Archive | Italy

San Miniato Truffle Festival and where to eat in Florence and Pisa

Diamonds are a chef’s best friend

and a spoon with a stew

“Darling, I am taking you to Italy and we are going to buy a diamond”!

Although many a person would be disappointed when they discovered that rather than a sparkling stone to be worn, your lover was talking about an edible underground fungus that resembles a dirty pebble, any food enthusiast (like myself) would be totally excited. The tuber Magnatum Pico a.k.a. the White Winter Truffle, White Alba Truffle or ‘diamond of the kitchen’ is one of the most prized, unique and decadent ingredients you can eat. Current London prices can be as high as £10,000 a kilo.

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Where to eat in Venice

Don’t Cook Now

After a busy and fun week cooking in Dublin then buzzing around for a long weekend on a bee project I was totally ready to jump on the plane to Venice, the location for the brilliant film thriller “Don’t Look Now” based on a Daphne du Mauriers’ short story, for a few days off and a feasting extravaganza.

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Recipe | Roast suckling pig

This little piggy…

Sardinia meant a new destination and new client for me so all seemed very exciting. The initial introductions were done over the phone and all seemed like it would work out very nicely until…

“ Oh yes we eat practically anything”! (client)

“Great” (me)

“Yes, and we wondered how you felt about cooking baby … phone line crackles at inopportune moment.

‘I’m sorry?”

“Baby…!” more phone crackling then the line goes dead.

Cripes I thought, what had I got myself into?!

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Recipe | Deep fried zucchini flowers with Prosecco batter, stuffed with ricotta, mint and anchovies

whisk

The Italian Job…

The Tuscan hills bulged like the limbs of a Botticelli woman. The roads delightfully twisted through these curves and I noted to myself that next time when taking a job here I would write in my contract that I needed to do the shopping in a Ferrari. A red one.

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The job for the week was to cook for 18 fun loving individuals that had flown in from all corners of the globe to celebrate a milestone birthday. They had taken a large villa plopped reclusively on top of one of these voluptuous hills with only a discreet track lined with Cyprus trees marking its whereabouts. Well that was my sat nav’s excuse for getting confused.  With temperatures dallying around 30°C and the prospect of shopping at Italian local markets for a group that were ‘game to eat anything’ I was very much looking forward to my week’s work.

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On the first evening, one of the guests bounced into the kitchen just as I had started frying the sage leaves in butter for their saltimbocca to enquire,

“Was I into cocktail making?”

“Indeed I am,” I said.

So with the house being equipped with a full-on professional bar I happily got shaking. Now, I know there is some weird and wonderful mixology going on out there like drinks made from ‘smoked rabbits breath’ or ‘dehydrated  Louboutin sole dust’  but whenever I try one of these new concoctions I always wish I had just chosen a classic. With this in mind, the ones I whizzed up during the week were all traditional, including some unashamedly girly Cosmopolitans, zingy Mojitos and very American Long Island Iced Teas.

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As always, before the job began I had discussed with the client what they loved, hated and how they wanted the week to be. We got as far as ‘Italian’ and stopped there. This is the perfect job brief for whenever you venture somewhere new you never quite know what you are going find. I have definitely found the best way to plan a menu is to go to the shops/markets, see what looks best and then decide what’s for dinner.  As they mentioned they ‘eat anything’ I noted on my first shopping trip that 4th stomach of the cow seemed plentiful, maybe I should try them on my Florentina tripa recipe… but perhaps that was a little daring for the first night.

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Anyone who has experienced food shopping in Italy will realise that produce, even in the local supermarket, is generally superb, very seasonal and almost entirely centered around traditional Italian ingredients. It will probably be hard finding ingredients like limes and coriander but there will be six different types of ricotta and five varieties of aubergines to choose from.   I’m not sure I would enjoy this pure approach all the time but when in Rome (or Tuscany as it happens) I love it.

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By day two I had scoured most of the local shops and sussed out what was looking good so I could plan the food for the weeks main party. The menu was as follows;

 

Aperitvio

Aperol Spritz/ Peach Bellinis

Rosemary arancini with spiced tomato sauce

 

Prima

Fried zucchini flowers stuffed with sheep ricotta, anchovies and pine nuts

 

Secondo

Florentine steaks

Grilled Bream with chili sauce

 

Contorno

Fresh Borlotti beans with herbs and balsamic

 

Insalata

 Grilled radicchio, hazelnut pesto and rocket.

 

Dolce

Peach, amaretto and almond tart with salted caramel ice cream

 

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The rest of the week consisted of long lunches, more evening feasts and plenty of swims in the pool (the guests not me).  Then all too quickly Sunday came, my bags were packed and the sat nav set for Florence airport. I weaved my way back to the UK and got ready to cook for my next job, a fashion shoot in the Scottish Highlands.

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 This week’s stats:

Cocktails shaken: 165

Transport: A red Ferrari (trapped in a Peugeot 206 body).

Every home should have: A Sonos music system and a Teriyaki grill.

Borlotti beans podded: 556

Chianti drunk : too discreet to say

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Deep fried zucchini flowers with prosecco batter, stuffed with sheep ricotta, anchovies and pine nuts

Serves 4 as a starter

You may think it is extravagant using prosecco in a batter when you could substitute sparkling water but its not like I used a Don Perignon 1995. No, that was a totally different party and recipe….

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Ingredients

8 Flowers (As a starter you probably want 2 each)

Stuffing Ingredients

2 tbs pinenuts toasted and roughly chopped

8 dessertspoons of ricotta

3 anchovies fillets finely chopped

2 tbs chopped mint

zest of 1 lemon

Batter

200g self raising flour

1 egg

450ml Proseccco.

1 litre sunflower oil

To serve 2 tbs runny honey

In a bowl mix the stuffing ingredients and season with salt and pepper

Carefully spoon the mix into the zucchini flower heads (A teaspoon works best) then seal back up the flower by pressing the petals to the ricotta mix you just put inside. (You don’t want it bulging with ricotta mix, about 2 or 3 teaspoons for each flower depending on size should be perfect).

They can be left in the fridge all day if prepared in advance but I would bring them out around 1 hour before being fried so they are not really chilled right through.

Make the batter about 1 hour before using by:

In a large bowl add the flour.

Crack the egg in the middle then start adding the prosecco until you have a smooth batter (about the consistency of double cream).

Leave the batter at room temperature until ready to use.

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To fry, the oil needs to be about 3 inches deep so if you don’t have a deep fat fryer and are using a saucepan bare this in mind.   Heat the oil up to about 190 °C or so that when you drop a few blobs of batter it immediately sizzles.

Get ready a plate ready lined with some kitchen paper and a slotted metal spoon that you can fish the frying flowers out of the oil with.

When the oil is hot give the batter one more quick whisk then carefully fully dip the stuffed flowers in the batter.   Pull out of the batter and let the excess drip back into the bowl then carefully slip into the oil.

They will take about 2 minutes to fry and might need gently turning over as they tend to roll onto one side. You can cook about 3 or 4 at once.

Remove from the batter and transfer to the paper.

While still hot transfer to the serving plate, drizzle with honey then serve.

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