Eating well in Tuscany

I was recently asked what my favourite sort of cooking was: pastry, foreign cuisine, game, puddings…? But I honestly couldn’t whittle it down.

I gave it some thought though, and I reckon my favourite sort of cooking is ‘cooking on a budget.’ Does that count?

There’s nothing more satisfying at the end of a dinner party than calculating that you fed everyone for £3.25/head. Or steering yourself away from the ‘Eat in for £10’ supermarket display, and then rustling up something back home with £5 worth of ingredients. Or spending £7 to make a huge Bolognese, which gets frozen into 15 individual suppers (46p/meal – see, I can’t help myself – it’s like a disease!)

The thing is that Florence was amazing. Beautiful sites, wonderful fiaschetterias, great cocktail bars…but when we tried to find somewhere to eat, they were either crazy-expensive places, or medium-expensive-but-distinctly-average places.

Much to my delight, this meant that we could justify splashing out on expensive ingredients, and cooking back in the kitchen of the farmhouse where we were staying…because we figured that it was still a snip of what we’d pay in the piazzas. Spending to save…or something like that,

When we first arrived, we were exhausted, and in need of supper (I’d been ‘Head Navigator’ on the drive from Pisa, and inevitably missed the bypass which meant that we had to drive through Florence, which took us several hours longer than it should have done.)

Anyway, we stopped off at a Co-Op on the way, and picked up a magnum of chianti and some food basics. I don’t know if it’s the Italian ingredients that make everything taste so good, or the fact that we were in holiday which makes everything taste better….but the meal below was so simple and so delicious, my mouth is watering at the very thought of it.

I fried a large onion, and about seven (!) cloves of garlic (when in Rome…) then I added a chopped-up Italian sausage and some extra chilli. I let it fry for a few minutes, and then poured in a tin of chopped tomatoes, and a carton of passata over everything, then added some chickpeas and left to simmer for ten minutes. To be eaten with pasta, and enjoyed with a large glass of chianti!

The next morning we woke up in a thunderstorm, so we decided to lie around and read all morning. We zoned out for a few hours, then zoned back in and realized that morning had drifted straight past without us noticing, and it was the afternoon already. We’d missed breakfast, and were suddenly quite peckish.

In the name of using up leftovers, I put the remains of the previous night’s sauce in a frying pan. Once it’d all began to heat up, I scraped two holes, and then cracked two eggs into the pan. Served with a hunk of Italian bread – delicious!

As the week went on, we visited little delis nearby, and created mouth watering platters of exciting little treats and dips and spreads for supper. Then, the best part was that all the remains went with pasta for lunch the next day – my personal favourite was boiled asparagus with mozzarella, pesto and parma ham.

The photo below was another meal we had at the farmhouse. We couldn’t find any yeast (or ‘lievito’ in Italian!) so we made a sort of heavy, flour-water flatbreat (not exactly restaurant standard, but it did the trick). Then we slapped on all sorts of pizza toppings we had rolling about in the fridge – tomato sauce, cheese, olives, sausage…as you can see, it didn’t work out too badly.

…and finally, just for posterity, here’s the lovely farmhouse kitchen where all the magic happened!!

Just a little plug for Catina – if you fancy staying 15km east of Florence, (near Sieci), and gorging yourselves on meats, cheeses and chianti, then click here or here for more details.

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