Saturday, August 23, 2008

And now it's the figs' turn...

We have a fig tree on the property, a bit of a walk uphill from the house. Pio has no idea who planted it, but I bet it was the birds. In any case, it's growing on the side of a small incline which actually makes it easier to pick the fruit, although eventually I'll need to bring a ladder to reach the top. And I'll have to keep checking on them, or the birds (or the foragers who think the tree has been abandoned) will have a feast. Today only two were ripe, within a week they'll be another 20 I'd bet. Lucky for us my father-in-law's tree has tons ripe now, so we're eating them. They're of a different variety, smaller, and obviously ripen a little earlier. They are SOOOO good.

I'm thinking of making the "Fresh Fig Crostata" recipe I found in a recent addition to my cookbook collection (which hovers around 100 titles!): The Best American Recipes 2005-2006. I got it on sale when I was in NY this summer and just couldn't pass it up. It's a compendium of recipes from a wide variety of sources: new cookbooks, restaurants, magazines, newspapers, back-of-the-box or bag and the Internet, published in the years mentioned in the title (I also have the 1999 version and 2000 ). My philosophy about cookbooks, if I find just one or two recipes that I love and make often, it was worth the money. So we'll see if this crostata recipe (a free form fruit tart on a butter crust) is a winner. I'll post a picture later and give you the verdict (now how exactly will this fit with the idea that I'm back walking for an hour every morning and hoping to lose the five pounds I put on pigging out and being a slug while in NY?).

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Montepulciano fun!

When we travel we usually go to New York to visit family, and so consequently haven't really been to many places here in Italy. So when we decided to meet fellow bloggers we read regularly, Jane, Ken and their grandson Casey (Casey, Italy and Other Good Stuff and KZ in Toscana (or KC is So Cal), we chose to meet them while they were lodged in Montepulciano, a Tuscan town that we've often heard about (famous for their red wine) but had never visited.

We were lucky to get a room for three people for one night at La Terrazza de Montepulciano, a 12-room hotel right in the Historical Center of the town. The owners were very friendly and helpful and made us feel at home, but the room was a little noisy at night as our window faced the main drag. Oh well, we were so tired that after a couple of minutes we all fell soundly asleep, but I'm getting ahead of my story!

On our first day in town, we met them at a restaurant that had been recommended to us by our hotel, but we were mostly disappointed in the food, unfortunately. We then followed them back to their favorite place to stay, right outside Montepulciano, Sant'Antonio. It really is quite special with attractive one- and two-bedroom apartments, endless views and a fun pool for the kids to play in. It's a hard place to get into during high-season as they have lots of repeat customers who must book for a minimum of one week. But Dante got a chance to enjoy the pool and play with Casey and some other children there. The boys had fun while the adults chit-chatted about this and that from lunch straight through to an outstanding dinner, a Wednesday-night-only event at Sant' Antonio, prepared by a professional chef who is also part of the extended family. The meal was exquisite, perhaps one of the best I've ever had! I especially loved the famous hand-made Tuscan pasta called Pici, prepared with bread crumbs, and the ricotta cheese "pie" we had for desert which was only held down from floating off the plate by the fruti di bosco that sat on top..

The following day we walked around Montepulciano. I'm regretting a bit not buying that handmade soft leather bag I coveted (OK, it WAS one of the most expensive in the store and I would have probably needed to buy a coat and boots too that would have looked good with it...and where, exactly was I going to wear all this great stuff anyway? You see how my reasoning went, even though my birthday IS this coming week...) and then out to lunch at a small restaurant called La Porta in nearby Monticchiello. We wouldn't have found it if Ken hadn't led the way. The views of the countryside while driving there were stupendous! Rolling hills, cypress trees, baled up hay, sunflowers drying in the fields, views that went on forever, Tuscan-style. Just beautiful...and the food was really good too!
We've invited Jane, Ken and Casey to visit us next summer, especially if they go to Greve and then head down to the Amalfi coast...we're right along the way!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Tomato time has begun in earnest...

We've been getting handfuls of tomatoes every few days for a while now, that I've either quickly made into the sauce for the day or sliced up with fresh mozzarella for a little salad.
But now the tomatoes are really starting to roll in, so to speak, so it's time to make sauce. Lots of sauce. When I get overwhelmed with them, I'll put them up in jars to use during the winter, but for now I'm making sauce with them, then putting them in bags for the freezer. Ready for a quick meal with little prep mid-winter.
Some women around here even throw tomatoes in the freezer whole to use in sauce come the winter. That's easier than cutting them up, stuffing them in jars, boiling the jars...maybe I'll try it. Now wouldn't you know it, but Dante's got a stomach thing and sauce gives him a bellyache. We've been eating "pasta in bianco" (with white sauce, today it was clams) instead. I miss red sauce!

Monday, August 4, 2008

Lavender, lavender...

Have I mentioned I went a little lavender crazy this spring? I planted 42...yes 42...plants. Maybe I was just so happy I could grow them here. Maybe it's because I ordered a dozen from my local plant guy, bought them when I found them elsewhere, then felt commited to buying the ones I ordered too! (well, that accounts for 24 of them anyway!)And they smell so good.

So anyway, any ideas about what to do with all this lavender? Searching around the web I found so many sites which had lavender recipes. I had heard of lavender ice cream...but wow, I had no idea there were so many recipes in which I could use these beautiful, organic, lavender flowers! If I make something I'll let you know how it turns out.

Have you ever cooked with and/or eaten lavender or any other flower, for that matter?

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Prato di Campoli

Prato di Campoli is about a 25 minute ride up the nearby mountain, and about 15 degrees cooler! It's part of a national park and has sheep and cattle grazing on the rocky hills. There are big open fields surrounded by deep dark forest (Hansel and Gretel lost in the woods dark!), picnic and camping areas and today, since August and holidays have begun, TONS of people! We were lucky to find a little space to parallel park along the road (after paying our 2 Euro parking fee) and Pio ran off to shoot a golf ball around for a while. Dante just ran around. I tried to start a new novel but the peace and quiet didn't last long. Once Pio got back we took a short walk into the woods where my ankles promptly became a feast for one pesky mosquito and we beat a retreat to the car and then the snack bar.

I forgot to bring along my camera, so no pictures (sorry) but the air was so fresh, it really was quite amazing!