Easter 2011 was celebrated in Varenna on Lake Como with a large bag of chocolates purchased in Lucerne, Switzerland, the weather was perfect and we spent our time in this beautiful little village cruising the lake and wandering through narrow streets and well tended gardens.
In 2012 my husband’s little sister and boyfriend came to visit and we drove inland to participate in an early morning Easter egg hunt at the family home of my other sister-in-law. With three little boys and three slightly larger ones there was plenty of action in the form of backyard soccer, water fights using Nerf guns and wrestling. Later in the afternoon we played poker under the shade of a huge tree and enjoyed a glass or two of bubbles, a fire was lit as the sun set and the little boys were hypnotised by the flames. It was a beautiful time spent with our family, lots of laughter, good conversation and tasty home cooked food.
This year we’re staying home, hanging out with the dogs, doing a bit of gardening, some cooking, hopefully take a few photos and there is a huge list of chores to complete, but I’m not complaining. Since November last year I have been acting Director for our unit during a period of uncertainty and change, although the experience has been mainly positive and relatively problem free, my head was starting to hurt and I was desperately in need of a good chunk of downtime. My acting role ended yesterday, next week I start a slightly different job and I’m looking forward to the challenge but most of all, I’m ecstatic to have a few days off to do the things I love and to have the time and energy to get my hands dirty.
Whilst travelling around Europe last year I took thousands of photos, some of these focused on the delightful array of food available from markets and the meals we consumed. Many of the photos are merely happy snaps, badly lit and slightly blurred photographs of the food we ate and often I was so absorbed in the eating of a tasty dish that I completely forgot to take a photo. Anyway, the first part of our journey and the food we ate is covered in Food glorious food…part one and I had meant to continue the story but never got around to it…until now.
The food in Italy can be bad, good or fantastic, we were lucky in that we chose good to fantastic food for the majority of the time and the two bad meals we ate were due to laziness and convenience, not bad for four weeks of eating in Italy. Italians don’t really do breakfast, at least not the way we do so we settled for the in-house breakfasts most of the time, although not great, we enjoyed trying Cruesli (Muesli with choc chips) and the array of home baked cakes and tarts at the B&B Villa degli Ulivi were scrumptious. Occasionally cold cuts of meat and boiled eggs were also available in addition to the pastries, jam and bread rolls, the coffee was usually very ordinary so we took to visiting the local bars for an espresso.
Wherever possible we tried local wines and local specialties, guided by the waiters in the restaurants and in Rome we asked the ‘host’ of the Cantina Cantarini to help us choose our meals, selecting fresh, seasonal produce and simple flavours so good that we returned the following night. In Florence we ate picnics outside the Boboli Gardens, pasta in the San Lorenzo Markets and spent an evening with our travellers at a inTavola cooking class, the class was so much fun and at the end of the evening we sat down to enjoy the fruits of our labour accompanied by a couple of glasses of wine.
Wherever we went I managed to track down a gelateria (even in Germany), I was on a mission to try as many flavours as possible and am proud to say that I tried 25 different flavours, some of them twice (pistachio, zabaglione and pannacotta) and some of which I don’t remember. I have to admit that there are just some flavours that I’ve never been really fond of such as melon or licorice so I stayed clear of them and there are possibly hundreds more flavours I could have tried however there was still a budget to stick to and having gelato for every meal was not the objective. Some of the more unusual (for me) flavours were: Coconut, Riesling, Fior di Latte (Milk), Torrone and Cherries and cream.
Here is just a taste of what we enjoyed in Italy, starting with local specialties in Vernazza to wild boar in Umbria, panettone in Siena and seafood in Sorrento, it really was a food tour of Italy and the extra kilos in weight that I gained were well and truly worth it 🙂
A friend of mine suggested I read Isabel Coe’s La Dolce Vita: Sweet Dreams and Chocolate Memories, a fascinating story about a woman and her family in Italy and Switzerland and the fond memories she has about cooking, especially with chocolate. My friend and I had been discussing our favourite desserts that our grandmothers once made and knowing how much I love all things Italy and chocolate, she kindly let me borrow her copy of the book.
The recipes featured in this book sound heavenly, I have not dared to test them myself because I don’t know whether the end result would be successful and if it was, then how do I stop myself from eating the entire dessert? Isabel Coe talks of her Omama’s Chocolate Mousse, Nonna’s chestnut truffles and her Mother’s chocolate sandwiches, Isabel learned to cook at a young age and finds comfort in these recipes handed down through generations now that she lives in Australia and lives with the feeling of being homesick. One of the first recipes to grab my attention with its simplicity is Omama’s Creme Chocolat, described as a dessert that ‘tastes rich yet is somehow light to eat’ and is best served with chocolate madeleines.
Omama’s Creme Chocolat (Isabel Coe)
300ml double cream
1 vanilla pod, split lengthways
1 1/2 tablespoons boiling water
150g dark chocolate
2 tablespoons caster sugar
Place the cream in a bowl with the vanilla pod and leave to infuse.
Pour the boiling water over the chocolate and stir until dissolved. Stir in the sugar and leave to cool.
Lightly whip the cream and fold into the chocolate mixture.
Eat slowly and savour every mouthful.
I particularly love the last step in the instructions for preparation 🙂
If you have read the book and made any of the recipes contained within I would love to hear about it and if you haven’t read the book but love a good story about family and food, I recommend reading ‘La Dolce Vita’. Reading this book brings back many food memories of my own: shelling peas into a bucket for my Nanna as she prepares Christmas lunch for 20-30 people; beating sugar and butter by hand while sitting in the sun hoping that the warmth would speed the process; and eating the blackest, juiciest plums straight from the tree in my Grandmother’s backyard. It makes me wish that I had captured more of my family stories while my Grandparents were alive.