Italy. Simplicity. Dry bread, garlic and tomatoes = Bruschetta!

It has been too long – I have missed cooking, taking photographs and sharing with those that care to read it! I promise never to leave a two month gap again….

So, we went to Italy. Not just anywhere in Italy – we went to Tuscany. Not just anywhere in Tuscany – we went to Florence; and Florence is my favourite place in the whole world. Cannot for the life of me explain why, but the place fills me with joy, with promise, with excitement. The rolling hills, the flavours of the food, the people, the architecture, the colours…no where like it. No where.

It was a family trip (I am lucky enough to have a sister-in-law living in Florence) and we made the most of it. The majority of  the holiday was spent eating and laughing….makes me smile to think about it.

Quality time with the children and extended family and a magical place to stay (Lebbiano Residence – have a look) from where we ventured into the Tuscan country side and spent hours in the nature. The children caught tadpoles and frogs, we taught them to row a boat in the lake, trekking in the woods, catching fire flies at night and finding a hidden park that was, and I kid you not, like a fairy tale come true.

This one needs translating – will live by this…..

In The Park You Can

– inhale clean air
– listen to the silence
– stretch out in the sun (lie down)
– dream
– love
– play
– make up
– think
– slow down
– observe
– taste/enjoy
– doze/nap
– forget/lose time
– come home feeling peaceful
 

 and the food….the food….the food!

Best of all – simplicity. With nothing but paper plates and a lot of love and patience we had the best meals I have had in a long time. Eaten outdoors, with family.

Eaten indoors, on little stools – amazing!

 

So simple – the line in front of the restaurant a very telling thing…My daughter who is only 7 and claims to not like meat – well – a Bistecca Fiorentina at Mario’s….and she is converted!

If you are ever in Florence go there!!! Da Mario – behind San Lorenzo – close to Zaza (another good restaurant).

I want to leave you with a recipe – one of the simplest I know – and probably one of the tastiest too! Bruschetta. Dry bread, olive oil, tomatoes and garlic – fresh garlic – by the clove. Nothing more, nothing less.

Bruschetta

Loaf of dry bread
Fresh, ripe tomatoes cut into small pieces
Extra virgin olive oil
Red onion (can be omitted)
Basil (can be omitted)
Sprinkle of salt
Garlic – cannot be omitted – peeled cloves, sliced in halves
 
  • Slice the bread – it is fine if it is horrible and dry (just not mouldy…)
  • Place under a grill – or on a hot BBQ (perfect for summer – if we ever get one!) until dark brown and crisp
  • Place bread on plate
  • Rub sliced, peeled garlic straight into the bread
  • Throw a large spoonful of tomatoes on top of it (precut in a bowl – if red onion is wanted add it to the tomatoes in small pieces)
  • Drizzle with olive oil
  • Sprinkle with salt and a few basil leave
  • ENJOY!

If you are in need of relaxing, of a break or simply of re-falling in love with life, with your children, with your partner, with food – go to Florence! Stay at Lebbiano Residence, eat at Mario’s, go for walks, see the sites….it is a little bit of magic for the soul.

If you cannot afford to go – make bruschetta at home, put on some Italian music and pretend…! Not quite the same but hey – better than nothing!

Nothing beats the classic Pesto

Pesto – just hearing the word makes me hungry; takes me to Italy, to thoughts of parmesan, garlic and gorgeous bruschetta, stuffed ravioli and fresh pasta recipes. I think dip, I think bread sticks, I think green, healthy…. Really, I just want it! So when the thought hit me the other day I had to make it!

A family food – yes, my children love it (I put a little less garlic in when they are having it with us and sometimes dilute it slightly with cream cheese in pasta dishes) – and very versatile. Can be used for any occasion! I like it as a dip, often just eat it by the spoon (!), and sprinkled over ripe, red tomatoes. Some people add it to their soup…never tried…but not one to judge!  It can be a simple dish but very much an extravagant one…never boring though!

It is, and I know I say this about most of what I cook, so easy to make. Ridiculously easy in fact. If you don’t believe me, try it!

I have made pesto this way since I was 13! My fabulous step mother, very good in a kitchen, taught me how to make it and I have never looked back! This makes enough to cover 500g pasta. Don’t worry about left overs! Keeps well in a jar in the fridge.

50g pine nuts
50g parmesan cheese in small chunks
2 cloves of garlic – peeled – ( this is the child friendly version! Add more if you like!)
A lot of basil….I love it….probably the equivalent of 1 large pot or two bags if you buy those
Pinch of salt (be careful not to add too much as the parmesan is salty on its own – may even be omitted)
Extra virgin olive oil…enough to make it smooth, but not so much that it covers everything. You will see what I mean as you pour it into the mix. Start slow – you can always add more later. I probably use about 120ml, give or take!
 
  •  Chuck all the ingredients, but only a glug (equivalent to about 1 tbsp) of the olive oil, into a food processor. If you do not have one, get one! 🙂 No, just kidding! If you don’t own any chopping machine you will have to do that bit of the job yourself, quite finely, and put it in a pestle and mortar. Squash away! Will be a softer pesto but the flavours will be there which is the most important. Or, just leave quite rough and ready. All good!

  • Start the food processor, or your arm, and add olive oil in small quantities as it churns. The mixture will change from dry to wet – from lumpy to smoothish and from separate colours to a sea of green. Smell it! Stunning right? Basil….yum!
  • When you think it is smooth enough – most people have a preference – stop the machinery or your arm! Stir a spoon through it. If it feels good you are done! If it feels or looks a bit dry, just add some more olive oil and stir through.
  • Put it in a jar in your fridge and use as and when you feel the need to smile!

Note

This is a really cute gift! Put a nice ribbon around your jar, maybe a hand written label, and give it as a housewarming gift with grissini (or posh breadsticks) as I call them!

Finally, make sure those around you have it too, especially your partner if you have one! Garlic is best when shared!!!  If you have no idea what I am on about, try being in close proximity to someone who has had garlic when you have not….let me know how it was!

Lemon, Honey and Garlic Roast Chicken

Full of flavour and really crisp – perfect Sunday meal or playdate food – thrown in the oven and spend time with your family while it cooks!

1 whole chicken
4 jacket potatoes choped into 8 pieces each
2 lemons
Lots of garlic cloves – to taste of course
Fresh rosemary
Runny Honey
Sea Salt/Pepper to taste
  • Take your chicken and rub it with lots of salt and pepper. Leave it for an hour or so in the fridge.
  • Preheat oven to 190C
  • Chop the potatoes and place in a pot of cold, salted water – bring to boil and drain once boiling. Let them steam dry for a few minutes then shake around in pot to make slightly fluffy…adds to crispiness!
  • Get your chicken and shake off excess salt. Place it in a roasting tin and drizzle with olive oil and honey. Rub this into it. Sticky job! Let the children do it!
  • Place a whole lemon and some garlic cloves inside the cavity of the chicken.
  • Put it in the oven and cook for 40 minutes
  • Take out chicken and add potatoes to the dish – any liquids from the chicken are great for basting it with as well as coating the potatoes with!
  • Sprinkle rosemary onto chicken and potatoes
  • Place remaining garlic cloves in between potatoes
  • Cut the remaining lemon into small quarters and place into the tin
  • You can add a splash of white wine to the tin also – not necessary though!
  • Put everything back into the oven and cook until chicken is done – usually another 40- 50 minutes depending on size
  • Meat should pull away from chicken easily and juices run clear if stabbed
  • Enjoy! I love to eat the roasted garlic with the chicken as it has a lovely sweet flavour when warm. It is gorgeous on fresh bread…yummmmmyyy!

Lemon and Garlic Aioli

My version is all about the lemon flavour (by now you must have realised I really, really like lemon!) The garlic is there, but subtly so.

1 garlic clove – crushed with back of knife or with pestle and mortar to make paste
1/2 tsp salt
2 egg yolks preferrably at room temperature – medium sized
5 tbsp lemon juice
Grated zest of half a lemon
180ml oil – (vegetable not olive)
80ml extra virgin olive oil (to give best flavour)
1 tsp warm water to thin

 

  • Whisk the garlic paste, salt, egg yolks, and 3 tsp of the lemon juice in a heavy bowl until the mixture is light and creamy
  • At high whisk speed, add the oils to the yolk drop by drop. Increase oil to a thin stream and continue whisking until you have incorporated all the oil
  • If the aïoli it too thick, whisk in the warm water to thin
  • Stir in the remaining lemon juice, most of the grated lemon zest and adjust seasonings
  • When ready to serve, sprinkle remaining lemon zest on top

 

Top Tips

Use this aioli in sandwiches, salads, or as a sauce for meats, fish, and vegetables.

If you have no time or patience to make this you can cheat and simply add a bit of garlic and grated lemon zest to ready made mayo!

 

Lemoned Fish Goujons and Chips

Fresh fish fillet, lemon breadcrumbs and homemade oven chips with garlic, lemon aioli…yum! The children love this and always want to make their own strips of fish!

Lemon Breadcrumbs
Salt and pepper to taste
Grated zest of 1 lemon
2 slices of toast – seedy bread is good
Lemon and Garlic Aioli – as in Lemon recipe section
(or the cheats version:
Good quality mayo
Clove of garlic – crushed
Grated zest of half a lemon)
Oven Chips
2 jacket potatoes
2 tbsp olive oil
Salt to taste
Fish Goujons
300g white fish fillet – cod, lemon sole, haddock all good
Flour
1 egg
  • Preheat your oven to 200C
  • Halve your washed jacket potatoes and thinly slice. Put in a pot of cold water and bring to boil, Once the water boils, drain the potatoes and toss in 2 tbsp olive oil.
  • Place potatoes on baking sheet line oven tray and sprinkle with salt.
  • When oven warm, place slices of toast in it and let them go brown and crisp – time will depend on thickness
  • Place crisp bread in food processor and whizz until crumbs with the salt, pepper and grated lemon zest
  • Pour onto a large, flat plate
  • Make lemon and garlic aioli as per recipe in Lemon section or to make cheats version – put amount of mayo you want to serve into a bowl. Add crushed garlic and grated lemon zest and stir to combine. Leave in fridge and let flavours combine
  • Pour flour onto large flat plate
  • Crack egg into bowl and stir with fork to combine
  • Slice the fish into strips
  • Let the children roll the fish strips in flour, then into egg and finally into lemon breadcrumbs.
  • Once covered, lay on a baking sheet covered oven tray
  • Place potatoes in oven – they will need between 25-30 minutes depending on thickness. Keep an eye on them, they are done when brown and crisp
  • The fish will need about 15 minutes – maybe more if you have made large strips. Put them into the oven so that they will be done at the same time as the potatoes.
  • Serve with peas, mange tout or broccoli – anything green looks nice on the plate

Top Tip

Use the lemon breadcrumbs with any meat – especially gorgeous with veal and chicken!