get on a plane the next day. I couldn’t help myself.
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This is not a very practical recipe unless you chance upon a basket of wild plums at your local farmgate, like I did, while picking out some enormous, gnarled tomatoes, sunny zucchini flowers and purple and white eggplants the size of my fist. Or, even better, find yourself a wild plum tree that no one else (birds and bugs included) has noticed.
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There’s always something strange about crossing the equator and being propelled into the opposite hemisphere, season and time zone. I tried to explain it to my four year old while we were on the long plane ride from Italy to Australia a couple weeks ago: it’s like the land of opposites – when it’s night here, it’s day there, when it’s winter here, it’s summertime there.
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Autumn is quite probably my favourite time of the year for cooking. It’s that moment that I wait all year for. That immense relief, like a long sigh after a particularly hard day, when the stifling, stuffy, humid summer air cools and changes. I find relief not just in the temperature, but in being able to cook, and therefore eat, differently, too.
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Preserving fruit under alcohol and sugar is an age old preparation, and an enjoyable one at that. The liqueur infuses the fruit, the fruit infuses the liqueur and the sugar adds a bit of sweetness that takes the edge off the strength of the alcohol. Marco’s nonna used to make these in the summer during the height of cherry season and then serve them to anyone entering the house as a welcome — the ultimate sign of good old fashioned hospitality.
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Amidst my Australian book launch frenzy and the heat wave of late summer crashing its way through the beginning of autumn, there have been berries. First blueberries, which are quickly heading out of season, then raspberries, which my daughter will gobble before anyone else even has a chance to look at them. And finally blackberries, which she won’t touch, so I get to have them.
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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.
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I’ve mentioned it before; I can’t say no to free produce. Especially when it comes from Marco’s cousin, Lorella, and her husband, Antonio, who have a vegetable garden large enough that it basically makes them self-sustainable. They have ducks and geese, walnut trees and vines for making their own wine. And, right next to the cubby house that my daughter thinks is paradise, is a wonderfully prolific fig tree.
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I have to admit, I was late in the game with discovering Ruth Reichl’s work. In fact, I hadn’t really known much about her until she came to Australia last year for the Melbourne Writers’ Festival to talk about her novel Delicious! But then I was serendipitously sent a wonderful book, the Italian translation of Reichl’s memoir, Tender at the Bone (La parte piu’ tenera in Italian).
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This time tomorrow I will be skipping seasons, leaving this glorious Australian spring for Tuscan autumn – my favourite time of year in my favourite place, I must admit. It’s only for a couple of weeks but I’ll relish this time and make the most of cool mornings, fresh mushrooms, grapes, new olive oil. But just before I go, is this cake.
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There’s a lot of baking going on around here these days, you may have noticed it if you’ve been following on instagram. Biscotti, breads, pastries and the like. Ever since talking about our family going wheat-free, I’ve had people ask if any of it is gluten-free and unfortunately the answer is not much, as I’m doing some rather specific recipe testing for a project that will be revealed all too soon!
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Where is home? It’s always been a complicated question for me. I never spent very long in one country when I was growing up, living back and forth between Australia and China then going off to study in the US. In fact, the longest I have ever spent living in one place, one country, at one time is Florence. Seven years.
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Two things happened last month just before I was getting ready to head to Tuscany for 3 months. One was a visit to a wonderful farm where we picked fresh hazelnuts and wild blackberries. The other was that I made mascarpone at home for the first time. A lot of it. What to do with a fridge full of freshly made mascarpone after recipe testing a few times?
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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.
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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 of bed), the flesh is lime green.
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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.
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“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.
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As much as I am an advocate of simplicity in the kitchen – simple procedures, simple flavours, a handful of good ingredients and a quick, delicious result – there is also something about a process that I have always enjoyed. I find having a patience-requesting, detailed process in front of you actually quite meditative and relaxing, and when there are those rainy days when you don’t want to leave the house and have no where you need to rush off to (a bit of luxury for me these days), then making jam is just one of those things that I find a rewarding way to slow down.
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Breakfast is such a cultural eye-opener, at no other meal time do you get such a view of a place or a person than through their first meal of the day. For some, it’s a strictly savoury affair, often resembling lunch or even dinner, for others it’s always sweet or perhaps all it consists of is a cup of coffee. We’ve decided this month to make breakfast the topic of Italian Table Talk with Giulia whipping up a fresh batch of cornetti and Valeria going back to her childhood with panini con l’uva, raisin buns.
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A week ago when we left Tuscany, the fridge was full of strawberries. Ripe, perfumed spring strawberries, so red, pretty and tempting that we couldn’t help it – we kept buying punnets whenever we saw them. Needless to say, there were quite a few strawberries to consume before heading back to Melbourne’s autumn. I’ve always appreciated how simple Tuscan desserts really are.
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The first thing that attracted me to this cake recipe before I had ever even tasted it was its rather romantic name, Amor Polenta. It’s an unusual name whose origins have long been forgotten but it is perfectly fitting for someone partial to polenta, or should I say, with a love for polenta. There’s something about polenta that I adore in a cake – the way it soaks up the other flavours around it, that golden colour, and most of all, that bite, that grittiness that gives the cake crumb its unique texture.
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Simplicity. It’s such a reassuring concept. Everyone knows that the simple things in life are often the best, and honestly, who doesn’t need to simplify their lives every now and then? No one needs to overcomplicate their lives. And at this time of year, when the holiday rush and madness seems to be over and – well here in the Southern Hemisphere anyway – the long summer days call out for time to be spent enjoying them, you can relish in having a simple and impromptu meal, perhaps whipping this up even at the last minute with the abundance of ripe summer peaches.
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It’s a time for celebration or two, not only for the festive season and for the well-wishing the imminent year 2013, but we’re also celebrating the arrival of our first baby, a little girl, born just before Christmas. And – for those of us in the Southern Hemisphere right now – it’s also early summer and the beginning of stone-fruit season.
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This is one of those things that you crave for many months of the year but can only find for a fleeting moment. Then you have to wait patiently for the rest of the year before they will appear again in bakery shop windows. You can of course make it at home (that’s what the recipe is for!), but grapes – and the best ones to use for this delicious treat, local Tuscan wine grapes such as canaiolo or American concord grapes, called uva fragola in Italian (“strawberry grapes”) for their sweetness – are seasonal too, and can usually only be found around harvest time in the month of September.
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The tradition of preserving food, whether fruit, vegetables, meat or cheese is so fundamental to the cuisine of each Italian region and is one that still lies very close to the hearts of many, who cannot do without their mother’s plum jam, their nonna’s preserved mushrooms in oil or their neighbour’s own prosciutto. Preserves, the topic of this month’s Italian Table Talk, where four food bloggers discuss an aspect or tradition of Italian cuisine, is appropriate as the Italian summer is a time for collecting the season’s abundant fruit and vegetables and preserving them for the winter.
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Tuscany in July is one sweltering place to be. Long days, the hot sun scorching the pietra forte stones of Florence or the crackling, dry fields of the countryside and constant temperatures in the high 30s. The conditions call for either staying high in the hills or spending your time very close to the sea, if not right on the water’s edge, where you’re more likely to get relief by a breeze and cooling evening air.
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One of the things that I love about traditional Italian home cooking is how essential it is. There is a reason for everything, nothing is by accident. Food just makes sense here, and the more you see the changing landscapes and traditions of each individual region, the more you see why food and its traditions are so different from one part of the peninsula to the next.
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I have to admit that my love affair with Florence did not start with the typical “love at first sight:” But it wasn’t far off. I was a twenty-year-old art student when I had my first taste of living in Florence, exactly ten years ago. I arrived at the train station with my luggage and not much else – no where to stay, nothing booked, no contacts.
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July in Tuscany. The heat is the sort that you cannot get away from. If you live in the city, it’s especially unbearable. Hot African wind blows its way into cities, heating them up like a giant hairdryer. The ancient stones of the palazzi and squares bake in the sun and the heat lingers on for hours after midnight. Anyone smart and organised enough has escaped to the sea or the mountains.
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Persimmons for me have that special nostalgic power that certain foods or smells or tastes imprint onto children’s brains. For me, it takes me back to Japan, to my grandparent’s house just outside Tokyo. I can see these plump, orange fruits lined up along the wide windowsill, ripening, with the heater burning away underneath. They were taken off the tree before the crows got to them and would be eaten only once they had become jammy and you could slurp it up with a spoon.
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