Just home from a beautiful week in Tuscany, Italy. It was a family holiday with 7 of us altogether and in an area we haven’t visited before. I am never disappointed with Italy!
Reason for the title of my blog ‘Sunshine and Biscotti’ is one of the THREE books I read over the course of one week (miracles do happen!!! and we were in the MIDDLE of nowhere!) was Jenny Oliver’s book ‘The Sunshine and Biscotti Club’. The blurb ‘Welcome to Tuscany’s newest baking school….. The ovens are pre-heating, the Prosecco is chilling…. and The Sunshine and Biscotti Club is nearly ready to open its doors. But the guests have other things on their minds…I really enjoyed it and thought it was the perfect name for my Italian blog.
I really was reminded how good Italian food tastes and the mediteranean flavours. Its simple food – could even be described as rustic but even the taste of the fruit and tomatoes – so sweet and full of sunshine!
Breakfast we ate simply. Bread, jam and steaming coffee. There was local made apricot jam which was so runny, sweet and syrup like, ready to nearly pour on to your bread, not that we minded at all! I did find dipping the crusty bread into the coffee the best way to enjoy! I prefer a cappuccino not a strong coffee and I discovered you should only order these before 10am following Italian etiquette.
Already so hot, I did enjoy an ice-coffee one morning when we visited Cecina a small town which had its weekly market on a Tuesday. This was like coffee ice cream, a real treat for the start of the day!
My favourite meal of the holiday was DIY lunch Tuscan style, of course! This was usually a lovely salad, antipasti with cold meats, cheeses, fresh figs and bread or pasta.
We served this altogether and helped ourselves, eating far too much most days! The cheese or Formaggio was just the highlight or maybe I should say heaven for me and is so diverse in Italy! Of course we know of mozzarella and Parmesan but there are so many others…
The cheese I had never tasted was Burrata, which translates into ‘buttery’ in Italian which says it all. It is a beautiful parcel of mozzarella cheese but with a rich centre of cream, really wicked but at the same time wonderful. I am thinking not great for the waistline but on holiday… what can I say!
Actually none of the Italian cheeses we ate this week were particularly strong in smell, a few friends commented the Burrata looked smelly, but no just soft,creamy, actually ‘melt in the mouth’ hence the word ‘buttery’ describes it so well.
I am a huge fan of Pecorino too which is a hard, sharp-tasting milk cheese coming from ‘pecora’ the italian word for sheep. Grated on pasta or with shavings on a rocket salad, so simple but adds some great salty cheese flavour! The local olive oil the balsamic vinegar, the sweetness of the huge tomatoes and mopping up all that lovely juice and dressing with bread and cheese… makes my mouth water thinking about it!
The evening meals we went out and also cooked in. As we were only about 30 mins drive from the coast we had some delicious seafood as well as the usual pasta courses and risotto dishes. One of my favourite pasta dishes was homemade ravioli stuffed with fig and ricotta and served with truffle and Parmesan shavings. Rich but very tasty and went so well with the chosen red wine that night.
Of course the moment you go out and dine in Italy in a ‘Osteria’ or more up market restaurant, you have to remember all the courses…. and the food just keeps coming. The first, second platters etc…
Difference between trattoria, osteria, ristorante and enoteca
While we were driving through the little Tuscan villages winding up and down the hillsides you come across different types of bars and restaurants, namely trattorias, ristorantes, osterias and enotecas and you might wonder what the differences are? The differences today don’t mean as much as in the past as many trattorias and even restaurants call themselves “osteria” and vice versa.
The trattorias are traditionally family owned, casual, rustic neighbourhood restaurants found throughout all of Italy that serve fresh, unassuming, conventional local food.
“Ristorante” should mean a full service restaurant, and there should according to history be a host or hostess to seat you. The wait staff, including a sommelier, should be experienced with food and wine as well as with proper service etiquette. You should expect complete or à la carte offerings presented on a printed menu with fixed prices. Your food should be prepared by professional kitchen staff and should represent selections from several ordered courses. However this is not always the reality any longer, so don’t expect that the food is necessarily better or more sophisticated at ristorantes.
Osterias are wine bars that have evolved to serve simple meals. Traditionally, they are simpler than trattorias and usually have no menu. The offering changes daily, according to the market and two or three courses are offered for a fixed price, including wine.
Traditionally, enotecas served no food; they were just a place to go and drink wine. Italians on the whole are not big drinkers, so it is, or was, rare to find a “bar” or “tavern” that people in the UK and US are used to seeing. People would stop into an enoteca for a glass of wine on the way to another spot for a full meal. Now, most enoteca serve light appetizers.
So I have been back a few nights, suffering from post holiday blues! The weather was just so warm particularly in the evenings. We were in the swimming pool with a ceiling full of stars… just as it should be on holiday.
First things I have done since returning home: purchased a bourganvilla for the garden (they were half price in the local garden centre) hopefully this one will last longer than my last attempt! I have also been making biscotti, going back to the title of this blog. Actually biscotti is just the general name for biscuits in Italy so I have been making cantuccini – lovely crisp biscuits made with almonds or dried fruit or chocolate ready to dip in a sweet wine or a coffee…trying to keep that Italian feeling for a few more days.
I feel freshly inspired in the Italian cuisine and cannot wait to share some of my finds at my classes in the Autumn. Ciao!