If you are hungry this might not be the best post to read! We ate really well during our week in Italy, like really well! Italian food is so amazing and diverse, and we really made the most of it. As we were staying in an incredible farm house in Rieti we made the most of the house and pizza oven and ate in half the time and out in the surrounding hill towns the other half.
On our first night we walked down to the local bar (which was in a wooden hut) for a drink and to the only local restaurant for dinner (Il due Melograni). They didn't speak any English and we were pretty poor at Italian so we attempted to order with the help of google translate and a very patient waiter who tried to explain what he could. I went for the homemade pasta, called Fregnacce alla Sabinese, which was an old recipe from the region, made with olives, tomatoes, spices and sardines. It tasted of sardines but didn't have any actual sardines in it... it was tasty, but a little bit odd. When it came to dessert we weren't going to have any, but the waiter announced that his wife had translated the menu for us, so we all had one. I had a trio of tiramisu and they gave us a platter of minions on the house. We could not understand what they were (the only minions we'd ever heard of are in Despicable me!) and they obviously wanted us to try and appreciate these little light balls of pastry with flavoured cream... they were lovely!
The house was so amazing... it had the most beautiful big kitchen that was just made for cooking with it's marble counters and large kitchen table. How could you not want to cook in it!? There was a kitchen garden with tomatoes, peppers, onions etc and a couple of fruit trees with pomegranates and limes. On our first day we did a big shop for loads of wine and prosecco, cheeses, hams, eggs and bread for our breakfasts and lunches and all the ingredients for the evening meals we were going to cook. There were six of us, three couples, and each couple was responsible for cooking an Italian meal and we all made pizzas a couple of times. I love seeing supermarkets in different countries, like in China they have a huge section for all the soy sauces and in South Africa, an entire aisle for pap! In Italy it was passata and a bucket of legs of prosciutto. We ate all of our meals at the house out on the verandah surrounded by incredible views.
Our first home cooked meal was made by the lovely Nicky. She made us a blue cheese gnocchi, a caprese salad and homemade garlic bread. This was followed by Hannah's chocolate torte. An excellent start...
We spent a day in Rome where we started at Cafe Greco for an espresso and cannoli. For lunch we went to Mercato Central Roma, the foodie market at Termini station. We all split up and got different food from the numerous stalls... the others went for pizza and pasta, and Chris and I had these pizza pockets stuffed with slow cooked stews... literally food heaven! Of course we couldn't leave Rome without having a gelato too!
Pizzas were obviously on the menu (twice). This was the first time we'd all done pizzas in a pizza oven. You have to start early with making the pizza dough so it's ready... and then start the fire and keep it going for a couple of hours until the roof of the oven turns white... assemble your pizzas and off you go! Our first batch was interesting. We had a couple of unplanned calzones, a bit of raw dough and burnt bits... (and a couple of good ones!) but we all enjoyed the reward after the long wait. Hannah and I were not too fussed about making them again but the guys were desperate so did it all on their own while we sunbathed and they were 100% better... really amazing when you know what you're doing! :-)
One day spent the day at lake Lago Di Vico, about an hour away from our house. It is a beautiful volcanic lake where we worked up an appetite swimming followed by a boozy lunch at Lido dei Pioppi, a short drive from the lake. We sat outside on a patio where we had some wine and I had a fish lasagne with some local fish from the lake, followed by the gooey chocolate pudding for dessert.
Nicky and Darren had to leave early so we all went out on their last night for a really nice meal in Roccantica, another nearby hill town. The restaurant was Le Cucine del Borgo and we were seated on a private balcony. We all went for the chef's menu which was a 4 course set menu, starting with meats and cheeses, followed by gnocchi, a chicken dish and most definitely the best tiramisu I have ever had in my life!
Hannah and Ben are amazing cooks and for their meal they made us an Italian vegetarian feast. We had stuffed courgette flowers, stuffed and rolled aubergine slices, arancini and a salad. Arancini is SO tasty and such a great thing to consider making if you ever find yourself with leftover risotto... or make a double batch so that you can make them!
On our last night we ate at Osteria Del Mandorlo which was in Calvi in Umbria. We had bruschetta, pasta (amitriciana) and steak with truffles... it was good! The pasta was the best pasta of the holiday and probably the best pasta dish I've ever had. The steak was good but a bit overwhelming after a week of no meat... it was a big hunk of meat on a plate covered in truffle shavings.
For Chris and my meal we made baked fennel and Melanzane Parmigiana, a really simple dish made with layered aubergines. I used to eat it all the time at Pizza Express, it is so tasty and so simple to make, anyone could make it!
Melanzane Parmigiana Recipe (Serves 6)
2 garlic cloves, crushed
4 tbsp olive oil
2 x 400g cans chopped tomatoes
2 tbsp tomato purée
5 aubergines, cut into thick slices
100g parmesan, freshly grated
Bunch of basil, leaves torn
1 egg, beaten
Heat your oven to 180 deg celsius.
In a pan, add the oil and fry the crushed garlic for a couple of minutes.
Add the chopped tomatoes and tomato puree, stir well and cook for 10 mins.
Brush the slices of aubergine with oil, heat a frying pan to a high heat and fry the aubergine slices in batches until they are browned and cooked through.
In an ovenproof dish layer a single layer of aubergine slices to cover the bottom, followed by some of the sauce, parmesan and basil leaves. Add another layer of aubergines and continue the process until you have used up the aubergines and sauce.
Pour the egg on top with a final sprinkling of parmesan and bake for 20 mins.
This tastes even better the next day, so is a great dish to make ahead for guests and just heat up when you are ready. Serve with a simple salad and some crusty bread.