Friday, December 3, 2010

Friday Flowers

Since starting beekeeping earlier this year I've been noticing flowers more, and how each week there are new and different flowers and so many varieties of flowers. It got me thinking about how they mark the passing of time and seasons, and how short a time they stick around. 

This is something I've wanted to do for a while, then I wasn't blogging, and now I am but it's winter, so there aren't many flowers. But then again I'm sick and stuck at home and Friday Flowers sounds that much better than Saturday Flowers. So no time like the present and starting is better than procrastinating.

In winter the bees are mostly holed up at home, living off their honey reserves, but there are flowers during this period. My favorites for now are these: 

This is the Nespolo, and while it's not much to look at ,in the early spring it provides the seasons first fruit, a sweet and astringent stonefruit similar to an apricot in appearance.

Today's very first Friday flower is dedicated to my first two followers, Sara and Alex, and to the bees, who love this heady scented blossom.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Who says i eat better when I'm working?

I spent yesterday at home, working on the website amongst other things.

While gallavating around the countryside usually means wonderful, rich seasonal lunches based on truffle or wild boar, a quiet day at home is usually my respite from all of that delicious Tuscan food.

I wanted to share my lunch with you, because it was delicious, italian, homemade and simple- homemade pesto!


The last of the basil from the garden
A small handful of pine nuts
Our own fresh pressed olive oil
A small clove of garlic
Grated parmasean cheese

Take all ingredients, pop them in a mini blender, blend until it has an attractive consistency, adding oil to thin the sauce.
Cook your favourite pasta in salted water until al dente, stir through pesto.

Find a spot of sunlight somewhere and enjoy!

Bon Appetito!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Winter Panzanella

First of all, I have to thank Fabio, great chef and fantastic friend for letting me share with you all this fantastic autumn-winter treat. I am sure that many of you, while traveling around Tuscany would have, at least once, heard of Panzanella, a very simple and typical summer dish made up of bread,vinegar, basil, onion and tomatoes, all mixed up in a very fresh salad.

Chef Fabio in the kitchen
It is one of the best example of our cuisine, honest, frugal and simple, but full of flavors and motivated by the practice of never throwing out any left overs from the pantry.

Fabio has taken this simple recipe to a new level, more sophisticated and suited to cooler times of the year, making the best of what an autumn veggie patch can offer. I know that outside of Tuscany kale, or as we say “ cavolo nero” (black cabbage) could be hard to be found, still it is possible, still, in the worst case, it can be replaced with some large leaves vegetables such as spinach.

The quail eggs touch... I would recommend not to miss that, because it gives a completely different look to the dish and enhances all the flavors!

When you pick the bread, remember to look for something closer as much as you can to our Tuscan unsalted bread, a sourdough would do nicely. For the pancetta: if you can, try to avoid bacon, Italian pancetta is very common at any deli counter!!

I do hope that you will try to put together this dish. Despite being a recipe from the “high cuisine world”it is fairly simple to make and I can assure that the result will be fantastic, and maybe will take you back to the fun days of your trip!

Buon appetito!!

Bread salad with kale , quail eggs and pancetta

Bread salad

Ingredients (4 pax)

  • 160 g stole Tuscan bread
  • 250 g kale
  • 50 g carrots
  • 50 g fresh onion
  • 50 g green celery
  • 120 g Tuscan pancetta
  • 50 g extra virgin olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • red wine vinegar
  • 8 quail eggs
    • Take out the crust from bread and dice it
    • Toast the bread dices with olive oil until gently brown , cool
    • Clean the kale, cut it in julienne, sautè in a pan with garlic and oil until cooked
    • Dice carrot, celery, fresh onion and sautè them in a pan with oil
    • Dice 60 g of pancetta and brown them in a pan
    • Slice the rest of pancetta and dry it in an oven
    • Cook poached 4 quail eggs in water and vinegar
    • Fry 4 quail eggs sunny side up
    • Mix the vegetables, dress with salt, pepper, vinegar and e.v.o.o.
    • Add the dices of crispy bread

Kale sauce

Ingredients (4 pax)

  • 400 g kale leaves
  • q.b. extra virgin olive oil
  • q.b. salt
  • q.b. vegetable stock
  • cook the kale in salty boiling water
  • drain, mix finely with oil
  • cool it

Egg foam (if you really want to impress someone!!!)

Ingredients(4 pax)

  • 1 n° egg
  • 1 n° egg yolks
  • 30 g cream
  • 20 g milk
  • q.b. salt e pepper
  • 5 g butter
  • Beat the eggs and pan fry with butter, whisking
  • Add cream, salt, pepper
  • Blend with cold milk
  • Use the foam on the surface

Garnish and presentation

  • Put the bread salad in a ring mould and turn out
  • Put on top a quail egg sunny side up and a crunchy slice of pancetta
  • Place in a dish the kale cream and the salad
  • Put aside the poached quail egg and garnish with egg foam
  • Finish with black pepper


Friday, November 12, 2010

Go AWAY rain!

I can accept that rain is a part of Autumn, even an important part. And coming from Australia where cursing the rain is likely to get you arrested for crimes of 'un-australianism', i do feel very guilty as I shake my fist at the sky.

But the rain is ruining the most important time of the year for an olive farmer, and my personal favorite month. With little rakes in hand and large nets bundled in the courtyard we watch as the rain keeps falling through prime olive picking weather.

This year has been a bumper year for olive yields, and a neighbour very kindly gave us 700 trees of his to harvest. So we've been planning, and anticipating, this harvest for months.
We have managed to get over 200 litres pressed and bottled, but thats not yet the half of whats sitting on the trees. At least we started early, we can tell ourselves, and were at the frantoio- the olive press- on it's first day of operation. To catch up on lost picking days we have a mechanical olive shaker (note- not a tree shaker) booked for tomorrow, but the weather reports are mixed. Tomorrow at eight we'll be heading out, and if the weather holds we'll be working until the light gives out. If only it doesn't rain.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Autumn cycling

The colours! The smells! It's the most beautiful time of year to be cycling in the Tuscan hills. A light breeze keeps you cool, the sun warms your face, all of the men out in the fields, harvesting grapes or pruning olives take the time to lean on the fenceposts and ladders and laugh at us cycling up the hill. "e dura" they all say. Yes, I agree, its a hard climb. But then I'm coasting down the other side, grinning, with pockets full of wild herbs for a pumpkin soup.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The harvest has begun!

The Olive harvest is yet to officially start, with most frantoio's opening this long weekend, but we've got the jump on everyone else with a good two day slog over the weekend. With only 25 trees down and 745 yet to do (with a two week window in which to do them) we've already raked in enough olives for 60 or so litres of oil. Which is a fair amount.

Particularly when they're spread over the lounge room floor so that they dont sweat and get moldy while we impatiently wait for our neighbourhood olive press to open for business.

This year all our country friends are crowing about a bumper harvest, with bulging trees and no sign of the dread olive fly. We do still have to solve the problem of how to harvest so many trees, but keen to get as much as we can while the weather holds. And then its bruschetta, soups, stews and all other kinds of oily goodness all year!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Autumn community moments

Autumn is a great time for community moments- when families and towns or even employees find themselves doing the comunal work of the season.

Examples of this are the harvests, pruning and all the outdoors work that means long, strenuous hours but are rewarded by the bringing in of crops and the first measure of the years sucess or failure.

There is the sense of preparing for the winter, putting things away with care, stopping up the cracks, cutting the wood.

And then theres the celebrations! Wine festivals, hunting festivals, mushroom food fairs and my favorite- the truffle fairs! Communities getting together and toasting a years worth of work and reward.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The tragic demise of Robespierre

We realised at night, closing up the henhouse. Something was wrong. We had heard him all afternoon making his usual racket and then, nothing. In full daylight, Robispiere the rooster had been taken. Named for the style with which we had assumed he would eventually meet his end, Robespierre was taken from his harem long before his time. Initially we thought he might be roosting somewhere else for the night. But when we actually managed to sleep beyond 6AM without his morning call, we knew something was truly wrong.

I imagined that he had finally gotten a little indignant about sharing living quarters with 3 geese, and had taken off to geese free pastures. But would he really abandon his family like that? We found out the horrible truth when one feather led to another and we followed a trail of large white feathers from the back fence, down through the trees to the base of a large olive where a collection of feathers, including telltale white and yellow neck feathers confirmed our fears.

Poor old Robespierre. Could we have protected him better? Could we have given him a more auspicious name?

The same day that the rooster died, something else happened in the henhouse. One of the eggs hatched and a bright little yellow ball peeked out from beneath the mama's wing. A real circle of life moment.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

My little rust bucket

A couple of months ago I got me a car, not just any car but a 1969 Fiat Cinquecento Giardiniera. And oh is she pretty! Tourquise blue with suicide doors and a roof that opens all the way back, I cant help grinning as I race around town in it. While considered a family or working car in its time, the giardiniera is so small by today's standards that you feel you could pick it up and carry it under your arm. She's not without her problems though, and since buying her I've come to learn a lot about purchasing and owning an old car. Here's some things I now know....
1)There is no such thing as good rust. (I did know that before, I just forgot when I saw her shine in the sun)
2)Take any old vehicle to a mechanic and smash repairer before purchase.
3)Look under the car and under mats and everywhere, even if everyones laughing at you for scrabbling in the dust.
4)If its pretty and you love it get it anyway, but love the rust as well.

Just because I love making lists, here is my pro list for buying the car:
1)The colour
2)The space- even though its tiny, theres enough boot for a beehive
3)The wooden steering wheel
4)The opening all the way back roof!
5)The way the seats fold down, making the back almost big enough for camping.
6)“il doppietto” the way you have to rev the engine before changing down gear
7)st anthony on the gearstick
8)it hardly uses any petrol- 10 euros to fill the tank!
9)The side hinged boot door

Just for balance, one big con:
It's going to cost another 2000 euro to fix the rusty floor. Ouch! Didn't see that coming.

Oh well, I love my little rust bucket.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

First days of summer

Summer is here and while the city swelters and sweats there are only a handful of worthwile sunday destinations. Choices are the beach, where most of Florence is already setting up summer residence, the mountains, the usual choice for nanas wanting to take the healthy spring waters and dance the ballo liscio (literally smooth dancing). Lacking in friends with swimming pools we today chose the only other alternative and headed to a secret river location to cool off. And while our secret river location was known to only a handful of people last year, this year has seen an explosion of secret river location knowledge and space was limited. Someone obviously has a problem with the word secret! Social networking has a lot to answer for. Hmph!

But we cooled off, swam a bit, and then headed home. While the boys went off to watch the world cup final I experienced one of the greater joys that the start of summer brings. The first figs from the tree. Mmm so sweet! There will be so many coming on as the summer progresses, so if anyone has any recipes for figs, cakes, preserves or anything else, shoot them through. Last year I discovered figs with ricotta and honey and as this year I have my own honey I'll be indulging regularly.