A Tuscan Classic – Ribollita

So how has everyone been coping this week with the HOTTEST weather on record in the UK and much of Europe? Dark, cool rooms or being in or near water have been the answer, but sleeping at night has been tough hey? When it’s super hot, I never feel particularly hungry and I certainly don’t want to be cooking with heat by a stove/oven for that long. I gravitated towards making salads, and on Thursday (the hottest day ever) I made my Vietnamese chicken salad – well a fusion of two of my recipes in fact – this one and this one .  It’s very straightforward and packed full of flavours and textures. It tasted cleansing and zingy with some good elements of crunch.

As crazy at it may sound when the going gets hot sometimes a soup – yes soup – can cool you down. You know how much I love soups and dals, and on our recent jaunt to Florence we ordered a Tuscan favourite – Ribollita – quite a few times when dining out. It’s a classic Tuscan dish that uses stale bread, tomatoes and my store cupboard favourite, white beans. It’s a meal in itself and gets the approval from the whole family so I thought I would make it my blog post for this week. I hope you like it. It’s a great year round recipe, so instead of just discarding stale bread try making this Tuscan classic instead.

 

Ribollita – a classic Tuscan dish

Serves 4-6

2 white onions, finely chopped

2 celery stalks, finely chopped

3 medium sized carrots, finely chopped

1 whole garlic, peeled and roughly chopped

1 wedge of parmesan rind (you know the end you normally want to throw away right)

2x400g can of good plum tomatoes

1 large handful of cavolo nero also known as Tuscan kale, roughly chopped

400g jar/tin of white beans

Approx 300g stale white bread (I like to use sourdough, but whatever you have to hand)

1 tsp red pepper flakes

70 ml of good extra virgin olive oil with extra to drizzle

salt to taste

 

  1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees centigrade.
  2. First prepare the onion, celery, carrots and garlic. Place to one side
  3. Next remove the stalk from the kale by gliding your hand down the stalk to remove the leaves from the base of the stalk. Then roughly chop and place to one side.
  4. Cut up a wedge of parmesan rind and place to one side.
  5. Remove the plum tomatoes from the cans and strain, keeping the juice and then using your hand break up the plum tomatoes and place in a different bowl to the juice.
  6. Roughly tear by the bread.
  7. In a large pan – I find my trusty Le Crueset pan works really well for this type of meal – heat the oil and then add the onion, celery, carrots and garlic along with some salt. Allow to soften and the onions to become translucent but not brown.
  8. Add the plum tomatoes – still keep the juice to one side – and mix in thoroughly. Simmer for a further 10 minutes.
  9. Now add the parmesan rind, red pepper flakes, tomato juice and the strained white beans and stir in gently so that the flavours can infuse together.
  10. Add 1 litre of water and simmer.
  11. Now add half the cavolo nero and once wilted add the rest.
  12. Follow a similar step with the stale bread. When you have added the second batch of stale bread, add a generous drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and place in preheated oven for 10 minutes.
  13. Serve immediately with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil on top and some freshly grated parmesan cheese.

 

 


Memorable Eating in Florence

Arriving in any new city is exhilarating and thrilling and Florence is no exception. I’ve been a few times in the past but it had been a decade since my last foray in the city so remembering where to eat needed fresh research. One exception is Il Latini, which is a Florence culinary institution, that is always worth seeking out.

Il Latini: Via dei Palchetti, 6R

Hams hang from the ceiling at this charming Florence eatery that has exceptional Florentine food and welcoming staff. It is a place to linger and enjoy the buzzy atmosphere and a real sense of occasion when you go there.

So the other places to recommend when you visit are as follows:

Trattoria Mario: Via Rosina, 2r,

This place is a real gem, that was so good we returned to twice. The first time it was so busy that we were ushered to what seemed like a store room in the cellars with wine stacked up. Tables were huddled together and we all felt rather grateful to have been giving a table at all as its the kind of place that you want to arrive as close to noon as possible to guarantee a table. The menu changes daily – its short, which all good menus should be (in my view). It is equally loved by tourists and locals as the food is excellent, very kind to the wallet and has a good traditional trattoria vibe. Be warned if you are in small group you will be sharing a table with others, but that makes it all more fun right?

We had to wait for about 5 minutes on one occasion otherwise we were seated immediately. The courgette ravioli, below was very memorable and I will certainly try to replicate it myself in my own kitchen.

Got to love a birds eye view!

L’Giuggiolo – Osteria/Pizzeria: Viale Augusto Righi, 3 A/D

Recommended by the taxi driver who was extremely enthusiastic that we go. Within a few mouthfuls of food we understood the reason for his pride. We would not have naturally visited it as it sits anonymously on the road at the outer environs of Florence, just outside Fiesole. You can take the bus to Fiesole or a taxi which takes around 15 minutes. The food is sublime and the service is relaxed giving us a very comforting Sunday lunch experience. The pastas were perfectly cooked and generous and the bistecca was as good as any we have eaten. Furthermore being outside the tourist centre the bill was much more modest. It’s location makes it a good place to have a post or pre-lunch hike, so take some good walking trainers.

 La Menagere: Via de Ginori 8r

This places oozes cool with its crittall windows, arched vaulted ceilings, its mismatched lamp shades and stone flooring. It’s one of those concept stores that gives you the option to buy all manner of wonderful things – whether its some beautiful flowers, music, a pastry and coffee, breakfast or perhaps a more refined evening meal. Whilst we did not eat here, it goes on the list as it is very different from anything else I saw in Florence and is a good place to have a pre-dinner cocktail or a coffee and watch the world go by. It would not be out of place in London’s Shoreditch, New York’s Brooklyn, Tel Aviv’s Jaffa or LA’s Echo Park or Silver Lake.

Gelateria Santa Trinita: Piazza Dei Frescobaldi, 8/red

Florence is teaming with gelateria but if you are not careful you will be paying overinflated prices if you opt to buy one too near the Ponte Vecchio. Gelateria is perfectly positioned just by the Ponte Santa Trinita, which affords excellent views of the Ponte Vecchio. Portion size is super generous – I opted for the smallest size in a cone and as you can see from the photo below I could pick two flavours – nocciola (hazelnut) and black sesame (definitely try this one if you have not done so before). It came to 2.80 euros – the same portion at one near the Ponte Vecchio was 6.50 euros. There is lots of choice and the quality is very good.

Osteria Del Cinghiale Biano: Borgo S.Jacopo, 43r

Located on the ground floor of a thirteenth century tower in Borg San Jacopo, one of the quaintest streets of medieval Florence. The first dining room is situated right in the old tower, with the original antique stone walls in view. The second dining room and the kitchen were built in the tower’s old courtyard, which was covered by vaults in 1500 in order to best bear the weight of the historic building. It’s rustic and charming and the staff were attentive and welcoming. Wild boar and truffles feature on the menu so are definitely worth trying. The tiramsu is also an obvious choice for dessert and got a definite thumbs up from my family. You do need to book though so don’t just turn up.

La Bussola: Via Porta Rossa, 56r

If pizza is what you are after then La Bussola will definitely tick that box. The restaurant is a lot bigger than it appears at first glance, with options to sit at regular tables inside or outside or on stools up at a marble bar. There was a wide choice of pizza – as well as lots of non-pizza options too. I can’t fault the pizzas – they were the right thickness, were generously covered and tasted great. Whilst you probably could walk in off the street, we had made a booking to be on the safe side.

Mercato Centrale: Via dell’Ariento

This place is Florence’s answer to Borough Market. Downstairs artisans sells there wares with hams, cheeses and olives galore, upstairs is a massive food court which is super busy and the perfect place to pick up a snack or two and a beer. Whilst you can eat at that level – which is hard as so many people are trying to also find a seat – I recommend finding your way up to another level, with more seating and a chance to actually sit down.

Alimentari Uffizi: Via Lambertesca, 10/R

A biouji family run deli, a stones throw from the Uffizi gallery down a quiet street. It is a great place to stop for a glass of wine and a plate of prosciutto from the present owners’ son’s farm. You perch on wooden stools and tables and order a range of delicious antipasti. It’s the type of place that you are really happy to have stumbled across as it feels so welcoming and Italian.

 

Ristorante Toto: Borgo Santi Apostoli, 6r,

After arriving into Florence around lunch time we decided to find somewhere close to the station that we could walk to with our luggage and indulge in a bowl of pasta – as you do! After some speedy research we opted for Toto Firenze. It’s spacious and buzzing and the waiters were welcoming as they showed us to our table. The restaurant prides itself on its famous ‘ fiorentina bistecca’ and looking at those served up on other tables (as well as the meat fridge below) it was most impressive, but we were craving pasta so all opted for the spaghetti carbonara. Portions were generous and the food tasted great. Price wise the restaurant is also very good – so a perfect place to go with a family or group.

So that’s it folks. We ate at a few other restaurants that were good, but bang for buck I felt the ones above were more of a ‘home run’.

If you discover any different from this list do leave a comment in the comments box below, I would love to know. Equally if you try any of the above let me know what you think. Did you have an equally good experience?


Rainier Cherries, Soft Goats Cheese, Prosciutto and Mint Oil Crostini

I have very fond memories feasting on cherries as a child. My grandmother had a cherry tree in her garden, which as well as bursting with cherry blossom and beauty, also supplied us with a bounty of cherries each year, if we could get to them before the birds did of course!

A few years ago I started to see in the shops a variety of cherry that I was unfamiliar with. I discovered more recently that they are called  ‘Rainier’ cherries and that they are originally from the US Northwest Pacific region. Imported to the UK by ‘Northwest Cherries’, they have a creamy yellow flesh and a pink blush, contrary to its usual ruby red counterparts, and are deliciously sweet with a thin skin. They are named after Washington States’s largest mountain, Mt. Rainier, as they are larger in size to other cherries. It is reported that they were created in 1952 when Harold Fogel and other researchers from the Washington Agriculture Experiment Station in Prosser, crossed two well-known varieties of cherries the, ‘Bing’ and ‘Van’, resulting in the sweet tasting Rainier cherry.

Now the good news folks is that JULY and AUGUST signifies the beautiful Rainier cherry season in the UK and are widely available at selected retailers. Cherries have numerous health benefits and are a good option for a healthy treat. They are packed to the rafters with antioxidants, vitamin C and fibre, as well as containing phytosterols, which is thought to help lower cholesterol. If you are planning to jet around the globe this summer bear in mind that cherries are one of the few natural sources of melatonin, which can apparently improve sleep and help prevent jetlag. If that wasn’t enough to make you run and buy a punnet, the anthocyanins in them are important for good brain function. They help the brain produce the mood-enhancing hormone ‘serotonin’. It’s amazing how a fruit so small, in the grand scheme of things, can contain so many good health benefits.

Whilst I can easily see off a whole punnet on my own, I also thought that it might be fun to show you a recipe that really allows Rainier cherries to be centre stage. Over the summer months I love to entertain outdoors – I mean who doesn’t? –  and offering guests a cool aperitif with a delicious canapés always goes down well. I thought crostini with Rainier cherries sitting on whipped soft goats cheese,  a little prosciutto perhaps, drizzled with a mint oil would receive a positive reception. You can make the dish vegetarian by removing the prosciutto completely. As an alternative to the goats cheese you can also use ricotta and parmesan, which works really well too. So lots of options to consider.  The sweetness from the Rainier cherries balances so harmoniously with the saltiness from the cheese and prosciutto. In the mint oil I have added a little lemon juice, zest and  wildflower honey to balance it all out and offer a lightness to the canapé.

You could also serve this as a starter or a lunch option. Instead of using baguette to create your crostini, you could use some sourdough, which is larger and have a slice or two of this with all of the ingredients below on each plate.

However you like to serve it up I can assure you that your family and guests will absolutely adore this summer Rainier cherry recipe.

 

 

Rainier Cherries, Soft Goats Cheese, Prosciutto and Mint Oil Crostini

1 x stonebaked baguette, thinly sliced on the angle

300g soft goats cheese, whipped in a bowl

70g prosciutto, cut into small strips

1 x 400g punett of Rainier cherries, halved and stone removed

1 garlic clove, peeled

******

dressing

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

3 large mint leaves, finely chopped

1 tbsp lemon juice

1 tsp lemon zest

1 tsp honey

 

  1. Preheat a grill at 190 degrees (fan).
  2. Thinly slice, on an angle, the baguette and space out on a baking tray.
  3. Place under the grill for 2-3 minutes – keep a close eye as it will burn quickly. When it is lightly bronzed take it out of the oven and turn it over and grill the other side for another minute.
  4. Remove from the oven completely and rub the raw garlic gently on the side of the baguette that you are going to put the whipped soft goats cheese on.
  5. To whip the goats cheese, simply place in a bowl and mix with a spoon so that if become smooth.
  6. Place a teaspoon of goats cheese onto the toasted baguette and evenly spread.
  7. Next place a thin strip of prosciutto on top of the cheese and twist it so that it adds texture and height and then half a Rainier cherry at the back and a little of the dressing on top.
  8. Work through the whole toasted baguette or as much as you think you and your guests will eat.

You can make them ahead of time – although I suggest adding the dressing at the last minute – and eat at room temperature.

Easy, visually striking and importantly packed full of delicious flavours.

AD: This blog post was a paid collaboration with @lovefreshcherries. All views, opinions and the recipe are mine.

 


Roasted Fennel with Orange and Crushed Red Pepper Flakes

Friends from California came and stayed at the weekend and gave me the Gjelina cookbook, which I have been cooking from ever since. My goodness it is good. Having received it on Saturday I have since cooked 4 recipes:

garlic confit

roasted yams/butternut squash with honey, red pepper flakes and lime yoghurt

roasted cauliflower with garlic, parsley and vinegar

roasted fennel with orange and crushed red pepper flakes)

I plan to cook a 5th (grilled squash with mint-pomegranate pesto, which is on the front cover below) tonight, so I guess you could say I’m rather smitten with the book.

For those of you in the dark, Gjelina just so happens to be one of my favourite restaurants in LA. As it says in the book cover: “In Southern California, there’s no restaurant that better expresses the energy and cool excitement of Venice Beach than Gjelina” and I couldn’t agree more. It epitomises grain and vegetable centric, globally inspired cuisine, which suits me down to the ground. It has echo’s of Ottolenghi’s tomes – think za’atar and pomegranate molasses infused dishes – but the thing I automatically liked about it is that the recipes are those you actually want to cook and share with friends and family, also they are dead easy and if you don’t have an ingredient you can ad lib and make your own additions. The photos and props are also definitely the style that I love.

I have a large pot of garlic confit sitting in my fridge now, like the one above. I can’t wait to make their version of mushroom toast – I mean how divine does it look?. This would definitely appeal to my father who also has a deep fondness to mushrooms, like myself.

So last night I made the ‘roasted fennel with orange and crushed red pepper flakes’. I couldn’t find any blood oranges so I used a regular orange. I also played around with the measurements here and there to suit me. The final dish was delicious and is perfect with a roast chicken, fish or perhaps some other vegetable dishes. Great for summer gatherings. Give it a whirl and let me know what you think.

 

Roasted Fennel with Orange & Crushed Red Pepper Flakes 

2 fennel bulbs, cut into wedges and the stem into thin slices, reserve the fronds

1 large orange, peeled and cut into segments

60ml extra-virgin olive oil

flaked sea salt

80ml fresh orange juice

30ml masala wine (they use 60ml of white wine but I none to hand)

60ml of vegetable stock (I used my homemade poussin stock which is so flavoursome)

pinch of crushed red pepper flakes

freshly ground black pepper

  1. Prepare the fennel bulbs and then in a large frying pan warm the olive oil. When it is hot add the fennel wedges so that the cut sides are against the bottom of the pan to get a good sear.
  2. Cook until the fennel is caramelised, which takes about 3 minutes. Turn over, using tongs, and caramelise the other side for a further 3 minutes.
  3. Season with salt and toss in the fennel stems and continue to cook for another 2 minutes so the stems are well-browned.
  4. Now add the orange juice, wine and stock and let reduce do that the sauce thickens and the fennel is seared and starting to softened – this should only take a couple of minutes.
  5. Add the red pepper flakes and season with salt and pepper.
  6. Pour onto a serving platter and garnish with the fennel fronds, orange segments.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

Super easy and super delicious. I hope you agree.

 

 

 


Kimichi – Sauerkraut’s Korean cousin

As part of my spice tours (which accompany my London Indian and Sri Lankan Cooking Classes) I often point out interesting vegetables at the grocers that I show clients. One vegetable that many are unfamiliar with, but that I love, is daikon, which is also known as white radish or mooli. It looks like a large (cucumber length) white turnip and is perfect for pickles – such as this one to put into your Vietnamese banh mi, but also kimchi, the Korean fermented cabbage side dish that is as ubiquitous in Korea as miso soup is in Japan. It is sauerkraut’s Korean cousin that has a fiery kick, a crunch and is terribly moreish. Being fermented it is packed full of good bacteria that is thought to boost immunity and improve digestion.

I was talking to a group the other day about kimchi, so thought that it might be useful if I pop up my recipe. With all this rain we have been having it’s the perfect time to do some pickle making in the warmth of your home. Living in London does have many benefits, one being that it is easy to get hold of all manner of interesting ingredients. When it comes to Korean ingredients I head over to Korea Foods in New Malden, but there are a number of Asian grocers all around London – and the UK – that will be equally good. Korean Foods though for me is a dream. I actually get excited to visit the place as it is such an eye opener. You can buy live fish, dim sum, every noodle on the planet, a wide range of tofu – you name it, if it’s Asian then they will stock it. As well as picking up the relevant ingredients I also picked up this pyrex container, which is perfect for making kimchi as it does not allow the kimchi ‘perfume’ to contaminate your house.

 

Now let me be very up front about this. Making Kimchi requires a little bit of commitment and patience as you won’t be able to eat it for a few weeks. It needs time to ferment and allow the good bacteria to grow. The initial slicing, dicing and mixing together is very straightforward. It then requires daily squelching to release the gases and submerge the cabbage. You need to store is in a cool place, out of direct sunlight, for up to 5 days before putting it in the fridge. The whole resting and fermenting period takes around 2 weeks. You can try a little as the days roll by to see how it tastes, but if you can try and wait for 2 weeks.

Let me know how you get on. I would love to hear what you think.

 

Cabbage Kimchi

1 napa cabbage, halved lengthways and then quartered  (core removed)

70g sea salt

water for soaking

1 tsp of fresh ginger, grated

5 cloves of fresh garlic, grated

1 tsp sugar

1 tbsp fish sauce

1 tbsp salted shrimp (see 2nd photo from the top)

3 tbsp Korean red pepper flakes known as gochugaru

250g daikon, cut into 1 inch match sticks

5 spring onions cut into 1 inch matchsticks

1. First quarter the cabbage lengthways and then cut into 2 inch strips and place in a large bowl with the salt. Work the salt into the cabbage for a minute so that it softens and then add enough water so that it covers the cabbage. Cover the cabbage with a plate and press down using a heavy object. Leave to stand for 1 hour.

2. Drain the cabbage thoroughly under cold water a few times so the salt has been washed away. Leave to drain thoroughly.

3. Meanwhile prepare the paste by mixing the ginger, garlic, sugar, fish sauce and salted shrimp together, followed by the Korean red pepper flakes. Using your hands (I used washing up gloves) gently massage the paste into the daikon, spring onions and the now fully drained cabbage so that they are fully covered.

4. Transfer the kimchi into your pyrex jar and press down firmly so that the cabbage and vegetables are packed tightly.

5. Leave to stand out of direct sunlight for up to 5 days. Each day you need to complete the ritual of pressing down firmly so that the vegetables are submerged under the brine. Very pungent odours are released during this period of fermentation. Do not be put off as the end result will taste great. After the 5 days transfer to the fridge. If you leave it for another week or two in the fridge it will taste even better, but equally you can try some after the first 5 days.

 


Grand Blogger Dinner 2019 in the Stunning St Pancras Renaissance Hotel and Watermelon Granita Recipe

Photograph by @annekejagerphotography

 

It’s not everyday that you get invited to the inaugural ‘Grand Blogger Dinner’ in London hosted by Alwin, CEO and co-founder of the creative agency @mrgoodiebag, which is based in the Netherlands in fact. The company has been hosting similar decadent dinners across other European cities and their most recent launch was in London at the stunning ‘Renaissance Hotel St Pancras’.

Photograph by @annekejagerphotography

 

Forty food bloggers were invited to attend the sumptuous dinner that a select group of food brands had helped to inspire a different course. The proceedings started however with drinks and canapés, by what has to be one of the most incredible staircases in London.  I discovered the Spice Girls used it in their ‘Wannabe’ single. It is also the staircase that was part of the original Midland Grand Hotel, designed by George Gilbert Scott, which opened in 1873. Amusingly it was made extra wide  to allow ladies to pass each other with their wide bustle dresses. Can you imagine?

Photograph by @annekejagerphotography

 

Peter’s Yard, a brand I was already familiar with, as I adore their sourdough crisp bread, inspired all the canapés.  The smoked salmon, sour cream, salmon caviar, edible flower and leek ash were particularly standout. These were accompanied with deliciously light and fresh sparkling wine by Familia Torres Wines.

Photographs by @annekejagerphotography

 

It gave us all the opportunity to get to know fellow invitees before Alwin, our host for the night, welcomed us and spoke about the various brands that we were going to come across over the course of the evening.

Photograph by @annekejagerphotography

 

After our meet and greet we were then ushered into the most magnificent room that was to host the dinner itself.

Photograph by @annekejagerphotography

 

Pretty spectacular hey? I loved the floral arrangements and then discovered they were fakes – but rather brilliant ones don’t you think? They were made by @casashops

Photograph by @annekejagerphotography

 

The menu was included in a little booklet which outlined which brand was supporting the course.

  • trio of canapés with sourdough crisp bread by Peter’s Yard @petersyard
  • red shrimp crudo on orange and strawberry panzanella with aceto balsamic di modena’ by Ponti @pontiofficial
  • pearl barley ristotto, laverstoke burrata, fresh English peas, pea tendrils, lemon, ramson flowers @stpancrasren
  • watermelon granita with natural goats milk yogurt @sthelensfarm
  • galletto all’arrabbiata with delicious anchovy fillets in olive oil and peppers @delicius_official
  • authentic Italian artisan gelato @remeogelato

Quite a feast don’t you agree?

Photograph by @annekejagerphotography

 

Each course was paired with a different wine and we were given a brief introduction to each one. Standouts for me were:

Purgatori 2014 Costers Del Segre

Vina Esmeralda 2018

The evening went by really quickly – always a sign of a good evening. It was great to get to know others who are equally passionate about food and were happy to photograph it at length without any ‘oh hurry up’ or sarcastic remarks from our other halves.

Above is me pictured with (from left to right)  @anders_kitchen @kokkiecooking @eathappyfeelgood @emmaeatsandexplores and @endofthefork Do check out there feeds and blogs – all so inspiring and creative.

After a quick round of photos we were handed the most incredible goodie bags – I’m surprised I managed to carry it all home – and said our farewells and thank yous before heading off into the night.

 

Back at home I decided to make the watermelon granita again for the family. It’s perfect when you have a super hot day and need cooling down. Here are my efforts:

It’s absolutely delicious and easy to make ahead of time. The only part you need to do last minute is the blitzing of the iced watermelon in the blender.

Check out the recipe below and give it a whirl this summer

Watermelon Granita with Natural Goats’ Milk Yogurt

recipe created by St Helen’s Farm for the Grand Blogger Dinner 2019

serves 8

1 small watermelon (approx 1.8kg)

60g stem ginger in syrup

2 limes

1/2 bunch of fresh mint (approx 15g)

8 tbsp St Helen’s Farm Natural Goats’ Milk Yogurt

 

  1. First prepare the watermelon by removing the rind and chopping into small chunks and removing the seeds.
  2. Roughly chop the ginger and place in a large sealable freezer bag with the watermelon chunks.
  3. Finely grate in the lime zest, juice and then freeze for at least 8 hours (I froze mine for a few days as I wanted to have it ready for a hot day)
  4. When ready to serve, pick and reserve the baby mint leaves then put the rest into the food processor along with the contents of the freezer bag. You may need to do this is batches so that it is properly blitzed.
  5. Serve 2 heaped tablespoons of the ‘pink snow’ granita per person with 1 tbsp of goats’ yogurt, a drizzle of ginger syrup from the jar and a few baby mint leaves.

 

I was kindly invited to this event. All views and opinions are my own.


A Weekend in Turin

When I mentioned I was heading off to Turin for a weekend away I must admit the usual reaction was something along the lines of ‘really, isn’t Turin just an industrial city’ or ‘interesting choice’ with a hint of sarcasm. I purposely picked it as it is off most people’s radar and I was convinced there would be lots to see and do, and ultimately eat, away from throngs of tourists. What I discovered was that Turin delivered on every level – cheap tickets on BA, easy transfer to the centre of town (we took the train and then local bus on the way in and returned in a taxi), a stunning hotel that served the best breakfast I can remember having eaten in Italy, delicious meals out – with change from €50 for 3 of us, museums, great shopping and ultimately the most amazing food market. The sun shone and there was a relaxed grandeur to the city. In short, it was the perfect weekend away that ticked all our boxes and more.

Where To Stay

I booked the four star Hotel Victoria Torino, which is centrally located and has a wonderfully inviting old school charm (that you would not sense from the outside) and serenity about it. The decor is British country house meets chinois in a deliciously charming fusion.  There is a grand fire place, big sofas and the owners’ collection of French and Italian works of art as well as number of Asian pieces dotted around, clearly picked up on the owners’ travels overseas. The overall effect is charming and a place that you want to linger and enjoy a coffee or an aperitivo in the evening. In fact, Poirot would not seem out of place residing in the Hotel Victoria Torino.

The other major plus about the hotel is that it has a spa/hammam with steam rooms, sauna, cold plunge pool and jacuzzi as well as a lovely space with sofas, magazines and fruit and tea. There is also a magnificent pool (which was one of the reasons I booked it), which guttingly was closed when we were there as it needed some work. It is now back up and running. As we were three friends we managed to book a very large duplex room, which had two double bedrooms and another ‘bedroom/sitting room’ on a lower level with a double sofa bed. The space also included two bathrooms, one included a bath. It was perfect for us and a very generous space, allowing us all to have our own rooms.

The breakfast was also incredibly generous with a wide variety of treats to accomodate both the sweet and savoury palate. You can choose to eat inside or out in the courtyard, which was just warm enough for us with the suns rays shining down on us.

Price wise we split the bill between three and each ended up with change from £200 for a two nights stay. Amazing value for the offering.

 

What to Do

Visit the Porto Palazzo Food Market (on Piazza della Repubblica)

It is the largest open air market in Europe with around 800 stalls from Mondays to Fridays. Inside there is a Farmers market with over 100 stalls and another section selling all manner of meats, cheeses and fish.

The place is bustling and the perfect place to soak up the atmosphere of Turin over a coffee.

If you are there over lunch time grab a plate of ‘fritter mista’ and a glass of local white wine from Gallina Pescheria Banco N.2. It has quite a following so get there early to secure a table.



Stroll around the famous flee market of Balon

Open every Saturday morning and every second Sunday of the month (on Sundays there is more on offer), this flee market is a wonderful place to wander and find that real gem you have always wanted in your life. It is a stones throw away from the Porto Palazzo Food Market and is a maze of 250 stalls selling a wide range of antiques and retro furniture. Amongst the stalls are a number of restaurants, especially along Via Borgo Dora.

Sample and buy some Chocolates

Yes you read correctly. Turin is THE place of chocolate innovators owing to its history back in 1585. The Turin-based Duke of Savoy, Charles Emmanuel I, married the daughter of Philip II of Spain and through the Spanish colonies, raw cacao arrived in Italy. Turin’s expertise for chocolate burgeoned and turned the city into the chocolate centre of Europe. Today, the city is still synonymous with the sweet treat – especially Nutella, which was given life by Pietro Ferrero, a pastry chef in Turin.

 

The two well known chocolatiers are:

Confetteria Stratta (Piazza San Carlo 191)which opened in 1836. It is the perfect place to pick up ‘gianduiotto’ the most symbolic chocolate of Piedmont -bite-size, boat-shaped, hazelnut chocolates that were invented in Turin.

Guido Gabino (Via Giuseppe Luigi Lagrange 1) opened in the 1960’s now has two branches. Beautiful little orange bags are filled with individually wrapped chocolates. I may have picked up some from here on my visit.

Take a Glass Lift up to the top of the Mole Antonelliana for a panoramic view

An absolute must is to visit this architectural landmark in Turin. It was originally conceived as a synagogue but after being bought by the Municipality of Turin it was made into a monument to national unity. Completed in 1889 it was, at the time, the tallest building in Europe reaching 167.5 metres. The building also houses the National Museum of Cinema which spirals around the central atrium as the glass lift speeds up through the central part of the building. My advice is to prebook tickets for either the panoramic view and/or the museum. The queues on the Saturday for the panoramic view were easily a couple of hours wait so we returned on the Sunday at 9am when it opened and when there was a shorter queue and only a 30 mins wait, before returning to our hotel for a leisured breakfast.

The view from the top is spectacular and you can see the whole of Turin and the snow-capped Alps in the background. (first photo at top of blog post).

 

Visit the Turin Shroud in Turin Cathedral

Probably one of the most well known facts about Turin is that the shroud is housed in Turin Cathedral. The shroud is a length of linen cloth bearing the negative image of a man that some believe depicts Jesus and that the fabric is the burial shroud in which he was wrapped after crucifixion. Evidence points to it being a medieval creation and a forgery owing to radiocarbon dating. Nonetheless it is interesting to visit the Cathedral, which is just next door to the Royal Palace of Turin.

Wander the streets and marvel at the architecture and beautiful arcades

Turin is great to amble around on foot, although the classic orange tram cars also add a rather picturesque backdrop to the whole experience. There are some beautiful arcades, which I urge you to explore and wander through. I particularly loved the art deco LUX cinema in Galleria San Federico.

Just near by is the food speciality shop ‘Ferrero’ on Via Antonio Giuseppe Bertola 6/D, which is definitely worth popping into. It has a little restaurant attached where you can join locals for a bowl of carbonara and a glass of Barbaresco.

The Baroque architecture is beautifully elegant and I spent a lot of time looking up at the towering buildings as I wandered the streets.

If you are after a spot of clothes shopping then they have all the known brands, as well as lot of chic boutique Italian stores that are worth visiting. You want to head to Via Roma, as well as the two main department stores: ‘San Carlo 1973’ on Piazza San Carlo 201 and ‘Top Ten’ on Via Marcello Soleri. Via Giuseppe Luigi Lagrange – away from the main drag – has lots more boutiques worth checking out. It was here that we bumped into the only other British tourist we saw on our weekend – actor Ralph Fiennes – clearly having done a spot of shopping himself.

I didn’t manage to get to ‘Verdellila’, unfortunately, but I hear it is Turin’s answer to Anthropologie – in a hidden courtyard behind a glass gate. It’s on Corso Re Umberto 17. Next time….

 

On my list was a number of places which we ran out of time to visit, but on my next visit I will try and spend time in the following:

The Egyptian artefacts at Museo Egizio

A museum specialising in Egyptian archaeology and anthropology. It houses one of the largest collections of Egyptian antiquities, with more than 30,000 artefacts. We ran out of time, but on a return visit I will be making a bee line for this museum.

The Galleria d’Arte Moderna

This modern art gallery was on my to do list but again we ran out of time. We decided that we would have a leisured weekend instead of running around trying to fit in everything to 48 hours. It looks and sounds fascinating so if art appreciation is your thing then this place is worth checking out.

The original Eataly

Set in a vast converted factory in the southern area of Turin, next to the former FIAT Lingotto factory, you will find the Eataly mothership opened in 2007. It houses a staggering array of sustainable food and drink, along with beautiful affordable kitchenware and cook books.  You can take a food tour whilst you are there and end with lunch sampling the incredible produce on offer. The NY branch of Italy is really impressive and I can only imagine that the mothership in Torino is equally impressive.

 

Where to Eat in Turin

Aperitivo is serious business in Italy and our Hotel had a great bar with snacks where a number of the guests began their evening. You can also visit it even if you are not staying in the hotel. It’s an oasis of calm and grandeur.

Caffe Vini on Via Porta Palatina, 9/g. This rather enchanting ‘piola’ is a simple tavern that has been serving traditional food, local wines and a welcoming glass of vermouth to locals and passing travellers since 1850. The places oozes charm and nostalgia with old Campari and Cinzano posters adorning the walls, faded rusty mirrors and a room and courtyard full of locals. We managed to slip in to secure a table just in time before the place really begin to throng with people. It’s open at lunch times and early evening. We sampled the local vermouth – heavenly- with some bar snacks, although we could have easily had our antipasti here as the plates of food coming out of the kitchen really looked very tempting indeed.

Da Ciani Piola Caffe

A few minutes walk away from Caffe Vini is Piola Caffe on B, Largo IV Marzo, 9. YOU NEED TO BOOK  (+39 011 569 0425) this place as it gets rammed. It is located on the edge of very pretty little green space called Giardino Bottero. It is good, honest, home-cooked food. Nothing fancy, but at a price point that is attractive with everyone. It is a good place to try local antipasti and pastas. Our meal included many antipasti, three pastas, a tiramisu and some wine and water came to €43 for the three of us. Pretty unbelievable. They do have secondi options too but we found the antipasti and pasta more than enough.

 

Pizzeria IV Marzo

Just across the way from Piola Caffe is a great little pizza joint called Pizzeria IV Marzo. A great little menu with outside dining options and the perfect place to have lunch in the sun, soaking up the ambiance of this pretty neighbourhood. They have a good selection of beers and wines. It’s popular but does not take too long to get a table.

Di Michele or Porto di Savona

Both restaurants are on Piazza Vittorio which is a huge, elegant piazza running down to the River Po. I was recommended both restaurants and the concierge managed to get a table outside at Di Michele. I hear that Porto di Savona is a little more formal than Di Michele offering a number of local Piedmont dishes, where as Di Michele has a broad selection of Italian pastas and pizza. The food was tasty – and no different in quality than Piola Caffe, but three times the price – which to be fair was still reasonable at €125 for the three of us. I would be keen to try Porto di Savona next time to see how that compares as I hear good things about it.

Di Michele: Piazza Vittorio Veneto, 4 +39 011 888836

Porto di Savona: Piazza Vittorio Veneto, 2 +39 011 817 3500

In Balon, the flee market district I have a strong recommendation for:

Trattoria Valenza

I have had many recommendations to go here next time. With decor along the lines of ‘grandmas living room’ this gem offers traditional piemontese cuisine which has been described as outstanding. Honest, homely and rustic, it makes me want to book a return ticket to try this place alone.

Via Borgo Dora, 39,

+39 011 521 3914

Jazz Club Turino

Two minutes walk from our hotel – Victoria Hotel Turino – is the Jazz Club Turino. We walked passed it each evening and the place was full with jazz devotees listening to the bands on stage. The glass structure allowed us to peer in and it looked a really fun way to spend an evening. I have no idea what the food is like, but perhaps it is worth checking out or going to have some drinks and listen to the jazz.

Via S.Francesco Da Paola, ang, Via Giovanni Giolitti

+39 011 882939

reservations via the fork

 

 

Turin really is a fabulous city that I would not hesitate to return to or recommend. There is so much to see and do and if you have fine weather, like we had thankfully, it is a joy to walk around soaking up the atmosphere.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Spiced Chickpea and Pineapple Salad

 

As we have been treated to some bright sunny days recently I thought that it would be super helpful to share some tasty and easy ‘salads’ over the coming weeks so that you can be ready for when the sun shines and you want to throw open the back door and eat ‘al fresco’. I like interesting combinations that work and I think this one will tick that box in spades.

 

 

Spiced Chickpea and Pineapple Salad

Serves 6 

2 tbsp vegetable oil

1 tsp black mustard seeds

1 tsp chilli flakes

2 stems of curry leaves, leaves removed and finely sliced

1 large whole pineapple, skin removed and cut into small bite sized cubes

2x400g tins/jars of chickpeas, strained

1/2 tsp salt (or to taste)

2 limes, zest and juice

2 tbsp freshly grated coconut

generous pinch of chaat masala

handful of fresh coriander to scatter on top

 

  1. Place the fresh coconut in the freezer for 30-60 minutes before using. Reason for this is that the outer shell comes away easier if it has been placed somewhere cold. To remove the outer shell use a rolling pin and bash the shell and it will crack allowing the outer shell to be removed. It will then be far easier to grate.
  2. Prepare the pineapple into bite sized cubes and place to one side.
  3. In a large wide pan heat the oil on a medium heat and then add the black mustard seeds. They will begin to fizzle almost immediately.
  4. Add the chilli flakes and the finely sliced curry leaves. They will begin to splutter so you may need to remove it from the heat for a second.
  5. Move around the pan and then add the pineapple, chickpeas and salt and cover in the mustard seeds, curry leaves and chilli flakes.
  6. Pour into a large serving platter and sprinkle with the grated coconut, lime zest and juice and chaat masala.
  7. Before serving scatter with some fresh coriander.

 

I accompanied it with my Bang Bang Chicken Salad which you can find here.

 

 

 

 

 


Lindisfarne and Pilgrims Coffee Cake


On our recent visit to Northumberland we visited the Holy Island of Lindisfarne. It is a tidal island that is accessed by a paved causeway, which is covered by the North Sea twice every 24 hours (so check tide times before you visit). It is one of the most important centres of early English Christianity when Irish monks settled there in AD635.

The Northumbrian King Oswald summoned an Irish monk named Aidan from Iona – the island monastery off the south west coast of now Scotland – to be bishop of his kingdom. He granted Aidan and his companions the island of Lindisfarne on which to found a monastery.

In the AD670’s a monk named Cuthbert joined the monastery at Lindisfarne and later became the greatest monk-bishop, and the most important saint in northern England in the Middle Ages.

Cuthbert also spent time on the even more remote island of Inner Farne just off the coast from Bamburgh. We visited the priory, which is now run by English National Heritage and definitely worth exploring, along with the fascinating exhibition which is included in the ticket. We combined our adventures on Lindisfarne with a stunning walk of the coast line of the whole island – around a 5 mile circular walk. We use Pathfinder walk books which I really recommend.

At the end of the walk, before we headed into the Priory, we chanced upon a rather inviting coffee house called ‘Pilgrims Coffee and Roastery’. I highly recommend you make a detour here to purchase a bag of their coffee beans (great gifts) as well as a cup of coffee and some excellent cakes and savoury eats. Their ‘Espresso Cake’ was so good that I thought I would share it with you here.

They have a cookbook, which you can buy with all their recipes in – you can purchase that here.

 

Pilgrim’s Coffee Cake

adapted from the Pilgrim’s Coffee and Roastery Cookbook

Serves 12

250ml espresso

250g salted butter

50g cocoa powder

400g caster sugar

150ml sour cream

2 eggs

1 tbsp vanilla extract

300g plain flour

200g chopped walnuts

2.5 tsp bicarbonate of soda

For the icing

60g unsalted butter

120g sifted icing sugar

2 tbsp espresso

 

  1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees (they state 160 degrees if using fan, but I found it needed to be hotter for my fan oven)
  2. Line a 20cmx30cm tray with greaseproof paper
  3. In a large bowl whisk together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy
  4. Mix in the espresso, cocoa, sugar, sour cream, eggs, vanilla, flour, bicarbonate of soda and walnuts to a loose batter.
  5. Pour the cake mixture into the prepared tray.
  6. Bake for 30-40 minutes until risen and dark brown – I found I needed to do it for a little more than 40 minutes.
  7. Allow to cool on a baking tray and remove the greaseproof paper when cooled slightly.

Icing


8. In another bowl whip together the butter and icing until light and fluffy.

9. Fold in the espresso until smooth.

10. Spread over the cooled coffee cake. Decorate with a few extra walnuts.

 

Note: It’s probably me, but I found the icing did not work when I used the amounts in their recipe – 250g unsalted butter, 250g icing sugar and 120ml espresso so I redid the icing to the amounts above and it worked. I tend to prefer less than more when it comes to icing anyway as I don’t have a particularly sweet tooth. Let me know what works for you.

 

 

 


Wild Garlic Recipes Ideas

It’s that time of year again when a woodland walk will be interspersed by the smell of wild garlic on the wind. Follow the scent and you will find wild garlic growing – often near a stream – ready for picking. Over the years I have shown a number of wild garlic recipes on my blog so I thought it may be helpful to point them out.

If this is your first foray into foraging wild garlic may I suggest you start by making wild garlic pesto as it is very straight forward, tastes delicious and freezes really well (so much so I have enough to last me over the winter months and until the season starts again).

You can find the recipe here. When picking wild garlic simply break off the leaf, leaving the root and stem intact.

Wild garlic scones are great fun to make and a delicious treat after a spring walk – perfect for Easter gatherings.

You can find the recipe here.

Perhaps you are into soups – like me – then you might like making my wild garlic, courgette and lemon soup with a poached egg and panko breadcrumbs.

You can find the recipe here.

Or you can simply spread on hot butter toast, which is the favourite option of my eldest daughter and sister.

How do you like to eat wild garlic?  Have you ever eaten it? Any other new suggestions welcome in the comments section below. Happy Easter everyone.