SOUTHERN TUSCAN PANZANELLA SALAD

Panzanella salad

Panzanella salad is for me synonymous with Southern Tuscany in summer. The weather has been fantastic recently. I was worried a couple of weeks ago that we wouldn’t have a real summer this year because it’s been so wet and cold. I’m jetting off Australia at the end of the month and it’s winter over there, so obviously, I’m praying for warm weather now with almost violent dedication.

But the sun god has been smiling on me and over the weekend, Giulio and I escaped to Cala Violina. This tiny beach in nearby Scarlino sits inside a massive nature park, so it’s bordered by shady pine trees, perfect for escaping the sun. It’s name is a nod to its sand, which is made up of tiny quartz crystals. When you walk on them, they rub together and sound like the strings of a violin – how picturesque! This photo does not do this beach justice. It really is the most beautiful beach in Southern Tuscany, which might sound easy since Tuscany isn’t really famous for beach, but we actually have a bunch of award-winning beaches duking it out for the top title. Southern Tuscany’s beaches are famous for their super clean water and pristine surroundings, since so many of them are part of nature parks. And since we dip our feet in the Mar Tirreno or Tyrrhenian Sea, the water is always calm and warm. So there you have it, my insider’s tip for the day!

No-churn gelato di melone with strawberry salad and mint

gelato di melone recipe

There’s a funny little scandal making its way through town this week. Our local gelato shop released a new flavour: gelato di melone or cantaloupe ice cream. Now that is cause for celebration around here! Our town is so small that hardly anything ever happens.

But not everyone was excited. As it turns out, the owner called his creation “gelato di popone”. Popone is a Tuscan dialect word for melon, but it also happens to be a not-very-nice nickname for one of our residents.

The timing couldn’t have been more perfect since the gelato maker and so called Popone had had a bit of an argument the week before over politics.

No knead wholewheat focaccia

Italian focaccia

One of the first cookbooks I bought when I moved to Italy was Jim Lahey’s No Knead Bread. I have a track record of stuffing up anything with yeast, so no knead focaccia was right down my alley. Who cares if you have to wait 24 hours before you can indulge in your carb craving? You’ll never have to worry about whether you’ve kneaded enough or too much/ if it’s risen enough or if it’s “passato al lievito” (over-yeasted) as my parents in law say. Well, they also laughed at the idea of 24-hour bread making. My mother in law can knock out a perfectly risen and baked loaf of Italian bread in 30 minutes. Bakers, right?

‘Brutti ma Buoni’ biscuits with pistachio and rose

brutti ma buoni biscuits

I still remember one of the very first events I went to after moving to country Tuscany. A handful of locals had come together in a tiny little hall to listen to folk songs and dance. It wasn’t exactly Woodstock. It was one lovely old man with an accordion and a few equally sweet old couples dancing. What was I doing there? I have no idea, but I do remember dancing with one of the little nonnos. He tried so hard to teach me the steps, but I was hopeless! He passed away recently and it’s this memory that has inspired today’s post… because this was where I first tasted brutti ma buoni biscuits! 

What a silly name for a biscuit! Brutti ma buoni literally means Ugly, but delicious. To be honest, looking at my very artfully styled photos, I have to admit they had a point! No matter how hard I tried, these biscuits are so ugly to look at like. They are the pugs of biscuits! 

Farinata (Italian Chickpea Pancake) with Summer Artichokes and Preserved Lemons

farinata recipe

Farinata is one of those lovely Italian recipes that so many regions claim to have invented. She is like a sailor with a boy in every port. In Liguria, she is known as Farinata. In Livorno, she is Torta di Ceci, while in my native Tuscany, she goes by the name, Cecina. And as far off as Nice and the Cote d’Azur, she is called Socca.

Each of these regions believe they are her birthplace, which is understandable because she changes ever so slightly from port to port. A hint of rosemary here, a handful of chilli there, the addition of tiny local fish called gianchetti or elsewhere, served simply with nothing more than a scattering of cheese.