August 23, 2007

Volterra-Back to the Past

The best time to visit a Tuscan hill town is during one of their Medieval festivals.
My own village Certaldo holds Mercantia in July , Monteriggioni has theirs in the beginning of July, but my favorite is
Volterra A.D 1398, held in August yearly.

This year August 19th and the 26th were the dates for the festival in all it's glory.

Volterra is in the Val d'Elsa which had been originally covered by water in prehistoric times, as the oyster shells and other fossils found in the ground testify.

Alabaster shops abound in Volterra as well as one of the best Etruscan Museums .
Large enough to spend several days exploring the nooks and crannies of this wonderful hilltown.

Here is a taste of the festival.
Hope you can come next year!

Volterra is located on the very top of a hill, overlooking a valley marked with farms

rolling hills, marked by the BALZE, cliffs, give a strange feel to the landscape.

Inside the town, the huge main square gives way to shows

young Sbandiertori, flag boys

tables set up for the Contradaioli to rest and share a meal in the smaller backstreets

examples of every day life, a grain mill run by donkey power

Fabbro, iron worker

Cestaio, basket weaver

Fruttivendolo, fruit sellers

Tigelle, a griddle bread eaten by the salt miner's

Parades during the festival with incredible costumes

Crepe maker

Donzelle, fried bread with fresh marinated anchovy filling

My favorite costume

Medieval Dancers

The Wild Band!

August 22, 2007

Free Figs!

our free figs

One good thing about living in the countryside is that all our neighbors grow food.
Some just for a hobby, others to survive.

Our neighbors have a large garden and are never here.
They live in the village and just come up to have dinner parties in the garden
or to harvest their olives.

Yesterday after having some of the figs I made,
Andrea, came back into the house and said that he found a fig tree in the lower back part
of our neighbors yard, going down the hill in a hard to reach spot.

Today when I saw my neighbor Donatella in the town square, I asked if they ate their figs.
She said no, so I asked if I could take them.

More free food!

They are a different fig, so will be interesting to see how it turns out with Francesca's recipe.

Someof them were dinner tonight with Prosciutto.
I prefer them with salami though.

I may have to do a 101 cooking with figs post!

I once had a fig risotto that I loved!

note: although full of flavor, these figs did not come out as luscious as the green figs for
Francesca's Fig recipe.

August 18, 2007

Market to Table - Certaldo- Francesca's Figs

Spending more time out in Certaldo, most of my best new recipes come from Francesca at Saturday's Market in Certaldo.
She only sells from her own farm and that of an aunt, so what you see is what you get.

Today I saw the first figs!

We picked up a whole tray of them when she gave me a recipe for Fichi Sciroppati- figs in syrup, a classic way to preserve figs for winter.

There are several food laws in Italy on how to eat and what to eat.
  1. Salami and Figs
  2. Pecorino cheese and pears
  3. Prosciutto and Melon

So I held back on some of the figs to celebrate the first figs of the seaons, right off her trees this morning. When you eat the a fruit for the first time in a season, you get to make a wish!

Francesca's recipe is to place the figs in a saucepan ( weigh them first)
cut a lemon as thin as possible and put on top.
I used 700 grams of figs, and half a lemon for this saucepan.

Cover with their weight in sugar and let cook over a low heat.

The sugar turns to liquid and the figs poach, soaking up the lemon infused syrup.
I let them slowly cook for about 45 minutes.

The finished fig

Place the figs in a clean glass jar
and pour Brandy on top!

Cover and keep for this winter!

Mille Grazie Francesca!

She says to serve them on toasted bread, slathered with marscarpone cheese and a fig on top!

Sounds like one of the deadly sins to me!

August 17, 2007

Food: Off the Wall

One of my favorite images in Italy is when I see a car parked on the side of the road,
often in the middle of nowhere.
I squint my eyes and start to search for the hidden car owners.

They know something I don't; like where to get free food!
Laden down with plastic bags or hand woven baskets
the locals may not confide where they forage,
but I play I spy!

Just around my house I snapped a few foto's of free food that is available.

on the nearby walls of the church of San Gaudenzio
caper blossom with the smaller caper buds, which can be salted or preserved in vinegar
and behind the larger seed pods, often served as appetizers.

on my own wall, Passion fruit!

lining the road everywhere here, wild blackberries.

Harder to find is the corbezzolo or strawberry tree, with it's strange fruits, red when ripe.
There is one in the parking lot at Dario's in Panzano and one down the road from me.
I adore corbezzolo honey, a rich full flavored honey great paired with cheese.

Right now the sambuca plants, elderberries are finally ready.
This plant does double duty providing us with edible blossoms to fry in spring and the dark berries to create jams or syrups with.

Sambuca is not used to make the Italian liquore called Sambuca.
Sambuca is also a village near me in Chianti.

August 12, 2007

Slow Down!

America look out!

Here comes Slow food Nation!
Italy's Slow Food Movement holds the Salone del Gusto in Torino.
May 1-4 2008, San Francisco

August 11, 2007

Virgin gelato

ok.. you got to trust a sicilian when they talk about gelato.
My friend Jasper, comes from a Sicilian family and his uncle has been making gelato for ever.

I never make gelato as I live in the land of gelato....
but this Extra Virgin Gelato sounds great!

I think his version is from Mario Batali.

here is David L's recipe too.. from his fabulous book Perfect Scoop!!! buy the book!!!
Make someone happy.. make then dessert!

If you are coming to Florence.. here is a short list ( look at the sidebar on the right-hand side)
of some of my favorite gelato places.

Don't forget to try GROM too at Via delle Oche 24R, on the corner of Via del Campanile just to the right of the Duomo. They are in NY as well as many other cities. They began in Torino.

Tomorrow I am going to make one of David's toppings for gelato to take to a dinner at Dario's tomorrow!

August 10, 2007

5 Minutes of Fame!!!

Food and Wine September issue is out, with their Italy special issue, and guess how is listed as one of the Cooking School Pioneers!


20 years later, I guess so, but all I was really doing was creating the sort of program I myself would like. Small groups, market tours, choosing the menu and if possible one day only!

At the time , all that was available were weeklong programs, with lots of touring as well as cooking.

Looks like a great issue.. Can't wait to get mine.

Nice that lot's is online to read too.. until I get my copy!

Grazie mille!

Next big news...
Diva cooking at Dario's

August 8, 2007

Fabulous Feedback

I began my cooking school in Florence in 1988, teaching college students on their semester abroad program how to be Tuscan!

Shopping the markets,using fresh food and simple ingredients.

To spend more time shopping and less time cooking .

I am in this month's Food and Wine special edition on Italy, listed in the cooking schools section. Such a fabulous publication gets read by a lot of people and thanks to them, I get great feedback letters like the below!

Thanks Nancy!

hi, judy:

i was just flipping through my new food and wine magazine (my favorite: the annual "all italy" issue) and i saw you mentioned in an article on cooking schools in italy. i was so excited to see that you have a website and that i could get in touch with you! (and i'm thrilled to see that you have posted recipes!)

i took your student class series in summer of '92 with several other girls from my duke university art history program. the whole florence trip was wonderful, but it was your class that truly altered my life. not only did i learn fundamentals of cooking that i still use almost daily (olive oil and garlic are a part of nearly every meal i cook) but i learned the importance of buying locally sourced, seasonal ingredients. i have been reading about the slow food movement and have frequently thought about how i learned what slow food was way back when i learned to cook in your studio that summer. i'm now a busy, working mother of two kids (one is 6, the other is 10 months) but i always make time in my day to cook healthy, fresh, in season meals for my family. i also teach my family about what we are eating and where it came from. each spring since she was about 2, i have taken my daughter to a local organic farm to pick strawberries. during the rest of the year, she and my son accompany me to the farm's twice-weekly market to buy their gorgeous offerings. i want my children to grow up knowing where their food came from and learning what magical things they can make from really good ingredients. recently, my daughter brought home a school project where she had to write her favorite things about her parents. for me, she wrote, "i love my mommy because she cooks good food."

the love of food and ingredients that i learned from you in florence has made me a major advocate of organic agriculture and i recently found a way to apply this to my career as a textile designer. last year, i co-founded mod green pod a line of hand silkscreened home textiles, using organic cotton. i am the designer and creative director of the line. here is my website:

anyhow, i just wanted to drop you a line to let you know how important your classes have been to me, personally and even professionally. i hope to return to florence one day before too long and if i do, i would love to drop by and say hello. and if you are ever in austin, texas, let me know!

nancy mims

p.s. i'm attaching a photo of my beloved cookbook from your class. as you can see, it has been well loved over the years!! it is one of my most prized possessions.

August 3, 2007

Tiny Taste of Torino-EATALY

I love Torino!!!

We started going up when our friend Antonio started dating Patrizia, now they have a son that is 20 years old. Having friends is a great way to see a city and why we do it slowly, knowing we can always go back.

Last time we finally saw the Cinema Museum in the Mole Antoniana which is incredible!
This trip was to see the Egyptian Museum, second in the world, only to Cairo.

And for the foodie part, to visit EATALY, the new culinary center opened in January.
WOW... it is huge.

Located in the old Carpano factory, EATALY is like the IKEA of food!

A virtual candy-store for foodies. We spent 4 hours there and I could easily have spent twice that.

On the EATALY site it says New York and Genova are next!

The shelves are loaded with the best of the best. Many SLOW FOOD products, and besides pantry staples.There is a fresh market as well as a butcher and fish monger.

Each of the market sections also has a fabulous restaurant, with food reasonably priced.

There is a Fish, Meat, Veggie restaurant upstairs and downstairs near the Beer Wine and Water market, a fabulous grill is set up.

We went to the fish part and two of us had the daily special, fried fish, salad, a class of sparkling white wine.. bread and water included in umlimited amounts, for 15 euro.

My husband had a plate of grilled shrimp and scampi ( 12 euro) served with a grilled tomato and a boiled potato

and our friend had seared tuna, served with a balsamic sauce and the same tomato and potato side.

The total for the 4 of us with a bottle of lovely white wine was 50 Euro!
Cafetteria prices for fabulous bistro style food.
We passed the other stands and saw that the portions were generous throughout!

Young entusiastic staff also made it a pleasant experience.

After lunch we toured the Carpano museum, great graphics!
Then we headed for coffee, the house coffee is from the mountains of Guatemala and I noted two chocolate tempering machines in the back of the bar.

I had the Gianduja, 30 grams for 1 Euro!
It was perfect.

EATALY has a lovely bookstore, kitchen supplies, spices, candies ( Guido Gobino chocolates, Venchi chocolates and my favorite Leone Candies.

They are especially respresenting local Piedmontese products, but Pasta from Gragnano and San Marzano tomatoes from Naples held a huge part of the shop.

Aging rooms for Culatello and for cheeses, open to the public.

This place is a real Disneyland for food!
Can you tell I LOVED IT.

Of course there was also a gelato stand, quite the crowded spot, but I will have to return again to taste the gelato. There was just so much to take it, it was really a sensory overload!

I bought a fabulous book on cheese making, which will be a project for this summer as I want to document using natural rennet from the artichoke plant the the fig plant, and now is the time when I have access to both!