After 5 nights in Rome, staying at a small hotel, we travelled onto Florence via rail (according to Rome2Rio only 1.5 hours on train now…we recall it being a scenic journey in 2005).
Welcoming people (generally speaking like in most countries!); Spectacular landscapes; fascinating history that changed the world; a fabulous and varied cuisine – depending on what part of Italy you’re visiting; interesting festivals and celebrations. Our absolute highlight on our visit to Italy in 05 was the Art and Cooking School in Siena – we were staying for a week in a villa in the Tuscan hills and drove into Siena; a 1 hr drive (approx) but allow time for finding a parking spot. It took a while!…but with Sat Nav now I’m sure that would be a lot easier. We were really out of our depth in this course!…on reflection I’m thinking “how brave of us!”. As the other “students” were food writers from New York + a Japanese Chef + they had some basic Italian – our Italian was limited to greetings + we had brushed up on the Italian words for many basic foods. It all turned out to be so much fun and we learned heaps! We also sat down to the most delicious and enjoyable long lunch with some really interesting people – just wish it had been in the days of Facebook (although I generally don’t Friend people on Facebook unless we know them well).
Photo below: 1 of two day trips to Siena…a 1 hr drive from our Villa (a week long stay in the Tuscan hills region). Photo shows the main piazza. The city is comparatively quite small but has a very large piazza. On the first day we visited we just walked around, had coffee, visited a museum, organised our cooking course for the next day, lunch & then a pleasant drive back to the Villa. On the first day it was good to familiarise ourselves with the parking arrangements as our day long Cooking Course started at 9 am.
Photo below: ROME – the thing that amazed us most on our first visit to Rome, was that when strolling around the city you come across overgrown ancient ruins here, there and everywhere. They have so many that in some areas you can just walk straight through as there’s open access to the general public. Of course, it’s very different when you want to enter famous sites such as The Colosseum…another post to come “Italy for Kids” including quite a lot on Rome that might be of interest to adults as well.
Photo below: Trevi Fountain – Rome
Our photo of the Trevi Fountain was taken in early May 05; as you can see, there aren’t too many people around – it did get crowded as the morning went on (we went off for coffee nearby & then returned an hour or so later). We hear from friends who have recently visited that it can get so crowded that you can hardly stand anywhere near the fountain, so a tip might be to go very early or very late or maybe go in the winter? Other friends have told us how hot it can be in mid summer too. We had lovely weather in May – generally warm but a few cooler days.
The Trevi tradition!…”visitors who love Rome should turn their back to the fountain and throw a coin over their left shoulder into the water, to ensure their return to the city” – we did return a decade later in 2015! It’s said that “an average of £2,100 gets chucked in daily” (Lonely Planet Kids – A Journey Through 86 of the World’s Greatest Cities…a great resource for big kids like us too😉)
A brief summary of our 3 extended holidays in Italy:
The trains were very comfortable on our journeys through Italy in ’05, ’13 and ’15…
In 05 we mostly took trains between the main cities of central Italy…Rome – Florence (followed by road trip to Tuscany/Siena/Pisa) – Venice – Bari (in the Sth…a long day trip on the train) – then onto Dubrovnik in Croatia by ferry.
In 2013 our train journeys took us into Northern Italy…Venice – Lake Como – Trieste (followed by a road trip into Nth of Croatia)
In 2015 we took trains from Rome – Naples – Sorrento (then road trip to Positano) + flight to Sicily (a week in Taormina).
Back to Recipes of the Region…
I’ll start with a few very simple Classic dishes from Central Italy:
Great ones to teach children/teens or any beginner cook…
Above recipe From Australian Gourmet Traveller “Simple” –
I made the above “fast food” recipe, often when Tony was away on business trips, and it was super popular with our teen sons (although for 1 son we substituted pinenuts for capers). Tony much prefers to make a recipe very similar to the Ravioli recipes we made during Italian cooking courses in Siena and another near Sorrento a few years later. I’ve copied that recipe (Prawn Ravioli in Tomato, Rocket and Lemon Sauce) in our earlier “Florence to…” post. I think it might be on the Net as well.
A decade or so ago, Tony started making pasta “from scratch” on weekends, usually after a hectic week of business travel &/or long days, etc. These days (now we’ve both retired) he makes it whenever he feels inclined + not travelling for pleasure! Let the good food/good times roll!
I’m still very aware of the benefits of quick and simple recipes (like the ones below); we enjoy eating out when travelling but after a few weeks away we often try to book a longer stay (often a week) in an apartment with at least a very small kitchen – usually somewhere that has a great market nearby (see our Bordeaux and Barcelona post). At those times we refer to very simple recipes like these. Also, during my career as a teacher, I sometimes coordinated “Harmony Days” in schools, when we celebrated our children’s diverse cultural backgrounds – they particularly loved the cooking activities. So in the future, when our young grandchildren get older, we hope to give them similar cooking/cultural experiences.
The above 3 recipe photos (above) are from V. Harris’ “The Food and Cooking of Rome and Naples” (Central Italy). I’ve chosen these recipes, as they’re not only so delicious, but they’re also very simple to put together for either a light brunch, lunch or work night dinner + also good recipes to teach children/teens too. With the basics of cooking most people could make these without needing to refer to “the method” but if you’re not quite there yet, check out similar recipes/methods on the Net or the whole recipe can be posted on request:)
Photo 1: Molisan Bread and Tomato Salad (Acqua Sale…”similar in principle to the Tuscan salad Panzanella)
Ingredients: crusty bread; 4 large ripe tomatoes (chopped); 1 garlic clove (finely chopped); 2 tsp dried oregano (dried is more flavoursome in this recipe…they say “don’t skimp!”; 1 cup (approx) olive oil (extra virgin)…you can use more depending on taste; 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
Photo 2: Orange Antipasto (Antipasto Di Arance) – from the Abruzzo region of Italy
Ingredients: 4 large oranges; 8 small anchovy fillets (canned in olive oil + drained); 3 tbsp olive oil (extra virgin); S&P.
Some children aren’t keen on the strong flavour of anchovies…our son preferred olives – this plate is a pretty one we served on “Deli nights” – often a Friday night after the busy working week.
Photo 3: Stewed Beans with Bread (Fagioli Alla Maruzzara) – from Campania, Italy
Ingredients: 1 2/3 cups dried cannellini beans (soak overnight); 1 celery stick, quartered; 500 g ripe tomatoes; 2 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped (extra to garnish); 2-3 garlic cloves, finely chopped; 9 tbsp olive oil; 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano; 8 thin slices stale ciabatta; S&P. Note: if you’re in an after work hurry substitute canned beans but of course it won’t taste as good. If you do use canned beans you’ll need to change the method quite a lot of course…check out similar recipes/methods on the Net.
Favourite Mains from Central Italy:
If time permits, try to stay a week or longer in &/or near Rome as it’s so interesting to do day trips into the countryside; for example, the Appian Way…most of us remember the saying “all roads lead to Rome” and this is a good one to explore. We hired a car but it’s also possible to organise a day trip with a driver or small group tour. Next time we go to Italy we’ll explore the possibility of taking the train from Rome and staying at a small city/large town in Central Italy – a region with great food & cultural destinations. We have many Italian cookbooks and many feature Saltimbocca Alla Romana (Veal with Sage, Prosciutto and Mozzarella) a traditional dish from this region. It became a favourite of ours when we lived in Melbourne in the 1980s…Melbourne has the highest Italian population outside of Italy we’ve been told by Australian/Italians in Melbourne? I’m not sure if that’s true? Sydney and Canberra also have so many great Italian restaurants (we’re going to one tonight with family) but we usually choose something that we don’t cook so much at home.
Here’s one that we like doing often because we usually have sage growing in our courtyard garden (see photo below taken today)…so beautiful it’s almost hard to pick!
Veal with Sage, Prosciutto and Mozzarella
Some of our recipes for this include the cheese (“The Food & Cooking of Rome & Naples”) but others don’t (‘Italy – from the Source’) so it’s personal preference of course. When we tried it on our travels in Central Italy, it was served without the cheese.
- 8 thin veal escalopes (Aust…veal steak/sirloin; US scallops; UK? 🙂 about 115 g each, trimmed
- 250 g mozzarella
- 8 slices prosciutto
- 16 fresh sage leaves
- 1 tbsp plain flour
- 2 tbsp unsalted butter or 1 tbsp v olive oil (recipes vary but if using oil don’t overheat)
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- Wrap the veal between cling film or baking paper and beat with a meat mallet until about 3 mm thick
- Remove paper (I prefer paper to plastic!) – top each slice of meat with a slice of mozzarella and prosciutto – slip a sage leaf between the meat and the cheese.
- Coat the underneath of each saltimbocca in flour
- Heat the butter (or oil) in a frying pan with remaining sage leaves and brown the meat quickly. If using butter take care it doesn’t colour/burn. If not using cheese just allow 2 min cooking each side.
- If using cheese…after 1 min of browning, cover the pan and continue to cook gently for 1-2 minutes, or until the cheese is starting to ooze out.
- Transfer to a serving platter and keep warm.
- Add the wine, sauté for 1 min with pan juices. Pour the sauce over the meat to serve. Garnish with a sage leaf.
Photo Below – our home cooking
We often serve the above veal dish with a side of beans sprinkled with flaked almonds + a little olive oil. Last night we even added another side of potato and lentils (another Central Italy recipe for another day)…we were feeling energetic – unlike tonight after our drive to the coast! At the last moment, I took a quick photo of my plate and as can be seen, the presentation is not restaurant standard (just a casual meal for 2 of us) but it definitely tasted like restaurant quality for probably a 1/4 of the price – or less than that in some places.
Off the topic but might be of interest to some…
Australian flora and fauna – photo below
Those from countries other than Australia might find the flowers quite interesting too (if you love flowers and gardens like I do?)…the gum leaves are from a tree in local bushland reserve. I sometimes return for a walk with an old friend around the hills/reserve near our old family home (about 20 min along the highway from the centre of Canberra). It’s a pretty place to visit and often there are lots of kangaroo particularly in the morning and late afternoon; sometimes just a few metres away. I’ve been walking the bush trails quite often, especially when we had a dog, and I never saw a snake and the kangaroos always hop away if you get too close. There are some rare reports of kangaroos being aggro but if you keep your distance (just a few metres…maybe a few extra if there’s a large male) it’s all very safe to walk nearby. I’m noting this because I know that there are sensational TV reports about all our “deadly animals” and occasionally that’s what people mention when we say that we’re from Australia + it’s their reasoning for staying away! The other flowers in the arrangement are banksias (Australian flowers) and protea (Sth African but now grown extensively in Australia). This bunch looked a lot brighter/fresher a few days ago when I arranged it but nice thing about Australian/Sth African plants is that they look ok when they dry out a bit too although they went into green waste this morning😉🌿