Archive for June 2014

Farewell to Firenze

Our fourth trip to Italy included Rome and Tuscany.  Tuscany was a bit poignant for us. We spent our first two weeks in Rome and were thrilled to be heading back to Tuscany where we had rented an apartment in Panzano in Chianti for two weeks but we also knew that it was unlikely we would return to this part of Italy again only because there are other places we want to travel to. Oh to be twenty years younger!DSCN8815 nx2

Of all the times, including renting an apartment in Florence for a few days in 2010, we never visited the Uffizi…duh! This time we got it together and ordered tickets on-line (gotta love that!) All we had to do, upon arriving, was find the line-up for pre-booked tickets, where our printed out version were exchanged for  real tickets; then walk back across the street and basically we’re in! We should not have waited so long!   We wish we would have gone to the Uffizi every time we were in Florence! But…what we saw…oh my! The view looking down the Arno towards the Ponte Vecchio, breathtaking! After three hours we dragged ourselves away absolutely overwhelmed, numb and exhausted.

It’s time for a gelato! Luckily, before leaving home I had compiled a gelato list as long as your arm, so many we would need to stay in Florence for days and days! But…the good news is we found Gelateria Carabe’ and had the opportunity to try olive oil gelato. It was absolutely fabulous and has been added to our list of favourite flavours!

After a wander to Piazza di San Lorenzo, it’s time to head back to Panzano.

Our flight home was out of Florence so we booked a hotel there for our last night, so we would have another opportunity to spend more time wandering about this amazing city. The car rental gremlins were at work again (these are the guys who did not have a car for us when we showed up in Florence two weeks earlier, even though it had been booked for two months. They were willing to offer us a van that actually looked more like a mini-school bus to drive around Tuscany in! Are they nuts? A station wagon type vehicle is often too large for a lot of towns!) We arrived in Florence to drop off the car around 11:00am or so and the office was closed. They actually close at 1:30pm on Saturday’s. So we were forced to hang about hoping someone would show up and about one hour later someone finally did, which ate into our “last day” Florence fun stuff!

DSCN8859 nx2Have you been to the Mercato Centrale? Well, if you haven’t been there lately, they have added a top floor that we wanted to check out as well as the lampredotto panino from Nerbone. Because of the time wasted returning the car, not only was it crazy busy at Nerbone but the entire place was jammed. So…no lampredotto for us! Something else we had avoided on previous visits to Florence was going inside the Duomo, I know, can you believe it? So after bad pizza somewhere I won’t mention (OK, there is a review I did on Tripadvisor), we finally did go inside… that dome! Afterwards we walked around behind the Duomo where we stopped and listened to an awesome three piece string band. A special treat for us on our last day here!

After relaxing across from Santa Maria Novella enjoying a Shakerato, it’s time to head to the hotel for a bit of down time, print off boarding passes and for me to write in my journal. Picture if you can, me sitting on the bed writing in my journal, the windows and shutters thrown open, a breeze fluttering the curtains, a view of Florentine rooftops, blue sky, birds singing, church bells ringing…it brings tears to my eyes!

Our last dinner in Florence turned out to be an unexpected pleasure. We had planned to go to Osteria Pazzi where we had a great lunch the last time we stayed in Florence but as luck would have it Pazzi was further away than we wanted to go. When we asked the hotel front desk guy for a recommendation he suggested a place he likes to go to, Ristorante Accademia, just three or 4 blocks away on Piazza San Marco. Aha…the light bulb goes off, didn’t a good friend send us a email that we should try Accademia? Front desk guy was “friends” with the Ristorante so was able to get us in “right now”.

Ristorante Accademia did not disappoint! We shared a mushroom strudel with Parmigiano sauce to start with followed by a “to die for” tagliolini with shaved truffles for me and chitarra pasta with Scorpion fish sauce for my husband. Accademia prides themselves on their house-made fresh pasta and rightly so! The service was attentive and excellent right down to a fantastic wine recommendation: a Villa Russiz 2012 Pinot Grigio, a completely different Pinot from any other we had ever tasted; straw-yellow colour, fine, elegant, fruity and complex that over time takes on a wide array of fruity aromas including peach and pear. On the nose it has the fragrance of wild flowers.

Ristorante Accademia turned out to be the perfect way to end our trip to Tuscany! Arrivederci Firenze….

But then we never planned on four trips to Tuscany. And it seems once Tuscany has you in her loving arms she never wants to let you go.

Phyllis Signature

Summer – What’s In Season??

Early summer to, alas, the end of summer.

Or should we say, what’s not in season? This is just the best time of the year for a cook. The choices are endless and that makes menu planning both exciting and challenging. What to make, what to make?

  • Cauliflower, Cherries, Lettuces, Potatoes, Herbs, Spinach, Strawberries, Apricots, Beans, Blackberries, Blueberries, Broccoli, Carrots, Celery, Corn, Cucumbers, Currants, Garlic, Melons, Peaches, Pears, Peppers, Plums, Raspberries, Summer Squash, Tomatoes, Apples, Beets, Leeks, Onions & Swiss Chard.

It might be fun to check out Wellbrook’s Summerfest on July 21st. It’s a classic car & motorcycle show, blueberry festival and outdoor market. Wellbrookwinery.com.

Last summer friends took us on a tour around the Agassiz, Chilliwack area to check out cheesemakers, farms, coffee roasters and a potter. It was great fun. There is a Slow Food Cycle Tour July 28th around Agassiz and July 29th the Chilliwack area. Don’t forget to get yourself some of the best corn before you head home. Yummm…..

A Stroke of Luck

DSCN0312 nx2It’s our first Monday in paradise, aka. Chianti! Wonder what we’ll do today and especially, what’s for lunch?? Let’s just head towards Castellina in Chianti and check things out there, i.e. Enoteca Biologica on via c. Borgheri, where we bought some amazing Vin Santo a few years ago? The upshot being that the place seems not to be there any more, or at least we couldn’t find it…dammit…really wanted another bottle of Vin Santo to take home!

We walked about Castellina then back to the car. “Hey, there’s a sign pointing to San Donato” and “hey, I’m pretty sure that Mark, my sisters’ friend, told us we should go there to check out two restaurants he likes! So, we are off on a small country road for 5K. Of course we can’t find either restaurant and I can’t tell you how many times we drove back out to the main road and circled back again. Finally, I say “let’s ask someone”. We did, but my Italian…well, let’s say is sort of limited. Isn’t sign language a wonderful thing when you DSCN0316 nx2don’t totally understand what is being said? This nice young lady hopped into her car and indicated “follow me” and we did right to the parking lot, then she pointed us in the direction of the Trattoria la Troppa…guess what? It’s Monday and…aww you guessed, chiuso Lundei (closed on Monday)! Damn…now what?

We decided to throw in the towel and head back to Greve in Chianti for lunch but luckily we spotted Locanda da Pietraculpa as we headed out of town! “Hey, this is the other place Mark mentioned, right?” San Donato is a small medieval town and who knew they would have such a great restaurant? Lunch in their recently completed “conservatory” was absolutely fantastic! We shared an outstanding, slightly warm, layered eggplant, buffalo mozzarella creation with basil sauce, followed by “pici” (thick Tuscan spaghetti) with a sauce that included delicious pieces of rabbit, strewn with not overly sweet candied lemon peel that made a great compliment to the richness of the rabbit sauce! How could I turn up “tagliolini” (flat thin pasta ribbons) with a sauce of shredded zucchini, zucchini blossoms tossed with Parmigiano and then, completely elevating the pasta to another level, topped with fresh shaved truffles!!! Add a couple of glasses of excellent Sauvignon Blanc followed by macchiato and new to us, foam served on the side DSCN0314 nx2so you could add just what you like! Amazing food, great service…and two very happy diners! The bonus, in our book, was to have the opportunity to chat with the restaurant owner and the chef and thank them for an excellent experience!

**Note:  I have written a review on TripAdvisor for Locanda da Pietraculpa.

 

Phyllis Signature

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why I Use Fresh Herbs

Using fresh herbs instead of dried ones adds a different dimension to your cooking. It is quite amazing the different nuances that fresh herbs lend to a dish.

Herbs trout lake May 19.jpg resize 2I like to grow rosemary, basil, flat-leaf parsley, thyme, oregano, marjoram and sage. I find that if I place them in a location that is somewhat protected from the wind and is not north facing, I usually have pretty good luck with over-wintering rosemary, thyme, oregano, marjoram and sage. The sage is pretty good until there’s a big frost, then it dies back and returns in the spring. In fact, my rosemary plants are 3 to 4 foot shrubs! What I don’t have growing in the garden, I buy from the Farmer’s Market. I love being able to go into my garden in the fall and winter to see what’s still available!

In summer, whenever I see beautiful bundles of dill weed, I get some for freezing to use during the times fresh is unavailable. I chop them up and place in a glass jar with a tight fitting lid and place in the freezer. It works really well!

You can also freeze basil for a couple of months. I just place the whole stems in a plastic freezer bag and chuck into the freezer. I add them to what I’m making, a few minutes before the dish is finished cooking, for that hit of summer. You can also puree the basil with EVOO and then place into ice cube trays and freeze. Remove from the ice cube trays and place into freezer bags and store in the freezer. Then whenever you need some EVOO and basil, you’re ready to go!

If you would like to locate the Farmer’s Markets we go to, click My Source List.

Phyllis Signature_01

A Visit to a Tuscan Farm

Some months ago Judy Witts Francini posted on FB that she had gone to pick up some Cinta Senese pig products from a “farm” near Castellina in Chianti, I knew we had to go as we would be in Chianti in May! If you have never tried Cinta Senese prosciutto…well, you are missing out on some awesome prosciutto! My very first sampling at Macelleria Falorni in Greve in Chianti seven years ago and I was hooked! Products and food like this are not the reason we keep going back to Italy…or is it? Hmmm….The pigs are classified as D.O.P. (protected designation of origin) a classification that is reserved for the meat obtained from pure Cinta Senese breed with certified origins that can only be raised in Tuscany. They must be free range and eat a diet based on natural grazing and selected cereals that are guaranteed G.M.O. The Consortium for the Defence of Suino Cinto Toscano, controls the genetic heritage of the animals. An old breed, native to Chianti that probably dates back prior to the middle ages, were nearly extinct. There is good news, as they are now off the endangered species list.

DSC_1987 nx2Judy forwarded the Azienda Agricola Casamonti contact information and I contacted Raymond immediately to find out about visiting the farm to do a bit of sampling. I emailed him before we left Rome for Tuscany to set up a date. I have to say, my husband was not thrilled about the prospect but I was and don’t we want to do different things on this trip?

Off to Casamonti! It’s in the country so a bit of a dirt road was involved but ya gotta do what ya gotta do. Not sure what we were expecting, perhaps a few sips of wine and a couple of slices of some of their Cinta Senese salumi and we’d be off…not so fast! Anna Rita, Raymond’s wife was our gracious host, took us on a tour, filling us in on the history of the pigs and how they are raised, where they age the salumi, then where they bottle their olive oil. Once we saw that oil and then tasted it, there was no way we were leaving without a bottle to take home even though we promised ourselves we would not be dragging home olive oil because “we get great oil from a farm in Umbria every year, so we just don’t need to”. Right…

DSC_1967 nx2Anna Rita announced “it’s time for lunch” fantastic: sausage on greens, prosciutto, copacollo and salami with both garlic scapes and sun-dried tomatoes in olive oil, a sampling of homemade toppings on crostini, penne with a delicious tomato sauce made from San Marzano tomatoes that Anna Rita preserves every year, all accompanied by their own delicious wines L’Elogio di Casamonti, a delicious young fresh blend of Sangiovese, Canaiolo, Malvasia and Trebbiano, a Chianti Classico C.O.C.G., a pure Sangiovese and then the Chianti Classico D.O.C.G. Riserva also made from Sangiovese grapes, there wasn’t one we did not like! Isn’t life grand? Next a gorgeous fresh goat cheese drizzled with 25 year old balsamic vinegar! Tiramisu is one of those ubiquitous desserts that turns up just about everywhere and it does wear a bit thin! Not this version, it was absolutely wonderful. What more could you ask for, a fabulous lunch in a fantastic stone loggia along with Gerry, the cat. So…not only olive oil but two bottles of the Chianti Classico for drinking in Chianti and a bottle of the Riserva to take home! We will have to drink the other two because we are heading to a favourite winery in a few days and there is not a doubt that we will be buying their wines too! And we are only allowed two each to bring home! Good thing really or we would never be able to lift the luggage!

And then to top off our visit, we wandered down the dirt road to visit the pigs. A couple even came up to the fence to greet us!

P.S.:  The person who was not terrible keen on visiting Casamonti later told me “of our four trips to Tuscany, this has to be one of the best days!”

Note:  I read that place in San Francisco called “The Front Porch Farm”  imported some Cinta Senese pigs a few years ago from Tuscany.  They many not be “the real deal” Cinta Senese as they are not raised in Tuscany and if you are not planning a trip to Tuscany, this might give you a little taste of Tuscany you may not otherwise be able to sample!   Their website says they will have products available for sale in 2014…if you are in the Bay area you might want to look them up!

Phyllis Signature_01

Kudos, Rome 2014

Have you noticed, we like great food and trying new restos.? And going on vacation gives us a good reason to get out there sampling places new to us. Rome has been experiencing some serious changes in their food scene and that definitely required some serious tasting on our part!

DSC_1684 nx2How could we be in Rome and not hustle ourselves over to Pizzarium, Gabriele Bonci’s pizza place on Via della Meloria? After reading great things about the “king of pizza,” there was not a chance we would pass it up. Inside, the place is tiny but oh what amazing things to be seen! A big chalkboard on the wall behind the counter, where a plethora of pizzas are on display, has a list of the arancini and suppli available. Boy did I want some of those besides some pizza! The pizzas are the long, rectangular ones and there must be 10 different choices that the counter staff cut with scissors. We opted for roasted pepper and fresh mozzarella, eggplant with Parmigiano and Pecorino and a third piece, Swiss chard with mackerel (we think), throw in a couple of artisanal beers, step outside and tuck into some awesome pizza. Sorry to say we never got to the arancini or suppli! Bonci is rightly famous for his pizza crusts, let me tell you!

 

 

DSCN8461 nx2 resizeSorpasso on Via Properizo is a wonderfully funky wine bar and trattoria with a “glass” ceiling so you can look up and see the surrounding buildings that look down into the space! We went for the trapizzini (spongy flatbread corners filled with things like stewed oxtail, tongue with garlic-parsley sauce, tripe cooked with tomato and mint and a meatball filling. I was hankering for the oxtail and my partner in crime, was drooling thinking about the tongue and the tripe. Damn, they aren’t ready yet and not sure when! Next! So, decided to go for a selection of aged Spanish hams (36, 40 and 50 months) and a couple of big salads. All the hams were excellent but in our opinion, the winner was the 40, so sweet and succulent!  Did I mention dessert???  A deconstructed millefeuille with custard and strawberries…OMG!

 

 

DSCN8737 nx2

One of our totally favourite “new places” was Romeo on Via Silla. We ordered a platter of “pickled vegetables.” Doesn’t sound like much does it? Well, this was not your ordinary plate of veggies! There was grilled eggplant, marinated then rolled up around a piece of soft sun-dried tomato, house-made marinated cipolline onions, two kinds of olives, one spicy and yummy, marinated assorted mushrooms and “the” most awesome small tomatoes from Puglia marinated in EVOO…we couldn’t stop eating them. Throw in some great bread. What more do you need? In this case my husband needed the linguine in a light tomato sauce with sea urchins and topped with a sprinkling of finely ground coffee beans and I wasn’t going to leave Rome this time without having some Spaghetti Carbonara! We both loved our pasta and the décor…it’s “hot,” sleek and modern. Gambero Rosso forks and Michelin starred chef Cristina Bowerman, brothers Pierluigi and Alessandro Roscioli famous for their bakeries and salumeria, combined forces to create this great place! You have to go, it’s a winner!


 

DSCN8716 nx2A newish place called PummaRe’ a ristorante/pizzeria on Via Andrea Doria above the Mercato Trionfale, was a tip given  us by a friend to check out, so one evening we did just that! It seemed like a lot of people opted for the pizza but not us! The kitchen is “up” for way more than just making pizzas! And were we ever well looked after by the Maitre ‘d! Hubby really enjoyed his antipasto of deep fried anchovies with lemon mayo., while I had a delicious millefeuille of eggplant. For our “primi” my husband ordered the chickpea-seafood “soup” and a dish of feather light gnochetti with tomatoes, eggplant sauce topped with smoked provola, basil and garlic for me…terrific! By the time the “secondi” arrived I was out of steam so did not appreciate my chicken while my hubby loved his fish (croaker: a white fish) and my chicken! Only complaints are the bright lighting and the large portions! We broke our rule “con dividere” (to share) that night and suffered the consequences! The Maitre ‘d recommended wine choices for each course that were amazing with the food: a rose from Northern Sardinia, a Sauvignon Blanc from Fruili and a Trebbiano from Abbruzzo and just to finish us off completely, he brought us a nightcap of Limoncello!

 

 

DSCN0283 nx2 ver2Armando al Panthenon on Salita de Crescenzi, a stone’s throw from the Panthenon was recommended by Elizabeth Minchelli and we are pleased to say we had a really good Roman lunch! Everything we ordered, from the “antipasto” of eggplant parmigiana, “primi” of fettuccine with chicken liver sauce and pasta alla Gricia, followed by a “secondi” of braised chicken with roasted peppers in a tomato sauce, even though traditional, all were expertly cooked and happily lapped up by two fans of the cooking. Throw in a bottle of Frascati, excellent espressos and thank you Elizabeth!

Who was it that said we were not coming back to Rome???

Phyllis Signature_01