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recipes

When I think of cucina povera — literally “cooking of the poor” or peasant cuisine — I think of things like this dish of Sicilian involtini, which are satisfyingly filling and relatively inexpensive to make for a large gathering as a little goes a long way. We got to make and taste these when I was at Anna Tasca Lanza last year for their annual tomato paste making in August with Fabrizia Lanza.
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This is the simplest recipe, which is part of the beauty of it for me. All you need is a really good, organic, free range chicken and you’re halfway there. Around Christmas and New Year’s in Italy, it’s not unusual to see cappone, or capon, a castrated rooster, on offer and this would be one of the classic ways to prepare cappone too.
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I tasted this dish of cabbage parcels with potato and mushroom recently at a wonderful trattoria, Osteria di Golpaja at the wonderful Villa Pietriolo, a sustainable, organic estate with its own farm animals, olive trees and vineyards, tucked in the hills between Vinci and San Miniato. Everything they use in this beautiful osteria is grown or reared on the property, from the Cinta Senese to the vegetables, and naturally, the seasons dictate the menu.
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I know, I know, the ingredients might be challenge — chicken combs and testicles aren’t the easiest to obtain or to handle for some — this isn’t for the faint of heart. But I will say that this is a wonderful, divine and very special dish with an incredible Florentine history, and I think in today’s context is still extremely relevant as a sustainable and respectful choice for omnivores who care about eating for the planet.
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When I first walked into the kitchen of Fabrizia Lanza at Anna Tasca Lanza, you could smell the chocolate from outside. She was baking a flourless chocolate cake for dinner — a dinner which was like a warm embrace after all these months of not being able to meet or travel or get together, one of the most welcoming dinners that began with a comforting, steaming bowl of minestra di tenerumi (a minestrone made with the leaves and tendrils of the long cucuzza squash) and ended with this cake, a melt in the mouth flourless chocolate cake, served with simply whipped cream.
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We spent a week in our favourite holiday place, the very special Giglio island, a tiny island in Southern Tuscany that can only be reached by ferry from Porto Santo Stefano. It’s the kind of place where time slows down and there is a simplicity to the rhythm of the days when you’re on an island like this so we really slow down when we are here (especially in a spot like Pardini’s Hermitage, where we stayed one year).
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My favourite butcher shop, Sergio Falaschi, which is one of the reasons why we bought a house in San Miniato (joking — sort of!) has one of the prettiest and enticing counters, it could compete with any pastry shop window. It is run by my friend Andrea, Sergio’s son, and they are the fourth and third generation to run this shop, with great care for the products, and in turn the heirloom breed animals and local farmers they work with (see my last post all about their prosciutto di Cinta Senese).
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This is a slightly untraditional variation on the most traditional recipe I know for panforte — a sweet, dense, spicy medieval cake from Siena. The recipe comes from the bible of Tuscan cooking, Paolo Petroni’s Il Grande Libro della Vera Cucina Toscana and every time I make panforte (since I first posted about it back in 2011) I make some kind of variation on his recipe.
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The supermarket was offering the prettiest fish plucked out if the waters of the Tuscan arcipelago last night — so fresh they smell of the sea and are still in rigor mortis — for a steal, 6 euro a kilo. Look at how bright eyed and beautiful they are! These small fish — a mixture of different types of sea bream known as fragolino (the pink one, known as pandora in English) and mormora (striped sea bass, with the yellow stripe on his cheeks), along with gallinella (gurnard), scorfano (scorpion fish) are labelled as pesce da zuppa, fish for soup, or sometimes paranza, for frying whole, because of their pint size.
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Back home from a whirlwind trip to Venice with a new set of Covid-19 regulations that means it’s time for a lot of baking (and staying at home). This is a savory bread pudding cake, which as far as I can tell isn’t really a thing but it is the best way I can describe it. Basically it is an excellent way to use up leftovers — stale bread, milk and eggs make the body of the cake, then add whatever you have in the fridge, leftover bits of cheese, some pancetta, that sort of thing.
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I am quite aware that this title sounds a bit ridiculous — because there is no such thing as Tuscan spice pumpkin bread and it sounds like one of those recipes that I see online and abhor, that has nothing at all to do with Tuscany, like “Tuscan salad dressing” (no such thing exists in Tuscany, we just use olive oil and a wine vinegar of choice).
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As family meals go, we are slowly but surely developing a repertoire of meals that all four of us — including the picky eater — can eat together and nothing makes my heart more full than a meal that we can make and enjoy together. To add to the growing list of favourites, Tuscan spiedini di carne (skewers of meat, sausage, bay leaf and bread), spaghetti con le vongole, my mother’s tamago no gohan (a simple stir fry of egg and rice, which I serve with dried seaweed and furikake and always results in empty bowls and requests for more) and my pantry staple, polpette di tonno (tuna croquettes), is this delicious pasta sauce, which goes by several names but the one I like best, for nostalgic reasons, is alla fiesolana, Fiesole style.
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Cooking post-lockdown is still keeping us grounded, but also relaxed and even entertained. I have been turning more than ever to Tuscany’s comforting, frugal cuisine for inspiration – it just feels right. Not because we can’t get ingredients or are rationing but just using what we have on hand or what is abundant (hello tomatoes) at the little bottega in the piazza, skipping that trip to the supermarket in favour of staying home or close as possible to it.
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I would go as far as to say that Pellegrino Artusi helped me start this blog almost a decade ago. And write my first cookbook, Florentine. He would be turning 200 today, so I felt it apt to cook him dinner for his birthday. I didn’t choose anything fancy because to be honest, the recipes in his 790 page cookbook are anything but fancy.
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What a summer! Post-lockdown Florence is bittersweet, we are wary and careful – masks still on, distances kept, obsessive hand washing and hand sanitizer a prerequisite for entry into any indoor space – the streets and piazze are free of travellers and previously tourist-dependant parts of the city now are left for residents to discover their own city again. It’s great to be able to see friends and family again and even take the odd weekend away (to nearby Maremma or Venice), but to be honest I’m still reluctant to be out in public too much – home is definitely a haven for me, where I feel most comfortable and where food is still providing comfort and nurturing.
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I made a video of my girls and I making strawberry tiramisu recently on Instagram and it was such a hit, I loved seeing others making this, so decided it should be a permanent recipe on the blog too! There are so many reasons I love this version of tiramisu, first and foremost because strawberries and cream in any combination is a treat.
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This is actually a recipe I already had on the blog — one of the very early ones, from March 2011, believe it or not. But I wanted to revisit the dish. It is one that I love for a couple of reasons — one, because it is a recipe that was first made for me by my college roommate, Sara Lando (an incredible Venetian photographer and part of the duo behind the design of this blog) and it brings me back to her, and our time navigating art school in the US together — nearly 20 years ago now!
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Cooking as a family has been keeping us grounded and inspired lately. We have been baking a lot, Marco has started a new sourdough project, while Mariu, our 7 year old, and I have been making some recipe videos. These are two really easy recipes that you can make with stale bread — and I mean you can use completely rock hard bread.
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There is something incredibly soothing about baking. If you love cooking and read this blog of mine, I’m sure that you probably feel the same. When times get tough, or you’re simply feeling down or uninspired or, maybe just because it’s raining or you can’t leave the house because you’re in a national lockdown, baking a cake (or perhaps bread) can be the perfect remedy.
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I’ve been craving a really good baked ricotta cheesecake lately, but after having a disappointingly bouncy and ‘squeaky’ one recently, I was feeling a bit picky about it. I wanted it above all to be simple — no water baths, or covering your cake tin in foil, and not even a crust, none of this having to crush biscuits with a rolling pin and press the crumbs into a tin!
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I have a picky eater. For any fellow distressed parents of picky eaters (in particular parents who care about and love food, whose lives even revolve around food) out there, I’m here to say it’s all going to turn out fine. My daughter Mariu was always particular with food. She refused to eat baby mush. Or be spoon-fed. No purees, her tightly sealed lips made sure they never reached her tongue.
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In Carol Field’s In Nonna’s Kitchen, this delicious dessert is called a Torta ripiena di mandorle e cioccolato, in other words, an almond and chocolate tart. Or perhaps you could more literally translate it as a tart filled with almonds and chocolate. Field found this recipe in the handwritten journal of Giovanna Passannanti, a Sicilian woman who was in her eighties when the book was published in 1997.
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One of the most iconic Italian pasta dishes ever, spaghetti con le vongole is a firm favourite of our whole family — which is saying something as my eldest daughter is a dreadfully picky eater! Anyone who has to cook for a picky eater will appreciate that feeling of immense satisfaction (and perhaps relief) at being able to cook just one thing that everyone can enjoy together — well, for us, it’s this.
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I am instantly drawn to recipes that require only a few ingredients. I don’t know what is more appealing, the simplicity of the recipe or the curiosity that draws me in: will it really be that good? I often find these recipes in old cookbooks. Somehow I think we over complicate things now, adding more than what is necessary or perhaps covering up for less than delicious ingredients.
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I knew before I even got there that I would fall in love Andros, a mountainous, rugged Greek island, the northernmost of the Cyclades archipelago. When Allegra asked me to host part of a creative workshop at her stunning, cliffside B&B, Melisses, that sits between Chora, the capital, and the port, I jumped at the chance! Mornings began with beautiful breakfasts of summer fruit, copious amounts of thick Greek yoghurt, tahini, and Allegra’s homemade oven-roasted granola, flecked with flower petals and plenty of nuts, plus “freddo espresso”, the Greek version of caffe shakerato, in other words, espresso and ice shaken together.
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I’m so in love with this pasta — just two ingredients (three if you count a splash of water), spinach and durum wheat flour, rolled and coaxed into the shape of olive leaves. No eggs. It’s basically a green dough for orecchiette, the classic Pugliese ‘little ear’ pasta shapes. Because they are hand-rolled, orecchiette are generally a little thick and when cooked have a good bite to them, they hold their shape well and so they are good with chunky sauces, especially a vegetable sauce — the classic sauce is with cime di rapa, flavoured with a touch of garlic and anchovies, but tomato sauce is the go-to when cime di rapa are out of season.
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My husband Marco has been on the search for his perfect pizza dough. He has long been the one in our family who loves making and experimenting with dough (like with this recipe for Bonci’s focaccia pugliese). You see, he loves pizza and bread and it’s no exaggeration to say he could happily live off them alone if it weren’t for the slightly negative reaction he gets when he eats it, thanks to a wheat intolerance. 
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This isn’t a pretty dessert, let’s face it. But then so many treats that you could label comforting aren’t usually, are they? And I would put this in the same category as bread and butter pudding, rice or semolina pudding, even french toast or pancakes. It’s simply good, rather wholesome, definitely rustic and absolutely homely. An oldie (literally; it comes from Pellegrino Artusi’s classic cookbook from 1891) but a goodie, I’ve made a few modifications to the nineteenth century version.
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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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Ad occhio, Italian for “by eye”. It’s a very natural way to cook, measuring by eye and cooking not by the clock but by the way something looks (or smells or feels). It’s the way I first learned to cook – standing on a stool so I could look over my grandmother’s electric stove top, learning to scramble eggs.
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Most of the time I buy fresh produce based on what looks good — and then I decide what to prepare with it at home. I really do feel like it’s the best way to shop and eat because more often than not the things you come home with are the freshest, the most in season, the most delicious ingredients to start out with.
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Summer in Italy means one main thing for me — trying to keep cool, which includes staying away from the stove. Luckily, it’s also the time of year when fresh produce is so ripe and sweet, you barely need to do anything to it anyway — I practically live off tomatoes in the summer, dousing them in olive oil and eating with thickly torn pieces of buffalo mozzarella, usually.
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Surely the best thing about colomba, the Easter equivalent to panettone, is the sugared, toasted almond topping that covers the whole thing and crumbles when you cut it, so you sort of have no choice but just to pick up the crusty sugary bits and eat those on their own. I’d always thought that colomba would make a very good baking project but was somewhat intimated by getting the right shape  — it’s vaguely in the shape of a dove, if you use your imagination — and texture — wonderfully soft, fluffy, sweet yeasted bread. 
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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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I have known, and admired, Julia Busuttil Nishimura, for many years now and always felt connected through our love of Italian food, Tuscany (Julia lived in Florence and in Orbetello, just 10 minutes away from where we lived in Porto Ercole while I was writing Acquacotta) and Japan. So I have been eagerly awaiting her debut cookbook, Ostro: The Pleasure that Comes From Slowing Down and Cooking with Simple Ingredients, and it is a beauty — it is full of food I want to make and eat.
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When I was writing the manuscript for Florentine, I enlisted the help of an army of recipe testers — about 80 people from all over the world — to test every recipe thoroughly. Only one came back to me consistently with problems. From Minnesota to Melbourne, three testers wrote to me that their very first attempt at making Tuscan gnudi (ricotta and spinach balls that, rather than be encased in pasta like for ravioli, are simply dusted in flour) resulted in a pot of simmering water with “dissolved” gnudi. 
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My first memory of cooking was with my grandmother, Rosemary, in Sydney. She taught me how to make scrambled eggs on her electric stovetop, the kind with the coiled heating elements, in her small, linoleum-lined kitchen with cupboards that stuck a little when they closed. She was not an exceptional cook — I can remember plenty of bland and overcooked vegetables and custard made with powder to pour into pre-bought pie cases with tinned pineapple, her specialty — but she worked hard to put a balanced, home-cooked meal on the table three times a day, every day.
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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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When a friend tells you she has wild roses blooming everywhere, it’s not hard to imagine where the conversation headed to next… to turning them into rose petal jam, of course. My friend Simona Quirini and her family run the beautiful Canto del Maggio, a B&B, restaurant and garden, about one hour’s drive from Florence. We arrived to catch Simona with a wooden crate in her hands, already half full of blush pink flower heads, small and as fragrant as honey.
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One of my personal favourite food memories of all time was the first time I realised the potential of shopping at my local market in Florence and being able to speak to the other shoppers as well as the stallholders — only I didn’t think to write down all the gems I collected as I took in bits and pieces on what to do with artichokes or how to tell which fennel bulbs are the best.
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The sudden burst of spring produce in the market after a long, monotonous winter of cavolo nero and bright oranges is one of the things that constantly reminds me why I love living and eating in Italy. A wander through the market like any other becomes, in spring time, a new experience. I feel like a fresh arrival, like it’s my first time walking through my local market.
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There’s a story in my Tuscan family of nobility and forbidden love. It’s set in Taranto, Puglia, on Italy’s southern heel and involves my daughter’s great-great-grandmother. The best known version is told by my husband Marco’s uncle, Riccardo, who remembers it being told to him by his elderly Nonna Anna herself. Anna Michela Comasia Maria Calianno. Her long name was a sign of her family’s noble status.
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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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I have a disclaimer, right off the bat. I love the Latteria Studio and the people involved in it. Alice Adams (pictured here above) who runs the show, is a longtime resident of Rome, a food stylist and recipe developer from Melbourne with an Italian husband and two bilingual kids. She worked on my latest cookbook with me and we hired many of the beautiful props from the studio.
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Just the mere mention of a horoscope and my husband will just switch off. It produces better results than him plugging your ears and singing “la la la la la”. I could be saying the most intelligent thing he’s ever heard me say but if I randomly throw in a star sign, he’s already not listening. So I tend to keep it on the down-low that in my late teens I devoured astrology books, searching for the perfect combination of planets and ascendents that would lead this Scorpio to her perfect match.
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It may not be new — the inspiration from this menu comes from Pellegrino Artusi’s nineteenth century cookbook — but it certainly is a nice way to start a new year. I’ve written about Artusi’s menus before, but in the very early stages of this blog (which has just turned 6 years old!). They have always charmed me and fascinated me, as an insight into what might be on tables in the late 1800s.
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I didn’t notice it at first, the skinny tree with dark leaves in our shared garden at our new home in Settignano, in the hills above Florence. I was too taken by the green vines hanging like a curtain over our entrance, keeping the house cool in the humid Florentine summer. But now that it’s autumn and the the leaves still left on the vines have turned a shade of rose champagne, that skinny green tree is sporting bright vermillion fruit, like fuzzy cherries or red christmas balls.
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It seems like a long way to go about getting some fresh saffron to frost a birthday cake with, but it was worth it. I’ve been plotting for months with my friend, Sarah Fioroni, to let me get involved with the saffron harvest at her family’s farm in San Gimignano. It’s not the first time I’ve celebrated my birthday with a saffron theme on the farm at Fattoria Poggio Alloro — there was this pumpkin and saffron risotto too.
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There are a lot of claims out there for ‘best’ chocolate cake recipes, which is not only a wild claim to make, but also a tricky one as, when you consider what makes a chocolate cake ‘the best’, we are talking about preferences that are extremely personal. Chocolate cake can be many things, and serve many purposes. There are ones that are fluffy and moist, a good specimen for a birthday or even a layered wedding cake (like this chocolate olive oil cake that I made for my brother’s wedding).
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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.
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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.
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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 pasta).
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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, they get soggy very quickly and they just don’t have the wonderful soft and springy texture of perfectly re-hydrated savoiardi.
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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 stunning illustrations throughout).
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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.
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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 over the city and guards it from Mount Etna’s volcanic eruptions.
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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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“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.
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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.
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It’s no secret that autumn is my favourite month in Tuscany. It’s partly the relief from the relentless heat of summer, that feeling that you can finally breathe again, and partly, well, mostly, it’s the food. The cooler weather finally lets me get back into the kitchen (in particular the oven, which I usually avoid at all costs in the summer), to do the things I really love, like slow cooking and baking.
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I first found crates full of these white grapes with a scribbled sign stating “local grapes, 1 euro a kilo” at the fruit and vegetable shop down the road. Cheap grapes are a sign that we are already well into the vendemmia (grape harvest) season. Being married to a sommelier I probably should have known right away what kind of grapes they were, after all, this part of Tuscany is the only place that grows these.
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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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One of the places that I can truly call my happy place is a farm in San Gimignano. Partly it’s because of the wonderful Fioroni family who run Fattoria Poggio Alloro, who I feel are like long lost family because of the way we are embraced (literally and figuratively!) when we arrive, the way we are fed (as if we must not have eaten in weeks), and the familiar way that this place somehow feels like home (we also always stay in the same room, so that even my two year old calls it her “casa”).
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I never met Nonna Lina, my husband’s grandmother. She passed away six weeks before I met him, coincidentally on the exact same day my maternal grandfather died. But from the way my husband and my mother-in-law talk about her, the constant references to her, especially when we are in the kitchen, I feel like I know her. And I feel connected to her when I cook her recipes.
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Summer in Tuscany – it is all about not using the stove. Or using it as little as possible. Contrary to many people’s wishful thinking, there’s really nothing glamorous about being under the Tuscan sun – it’s a sweltering, all-encompassing, sticky heat, made all the worse by the fact that most towns and cities are made of heavy, medieval stones that heat up during the day like a pizza oven and retain the heat all night.
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One of my favourite food stories ever is the one of Proust’s Madeleines. It’s a story that I think resonates with so many people because there is something about revisiting the perfume or a bite of a special, sweet treat that you had a child, when you are an adult. Something magical. Like the narrator in Proust’s Swann’s Way, a madeleine dipped in tea immediately produced a flood of memories that eventually filled seven volumes: “No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shudder ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me.” Well, this week an extremely pretty cookbook landed in my hands — Kate Doran’s (perhaps you know her as The Little Loaf) Homemade Memories, and it is like an entire recipe book of Proust’s madeleines, where she has recreated the classic treats from her own childhood (the same ones I’m sure many will share a love for), including homemade versions of shop-bought treats too.
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It took me a car ride from Porto Ercole to Florence – about 2 ½ hours – while I had a napping toddler behind me, to read Rachel’s new cookbook, Five Quarters. I don’t normally read cookbooks from front to back, I usually flip through them first, letting the pictures or recipe titles jump out at me — ooh that looks good!
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Food brings people together, this we all know. It unites people around a table, for the everyday or the special. A meal is the reason to go out, to stay in, an excuse to get to know someone new or celebrate with those closest to your heart. It’s also the main thing two food bloggers who have never actually met in person know they have in common.
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Living in a port town (and an island-like port town at that) means I am spoilt for choice when it comes to seafood. And when the supermarket isn’t that handy for me to get to but the local pescivendolo (the fishmonger – though I should point out, here too I am spoilt because it’s not just a fishmonger but the outlet direct from the fishermen themselves) is, it means fish is often on the menu for dinner.
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I have to admit that when I first thought I’d like to try this recipe, I didn’t even know what elderflowers looked like. I had to google them and then once I had and I saw the cluster of tiny white flowers, spread out in that distinct, flat, oval shape, I couldn’t stop noticing them absolutely everywhere. In spring, they are prolific around Tuscany and pop up anywhere where you find green.
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I have a soft spot for handmade books. I’ve always loved them, for as long as I can remember. I love the feel of a book that you know has been made with someone’s hands and there is something so unique and immediately appealing to me about the Short Stack Editions cookbooks because of that. More like pamphlets, the little books fit neatly in your hands, have soft covers and hold a small selection of recipes (about 20), all sewn together with striped butcher’s twine.
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Well, we did it. We moved back to Tuscany from Australia. Something about the way of life and the role that family play here in Italy were enough to call us back to where our hearts belong – although we did leave behind a piece of our heart in Australia too. Being back in Tuscany in spring has been great. I’ve been revelling in that much too short season of ‘perfect’ weather: not too hot, not too cold, not yet too crowded to enjoy strolling through Florence to catch up with friends or walking down to the water’s edge of our new seaside home.
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Although sleep is high on my list of priorities, I find it’s amazing what you can get done when you wake up before the sun does and everyone else (demanding toddler included) is still fast asleep. So I was secretly thrilled when the warm and talented (and one of my most admired photographers) Luisa Brimble suggested that we meet for a breakfast shoot and chat at sunrise the day before I flew out of Sydney to move back to Italy.
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I’m always looking for interesting recipes in old cookbooks, things that are perhaps a bit forgotten and old fashioned or even a bit quirky. Even the classic things that haven’t changed for decades or centuries interest me for the fact that they don’t change. It’s something of a passion of mine and I’ve managed to make it the theme of my new column for Cucina Corriere, the food blog of Italian newspaper, Corriere della Sera.
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Easter is just around the corner, believe it or not. I love the work that goes into Easter traditions — pies that take days to make, like the Neapolitan pastiera and the abundant use of spring eggs like in Tuscan Easter schiacciata. This torta pasqualina or Easter pie  (pasqua means ‘Easter’ in Italian), made with fine layers of dough and filled with chard, eggs and ricotta, is no exception.
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You know when you have a dish in a restaurant that you can’t stop thinking about and every time you go you can’t bear to veer away from that dish so you keep ordering it, never trying anything else because you have been constantly thinking about it since your last visit? Well this, for me, is one of those. It is quite simple – chicken in butter, presented just as it sounds, a tender chicken breast floating in a delicious sauce of butter.
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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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I found myself recently with an overload of eggs. We use eggs a lot in our household. Between my two-year-old’s favourite breakfast (soft boiled egg with toast fingers) and the amount of cake baking I tend to do, we go through a lot. That was one of the many reasons I wanted to get a couple of chickens for the backyard, but around the time our two black, fluffy Cochins both became broody and suddenly stopped laying, I serendipitously met the lovely Jennie, who not only showered me with pretty eggs from her amazing collection of chickens, but is letting us adopt some of her newborn chicks to help get my girls out of their broody state.
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I must admit that I am one to succumb to an impulse buy every now and then. Well, actually, almost all my produce shopping at the market is an impulse, except for when I actually plan for a recipe and need certain ingredients. Whatever looks good or cheap or particularly interesting is what ends up in my basket – perhaps it’s a box of figs, jammy, over ripe and going for next to nothing or a bunch of herbs that I don’t normally see, like wild fennel tops that you can smell from a few stalls away.
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When I say that this cake only needs four ingredients I mean the frosting too. And what’s more, it’s completely gluten free and dairy free. It’s easy to make and light as a feather. In short, it’s a pretty magical cake that makes you realise you can do so much with just eggs, sugar and corn starch (the fourth ingredient is a 1/2 teaspoon of cream of tartar, which you could even leave out if you were very, very confident about your egg whites and then this would be a three ingredient birthday cake!).
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Last week I created a rather ambitious Christmas recipe for my Regional Italian Food column over at Food52 – a date, fig and walnut panettone. I have to admit, it wasn’t the easiest thing I’ve baked, but definitely a satisfying one to make. It’s much easier to buy a large panettone at the local deli and call it a day, as making it at home requires a lot of patience, plenty of rising time, two days, special baking tins and a bit of precision.
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This week I was given some bad news about my cookbook. It’s release will be delayed. For those who know already the process behind the making of a cookbook (or any book for that matter), it can take months and years of work but also a lot of patience and waiting around. I thought I was quite lucky that my book was going to be released just a year after being offered the deal, but the downside to that was an extremely tight deadline.
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There’s nothing more disappointing than finding out that a recipe you’ve posted hasn’t worked out for someone. Worse if multiple people have had the same problem. Luckily in this case, it’s not my recipe, but it is a recipe that I’ve written about for my Food52 column, Regional Italian Food. It’s for a torta di noci, a traditional walnut cake from Calabria in southern Italy.
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It’s done. The manuscript is in. It’s been a whirlwind three or more months, where every spare minute of my day (when not devoting it to a toddler), every day and every evening, was consumed in the pages of my notebook, either scribbling recipes, testing, recording or researching them. It’s been quite an eyeopening experience and one that was made even more challenging with a little one around.
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As long as I can remember I have wanted to write a book. But in more recent years, the book of my dreams has been a cookbook. Like many with a similar dream, it’s really the whole reason I began this blog. And then one day, just like in a dream, I received an email, out of the blue. Are you doing a book?
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I began researching this recipe a while ago when I decided to put it into my Regional Italian Food column schedule. I was sort of obsessed with the intense magenta of the beetroot filling and the incredibly simple pairing of butter and poppyseeds as a sauce. I thought, if anything, people would love looking at it but that hopefully the beauty of the dish would be enough to inspire them to try out the recipe too – that’s how I got hooked.
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I used to enjoy rainy days – the right excuse to stay in, do a bit of baking and potter about the house. But with a toddler, this is a whole different thing. Rainy days means attempting to keep indoors a ball full of energy wanting to explore, run, jump and get messy. I seem to be doing an awful lot of baking lately and although I try to get most of my life done while the toddler is napping, sometimes this spills over into awake time.
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Today is bittersweet. It’s the last edition of Italian Table Talk, which, if you have been following over the past two years, is a monthly discussion on an aspect of Italian culinary culture that I’ve shared with fellow bloggers, Jasmine, Giulia and Valeria. It’s been an inspiring exchange, one that I’m honoured to have been part of. But after two years of emailing, brainstorming and recipe swapping, we’ve decided to finish Italian Table Talk with the theme of books.
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You should probably be wary of a food that’s named after a bomb. A calorie bomb, no less. Italians like to use the phrase “bomba calorica” when it comes to describing something rich, fried and possibly cream-filled and there’s no hiding the fact that bomboloni do indeed satisfy all these requirements. These Tuscan pastries are like a doughnut, minus the hole, and usually filled with pastry cream or jam or often simply covered with a heavy-handed dusting of sugar.
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There are perhaps many of you out there right now that aren’t yet in the hot chocolate mood, that are reading this sitting in short sleeves and sandals and thinking no, you’re not ready for hot chocolate. But here in Canberra we’ve just had the coldest August nights in twenty years and are well and truly in the middle of frosty winter.
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Lemon and polenta is a match made in heaven, if you ask me, especially in a little cake like these (they also happen to be gluten free). This is essentially a lemony variation of this polenta and pear cake, which is itself a slight variation of the traditional Amor Polenta (or Dolce Varese) cake from Lombardy in northern Italy. I’ve played around with the eggs, used olive oil this time instead of butter (so this is also lactose free) and, of course, added lemons.
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We are smack bang in the middle of the black truffle season over here in Capital Country, where the Canberra Truffle Festival is currently taking place. Naturally, things have been busy over here, with truffle hunting and truffle eating while the short season permits — just look at the haul that was brought in that day! This week, I’m absolutely thrilled to point you over to one of my favourite blogs, Local is Lovely, by the lovely Sophie Hansen, where I’ve written a guest post about my recent visit to a local truffle farm (the beautiful Terra Preta in Braidwood) for a hunt (the same beautiful place I visited this time last year), as well as a couple of truffle recipes, including this truffle pannacotta with poached pears, which I’m a bit excited about.
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Ever since discovering my husband has a severe intolerance to wheat, our kitchen has been bustling with experiment after experiment as we try out new recipes or attempt to recreate old favourites with new ingredients. There has been a fair share of failures — but also some truly happy discoveries. Like this gnocchi recipe made with potato starch, a light and powdery starch that is naturally wheat and gluten free.
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