Tag Archives: Tuscany

Italian stopover: vongole, leeks and cannelini

Too much travelling the last few months, too little cooking. We just finished a lovely week off the Tuscan coast with friends. I am recovering from food poisoning  (never again samosas in Dar es Salaam…..) so ate little and cooked less, but this dish went down well. 

Italy is also in the grip of the heatwave named Lucifer. HOT here!

Same island every year, always wonderful. It seemed a bit quiet this year, the Italian economy must still be down. 

But we had a great week! Fresh fish and seafood from the fish truck, shouting Pesce Fresco each morning.

Vongole with leeks and cannelini

Bag of vongole (small clams)
Three cloves of garlic
Two leeks, cleaned and thinly sliced
One medium tin of cannelini beans or other beans
Generous handful parsley, chopped
Two tbs olive oil
Splash of white wine or water, half a lemon if you have one 

Toast  or crusty bread to serve

Cataplana debut! I bought this in Lisbon in June, took it back to Accra, but decided this holiday was a good time to try it. Special pan for steaming shellfish, it clamps shut like a low level pressure cooker and worked really well. 

First: soak clams in water in sink for half an hour, removing any damaged ones or ones that do not close. 

Hear pan with a little oil and white wine or water, tip in handful of clams and steam 4-5 minutes with lid on. You will hear clams pop open. With a slotted spoon fish out done clams and do next batch, I did this in three batches so they were not crowded. 
Leaving liquid in pan, add sliced leeks and garlic and cook 2 or 3 minutes while you de-shell clams and remove any that did not open. Optional step, we were waiting for a lunch guest.  Then add drained beans, chopped parsley and clams and heat briefly through. Maybe half a lemon squeezed over? Serve with toast or crusty bread.

Happy holidays!


Montepulciano, Good Friday lunch

We are in Tuscany for Easter, at an agriturismo near Montepulciano with friends. Just wonderful. It is raining today, but we had a glorious say yesterday with lunch in Montepulciano.Vino nobile
Montepulciano is famous for wine, especially the vino nobile di Montepulciano….Brunello
…and the Brunello di Montepulciano are also amazing.
We had lunch here, at La bottega del Nobile.
Crostini, with carciofi, tartufo, fegato, garlic and spicy tomato. Lovely.
We had gorgeous pasta: pici con ragu di cinghiale, pici con ragu di anatra, and ravioloni with pork. Then cantucci with vin santo, and a wonderful Sambuca to finish. After wine and Sambuca shopping, we wandered up the hill for coffee at Polizano.
Olive wood
It is touristy, but so pretty! And you can find olive wood cutlery…
Fridge magnets
… Tacky fridge magnets….
Old masonry, set into a wall….
Yellow vespa
An Easter-yellow Vespa
New bishop
Signs welcoming the bishopBell
And this on top of a tower.
Then we headed out to our agriturismo, among vineyards and cypresses. Wonderful day!

Pici from Pienza, con funghi

Pienza is a lovely small town in Tuscany, in the province of Siena, between Montalcino and Montepulciano. We went there Easter last year, and came back laden with pecorino cheeses,  biscuits, red wine, vague plans to move to Tuscany and grow sunflowers, and yes – some pici al tartufo.

20130817-203724.jpgPici is a local pasta, like a thick spaghetti, originating near Montalcino. (You might see a very similar pasta in Umbria called stringozzi.) It’s quite fun to make, just flour and water and you roll it out by hand. This is shop-bought pici with tartufo, truffles.  I’d been saving it for a Pienza reunion dinner, but not everyone is wild about truffles, so the pasta languished, semi-forgotten at the back of the pasta shelf.  Until now!  It should really be served with porcini mushrooms, but we made do with plain supermarket mushrooms and it was just delicious, with the truffle smell wafting through the kitchen.


Pici al tartufo from Pienza, con funghi  (for two)

Four skeins of pici al tartufo  (you may need to go to Pienza to buy some pici, which may take some advance planning but is an excellent idea)
A small knob of butter
350 g mushrooms, sliced
A few stalks of parsley, chopped
Pinch of salt

First step: boil water for the pasta, so you can get the pasta started. These pici needed 22 minutes (add them to water once it is properly boiling). Sauté mushrooms in a separate pan in a little butter (just a little), until they are soft and golden, and add half the parsley. Also a pinch of salt.


Enjoy, and plan your trip to Pienza. Just LOOK at those shelves of jams and cheeses! Pecorino in wine leaves, in ashes, in hay, with peppercorns…….  Mmmmmmmm.


PS if you cannot get yourself to Pienza, here is a great article on how to make pici, on Food52 last week by the amazing Emiko Davies: Pici con le Briciole (Pici with Breadcrumbs). Doesn’t that look wonderful?