Thursday 6 June 2024

And, of course...

 I can't leave out the work that Alessandro completed, several weeks ago now, to the central wall within the ruined wing...

Which used to look like this:

Tonight's dinner:

Aubergine Tarts

Boned chicken, with tarragon sauce; sweet and sour courgettes

Souffles omelette, stuffed with apples cooked in cream and calvados

Wednesday 5 June 2024

Every day, a bit further forward...


New doorway completed, from the master bedroom to the 'ruin' terrace

The dip in the Office floor, evened ou: this was the last of the areas in the building where the tiles have had to be re-set, where the crossbeams beneath - now repaired - had previously given way and the floor above had 'dipped'...

And the Office fireplace, part-reconfigured so that it can receive the hob-grate from the fireplace currently in the Salone in Pisa.

And, last week

Underfloor heating tubes installed (here, in the kitchen) along with a 'provisional' sink, and (just visible, off stage-left) the new wood stove (which has been waiting to be put in its proper place since August!)

New banisters part-done on the upper staircase

Tonight's dinner:

Asparagus, with egg sauce

Cod, wrapped in speck and braised; pepper & basil salad tiede

Apricot tarts

Wednesday 10 April 2024

Project update...

New floors are in the process of being laid - everywhere that we have floors which have been seriously compromised over time (ugly tiles, or general damage), we're hiding them under new floorboards, and hiding all of the service runs and wiring at the same time. Wherever the old cotta tiles are still good (more than half the house, fortunately), they will all be lovingly restored to their former glory. But, this week, Michele and Asdin are installing all of the supports for the floorboards, which will then be positioned next week by the plumbers, at the same time as they fit all of the pipes and drains and the central vaccuum system (which is the TD's particular baby), and put the new floorboards in place. 
Last week, we finally located the point at which the house connects to the external drain (which was timely).

Two weeks ago, when we were in London, we left the builders to whitewash the entire interior of the building. Which was optimistic, on our part. When they assured us that they had loads of experience using latte di calce (whitewash) with an industrial sprayer, we believed them, when what they actually meant was that they were confident it couldn't be too difficult to do, and that actually they'd never used whitewash before in their lives, and they they had no idea how it works. Which isn't like paint. Despite having been told exactly what proportion to use of product-to-water they chose not to believe it, since it came out effectively transparent....and so, they kept on adding more and more product, until it came out looking - to their eyes -  satisfactorily white... and immediately it gummed up the machine, because the mixture was far too thick. Fortunately, we returned before they'd managed to destroy the entire paint sprayer, and forcibly we got them to use the mixture at the correct level of dilution (they wouldn't believe us that the stuff only turns white as it dries. Fortunately, it was a sunny day,and TD demonstrated the effect by painting a white line on the hot road surface outside, which dried immediately to a dense and pristine whiteness that brooked no argument). Even then, they didn't really believe it, and were amazed when they returned  several days after they'd finished the job to find the entire house entirely, beautifully white!

And while they've been labouring indoors, I've made some progress with transplanting the garden. The Hanging Garden of Pieve takes shape, with a broad selection of flowering shrubs now clinging to the rockface - about twenty metres of it - which rises sheer behind the frantoio building. Thus far: 15 Camellias (and about the same number again, still to go); 38 Hydrangeas (7 to go); Acers (4); Viburnum (1); Azaleas (14); Euonymous (and another to go); Edgeworthia (1); Loropetalum (1, and 1 to go); Gardenia (ditto); Deutsia (1, and two others to go); Daphne (1, with wonderful scent!); climbing roses (7, and about forty to go); Crinums ( a mass, and even more still to go); Wintersweet (1); Lonicera Fragrantissima (1, and 2 others in waiting); magnolias (2, and 2 to go)...and that's without counting all of the shrub roses, abelias, indigofera gerardiana, choysia, wygelia, philadelphos, and on, and on...

The original idea was to move house in May, and I suppose that if we were to bust a gut and have a generally stressful time, then that might still be vaguely possible....but the warm weather we're now having probably means that the window for transplanting the garden will be shorter than expected, and so we'll probably extend the garden move through until after the summer. Doing it all 'con calma'....maybe with the last period of moving actually being after we've moved ourselves, when it will be a question of being based at the frantoio and travelling back here to Pisa on a daily basis in order to retrieve the remaining things we want.

Tonight's dinner:

Lentil soup (before we leave winter too far behind...)

Scaloppini alla milanese; sweet and sour courgettes

Lemoon Tart

Saturday 16 March 2024

Leek and Mushroom Custard

 An uninspiring name for an ethereal dish: light, and elegant, and quietly spectacular. This is another gem from the largely unsung Stephen Bull, to whose solitary published volume of recipes I've returned time after time, over the years (for me, he and Jill Norman together occupy the same place in the firmament of great food-writers; clearly neither of them interested enough in the commercial aspect of becoming a Celeb-Foodie to churn out book after book, to keep their public attached, and with ever-diminishing returns - and yet what little they have given us has been solid gold). 

Bull gives these quantities as being sufficient for four servings, and he specifies use of ramekins of 9 cm diameter. I think the luxury is more than merited of doubling the ramekin size, and indulging in double the quantity per person. Once you taste it, you'll understand why!

Ingredients: 25g butter; 4 leeks (approx 110g; white parts only); 220g mushrooms, chopped; salt; 150g chicken stock; 1/2 cup dry white wine; 150 ml cream; 2 eggs; generous tsp dried tarragon; ground pepper.


1. Pre-heat the oven to 170 degrees C. Butter two  ramekins (10 cm diamater/200 ml capacity) and put a circle of greaseproof paper in the base of each, buttered again once in place. 

2. Melt the butter in a small pan, and sweat the finely-sliced leek, covered, for about five minutes. Add the chopped mushrooms, cover again, and continue cooking over a low heat for a further ten minutes. Add the stock, wine, and cream to the pan, along with a little salt; bring to the boil, and then reduce the heat to a steady simmer. Cook for approx twenty minutes, until the liquid has reduced by half.

3. Let the mixture cool slightly, and then liquidise it, along with the eggs and tarragon. Check seasoning, and adjust as necessary. 

4. Divide the mixture between the prepared ramekins, place the ramekins in a bain marie, and bake for thirty minutes. Leave to settle for a minute or so after they come out of the oven, then run the tip of a small knife around the inside of each ramekin and unmould onto serving plates. 

Bull serves his with hollandaise, but I don't bother - it doesn't need it, and anyway, it isn't practical to make a sensible quantitiy of hollandaise for just these two servings. Revel instead in the delicacy of the leek and mushrooms on their own.

Tuesday 27 February 2024

It rains...

 and - for once - I revel in it. For the first time I can stand in any of the rooms at the top of the new house, and enjoy the sound of rain drumming onto the skylight above. And there isn't a single sound of drips falling incessantly into buckets which have been strategically positioned around the place for the past months. Because - the roof has been fixed! Alessandro, the miracle-worker from Ruota, with the aid of his silent henchman, spent five days carefully hoiking out and replacing any and all of the damaged tiles, along with several hundredweight of accumulated moss and sedum.  And, for the first time, we have a dry house. 


I'd practically given up hope.

Meanwhile, outside, there are downpours, punctuated by brief periods of calm, and then yet more rain.

The stream has become a river, and the waterfall thunders away, mere metres away from the house. 

The main waterfall

And the two immediately subsidiary ones

Looking upstream, towards the waterfall, from the old bridge

From the Giovannetti bridge, outside the front door, looking
downstream, towards the top of the waterfall

And from the same place, looking upstream

Inside - in the dry! - Michele is finishing off the work in the ante-room, and will then 'wrap' the inside of the house, to protect it from the paint-sprayer which, we hope, will be available for use next week. And yesterday, we had an afternoon first with the electrician, and then with the plumbers...and there's a distinct possibility that they can all get started as soon as the painting will have been finished. 

Tonight's dinner:

Sweetcorn galette

Spanish chicken (boned thighs, braised with garlic, dry marsala and sherry vinegar); sprouts (newly-available in Italy, seasonally...which is much-heralded)

Lemon cheesecake 

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