The Mint Shop

The Mint Shop

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Migliacci and a Wine Festival

I must start - erm, once again - by apologizing for my long silence. I admit I have been distracted by many other projects (including my almost 5 months' old son) and frankly I have not realized how quickly time has gone. November has literally flown away!

Back in October we went to Tuscany. I have always loved visiting my home region at that time of the year, not only because the roasting heat is gone by then, but also because the hills around Siena turn into a multitude of colours and home tables see some of the most wonderful products like porcini, marroni (chestnuts), truffles, and the first harvested wine.

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

A Seasonal Focaccia - sweet bread with grapes

I cannot believe that it is the end of October already. Autumn has arrived sneakily with its colours, made a few carpets of leaves here and there, and almost taken them away with it. Halloween is tomorrow and then All Saints will mark a new month. I have always felt that grape is Autumn quintessential ingredient - together with figs, walnuts, and mushrooms. 

This sweet bread is one of those things that you need to know where to buy as otherwise it can be alluring at the look but deeply disappointing at the taste. And of course even better if you have a bit of time in your hands and decide to make it at home.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Soft amaretti - no more secrets

There is nothing more rewarding than hitting upon the right proportion of ingredients for one of your favourite things. Soft and sour amaretti are those sweets that you would eat one after the other, and as it takes only one bite to devour these little jewels it gets pretty difficult to keep a full jar for more than two days...our it's almost half empty and I do have restrained myself!

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Maremma, Maremma!

Too often we underestimate what lays just a stone’s throw from us. I grew up in Tuscany and spent most of my summers on its coast. Maremma was the region that hosted all my swims, sun-tans, and afternoon ice creams and for years I simply took it for granted.  But only recently have I fully appreciated the beauties that this region offers to the curious traveller, a tourist who is in search of peace and old flavours. 



It is not surprising that the New York Times describes it as one of “the best destinations for those seeking nature, clean waters, and tranquillity”. Maremma is the wild heart of Tuscany, a region of melancholic beauty where white cows resting under olive and cypress trees and the butteri, the traditional shepherds, leading herds of buffalos along gentle sand dunes, and among pine trees and chestnut woods. Those who are able to ride can even join them at dawn and watch them working.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Dining al fresco

...and another summer is almost gone! To tell you the truth I am not entirely sure we even had one this year. June and July have been wet and windy and August has mixed some sunny muggy days with rain and clouds. I knew I should have planned a Spring baby and fly away a few months after! Lesson learnt for the next one!

In the meantime though I don't miss any opportunity to sit in the garden and enjoy a glimpse of sun. This lunch we put together at the last minute opened a window onto a luminous pier we were strolling along this time last year in Liguria, enjoying the singing of the seagulls and the screams of children running for their third ice cream of the day.

Linguine con le cozze is a "must" in our family in the Summer. And it is not the mussels cooked in the French style; oh no, they are as simple as possible with just those few ingredients that enhance the smell and taste of salt and sea. I can almost hear the waves crushing against the rocks.


Friday, 10 August 2012

Perfumes of Lavender

It is certain that if I say lavender you automatically think of the south of France. Fields of purple waves touched by warm sun and busy bees. True that even the word itself derives from Old French lavandre and that therefore this association would not seem entirely wrong. However, also England can claim a large handkerchief of its land of this blue flower that fills up the air with its pungent and distinct smell.

And here goes also with its uses. Added to sage, rosemary and thyme it enriches the meat of a chicken roasted in the oven or, if the temperature dictates, on the barbeque. Mixed to the flour it makes some classic scones a surprise to enjoy for a truly Summer tea. And like in this case, infused to milk transform some banal cupcakes to something new.

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Cherries Part III: chocolate cake

This is the last post on cherries. I did promise to give you a sample of what you can do with cherries, if you have been lucky enough to have some either from your own garden or a kind neighbour/friend who had too many and didn't know what to do with them.

I seemed to manage to post the focaccia recipe just in time before contractions started and had to dash to hospital waiting for our little son to arrive - he did eventually 12 hours later...I promise he wasn't late because of the fear of facing more cherries! Shame he won't have the chance to have a taste of it...a few more months!

Monday, 16 July 2012

Cherries Part II: sweet focaccia

As I promised in my previous post, I want to share with you this very simple recipe that uses the many cherries - if you have been lucky to have an abundant harvest (or have a generous friend) - you might have in your hands (literally, considering how messy they can be!).

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Time for cherries

We seem to have the good year for cherries. I have in fact discovered that fruit trees only give their beautiful products every other year. That's good to know.

Having managed to shoo away the various birds from the lowest branches, last weekend I dedicated an entire afternoon to pick our red and juicy cherries. I think the division with our fellow birds has been fair - they had the upper branches, we had the lower ones.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Chocolate salame to indulge yourself

Where does time go? I wonder whether it is my impression or it seems to disappear. Some time ago a friend gave me a book entitled "Why time speeds up when you get older"; perhaps that might give me the answer - I am getting older every year I add an extra candle to the birthday cake. 

But I realize that I had promised you to give a full menu from one of my secret suppers; it started well but we seem to have skipped to pudding all the way from starter!....Well, I hope you'll forgive me. I'll fill up the gaps later on.

This is not a cake to have at one's birthday, but for sure a real treat, something you can indulge your friend with at the end of relaxed and chatty evening, with a cup of Italian coffee or a glass of sweet wine. And I assure you, a slice follows another!

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

An (almost) mid-summer night dinner

The weather gifted us with a glorious weekend last week. It was real Summer. I spent three days bare foot, eating ice cream, and dozing on the deck chair in the garden. But as I am sure a number of people complaint because of the heat, it decided to take everything back and make us plunge once more in the midst of Autumn...this evening I've worn my coat again. Cold and rain characterize again our days so much so that our glimpse of Summer was a dream - a mid-summer night dream....

Fingers crossed for more Summer to come.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Cassata: a baroque affair

My love for Sicily seems to continue... I suppose it is all because of the unusual combination of flavours, the luscious textures of the vegetables, and the richness of the desserts that catches the eye even before luring the mouth.

Sicily was a real port - invaded by Normans, Arabs, Spaniards, and then Piedmomenteses (yes we need to admit that nobody or very few in Sicily wanted to be unified to the rest of what was decided to be called "Italy");  and such mixture of people and cultures is clearly reflected in its food.


 I have mentioned already its savoury dishes like stuffed squids, panella, and caponata. Today I want to share with you one of the most amazing cakes it has. It seems daunting at first but with a little bit of patience, and a few short cuts if you want to cheat..., you can impress all your guests very easily. The "Ohhhh...." will be assured when you present this baroque cake on your table.

There is no agreement on the origins of the name Cassata. Some say that it derives from the arabic word "qashatha", bowl, for the utensil where it was served and which gave the half dome shape; others claim that it simply means cheese concoction for its mixture of ricotta cheese. I am not so sure about the latter as it seems to be very little concoction in cassata - only one type of cheese is used and the ingredients, despite being relatively more than in the average Italian dishes, are not that odd. I would go with the Arabic story. Much more exotic.

Monday, 7 May 2012

The secrets of Caponata

Considering the wide success that I have received every time I have made this dish for my "secret suppers" and cooking groups, I thought it was fair to share its recipe and disclose the secrets.

Caponata is a traditional Sicilian dish made with aubergines. The key is in the main ingredients (probably like for any Italian recipe), the sweet taste of aubergines as well as juiciness of tomatoes. Apparently its name comes from a fish, caupone, which was used in certain taverns. I was told it derives from the Palermo area of Capo where the famous market is held every day and where daily life in Palermo got its buzz - and also where mafia had its headquarters. Possibly both versions are true and can be combined.


We loved scooping it out the little box that our friendly seller gave us while we were wondering among the vibrant stalls of the Capo market.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Torta Pasqualina for my secret guests

It is always interesting to see that what we might consider a banal or unexciting dish turns out to be a real revelation for others.

Last Thursday I was drawing up the menu for Friday Saucepan&Suitcase secret supper and I lingered for quite some time over the recipe of this savoury tart - I was not sure whether my guests would have found it that appealing, after all it is simply a pastry case filled with ricotta and spinach and stuck in it a few hard boiled eggs that appear now and then.

But I am glad I went ahead with this idea. Easter was not such a long time ago and it is after all one of the most popular dishes we make in Italy for this kind of celebrations, particularly if the weather is good enough to let us have a picnic.

Torta Pasqualina, "Easter pie", is originally from Liguria, the horn shape region next to France, but can now be found anywhere in Italy. Almost every table features one of these simple pies which carry strong symbolic ingredients, like eggs, together with local springtime produce, like spinach and beets. It is perfect the day after and that is why it suits un "pranzo al sacco", lunch in a bag, i.e. picnic.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

German poppies

I would warmly recommend a weekend in Berlin if you have a bit of time in your hands. The city burst with life and changes. The last time I went it was a huge building site with a neat demarcation between West and East. Today cafes, art galleries, and bars are dotted everywhere. I walked and walked (and walked) all day long zig-zagging the main historical buildings and museums and stopping at the most attractive bakeries for a deserved rest.


East is probably the most charming area with its corners of forgotten history and sleepy buildings. The Ampelmann (literally "traffic light man") gives you the ok to cross the busy roads and grab your Berliner wurst or  the traditional but southern Pretzerl that appear at every corner lurking passers-by.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Le frittelle di San Giuseppe for Father’s Day

March has always been one of my favourite months. Winter is almost over, days are slowly growing longer, and there is no pressure of any kind for presents (be it Christmas or Valentine's Day).

But there's also another reason to love March: the frittelle di San Giuseppe. On 19th March, the first day of Spring equinox, every family in Italy celebrates the day of Saint Joseph or Fathers' Day, la festa del  Papa'. In many towns, particularly in the countryside, bonfires are lit to sign the end of the cold and the dark and, in the north of Italy, leftover rice kept in larders during the Winter are used to make little cakes to celebrate the day and break Lent.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Top 10 (or so) Gourmet Corners of Siena

Lately I have found more and more people who have stopped in Siena having even skipped Florence, which is quite surprising being in the classic triangle of "Venice - Florence - Rome". I am delighted to hear that many find Siena prettier than our neighbour guelfa.

Without sounding over-biased, there are certainly smaller hoards of tourists (or at least they manage to blend more with the bricks and the locals)  and the atmosphere is pretty unique. So I thought to compile a list of the best gourmet places which might help all those of you who would like to go back or are planning a trip soon to Siena.

Just in case you doubt my local nose and taste-buds living 600km away from it, I have done my thorough research and checked with a few affecionados who know everything about Siena, where to get the best ham and cheese, where to eat the crunchiest pizza or where to sip the best Vin Santo with a couple of cantucci.

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Relaxing with some Norfolk cake

As soon as I see some sun and I feel like resting and unwinding the image of Norfolk with its golden deserted beaches springs up to my mind. What I love of that place is the peace and quiet you can always find. You could walk for hours without meeting a soul and even when you do a mild nod and gentle smile are enough.

Inevitably our number 1 destination is always Wells-next-the Sea. There is still an old fashion atmosphere in that village with its traditional butchers, bakers, and shell shops along the main (and only) road. And the line of children fishing mini crabs with their tiny strips of bacon.

Monday, 23 January 2012

My ABC of Travel

Mette of Italian Notes has kindly asked me to participate in the "My ABC Travel" Series. Being so non-technical it took me three rounds of emails to understand what I was supposed to do. But here it is!

Monday, 16 January 2012

The interiors of Rome

Rome is famous for many things and I don't need to list them. But one thing some people might not be familiar with is its offals, also called "quinto quarto", the fifth part left from the four parts of the animal thus everything else other than the front and the back. These include tripe, lungs, hearts, liver, tail, brain and tongue.


(I would like to reassure vegetarians who by now have been taken by convulsions that other type of dishes are also available in Rome like artichokes and courgette flowers - see one of my previous posts. So don't feel disgusted and give up with the idea of eating in Rome!) .

Friday, 6 January 2012

Christmas in the land of the fairies

"And another Christmas is over" as my grand-mother would have said. I always feel quite sad about it. Our tree looks so nice that I might be considering the idea of keeping it till Easter (in my sister's style). But I guess it would simply be wrong - and very weird.

On the contrary of most English people who take their decorations down today, we celebrate the 6th January being Epiphany, the day the Three Kings, who got slightly lost or were very slow, arrived to the manger and gave their gifts to Jesus. In some parts of Italy in fact this is the real day when presents are exchanged - whilst Christmas is only dedicated to food and drinking.