Helllooooo - is there anybody out there!? I know there hasn't been much happening on the blog lately, and you must be wondering if I am still here - well happily yes I am! It is week two back home from the trip of a lifetime - one whole month touring around lower Italy, including Positano, Rome, Umbria, Tuscany, Florence, Bologna and Venice. To celebrate our 'being together' anniversary and a special birthday of Nick's (I am old people - that is 30 years together (yes 30) and Nick's 50th birthday) we decided to take this trip, one which we had been talking about for a very long time. Nick did all of the hard work planning and booking the entire thing, and all I had to do was wake up each day, waddle around, take photos and eat - torture. I am just going to quickly take this opportunity to give Nick a big shout-out - thanks so much for an incredible month darl, you did amazingly well - and I can always put up with your grassy (grazie) and mercy (merci) if you can always read the map :)
As you can imagine, we took hundreds of photos on our trip, and I don't want to spam you with too many of them here. If you would like to see the full extravaganza, please feel free to pop on over to the tumblr
page we created for family and friends to keep up with what we were doing whilst away, or just keep on scrolling down to get the potted version!
The adventure began in Paris five weeks ago. We arrived completely exhausted after 36 hours travel from New Zealand, flying from Auckland to Sydney, then to Dubai, and from there to Paris. We hit the ground running, heading straight out from our hotel in St Germain meandering our way past the Louvre, up and down the picturesque streets and back through the Luxembourg gardens. We ate at a tiny brasserie that first night, then collapsed into bed - apparently I was snoring before my head hit the pillow...whaaaat?! Over the next two days we negotiated our way to the fabulous Marches aux Puces
antique markets, enjoyed a delicious lunch at Cafe Cassette, (langoustine ravioli and a salad with poached pears, rocket, pinenuts, avocado puree, serrano ham and little roquefort fried balls) and visited my favourite store in Paris, Merci
. Day two saw us up early at the gorgeous Raspail Organic Food Market, then battling the throngs at Versailles
and having a somewhat mediocre but adequate dinner at the famous Les Deux Magots - a favourite of both Hemmingway and Sartre, and a regular on the tourist route.
To see the photos from Paris and all
(well lots anyway) of the ones from Italy, just click on the recipe link below - or if you're already here, just keep scrolling down! :)
From Paris we flew to Naples, then drove onwards to Positano via Pompeii. The day was hot, the ruins fascinating, and our driver Luigi was totally delightful - an instant friend. A total 'pinch-me' moment was had when we stopped to slug back an icy limoncello from a road-side stand as we started our descent into Positano. Our time spent there was totally magical, swimming in the sea, walking up and down thousands of stairs, eating at da Vincenza, La Tagliata and da Aldofo - our favourite dishes included rigatoni with simple zucchini sauce, spaghetti vongole, spaghetti with anchovies and wild fennel, braised peas and chickpeas, grilled prawns and anchovies, fresh mozzarella with prosciutto crudo and Mamma's pasta stuffed with ricotta and mozzarella - and no meal was complete without a frosty limoncello to finish. How we managed to face the world in our swimming togs each day is a mystery...I suspect the countless steps, walking from Amalfi to Ravello and back from Montepertuso all helped! In Positano you really notice the relaxed vibe of the locals - so friendly, helpful and patient with all the tourists - and the mahogany tanned men, using full-body body language when talking to each other, such a hoot!
From Positano we travelled back to Naples and caught the high speed train to Rome, which was like having a big noisy, crazy, bucket of water thrown on your head after the chilled out atmosphere of the sea-side. Rome was bustling to put it mildly, packed
with tourists, noisy with the toot of car horns and the constant buzzing of vespas - as one Facebook friend advised me before we left, beware of the traffic when crossing roads, street lights are merely a suggestion - totally true! In Rome we spent several happy hours exploring the Vatican museums
admiring the incredible artworks, visited the Castel Saint Angelo, the Piazza Navona and the Pantheon, and of course the Trevi fountain of La Dolce Vita fame, the Spanish Steps, the Colosseum and the fabulous Jewish quarter. When in Rome, you must eat like a Roman - and we did - enjoying fantastic spaghetti carbonara at the very old-school Almore, as well as fried artichokes, truffle fettuccini liberally
sprinkled with fresh truffle shavings, and Nick, aka Mr Moustache raved about a dish of fried octopus on cannellini bean puree at local restaurant Dilla. Copious quantities of red wine and double espressos kept us going too...
From Rome we braved the traffic by car (with essential GPS) and headed north to Umbria. OK, so everything you can imagine about Umbria and Tuscany is true - rolling hills, olive trees and hay bales dotting the landscape, picturesque villas with terracotta tiled roofs, and fairytale medieval towns (and even the occasional festival) at every turn. From our bases, first near Perugia then near Siena we visited Gubbio, Assisi, Foligno, Lago Transimeuno, Sansepolcro, Anghiari, Montone, Montepelucciano, Siena, Cortona and Lucca - yep, flat out in our little citroen on the 'wrong' side of the tiny little roads we hurtled around with the occasional white knuckle and slam on the imaginary brake from me. In both Umbria and Tuscany we enjoyed many plates of truffle and porcini pasta, zucchini flower pasta, slow cooked pork loin, pigeon risotto, a ridiculously huge t-bone steak, burrata and duck ravioli, caprese salads, spaghetti scoglia and eggplant parmigiana. I enjoyed a particularly loaded 'Vespa' cocktail in Tuscany which would have knocked James Bond on his ear and we swapped our Positano after-dinner limoncellos for cantuccini (biscotti) dunked in Vin Santo.
On we waddled....from Tuscany to Florence via train. Florence was a totally gorgeous surprise - I (stupidly probably) had no idea it is so beautiful - but it absolutely is. We visited the Santa Maria del Fiore Duomo on our first afternoon, then the Accademia di Belle Arti where we saw the world famous and amazing statue, Michaelangelo's David. That night we enjoyed smoked swordfish carbonara and porcini pasta followed by a mascarpone and cream cheese cheesecake before hitting the Uffizzi Gallery the next day. Having studied Art History a million years ago at school, I was in heaven and Nick bore up well during the hours we spent wandering the various rooms. Our
whistle stop visit to Florence was completed with dried salted fish egg spaghetti and tagliatelle with pancetta, peas and cream and a performance of La Traviata at a local church - magic.
From Florence we lugged our now perilously over-loaded suitcases to the train station for another high-speed trip, this time to Bologna. Bologna's nicknames are 'la dotta' or the erudite, thanks to it's being home to one of the oldest universities in Europe, 'la rossa' either due to the red roofs or it's communist leanings depending on who you talk to, and 'la grassa' - the fat - and that is most definitely due to the incredible food to be found there. Of course Bologna is the home of bolognese, as well as mortadella (the original bologna sausage), and tortellini traditionally served in broth. Our first night there I had to try the tagliatelle with bolognese while Nick had pork...and I have to say I felt quietly happy with my own bolognese recipe I have been making for an eternity, as I thought it held up well to the original! We enjoyed one very cruisey day wandering through the irresistible medieval food markets, and I must confess watching the All Blacks beat England at rugby on Sky TV. As we headed into the tail end of the trip - even though I was so excited to finish with four days in Venice and a final night in Paris, my thoughts were with Henry and Rich - I had never been away from them for so long since they were born, and although this trip was obviously an incredible treat, I did miss them (thank God for Facebook!).
In Bologna we enjoyed one of my favourite meals of the whole trip at All'Osteria Bottega - so simple but utterly delicious: artichoke hearts marinated in olive oil and a little rosemary, finely shaved prosciutto, spring lasagne with slow-cooked wild pork shoulder, spinach and ricotta and tortellini filled with duck liver and shredded duck meat finished in a little duck fat. Phwoar! To finish we had zabaglioni semifreddo and a pannacotta/creme caramel hybrid and a glass of Nocino, a northern Italian liqueur made from green walnuts steeped in alcohol - thick, dark and gorgeous. (Rocket-fuel) The thing that made this night so special was not just the food but the whole experience - the osteria is in a slightly unkempt area, a bit rougher than your average tourist restaurant locale, the host is a gregarious, attentive and solicitous and the cook an ex Michelin-starred chef who wanted to get back to traditional Italian cooking, and the crowd is mostly locals. Perfect. Before leaving Bologna I managed to attend a cooking class run by Taste of Italy
where I learnt to make traditional bolognese sauce, homemade pasta without a machine - both tortellini and tagliatelli, stuffed zucchini flowers and strawberry tiramisu. The Californian turned Italian (by marriage) teacher Alex, was helpful and enthusiastic and my Canadian 'classmates' very sweet - a fun and educational morning!
We fare-welled Bologna to head to our next and final Italian stop - Venice. OK, so no-one can quite prepare you for your first views of Venice - yes we all know what it looks like in theory, we've all seen the pictures, but there is something indescribably fabulous about jumping into a super cool water-taxi and speeding across the waves to a 600 year-old city rising out of the sea. Gorgeously manicured speedboats jostle with water 'buses' and gondolas, gondoliers joke and yell at each other, tourists abound and somehow the old buildings, on their petrified wooden foundations, keep on keeping on, looking the same as they have for centuries. Our first night we ventured into the bustling, narrow alley ways and found a fabulous spot for rabbit terrine, simple spaghetti with chilli and garlic, tortellini stuffed with zucchini with a ricotta sauce and a triple chocolate dessert. Day two we meandered around the morning produce and fish market, where the stalwart vendors put up with as many photographers as shoppers, before taking a long cruisy water bus trip to get a sense of the city. That night we had an awesome meal at Il Ridotto
- langoustines on cauliflower, pea and carrot purees, octopus on chickpea puree with broad beans, roasted scallops with purple potatoes and smoked black tea, and white asparagus pasta with clams - and to finish chocolate cake with thyme ice, wild black rice ice cream and a rice crisp cake. Of course we couldn't go all the way to Venice without taking a romantic ride in a gondola, which we did the next evening, the ultimate Venetian boat ride. During the day the temperature soared to 36˚C (96.8˚F) but was according to the weather forecast, feeling like 43˚C (109.4˚F) and we took to running from shady spot, to shady spot as if trying to avoid torrential rain, the heat of the sun was just so fierce.
Our last day in Italy was totally perfect - after heading to the Basilica di San Marco in the morning, we caught a water taxi to visit a glass making factory (a lot more interesting than you might imagine - but like being in a furnace) in Murano - an island in the Venetian lagoon. After the tour we caught a water bus to another island - the ridiculously picturesque Burano where we ate at Al Gatto Nero - a mixed seafood plate (natch) followed by grilled langoustines and traditional calamari fritti.
next day our final morning began with the classic stand-up breakfast of
a double espresso and a pastry at our 'usual' cafe before catching a
water taxi to Venice airport and our flight to Paris. And there we ended our trip - one last night in that beautiful city, where we swapped to traditional French cuisine - pressed veal terrine with pickled vegetables and Dijon, duck liver pate, Chateaubriand with Bearnaise and braised pork in jus - and girded our loins for the big trip home. I fare-welled Nick at the hotel the next day as he was going on to do business in London, and made the epic trip back home. Feeling sleep deprived and looking slightly worse for wear after 36 hours travel, I was met at the airport by my gorgeous Henry, and that night enjoyed a simple home cooked dinner (pumpkin soup left for me by my lovely mum) with him and Rich. Heaven.
So my grand adventure is over and I am sitting here at my computer, re-living every moment as I type. My mission now is to edit and post all the pics in their right spot, (done - as much as I can!) and begin the job of writing up the recipes I have been jotting down - there are so many I can't wait to share with you!!! I have one all made and ready to photograph already - so will be aiming to start the recipe-fest which will follow, with the classic Tuscan Torta Alla Nonna ( a delicious lemony custard-filled pie topped with pine nuts and icing/powdered sugar) - see recipe below! Next up, Bucatini all'Amatriciana thanks to our good mate Marco at Crossing Condotti in Rome :)