It feels like summer has finished a bit early in England this year, so I want to keep warm with the memories of two delicious weeks of eating 3000 ft up in the Alpe della Luna in eastern Tuscany this August. Around 16 of us, enthusiastic cooks and eaters all, aged 11 to 54; mostly cooking for ourselves with just a couple of memorable meals out. The 20-stage antipasto starring a tiny omelette with summer truffles was the highlight of our eating out experiences, but the biggest food pleasures of the holiday came from sitting and eating together on our terrace.
Our daily breakfast of toast and tomatoes with coffee may not sound like much, but maybe it was the most delicious thing of the whole two weeks. Tuscan bread is (to my mind) horribly unsalty, so we made our own bread most days and toasted it the next morning for breakfast. We bought lumpy misshapen and ripe tomatoes. We cooked the toast on the stove, drizzled a bit of olive oil on it, sliced the tomatoes onto it, poured on a bit more oil, salt and pepper and then tore some basil over it. Heavenly, and sadly unachievable in England – unless our Marmandes ever ripen this cool year.
Meal 1: Chicken pieces coated with garlic/parmesan/butter/breadcrumbs (‘Carla’s chicken’ in our family) then cooked on top of sliced potatoes in the oven. As you can imagine you get crispy chicken on top and garlicky, buttery, chicken soft potatoes underneath.
Meal 2: From the local market we bought delicious sliced porchetta – whole roast suckling pig cooked with a salty stuffing of fennel, garlic and rosemary and ate it at home in dripping fatty sandwiches with a tart green salad
Meal 3: Stock from the previous chicken was the basis for fennel risotto with green beans tossed in pork fat (leftover from the porchetta) and lemon.
Meal 4: The assembled kids (how long can we keep calling them that now that the oldest are 17?) made a stunningly good pasta bake with meaty sausage, roast peppers, tomatoes, all our various leftover pecorinos (at least 3 different varieties) and caprine (goat equivalent of pecorino) – this was the girls’ offering. Followed by a riposte of an excellent Nutella cake with Nutella icing from the boys. Can we retire?
Meal 5: My turn at the stove: rabbit, sausage (leftover from the pasta bake) and chickpea stew made with plenty of white wine (bought from a petrol pump) and thickened with pureed chickpeas.
Meal 6: A really delicious spaghetti Bolognese from Matt. I’m not a regular Bolognese maker and I was impressed by the rich combo with plenty of chicken livers, bacon and red wine included in the long-cooked mix of tomatoes, garlic, onions and minced beef.
Meal 7: Chicken with white wine and fennel – I failed to write down whether we cooked this on top of rice (my favourite way of combining rice and chicken) or had it with potatoes and my normally reliable food memory is drawing a blank. Surely not food senility creeping in?
Lunches: A couple of delicious Nicoise salads (but can I really go on holiday with people some of whom don’t like capers on their Nicoise?) and piles of prosciutto crudo with ripe melons, nectarines and figs. More tomatoes with basil and sometimes mozzarella. Local salamis. Stuart’s focaccia and rolls and the aforementioned pecorino selection. And then our fine landlady (opera singer turned writer Lizzie) introduced us to an excellent pasticceria just in case we were still hungry. And sometimes we were.
I love England and I’m glad to be back with the energizing chill of September – but I’m also looking forward to our next Italian summer, whenever that may be.