Tuscany 2017- Part 1

This year we have decided to have a 2 part Tuscan adventure, starting down near Cortona for a week and finishing with almost a week in the Tuscan hills (mini mountains!) near Lucca. I am writing this from our apartment in the hills as there is a biblical thunderstorm outside ⛈⛈⛈, although I guess I shouldn’t be surprised as we are up alongside the clouds!!!

But the holiday so far has been filled with lovely ☀️☀️☀️ , beautiful views and gorgeous food.

Our villa is up a steep hill, amongst the olive trees on the outskirts of the beautiful town of Cortona (famous from the book and film ‘Under the Tuscan Sun’). We actually stayed here back in 2013 and the amazingly restful memories brought us back once more.
I took an old and battered copy of an Elizabeth David with me and whilst drinking some Vino Nobile de Montepulciano by the pool I thought I’d make these lovely little men….

I think that the simplicity of her writing alongside the quality of produce here in Italy has inspired me to take a different view of cooking this holiday. So these potato kofte/ball/keftedes were born….

Potato Keftedes Boil a couple of large potatoes until ready to mash. Leave them to cool and roughly mash with a fork. Season well with salt and pepper. Mix into the potato a small chopped red onion, a medium tomato, deseeded and chopped, and a little fresh chopped rosemary. Add a little glug of olive oil, give it a good mix and shape into balls. Fry in olive oil until golden on all sides.

We ate these hot from the pan with a bruschetta, some cheese, and a lovely cold and crisp Vermentino.

When I make these back home I would be tempted to add some finely chopped green pepper, and maybe swap the rosemary for parsley. They would be excellent with a poached egg on top too!

Montepulciano is one of my favourite places in Tuscany. I love the light in the town, the unfinished facade of the cathedral, and of course the very delicious wine!! On this visit we couldn’t decide where to eat and ended up in this restaurant, Ristorante Degli Archi, surrounded by Australians and a very enthusiastic host…

After the owner made us hold hands at the table and decided we were on our second honeymoon (we were quite scared of his boisterous manner…) we had some delicious seafood: a pasta dish of clams and homemade pesto for me, and a sea bass cooked with potato, cherry tomato and a saffron cream in a cartouche for C. This was an unusual departure for C but he declared it was delicious, and I have to admit to being really jealous, and potentially embarrassing myself by dipping my fingers in the sauce trying to figure out the ingredients so I can recreate at home!

In retrospect we got off lightly with simply having to hold hands at the bequest of the host, others were serenaded in a very loud voice with a repertoire of Italian opera 🤔

Cortona is a busy little town which can get a little overrun with tourists, but in the main square the local men still sit watching the world go by and gesticulating over the days newspaper- football or food?!?

We’ve eaten here a few times before but went a little off the beaten track to a restaurant mainly frequented by locals….

l It is always said that it is a good sign if everyone in the restaurant is local and it was very much the case in Trattoria Dardano. I even managed to order in Italian and no one laughed and we did get what we expected to get! Such simple cooking but with fresh, in season ingredients, and cooked perfectly. C opted for some pasta with a light, piquant sauce. I had some deliciously charred lamb chops with these beautiful roasted veggies. Washed down with some Vermentino…. that was €3 for half a litre!!! It was absolutely lovely 🥂

On our final day we visited 2 tiny hilltop towns which were both quite special.

Firstly Civitella in Val di Chianna.

Civitella is breathtaking. The position perched on the top of the hill is spectacular, and when you stand in the ruins of the castle you can not simply understand how it was built! The town itself is pretty, filled with sculptures, flowers and is obviously well loved by those lucky enough to live there. The town has an English connection as there was a terrible massacre during the 2nd world war and the army came to their aid in the aftermath. A truly atmospheric place.

Secondly Lucignano. Slightly bigger, not as pretty (impossible after Civitella), but one of the best meals I’ve eaten!

The restaurant has a little terrace on the street but a really pretty large, sunny terrace looking over the valley at the back. The menu was traditional in many respects, with a definite organic slant, but even included a Vegan menu- quite unusual in rural Italy I believe. My starter is at top left- a little salad of raw vegetables dressed with some warming, herby olive oil, topped with a perfectly poached egg and shaved truffles. Simple, I know, but the flavours were utterly perfect. C had the top right starter of a trio of courgette- a ricotta stuffed flower, a kind of frittata and a stuffed courgette with mushrooms. Again not his usual choice but got the 👍👍👍. My main course, bottom right, came from the vegan menu. A courgette, beetroot and chickpea tart with almonds and a saffron sauce. It was amazing! A little plate of wonderfulness! I wouldn’t know how to make it, it had some herbs in that I couldn’t have identified ( I should have been brave and asked the chef) and I enjoyed it immensely. C had some beef that was charred and seasoned perfectly, with some rosemary potatoes too.

I would love to visit this restaurant again 🍷🍅🌶☕️.

So onwards we have gone, leaving southern Tuscany behind for now…

Holiday, sunshine and recuperation

A really lovely week off in Ludlow, a beautiful town in Shropshire that I really think of as second home, and certainly a place I feel truly relaxed and happy in! Sunshine all the way, loads of lovely food, and rest and relaxation in equal measure. Some foodie highlights….

Ludlow Cicchetti Bar

A fantastic little place just up from our cottage. It is a good job we don’t live in Ludlow as I believe we would be here every single day! For me an antipasti selection full to the brim with gorgeous Italian delicacies. For C a tagliatelle with a really tasty ragu- almost as good as the wild boar gnocchi he adores from here. Washed down with a crisp rose…. what more could you wish for!

Pizza Ten

This is the third visit to this amazing independent pizza restaurant, and each time is a revelation! I always have a pizza combination that I would normally say is simply wrong…. but is just perfect. This time king prawn, chorizo and aioli- so amazing, delicious!

The Church Inn

This pub has been around for some time but recently gone through a facelift. I was a little worried as it had a real charm and was famous for its homemade pies, but although a smaller menu it is a really lovely dining area with delicious food. For me a fish pie that was so good I could have eaten double the pie…. for C a steak and kidney pie with mash and a really beautifully reduced gravy. Very good.

Ludlow- I miss being there, I hope to be back soon.

 

A sunny weekend

The sun has been shining and has certainly brought some restorative health and vitality to the French Thomas household.

A little shopping trip gave me all the ingredients I needed to add to my growing collection of pickles, preserves and liqueurs! Today I have made two rum based liqueurs, one with passionfruit, the other with my favourite, lychees and vanilla- I can’t wait to try them 🍷. Both from a Tessa Kiros book I haven’t spent enough time with.

And I wasn’t sure baking in such heat was a great idea but tomorrow at work we have a cake sale so I have made some strawberry cheesecake cupcakes (from the Hummingbird Bakery cookbook) and a chocolate cake slab (Nigella). It only seems fair we try some after dinner…..!!!

So, off to make a mini end of a lovely weekend BBQ 🤗👍🤗

A Green Shakshuka 🥗

3399A1E1-9C2D-4A9F-95A9-F0BD0F5C8C1A-COLLAGEAfter a long stretch at work over the bank holiday weekend I am enjoying a lazy day off relaxing at home. I saw this recipe in a magazine and decided to give it a try…. with a couple of tweaks of course!

More cumin, added 🌶 and tinned 🍅 instead of fresh. It was really lovely, I’ve cleared a very large plate, and just the nourishing lunch I needed.

Now……. feet up or housework???

A Thoroughly Fishy Weekend

I never start my New Year resolutions until February…. it’s a little bit like starting a diet on a Monday, doomed from the start!!! Over Christmas I was looking back over this blog and thought its time to start writing again. I’ve missed sharing memorable, lovely  meals, some cooked by me, some cooked by others, and also some inedible offerings along the way! So I’m starting again today and may well share a few food memories from the past 6 months 🍽🍷

But for now……..

I’ve recently changed jobs and ended up with an unscheduled weekend off! Rest and relaxation have most definitely been on the menu following a fairly hectic week, but some food nourishment is a necessary medicine.

For Saturday lunch a Tuna Tartare.

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This is a new book to the library- I have another in the series all on Fries so couldn’t resist this. (I’ve never actually cooked anything from the Fries book, or indeed the book that only has recipes for Dal… maybe I need to!).
The tartare was really delicious and very easy to make. Firstly I sliced a red onion and popped in a bowl with lots of lime juice and a sprinkling of pink peppercorns and left them to steep for half an hour. In the meantime I diced a fresh tuna steak, a small avocado and a handful of cherry tomatoes, mixing them with some fresh mint, coriander, fresh red chilli and a spritz of lime. Mixed all together on a bed of some salad leaves (the last bag in the supermarket…) the tartare was fresh and vibrant, hot and sour, and quite delicious!

For dinner I made an adaptation of a recipe I’ve made previously from the Cinnamon Kitchen Cookbook. 

Crab and Cod Koftes with Lemon Rice

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There must be a theme for today’s food actually as this too was fresh and fragrant.
To make the koftas:

  • Chop 250g cod into tiny pieces. Mix with 150g white crab meat, a shredded kaffir lime leaf, half a chopped red onion, 2 chopped fresh green chillies with a little knob of ginger grated. Drizzle in a little olive oil, season and mix all together.
  • Shape into little balls, sauté on both sides until lightly browned, and then pop into the oven to cook through- about 10 mins.
  • The sauce is next. Saute the other half of the red onion, chopped, in oil and add some spices: tsp ground coriander, half tsp ground black pepper, tsp dried red chillies, and a star anise. Also pop into the pan a tbsp white wine vinegar, a chopped garlic clove and some salt. Mix in well before adding in a tin of chopped tomatoes. Stir and simmer for a few mins.
  • Add in a small tin of coconut cream to mellow the sauce and simmer until thick.
  • The rice is super easy- boil some basmati rice until almost cooked. Drain. In a pan heat some oil and add some black mustard seeds, a small handful of curry leaves, a chopped chilli and a tsp turmeric. Stir in the rice and squeeze in a lemons juice 🍋.

These gorgeous little koftes are not all that fishy in all honestly, but really hold the spices well and add a real fragrance to the meal with the fresh herbs. Really filling too yet modestly healthy- maybe perfect for a Fit February!!!

I had some white crabmeat left over so Sunday lunch became a Crab Linguine.

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Not a recipe really, I simply boiled some pasta in one pan whilst cooking some spring onions, chillis, crab in olive oil in another. To the crab I threw in a handful of chopped cherry 🍅 and a glass of Prosecco (bizarrely left over?!?) and cooked down. All tossed together and eaten in a flash!

 

 

 

So a restorative weekend to recharge the batteries, just what the doctor would order I am certain. It will end tonight with a toad in the hole!!!

A Fishy Dinner, A Tale of 2 Gnocchi, and a Sciatica Soothing Pasta!

Three really lovely meals this week, well worthy of a mention! I am writing them up now with the 3rd football match of the day on the TV…. I can’t blame anyone but myself as I have had the control of the remote control!!!

The first lovely meal is this….

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Marinated Cod with Spiced Aubergines

This is loosely based on a Gordon Ramsay recipe, but adapted as (a) I couldn’t buy any halibut, and (b) I really don’t like raisins in savoury food….. Instead I used cod, upped the spice and a little more aubergine. It was completely delicious, I could eat it every day! Here’s the recipe- (for 1 hungry person)

1 cod fillet

1 tbsp olive oil

1/2 tsp turmeric

1 aubergine, cut into cubes

1 onion, sliced into half moon

1 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp chilli flakes

1 tin chopped tomatoes

squeeze lemon juice

  • drizzle the oil over the fish and rub in the turmeric with some salt and pepper. Leave for about half on hour to marinade.
  • heat the oven to 200.
  • toss the aubergine in some olive oil and salt and pepper, pop on a baking sheet and pop into the oven for 20 mins.
  • in a pan heat some olive oil and fry the onions until soft. Add the cumin and chilli, then add the tomatoes and cook down for 15 mins. Take the Aubergines out of the oven and add to the sauce. Cook all together for 10 mins.
  • fry the cod in a pan on both sides until cooked through and golden. Serve sitting on top of the sauce.

It was really tasty, filling and healthy too!!!

The following evening it was a tale of 2 gnocchi!!! (Not sure what the plural of gnocchi is?).

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The gnocchi were bought from La Tua in Borough Market, where I often buy fresh pasta and tortellini. First time for the gnocchi and they were good. On the left, for C were normal gnocchi, with a Carluccio wild boar sauce and some chunky pesto. On the left for me some gnocchi that were bigger and filled with walnuts and Gorgonzola, with a piccante tomato sauce and the same chunky pesto. Really nice, despite me not being a massive gnocchi fan, and a fairly light dinner after a long day.

Which leads me onto today. I have not been to work as I have a flair up of the sciatica I had nastily last year. Not as bad, but not pleasant, so looking after myself and being sensible Jo! So… A sciatica soothing pasta was called for!

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This was really soothing in so many ways, despite being a subtle way of using up bits and bobs of veg in the fridge! Whilst the penne was cooking I sautéed some onion, green pepper, asparagus tips and sweet corn in some olive oil. Once the pasta was cooked I drained it and added it to the veg. To it I added a tbsp of mascarpone and a handful of shropshire blue cheese, with some pepper. I stirred it all together on a low heat until all melded together and gorgeously yummy.

So my back is sore, but my tum is full and happy. Surely that’ll get me firmly on the road to recovery??

 

 

 

A Tuesday Day Off!

Firstly a very happy birthday to my lovely sister and Dad, both born on the same day, albeit several years apart!!!

Today, an unusual Tuesday day off, all domestics done so a day of pottering around and some tasty food.

For my lunch I have made something incredibly healthy, but super lovely! I will dedicate this to the birthday girl…. I think she’d love it.

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Tuna Ceviche with Charred Lettuce and Avocado

This beautiful plate of food comes from the Madelaine Shaw book ‘Ready, Steady, Glow’. The fresh tuna sat in a little bowl with some fresh ginger, lime juice, soy and sesame oil, while I charred some lettuce and mashed some avocado with some chilli. Sprinkled with some toasted sesame seeds and spring onion for some crunch and red chilli for heat, this was a very vibrant and happy lunch.

I am currently writing a little book for a friends upcoming birthday and this will definitely make the cut, with maybe a few minor tweaks.

Tonight I am looking at some fish with a spicy aubergine mush….. fingers crossed.

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