In my (Italian) kitchen
My friend Celia, over at Fig Jam and Lime Cordial, has a monthly post on what’s in her kitchen. I occasionally ride on her coat-tails and have done one or two of these posts myself, but am nowhere near organised enough to get one up every month. However, this month I thought I might show you some of the lovely, lovely loot I brought back from our excellent adventure. I love to bring back edible memento’s of our trips, especially products that are just not available here. Sometimes they make the luggage a little heavy and there are complaints from the brawny half of the relationship and sometimes I run the risk of confiscation at Australian customs as I always declare, but this time I was (mostly) lucky and only lost one product.
As I mentioned in my post about Milan, we paid a visit to the renowned food hall, Peck. Of course I could have spent an absolute fortune in there (it’s not a cheap store, by any measure) and we did drop a hefty sum on a magnificent picnic lunch, but I thought I was quite restrained. One little thing which did catch my eye were some jars of white truffle infused honey. These tiny, sweet jars came in a pack of three. I was concerned about whether honey would be allowed in to Australia, but I parcelled them up and buried them safely in my luggage, openly declaring them at the airport. I was thrilled that they were allowed through and gave two of them away as small gifts to some very dear friends. The last one sits in my pantry. I’m thinking that it would be perfect poured over a very fine brie and served instead of dessert. What do you think?
Ever since balsamic vinegar came to the wider attention of Australian cooks, some time towards the end of the last century, it has become ubiquitous in our kitchens and pantry’s. Unfortunately, the commercial balsamic vinegar with which we are all familiar bears little resemblance to the real, fully aged traditional product whose rich, deep colour and complex flavours are the result of ageing for a minimum of 12 years in successive barrels of a variety of woods. On my first trip to Italy I purchased a tiny bottle of this wonderful liquid, but on this trip (as I conveniently had the aforementioned brawny half of the relationship with me) I was wildly extravagant and bought back a selection of aged and infused balsamic vinegars which I would be unlikely to find (or afford) here in Australia. The number on the base of the labels indicated the number of barrels the balsamic has been aged through, rather than the amount of years it has been aged.
It will come as no surprise to any of you that I had my eye out for chocolate. It was winter when I was last in Italy and the range and quality of chocolate available made my heart sing. Sadly, the selection is severely limited in the warmer months, but if chocolate can be hunted down anywhere, I’m the woman to do it. Wandering through the back lanes of Venice we happened upon an artisan chocolatier – I have a nose for these places, I tell you. We indulged happily in a few of his delicious products, but tucked away in a corner I found some home-made pistachio spread. This stuff is very difficult to find here at home and mighty costly when you do, so I snapped up a couple of jars. It is made from the Bronte pistachio’s grown only in Sicily and is a divine treat when spread on a well made croissant and would also make a magnificent base in a fruit tart. I doubt the undiscerning resident teens and young adults would appreciate this fantastic spread, so it is hidden away in the dark recesses of the pantry.
We made a day trip to the beautiful medieval town of Siena in Tuscany. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site noted for its cuisine, art, medieval architecture and a crazy annual horse race called the Palio. The race is held in two separate stages each year because the ancient shell-shaped piazza around which it is run is not large enough to safely accommodate the 17 horses which compete each year. The riders compete bareback and if one comes adrift there is not much concern as the winner of the race is the horse, not the jockey. Siena is also home to the traditional Tuscan dessert treat of panforte and it was while I was selecting some of that that I chanced upon a stash of Amedei chocolate.
Amedei is a noted Tuscan chocolatier whose products are made from single origin cacao, including the genetically pure strain known as Porcelana which is grown in limited amounts, have won various international prizes and are often called the worlds most expensive chocolate. I bought just one of the 20,000 bars of Porcelana which are annually produced, plus a couple of other varieties and have hidden them all away from everyone in my family. They’re not kidding when they say it is the most expensive chocolate in the world.
The only product I lost was a jar of pistachio pesto which I’d purchased in Rome. Unbeknownst to me, The Husband had packed it in his hand luggage when we left for Paris and it was a 250gm jar, therefore over the 100ml liquid limit for airlines. The airline official who spied it on the x-ray machine and removed it from the bag was most apologetic and slightly dismayed at having to dispose of it. According to him, it was a very good pesto and a shame to waste it. Sigh.
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