Planning our day trip from near Volterra TUSCANY (where we were staying in a Villa for a week…last photo with Tony in it) TO PISA. No Sat Navigation in 2005 so I was chief navigator!...had it’s frustrating moments but overall a wonderful time. Volterra – Pisa is just a 1 hour drive but we also took a detour along the coastline where we had a seafood lunch and then returned to the Villa in Tuscan hills. We don’t have much Italian, just basic greetings and a basic grasp of common Italian foods/dishes picked up from our interest in multicultural cooking; our favourites being Italian (of course!), Asian, Spanish, French and Middle Eastern (a blog about Turkey coming soon:)
The photo below is very similar to the feature image photo although we noted that as the day went on the crowds increased – many buses of young students arrived.
Two photos below of our afternoon by the river and seaside near Pisa. We stopped for lunch along the way and I’ll include a recipe at the end of this post of one of our favourite soups although Tony never chooses it for lunch – only dinner. I like it anytime except on very hot days. As can be seen from the photos the weather was quite beautiful – probably a bit too warm for soup but it looked so delicious that I couldn’t resist!
Friends of ours recently travelled along the coastline from Pisa to Livorno (a 3ish hour drive they said, 4 from Florence)…also possible by train). They enjoyed Livorno including a Cooking Course (see Trip Advisor reviews). They said there were also a range of good restaurants. Lonely Planet (From the Source 2016) recommends one called “Ristorante Aragosto” for their Fish Stew.
After a big day in and around Pisa we returned to our Villa near Volterra. I’ve also included some appealing scenes in and around Volterra. My favourite is the beautiful sunset we watched most evenings as well as a gorgeous cafe we found in the small town of Volterra – we went here a few times for breakfast/brunch. It looks quiet because there is an upper level where we sat to pick up wi-fi as did everyone else in 2005! We lingered over breakfast/brunch for a few hours here – having a week in Tuscany just wasn’t enough (we needed to return to work in 2005 of course) but we would like to return one day (now retired) and stay for a few weeks to work on improving our Italian cooking and learn more of the language as well.
Hills of Tuscany over the rooftops of the historic town of…?…will check our journal as we visited a few small towns a short drive from the countryside villa where we stayed for a week.
As you can see in the photo above, many of the streets are extremely narrow so it’s wise to hire a small car unless you’ve done a lot of driving on roads like this; we’ve seen quite a few hire cars with scrapes down the side. So while there definitely is independence to be gained from having your own car, we’ve found that generally it’s more relaxing to take public transport, especially the trains whenever possible. The reason we love Italy and Spain so much is because of the scenery, culture, food and generally a good train service – in Italy even into some of the very small towns. In Spain, we observed between 08 and 2016 that the train services have greatly expanded and improved. It was interesting to see the very small work vehicles specifically designed for the narrow streets (photo below) – not sure if our typical Aussie “tradie” (tradesman) would be happy about regularly driving one of these!😉
My favourite Italian soup:
Lentil Soup – Zappa Di Lenticchie Serves 6 (leftovers can be frozen). Quick to make but needs 1 hr 15 min to cook.
1 onion; 2 carrots; 1 stick celery; 1 garlic clove; pinch red chilli flakes; olive oil (EV); 500 g lentils (Castelluccio if possible – I use what I have in pantry:); 1 sprig rosemary; 2-3 bay leaves; 4-5 fresh peeled tomatoes (or tinned); 1L cold water; S&P to taste; 4 slices ciabatta/sourdough to serve.
“Enriched version”... add 100 g pancetta (preferably unsmoked) cut into pieces along with one ham bone and a couple of Parmesan rinds, at the beginning with the onion, carrot and celery.
1. Sauté the chopped onion, carrots, celery, garlic and pinch chilli flakes gently in a little olive oil without browning.
2. Add lentils and stir over a low heat. Add the whole sprig of rosemary, bay leaves and chopped, peeled tomatoes and some seasoning and stir.
3. Add about 1 L cold water. Bring to the boil then turn down to a gentle simmer.
4. Cover the pan and let the soup cook for 45 mins. By the end, the lentils should be absorbed into the soup to make a thickish broth. Add more water if too thick.
5. Serve very hot, with 4 thick slices ciabatta or sourdough bread, toasted and rubbed with cut garlic and best extra virgin olive oil.
Recipe from Lonely Planet’s “Italy – From The Source” 2016.
I’d often be happy to have a bowl of soup like the one above for dinner but Tony prefers a very small serve as an starter and then a small serve of simple pasta as a main. Carbonara (Pasta Alla Carbonara) often fits the bill along with a side salad.
400 g bucatini or spaghetti
200 g pancetta or best quality streaky (fatty) bacon, cubed
5 tbsp freshly grated Pecorino or Parmesan cheese, plus extra to serve
Salt and ground black pepper
Method: should be easy to find on the Net
2 stories behind the origins of this classic dish. The first is an ancient story about families living on the banks of the Tiber River who had just basic supplies to make this simple (but delicious) pasta dish. This story tells of charcoal burners (“cabonari”) so the ground black pepper represents the flakes of charcoal.
“Some think it was a more recent invention, created to feed the American GIS at the end of WWII because they constantly demanded “ham and eggs”, and the locals obliged with this creation!” From The Food and Cooking of Rome and Naples.
Plans for our future visits to Tuscany
We would not only like to return to visit Livorno (see recommendation from our friends above) but we would also like to stay in Lucca – it sounds like another charming Tuscan town not far from Pisa. There are a few travel/food guides on Trip Advisor (more summarised info to come soon) that are helpful, plus we also noted that a food specialty of Lucca, recommended in Lonely Planet – “From the Source”, is “Olive mill-style soup” – specifically Elena’s recipe at Agriturismo Alle Camelie…her soup won the annual Slow Food Soup Contest! It’s a long/detailed recipe…not sure if we could even find all the ingredients here in Australia but I’ll have a look around and might try it (or an adaption) one day😉
Another place that might be of interest to us (maybe others?) is Volpaia (between Florence and Siena)…we loved both Florence and Siena (see those posts if interested) but we would like to explore more of the region on another visit. A few good recipes/restaurant descriptions for Volpaia can be found in the same Lonely Planet book mentioned above.