Fromage With Love

The recipes & food loves of a wanderlust cook.

Postcards from Tuscany

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IMG_0863IMG_0865If I thought the first day of our walk was testing, I had no idea what was in store. Following on from the mind-blowing meal we had in Gambassi Terme the evening before, we had high spirits as we headed down the hill. Our target was San Gimignano, a mere 13km away, and we were set to arrive by lunchtime (which was keeping my belly quite happy).

Again the day was filled with sunshine and bountiful fields of green, which were occasionally smeared with a red cluster of poppies in the distance. On gravel paths and trodden down grass which tickled our knees we walked with our destination mostly in sight. Crossing babbling brooks and under cool shade I took as many mental snapshots as I could, drinking in each and every moment. I created a bank in my mind of these feelings as I knew, once home and sat once again at my desk with the pressure of deadlines and only glimpses of sunshine out windows I would crave the freedom and open air of Tuscany.

October

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October is my favourite month of the year. Not only are we in the full swing of Spring, but it’s officially a birthday bonanza. My best friend and my sister are both October babies, and that is barely scraping the top of the long list of cake-related festivities to attend. I guess the most significant thing about October though, is the fact that it’s my birthday, too!

The 17th of this month will see me be a year older and (fingers crossed) a little bit wiser too.

Lucky me, though, got a present a little bit early!

Buzz already got me a beautiful new camera lens a couple of months ago, which was a very early birthday present, but has made me a very happy photo taker. Stretching his generosity further, he decided there also needed to be a little October gift in there, too!

A little backstory: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is my all-time favourite book. It may have something to do with my love of tea or the colour blue, but more likely it’s just because it’s a brilliant story whatever point of your life you read it.

And so, when we saw this honey-pot terrarium with the White Rabbit and Alice inside, it was instantly the perfect gift and now has pride of place on my desk.

A very happy little lady right now!

Pasta al Ragù di Anatra (Pasta with Duck & Red Wine Ragù)

Duck RaguThe duck ragu we had that night in Gambassi Terme was significant for several reasons. One, it was the first time I had ever tried duck in the Western culinary world. Two, I had rather low expectations of what the evening’s menu would entail. Three, it was one of the most delicious dishes I have ever eaten. The ragu was melt-in-your-mouth and full of flavour. It was with this meal that I really began to appreciate the Italian countryside and the people who cook there. It was warm and loving and every meal left the wonderful impression of someone’s nonna being behind it all.

That night there was also a unabashedly yellow saffron and porcini pasta dish, which was equally decadent but just didn’t nudge past the duck for me. This was one of Buzz’s favourite meals from the entire trip, and so I knew I just had to attempt to recreate it.

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Pasta al Ragù di Anatra (Pasta with Duck & Red Wine Ragù) (Serves Eight)

four pieces of organic or free-range Maryland duck
one cup of flour
salt and pepper
olive oil
one onion, diced
one celery stalk, diced
two small carrots, diced
three garlic cloves, crushed
700g sugo or passata
half a cup of water
small handful of rosemary and thyme
one teaspoon of grated nutmeg
one bay leaf
one cup red wine

Mix a teaspoon each of salt and pepper into your flour. Dust the duck pieces in the flour and pan-fry in a tablespoon of olive oil over a medium heat. Five minutes on one side, til golden brown, then five minutes on the other. Set browned duck pieces aside.

The fat will have rendered significantly. Drain the pan of the fat, leaving two tablespoons worth (you can reserve this fat and keep in the freezer for a rainy day when you’re baking potatoes!).

Over a medium heat, cook onions, carrots and celery off in the same pan for a few minutes until softened. Add garlic and cook for a further minute. Add wine, herbs, passata, water and nutmeg, along with a big pinch each of salt and pepper.

Submerge your browned duck pieces in the liquid. Cook on a medium heat til it starts to bubble, then turn down to a simmer, cover with a lid and cook on a slow heat for two and a half hours. Stir three or four times over the course of it slow cooking to make sure nothing catches on the bottom of the pan.

When the time is up, turn the heat off and remove the duck pieces from the pan. The meat should separate easily – remove bones and large fatty pieces and discard. With remaining meat use two forks to pull apart into shreds.

Return this shredded meat back into the sauce, taste and season accordingly.

When ready to serve, bring a salted pan of water to the boil, and cook pasta to package instructions. Go for thicker pastas, like fettuccine, tagliatelle or, as we had it in Italy, with pici. Warm the sauce through and serve over pasta with some grated parmesan and a glass of wine.

This makes a bulk amount of sauce. I use half to serve four people for dinner, then freeze the remainder to use again over pasta, or it is particularly delicious in a lasagna, too.

Gambassi Terme

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Gambassi Terme is the kind of town that if you were cruising by in a car, it would easily pass you by and fade into the insignificance as just another small thoroughfare. Luckily for us, we were on foot. Gambassi Terme was the end of day one of our hike, and like most Italian towns, was at the top of a hill. It was a classic case of The Tortoise and the Hare, with me (the hare) not quite having the stamina to get up that hill, while those leisurely enjoying the day passed me by and crossed the invisible finish line first.

The town was relatively quiet and our B&B squatted next to the town square. In true European fashion, there was noone at the front desk and so we took a moment to catch our breath on a bench while communicating in broken English and terrible Italian to those around us. Finally, we were let to our rooms, pretty standard quarters with the added bonus of a shower that was situated over the toilet. I’m certain it’s a prerequisite to encounter at least one of these on any sort of overseas trip you take.

Dinner was to be served at the restaurant beneath the bedrooms, and to be honest I was expecting a rather hum-drum affair. We had a few hours to ourselves before our meal, and set out to explore the limited town that there was. Next door was a dry cleaners, with a lovely and smiley young woman, who we asked very politely to do some of our washing for us. She had it cleaned, dried and neatly folded within 2 hours and only asked for 7 euros! I just had to give her 10, and even then she seemed very embarrassed and said it was unnecessary.

The dry cleaners was next to a gelato store that also sold alcohol. You could buy wine by the glass and take it across the road onto a leafy green park, where we sprawled on grass and benches in the sunshine. A half-moon shape barrier separated the square from a drop below, at which there was a beautiful view across the hills. We could see the town we would walk to the next day, and that was very comforting to know it was that close!

We sauntered back to the restaurant, which was cramped with other walkers and loud locals. Teenagers played and joked loudly in Italian behind us in the street, moving out of the way of the occasional car. As had become tradition, we began the meal with a round of Aperol Spritzers. And then. Wow. Any idea of hum-drum cookery I had flew completely and utterly out of the window.

Because here, in this tiny, dot-speck on a map town, an array of gastronomic delights were about to be laid before me and turn Gambassi Terme from so-so to amazing. This little restaurant beneath a B&B where a shower sat over a toilet is where I had one of the most amazing meals of my life.

Beautiful ribbons of meat cascaded over antipasto plates with crunchy squares of bruschetta. The softest tagliatelle in a saffron and mushroom sauce sat beside a fall-apart-in-your-mouth duck ragu. Panchetta wrapped beef was garnished with slivers of white truffle like shavings of parmesan. Full to the brim as we were, tiramisu followed and it was pillowy and creamy and chocolatey and everything that a dessert would be.

Looks can be deceiving, don’t judge a book by its cover and all those other mantras that are spouted to remind us that we can still be delightfully surprised all united in this remote Italian town and cemented Gambassi Terme as a place I wouldn’t forget.

As we would head off in the early morning the following day, I was rejuvenated and ready, with a skip in my step as we headed down the hill.

The Fabulous Frozen Factory, Mexico

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To be filed under “I wish we had one of those”.

The Fabulous Frozen Factory is a newly built dessert haven in Mexico where candy-coloured Kitchenaids meet cryogenics to create marvellous sweets right before your eyes.

Luckily, N2 Extreme Gelato has arrived in Melbourne to fill the ice-cream shaped hole in my tummy so a visit to Mexico will have to stay on ice for now.

All photos and further information can be found here.

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Aperol Spritz

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During our hike through Tuscany, the hardest part about the day was the end. This wasn’t just due to fatigue, or blisters, or a weird limp we had managed to pick up, but rather an unforgiving hill that without fail would present itself in the last few kilometres. You see, those medieval Italians had the bright idea of putting their towns at the crown of a very steep incline, no doubt to wear out any attacking enemies. I can safely say if I were a knight storming the village I would have been useless.

So here I would find my self, at the tail end of each afternoon, with the prospect of what always felt like a Mount Everest between me and that delicious moment when I could take my boots off. I would trudge into each town, panting rather ungracefully with wild hair and red cheeks and an uncomfortable burning feeling on the underside of my feet.

Fortunately, those wily Italians, with their putting of towns on top of hills, were simultaneously the cause and solution to all my problems.

Why? Because on top of mozzarella, panchetta and delightfully coloured army uniforms, they also found the time to invent that all-healing orange-hued elixir – the Aperol Spritz.

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A glass of Spritz became a tradition on our hike to cap off each day. It really seemed magical, how so few hours before there was pain and a desperation to reach the next village, as well as repetitive lectures in my head of how I really ought to spend some time getting fit once back home. But then in an instant, with a wine glass in hand and a slice of orange floating merrily between the ice, everything was calm and happy and satisfying.

I drank Spritz in poky bed & breakfast dining rooms, at the city walls of medieval fortresses with vineyards at my feet, in town squares and surrounded by fairy lights. Every time was different, some sweeter and some more bitter, with everyone in our group arguing over which one was their favourite. No matter the victor, Tuscany wouldn’t have been what it was without a cold glass of this drink in my hand as the sun went down.

As the taste varied so vastly in my experience, I’ve provided three different variations for this recipe of which you can choose your favourite. Or, make all three and really have a party!

Choose Your Own Spritz-Venture!

The Original
30mL Aperol
30mL soda water
Prosecco (or any sparkling wine of your choice)

Add ice to a wine glass, then Aperol and soda water. Top with Prosecco, stir gently and garnish with a slice of orange.

Middle of the Road
30mL Aperol
30mL lemonade
Prosecco (or any sparkling wine of your choice)

Add ice to a wine glass, then Aperol and lemonade. Top with Prosecco, stir gently and garnish with a slice of orange.

A Sweet Tooth
30mL Aperol
60mL Prosecco (or any sparkling wine of your choice)
top with lemonade

Add ice to a glass, then Aperol and Prosecco. Top with lemonade, stir gently and garnish with a slice of orange.

 

Kitchen Edit – Bar Trolley

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As I’ve already purchased the bright yellow bar cart in my mind, it’s perfectly reasonable to start looking at accessories…right?

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Lark Store, Jonathan Adler “Jet Set” Coasters– $69.95  //  Urban Outfitters, Glitter Cocktail Shaker$24.00 // Anthropologie, Botanical Party Garland$16.95 

House Envy

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This stunning vignette spotted on The Glitter Guide inspires the sort of envy that results in an hour-long Google session for my very own bar trolley. I just had to share!

I have to admit I’ve always loved the idea of stocking that sort of old world drinks cart in my living room. It’s usually accompanied by fantasies where nights of glamour can be spent cracking witty jokes and eating olives out of martinis.

Unfortunately, for now this is just a pipe dream and I’ll have to settle with reaching ungracefully into my top kitchen cupboard to break out a half-drunk bottle of Malibu.

My hunt did lead me to a lovely place though, in the discovery of this beautifully bright painted yellow trolley over at Lark!

Soon, my pretty.

 

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You can find out more about the rest of the Devon Dyer house shoot here, and purchase the bar cart here (just make sure you save one for me!).

Snapshots of Tuscany

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There’s a certain magic in the air in Tuscany and one discovered best on foot. Walking across the rolling green hills of the Italian countryside, passing olive groves, vineyards and cascading waterfalls of jasmine, it’s easy to leave a piece of yourself behind.

I think though, the strongest memory I will keep from this first day of our walk is at the top of a particular steep hill where all of a sudden we found ourselves surrounded by flowers of pink and purple and in the middle of a flurry of butterflies.

Chocolate, Orange & Hazelnut Biscotti

Chocolate-and-Hazelnut-Biscotti---Fromage-With-LoveWhen we were in San Miniato the night before we were to begin our 150km journey through Tuscany, our host, Anna prepared our stomachs in the way the best way she could. This was with a huge three course meal she had cooked from scratch with all locally sourced ingredients. But of course, she wasn’t done. Just as the post-meal coma was beginning to set in and our pants had become just slightly too tight, she brought out her homemade chocolate biscotti, which I was suprised to see were shaped into rounds. She then proceeded to wrap a huge pile of them in a napkin (I half expected her to hoist it onto a stick and over her shoulder after that) for us to take with us the following day.

The next morning as we decided to take a break under the shade of some olive trees along the dirt path of the Via Francigena, we broke out the biscotti. At that moment, with a soft and crunchy bite of chocolate and nuts, there was nothing more delicious you could have possibly have given me. I firmly believe when the Tuscan sun is beating down and you’re terribly unfit and endeavouring to climb 20km through the hills, chocolate is the perfect antidote to your pain.

biscotti02biscotti03 biscotti04biscotti05biscotti06biscotti07 biscotti08Chocolate-and-Hazelnut-Biscotti---Fromage-With-LoveBiscotti come in all shapes and sizes, kind of like the people who eat them, from wafer thin to big and bulky. A plethora of flavours are only limited by your imagination and your star ingredient can go from almond to pistachio to as I’ve chosen, hazelnut. The beauty of this sweet treat and my favourite thing about most recipes is the sky’s the limit. You can really make your own mark and your very own version to pass down (or keep as a secret recipe if you want to be cheeky).

When it comes to this particular incarnation of the Italian favourite, I’m doing my own thing. For starters, I’m waging a war against the dry biscotti. I have never been a fan of the thin, dry biscotti that you get offered on the side of your teacup at a cafe or the hairdresser’s. My perfect biscotti and what I loved most about Anna’s was a nice crunch giving way to a chewy interior. It’s that beautiful balance of hard and soft that in my mind makes this so satisfying.

While this might be a little more fiddly than your traditional recipe, it’s worth it for the fact that you are making what could possibly be the love-child of biscotti and brownie.

Chocolate, Orange & Hazelnut Biscotti

90g unsalted butter, softened
2 cups plain flour, plus extra for rolling
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon bi-carb soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
one teaspoon vanilla paste or essence
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
zest of one orange
1 cup shelled hazelnuts
1/2 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 175 degrees Celsius and line a baking tray with parchment.

In a medium bowl, mix together flour, cocoa powder, bi-carb soda and salt. In a separate bowl cream the butter and sugar until nice and fluffy using a stand mixer or hand held. One by one add your eggs, followed by the zest and vanilla while the mixer is still going on a low speed.

Turn off the mixer and scrape down sides of bowl if necessary. Add the flour mixture and stir with a wooden spoon to form a stiff (but rather sticky) dough. Stir in hazelnuts and chocolate chips.

Lightly flour your hands and bench and scrape the dough out of the bowl. Working quickly, shape your dough into a flattened sort of log that’s roughly around 30cm x 10cm.

Pop the dough on the prepared baking sheet and bake until slightly firm, about 25 – 30 minutes. Cool on a bench for about 15 minutes. Reduce the oven to 150 degrees.

Put the dough on the tray in the freezer for about 30 minutes to help it firm up. This will make it easier to cut, while keeping the interior slightly gooey.

Slice the log into 3cm pieces and put back on to a baking paper lined tray, cut side down.

Pop back in the oven for 20 minutes, then let cool completely before serving.

Goes well with a nice cup of tea and good conversation.