Monday 22 January 2024

This week, in pictures...


Lemon, Pear, and Fennel Tart

Ravioli, with celery & mushroom stuffing

Phyllo and Apple 'Pastis'

Newly-restored windows in the dressing room (to-be)

Newly-restored windows in the kitchen (to-be)

The view from London Bridge station at the start of the week (years ago, we
lived in the white house, centre-right, just in front of the faux-Globe theatre)
New french windows, looking out...

New french windows, looking in...

Madam, making new friends in San Giuliano, while we were in London

I've started to transplant things from the garden in Pisa to the garden-to-be at the new house, but have called a halt for a few days because I have a filthy cold - so much for this winter's flu jab!

Tonight's dinner:

Turkish scrambled eggs

Fegato alla Venezia

Pineapple & Almond Tarts

Monday 4 December 2023

Meanwhile, over at The Project...


The window in the old grinding room has been transformed into a
doorway -french windows being installed, this week.

All the old milling kit has been dismantled and removed - we're still looking for a
 home for the old wheels; not practical for a dining room, whichever
way you look at it

Tidied-up doorway looking from the ground floor guestroom, across the hallway
and through the doorway into the salone

And the same view, in the opposite direction

Looking from the kitchen into and across the dining room

Looking across the inner hallway, where the builders have made a
new entrance into the cantina, and out into the ruin.

New windows! (This one, in the main bedroom).

And more new windows (top floor - the ones on the first floor and ground floor are currently
being repaired, restored and painted)

I'm midway through excavating the paved area in front of the ruined wing...old cobblestones,
on a distinct slope, emerging from their tomb

The rear of the building, looking surprisingly organised.

A million (or so) new floorboards, delivered roadside, and waiting to be
carried one-by-one indoors...backbreaking!

Reticulated beams, between the building and the hillside, awaiting installation
of a decking terrace on top of them.

Tonight's dinner:

Courgette souffles

Penne, with a tomato and garlic sauce

Dark-molasses treacle tart

Sunday 19 November 2023

Cheese Fritters



I love cooked cheese, in practically any form. These are a distant cousin to the fried cheese (saganaki) that was served in the little local taverna in Athens that I used to frequent for lunch nearly fifty years ago(!) that was in the centre of the little park between our office and the Evvangelismos Hospital. 

This particular recipe is taken, loosely, from one by Elisabeth Luard, and can be found both in her collection of Adalusian Recipes and in 'Saffron & Sunshine'. With a provenance like that, you can't go wrong.

The quantities EL gives, she says are sufficient for four people. Since they're so more-ish, though, I find that they're barely sufficient for two, as a starter. The quantities given here produce 8 to 10 generous fritters.


3 eggs; 3 tbs milk; 150g grated parmesan (or grana); 3 tbs flour; 1 tbs finely chopped onion; 1 tbs chopped parsley; 1 tsp paprika; salt and pepper. Sunflower oil, for frying.


1. Beat the egss and the milk toegther, and then thoroughly incorporate the cheese.

2. Stir in the flour, until lump-free, and then add the onion, paprika, and parsley; season to taste.

3. In a heavy pan, heat a generous layer of oil until it is very hot. Add spoonfuls of the batter to the oil, and cook for 1-2 minutes on each side. (I use a small metal ring of about 2 inches diameter, into which I spoon the batter while the ring sits on the hot oil, and I then remove the ring once the batter has 'seized', and I can progress to making the next fritter - I guess you could just spoon the batter into the oil in a more free-form way, but if you do you risk the batter running everywhere before the shape of the fritter has been captured).

Saturday 5 August 2023

This week's progress....

 For those who might be interested:

The southernmost vasca (i.e tank), in the process of being cleared out; future use
will be as a cistern to hold water for the garden 

Looking through the new-doorway into the to-be second floor bathroom

Upper guestroom, with its four-square new lintel over the window

Library to-be, all cleaned up (the black and white look will disappear when
all of the beamed ceilings are painted entirely white (sometime soon)

Western door in the ruined wing - new lintels installed right across door and window
(previously, they were perilously in danger of imminent collapse)

Our geometra is on borrowed time, as he continues to maintain radio silence, while we still have no electricity supply, or the various 'relazioni' which are needed to progress our planning application. I accept that geometras are a weird breed, but patience has a limit...

Tonight's dinner:

Cauliflower, fried in parmesan batter

Pork chops, in onion sauce; artichoke hearts, braised in butter

Phyllo tarts of fiori-di-sicilia cream, topped with blackberries

Saturday 29 July 2023

Crinum Vanillodorum

Not looking too bruised, having travelled to London
from the garden in Pisa

Tonight's dinner 

 Frogs' Legs in cream, in pastry cases 

 Hamburgers, with caramelised mushrooms 

 Raspberries and Cream

Friday 28 July 2023

We make progress...

 After months of frustrating inactivity on the building front -  when I've had to satisfy myself with excavating the ruins alongside the building-proper, as a means of getting at least something done - we've suddenly had a flurry of activity. Mostly by dint of having discovered a wonderful website, which matches people looking for work with others who have work to be done, et voila!

Part of the ruined stable - to form the base for rose pergolas

The Hidden Room, cleaned-up and awaiting judicious introduction of walls
and floors, to become pantry and cantina

The second room excavated in the ruin - I've no idea what it was, but it's going to be
part of a courtyard garden

Anyway, as a result, we've now had all of the cross-beams (travicelli) replaced that were weak or broken or missing - there were sixty of them, in the end, where we'd calculated there might have been fifteen or so - and six new walls built within the house; all of the roof has been 'systemar-ied' (tidied up), which means replacing any and all of the broken tiles, and re-positioning any which have been moved out of place over time by the wind, and the underside of the roof has been insulated throughout.

The end of the house, as seen from the stable ruin

New wall to the left, which now divides the library to-be from a guestroom
(before the roof insulation was done)

looking from the stairwell, out through the inner hallway (newly-created)
into the ruined wing

insulated ceiling (bedroom, to-be)

The new windows have been ordered, for delivery some time in September. The wood for all of the new floorboards has been ordered, and we'll sort out delivery next week (for either before or after August shutdown) and the beams which will hold up the rear terrace were delivered a few days ago, and are now all neatly stacked currently in the salone. 

Luca, our godsend muratore from Gallicano is working today replacing the lintels above the top-floor guestroom window and above the library doorway, and he has just messaged to say that he can get started on Monday on repairing the more dangerous of the doorways in the ruined wing; it will be good to get started in that section. Once he's done that first doorway, he can move to repair the other doorway, which will eventually become the main entrance to the house, and he can re-point the existing stonework in readiness to be built upon further, once we have the relevant permesso. 

The only delays we've encountered have been where there's been any bureaucratic element, and we haven't just been pressing ahead on the basis of sound common-sense. It took the geometra months more than seemed necessary to file our application to rebuild the ruined wing of the building, although we were much cheered when it almost immediately got the thumbs up from the Comune (although only after they had insisted on our design for the new roof to be changed, in a way which we can live with but for which the logic is frankly non-existent); then it turned out that this was only the approval from the planning dept, and we haven't yet had the response of the listed buildings brigade, who have now demanded a geological survey that the building won't slide sideways into the nearby stream, in consequence of the weight of a new roof being installed (despite the fact that it was roofed for hundreds of years previously, until the roof was taken off for tax reasons by a previous owner, and the roof we propose to put there weighs little more than an egg-box). 

In the same kind of vein, we still have no electricity supply, even after the request for connection was made way back in April. The first request was inexplicably cancelled when we said we wanted the meter to be placed somewhere other than the electricity company had in mind. A second request was then made, but that too was cancelled (by the supplier) for no reason anybody can understand, and we're now on our third request, and still trying to find out what the hell is going on. 

The request to be attached to the main drains was acted upon by the water company much more expeditiously, although to the effect that today they have said that, contrary to what they'd previously said, there isn't actually a main drain anywhere nearby that we can be attached to...and so we may be looking at having a septic tank instead (which brings all sorts of issues all its own). We're on a flying visit to London today, and the drainage system in Pieve is going to have to wait for any serious attention until we're back in Italy again next week.

A moment of madness

In a moment of madness - or economy - I bought from a lady in Rome an entire bathroom, including ball-and-claw footed bathtub and heated copper rails, and the whole nine yards, and it arrived in the back of a truck, last week, neatly wrapped up in all its constituent parts. Ditto, a rather splendid wood-stove with integrated oven, which is due to be delivered sometime before the end of next week.

Home and hearth

And, meanwhile, on the hillside on the other side of the village, I've been getting stuck into clearing terraces, and contemplating the options for new planting when it comes time this autumn to start to transfer plants from the garden in Pisa. In the past ten days or so, it's been far too hot to do any hard-labour at the time of day I can get over to Pieve, so I content myself instead with picking fruit from the various fruit trees which are dotted about on the terraces among the olive trees (plums, apples, pears, peaches, cacchi, and a million blackberry bushes). 

Plum trees (six different varieties, at last count)

Olive terrace

more olive terraces (there are about forty of them, I fear...)

And, while we remind ourselves in London what a sweater is, Madam is in San Giuliano Terme, being resplendent.

Tonight's dinner:

Coddled Eggs, with mushroom & prosciutto

Spaghetti, with smothered onions

Strawberries and Cream (July, in England. No-brainer)

Sunday 19 March 2023

Mascarpone Pie

I've never rated Nigel Slater. He writes good food - that's how come I've been seduced on occasion into buying his books - but so often the words on the page don't translate to anything exciting on the plate. I suspect that sometimes it's because in his enthusiasm for a 'fast' result, he omits important steps because they would take too much time (cooking the plums before mixing them with blackberries and brandy, for instance, so that the end-result is melt-in-the-mouth...instead of which, in his uncooked-plum version, everything remains chewy and individual, and nothing blends together at all), and sometimes, it's just because he gets it wrong - no, Nigel, when Mascarpone is grilled, it doesn't 'melt' unctuously, it merely consolidates into a claggy lump. Nice idea, but in practice it just doesn't work. 

However. I fell across a version of this recipe several months ago in his '30 Minute Cook' and because it suited an immediate need, I tried it. And, it is splendid! I've served it at supper on a number of occasions now, and always to critical acclaim - the combination of chocolate and orange, alone, is particularly beguiling. I've added sugar (or sucralose) to his version, and only used sultanas, instead of a combination of sultanas and raisins ( we can't get the latter here, for some reason; same with currants. Non ci sono.) The recipe itself is a first cousin to Budino alla Toscana, in its combination of cheese and ground almonds and dried fruit, but since it is encased in Phyllo, there's no need for the egg which Budino uses, and there are some other differences too in the flavouring elements which are included. In this house, we've taken to calling this Bougaza, in memory of the sweet-cheese phyllo slabs (there was no other word for them) which we used to get in the seventies from the baker behind the Old House, in Greece. There are elements in this dish which seem as old as time... 

 For two individual pies: 

1 sheet phyllo, approx 12" x 18"; 1 tbs melted butter; 110g mascarpone; 25g ground almonds; 1 tbs sugar; 40g sultanas; 15g chocolate (calletes, or else roughly chopped); grated zest of one orange. 

 1. Heat oven to 200 degees C. 

2. Brush the phyllo with melted butter, and cut the sheet into four. Use two of the pieces to line each of two 10 cm flan tins (I ease the pastry sheets into the greased tins at right angles to each other, and then, once the filling is in place, fold the overhanging pastry over the filling to enclose it fully). 

3. Combine all remaining ingredients thoroughlyl, and divide the mixture between the two pastry shells. Close the pastry shells, brush the top with any remaining butter, and bake for about twenty minutes or so, until golden brown. 

 Allow the pies to cool slightly before serving.