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Our Italian Feast Supper Club and a recipe for brutti ma buoni biscuits…

We were very excited to hold our July Plate Lickers Supper Club in a brand new and very original venue…Lynne Strover Gallery, an independent gallery run from Lynne’s beautiful home…

Lynne Strover Gallery

Our guests were seated amongst the sculptures and artwork by Belynda Sharples to enjoy their ‘Italian Feast’ inspired by mine and Ivana’s recent trip to Umbria and Tuscany (blogged here)…

Tables set at Lynne Strover Gallery

Tables set at Lynne Strover Gallery

Here’s a sneaky peak of the menu to whet your appetite for the pictures to follow. I’ve also shared a recipe for ‘brutti ma buoni’ …delicious hazelnut biscuits, crunchy on the outside but with a lovely chewy centre.

But without further ado, welcome to Plate Lickers Italian Feast…

Our Italian Feast Menu

Rows upon rows of cocktails awaited our guests arrival…we had made amaretto from scratch and served it with a touch of lemon juice and the mandatory cocktail cherry…

Homemade amaretto sours cocktails

Ameretto sours cocktail

These were accompanied by homemade sourdough crostini topped with wild boar salami, brought back from Italy and our homemade cow and goats milk ricotta with a sprinkling of decadent truffle salt…

crostini

Our guests were a friendly bunch and got chatting right away…

Chatty guests

Once everyone was seated we did a little welcome speech and appear to also be doing our best air hostess impressions :)…

Welcoming the guests.

before squirreling ourselves away in the kitchen to serve up the starter of courgette and rocket salad with aged pecorino and dressed with the peppery olive oil made by our beloved agriturismo hosts and a drizzle of homemade truffle honey…

courgette and rocket salad with aged pecorino and homemade truffle honey

Courgette and rocket salad with aged pecorino and homemade truffle honey

Next up was the main course of traditional ragu, which just got better and better the longer we cooked it, served on a bed of polenta with chargrilled chicory. Not the most photogenic dish but tasty all the same…

Ragu with polenta and chargrilled chicory

The dessert was peach and olive oil cake served with pinenut semi freddo, which seemed to be the favourite dish of the night. Ivana has already blogged the semi freddo recipe for you here.

Peach and oliveoil cake with pine nut semi freddo

and last but not least were the little brutti ma buoni biscuits, which perfectly fit their translation…’ugly but good’.

Brutti ma buoni biscuits

I’m a big biscotti fan and whenever I saw biscotti on the shelves in Italy I would also see packets of these brutti ma buoni. So as soon as I got home I started researching them and found this lovely recipe by Dan Lepard. The method is one I have never seen before but it produced the most amazing texture that even makes the arduous task of peeling hazelnuts worth it :).

To make a batch of about 20 small biscuits you can halve the recipe and will need…

150g toasted, skinned almonds (either buy them skinned and toast them in the oven for a few minutes or follow my instructions below if you buy them skin-on)

150g caster sugar

3 egg whites

75g ground almonds

1.5 tsp vanilla extract

1/2 tsp cocoa powder

So first, if you have bought the more commonly available, skin on hazelnuts, you will need to toast and skin them…not my favourite task I have to admit but it enhances their flavour and the skin can be fairly bitter, so it’s definitely advisable.

Preheat you oven to 200 degrees c and lay the hazelnuts out on a baking tray. Pop them in the oven for just 5 minutes, keeping an eye on them in case they start to burn. Then take a few nuts at a time and either loosen the skins by shaking them in a wire sieve or rubbing them in a teatowel. Once they are all skinned you’re ready for the biscuit making…

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees c and line a couple of baking trays with greaseproof paper.

Divide the hazelnuts approximately in half and put one half in a food processor, save the other half for later.

Add the sugar to the food processor and blitz it until the two are ground together but still coarse. Add the egg whites, almonds, vanilla extract and cocoa powder and blitz again until it forms a sludgy looking puree.

Now, this is the slightly strange bit…pour the puree into a saucepan. Roughly chop the remaining half of the hazelnuts and add them too. Put the pan on a high heat, stirring constantly until the mixture gets darker and thicker. You’ll know when it’s ready because it will hold it’s shape.

Using a couple of teaspoons, take a blob of the biscuit mixture (approx 2cm diameter) and place on the prepared trays. They don’t have to be uniform at all, the more rustic the better in my book. Make sure you leave at least 1 cm between the biscuits so they don’t get stuck together whilst cooking.

Brutti ma buoni biscuits read for the oven.

Brutti ma buoni biscuits read for the oven.

Bake for about 20 minutes, until they are golden brown. If you can bear to, it’s best to wait until they are cool before tucking in. But then there needn’t be any stopping you 🙂

Brutti ma buoni biscuits

Brutti ma buoni biscuits

I would like to say a big thankyou to Lynne Strover for letting Plate Lickers descend on her gallery for the evening, to our guests for being as enthusiastic and wonderful as ever, to Ozzy for the use of his beautiful photographs and to Ivana, the co-hostess with the mostess!

Bring on August’s supperclub!

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Plate Lickers take on Umbria and Tuscany…

As I mentioned in my last post, I’m not particularly good at getting away on holiday, however, I can confirm that I managed to escape and truly relax for 5 whole days on a recent trip to Citta della Pieve in Italy with my Plate Lickers Supper Club co-host Ivana (Miss Igs). As you may expect when two food obsessives are let loose in such a gastronomically plentiful country, we did a LOT of eating! And here’s a (not so) little summary of our adventures in Tuscany and Umbria.

We flew into Pisa and drove via a gorgeous little hill top town called Volterra, straight into a huuuge thunder storm. The weather went completely mental on us but Ivana did a sterling effort at keeping our little car on the road and as we arrived in the town of Citta della Pieve, the sun came out to greet us…

Sunshine after the rain

We had arranged our accomodation through AirBnB and were staying in a beautiful little cottage on an agriturismo called Cimbolello, a short drive out of town…

Our gorgeous abode

We couldn’t believe our eyes…we thought we’d arrived in heaven…

View from our front door

My meditation station

After we’d unpacked and settled in we headed into Citta della Pieve to find our first meal. Francesco and Luisa had drawn us a map and highly recommended that we head for Trattoria Pizzeria Serenella. We located it easily and as we entered the full restaurant, all eyes were on us! It wasn’t a tourist haunt (definitely a good thing) but our obvious foreignness and lack of command of the Italian language made us stick out like a sore thumb! (which is why I didn’t take any photos) 🙂 We persevered and were found a seat and read the menu at lightning speed. Ivana had heard about Pici, a local hand rolled pasta that looks like fat spaghetti but is 100% better, which we had with a simple but amazingly meaty ragu and a lasagna bianco…the stuff cheese dreams are made of! Serenella is a no frills establishment with paper table cloths and abrupt but swift service, the food was delicious and 2 main courses + 2 beers came to 15 Euro!

Back at the ranch the next morning, we woke up to bright sunshine. Our hosts had gifted us with a basket of freshly laid eggs & after a successful trip to the supermarket for a few more supplies, our breakfast was well and truly sorted…

Breakfast #1 before

Fresh tomatoes, of the variety that taste sooooo much better than we will EVER get hold of in our own country :), smoked speck, pecorino, creamy butter and our home-layed eggs, whipped up into a delicious omelette…

Breakfast #1 after '

with a strong espresso of course!

Breakfast #1 after

With our bellies full, we decided to head to Montepulciano, across this beautiful countryside…

Montepulciano

We meandered the streets…

Montepulciano

and stumbled on the Talosa wine cellar…

Montepulciano

We were directed to a stairwell, which felt like it went down forever but eventually ended up in the most amazing cellar full of the biggest oak barrels I have ever seen (see Ivana for scale)…

Talosa wine cellar

After sampling some of their wines we found our favourite and bought a few bottles of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. The very helpful guy in the shop directed us to his favourite restaurant for lunch and although we were still quite full from breakfast, I’m sooo glad we followed his advice. We found ourselves on the terrace at Osteria del Borgo with this awesome view…

The view from Osteria del Borgo

Eating a selection of Cinta Senese (an ancient Tuscan breed of pig) cold cuts…

Selection of regional cold cuts at Osteria del Borgo

The most amazingly fresh Pappa al pomodoro (stale bread and ripe tomatoes, flavored with garlic, onions, and basil)…

Stale bread with tomatoes & garlic served warm at Osteria del Borgo

and the all round winner…cheese with honey and walnuts that had been grilled in an earthenware dish giving it amazingly crispy, golden edges…

Baked sheeps cheese with honey and walnuts at Osteria del Borgo

After lunch we strolled around and picked up a few more goodies including our first taste of panforte packed full of juicy fruits and nuts, homemade seeded flatbread, aged pecorino, our wine from Talosa and…2 gorgeous black truffles, bought from a little man on the street market in Citta della Pieve! We were both so chuffed with our truffle purchase and haven’t stopped planning what we’re going to do with them! So far I’ve shaved it on top of my scrambled eggs and made truffle honey…I also have plans for a classic truffle topped risotto…

Goodies picked up in Montepulciano

That evening, we continued our eat-fest and headed for dinner at Saltapiccio in Citta della Pieve, which had a beautiful roof terrace…

Saltapicchio in Citta della Pieve

The menu was pretty impressive, making it very tricky to make a decision on what to have…

Menu at Saltapiccio

The waitress was very helpful even though I did go against her recommendation of tartare.

We were brought a selection of simple crostini…

Crostini at Saltapicchio

For mains, we’d decided on ‘Lo Stinco d’agnello al forno con polenta e raddichio brasato al vino e miele’ lamb shank with polenta and radicchio cooked in wine and honey…

Lamb shank, polenta and radicchio at Saltapicchio

and ‘La bresaola di chianina con ricotta affumicate’ bresaola (air-dried, salted Chianina beef) with smoked ricotta…

Bresaola and smoked ricotta at Saltapicchio

We headed home to drink some of our Talosa wine and plan the next day’s trip to Florence, a destination that we were both very excited about.

Now, you may think that eating a big breakfast before heading on a food tour of Florence is a bit of a silly idea but hey, we were here to eat, so eat we did. Breakfast #2 was a quesadilla…2 olive oil tortillas filled with fresh tomato, pecorino and speck with a special sprinkling of truffle salt, fried in butter (natch)…

Breakfast #2

Breakfast #2 quesedilla

Ivana had found us a food tour online (link here) that we used as a base to explore Florence and after a 2 hour drive on the alarmingly fast Autostrada we arrived at Sant’Ambrogio market, where believe it or not, I had my first taste of fresh figs…

Figs at Sant'Ambrogio market

Before we started our exploration of the indoor market and our Florence adventure we fulfilled an item on my ‘must do’ tick list and drank a strong, black espresso, whilst standing up at a counter in the middle of the market with the locals and traders…

Espresso at Sant'Ambrogio market

The indoor market was packed full with a plethora of stalls selling meat, fish and pasta amongst other delicacies…

Sant'Ambrogio market

Sant'Ambrogio market

Next we moved on to a little street side cafe for a bit of refreshment and couldn’t resist a cannoli and pistachio eclair…

Morning snacks

There was so much to look at everwhere we turned. I loved this ice lolly shop, although I didn’t get to sample any of the goods…

Ice lolly shop

We momentarily battled with the hoards of tourists to get our holiday shot at The Ponte Vecchio…

Our tiny bit of being tourists

before hastily retreating into the back alleys and our next gourmet pit stop at Venchi for a gelato. We tried the caramelised fig and mascarpone and an Aztec chocolate…they were both delicious and a great combo!…

Gelato at Venchi

Next stop was Cantinetta dei Verrazzano, an amazing little place…

Cantinetta dei Verazzano

Just check out their coffee machine!…

Cantinetta dei Verazzano

We were already getting full but we couldn’t walk past this slice of foccacia topped with mozzarella cheese, courgette flowers and a liberal sprinkling of salt…

Zucchini flower foccacia in Cantinetta dei Verazzano

We’d been saving space for a very special delicacy of Florence…Lampredotto, the fourth stomach of a cow served in a roll! When Ivana first told me about it I point blank refused to try it but by the time we located the Lampredotto street food van on the Corner Via Dante Alighieri & Via dei Cerchi and having had a few days to psych myself up, I was well and truly ready for it!

Lampredotto stall, Florence

I loved the van and the father and son team who ran it…they had a lot of banter with their customers, mostly local workers on their lunch breaks…

Lampredotto stall, Florence

Look away now if you’re squeamish! When we were in the food market we located Lampredotto in its uncooked state, I’m not sure I should have looked at it but I’m stubborn so there was no backing out now…

Lampredotto before

And here is what a panino lampredotto looks like once cooked…

Lampredotto after

The stomach is boiled in a vegetable broth. When you place your order, they take a piece of lampredotto from the broth and chop it up. Then dip a crusty roll in the broth before filling it with the lampredotto and topping it with salsa verde and chilli sauce. We perched ourselves on stools at the edge of the van and got stuck in! I have to say, I nearly backed out when I caught a whiff of it but I was actually very pleasantly surprised by the taste, which I would liken to hot pate. I was ok as long as long as I didn’t look at it 🙂 I’m not sure I would be in a rush to recreate it at home (Plate Lickers Supper Club guests can breathe a sigh of relief) but I was glad we got to try such a local delicacy.

At this point we were full to bursting point but on the way back to the car we stumbled on this little gem…

Dolci & Dolcezze

and had to buy a creme brulee for later 🙂

Creme Brulee from Dolce & Dolcezze

We got pretty good at locating public outdoor swimming pools during our trip and with our swimming gear always at the ready in the boot we managed to fit in a quick refreshing dip before hitting the Autostrada again!

Once home and still somehow thinking of our stomachs, we bought some fig mustard from Francesco and Luisa’s homemade stash…

Homemade fig mustard from our agriturismo

Snacks

and rustled up a simple but delicious dinner of pici with gorgonzola and a tomato salad…

Homemade pici dinner

followed by the guiltiest of pleasures…classy! 😉

Guilty pleasure dessert

We decided that the next day would be used for some much needed rest and relaxation without any huge car journeys. And in the evening we were very lucky to benefit from the pearls of Luisa’s wisdom and to work alongside her making fettuccine. It was the first time I’d ever made pasta…I’d imagined it to be a lot harder, but then we had a great teacher!

Ivana & Luisa making fettuccine

I made pasta!

I made pasta

Here’s a little video we made of our fettuccine making https://vine.co/v/hmzbhebeIJX and here’s the finished product…

Our fettucine

Then, what was my perfect lastnight of holiday ensued…Luisa cooked up the pasta we’d made and served it with her homemade basil pesto and ricotta, which was divine!…

Our fettucine with homemade basil and ricotta pesto

Francesco filled our glasses with his homemade red wine and later his homemade cognac and walnut liqueur and we tucked into huge wedges of their homemade pecorino, pizza, sourdough & chutney…

Tasting the pecorino

We all chatted into the evening in a mismatch of languages and with the help of plenty of hand gestures until the fireflies came out and it was time for sleep. Before we all went our separate ways we made arrangements to help milk the sheep at 8am the next morning, as you do!

So at 8am on the dot we all headed over to meet the sheep. Now, I have to make an admission…I didn’t attempt the milking myself as I’m not a great animal lover and there were a few too many inquisitive sheep sharing the pen…

Sheep

I was in charge of general encouragement and picture taking. But here’s proof that Ivana got stuck in…

Ivana milking the sheep

Even though it was so hot, their small flock produced about 8 litres between them…

Sheeps milk before

Luisa showed us how she makes pecorino by heating the milk and adding a vegetarian rennet type liquid made from artichokes, which separates the curds (solids) from the whey (liquids). The curds are scooped into moulds that have perforations up the sides so that the liquid escapes and the cheese compresses over time…

Sheeps milk after as pecorino

Here you can see the cheeses varying in age, the older ones are the darker ones at the bottom…

Francesco & Luisa's pecorino stash

which is what we had sampled the night before…

Tasting the pecorino

I love the fact that in Francesco and Luisa’s house nothing goes to waste. The whey that was left over after making the pecorino was boiled up and became ricotta…

sheeps milk after as ricotta

Oh to be so self sufficient!

The time had come for us to leave our Umbrian paradise but not before picking some figs for our journey…

Figs fresh from the tree

and saying goodbye to our wonderful hosts…

Goodbye Franceso & Luisa

On the way back to Pisa we stopped in at San Grimignano in the hope of sourcing some wild boar salami with pistachio’s that my father had requested. We searched high and low but to no avail, there was plenty of wild boar salami (salame di cinghiale) available but apparently pistachios are not a regional addition, so I had to back down on my mission :(. The little town was very pretty but chockablock full of tourists and overpriced cafes.

San Grimignano

We managed to find a little cafe slightly off the beaten track for a quick espresso and slice of marzipan topped panforte…

Marzipan topped panforte

before continuing our journey. We were both sad to be leaving and found Livorno to be a bit disappointing. It didn’t help that we arrived in the afternoon when all shops and restaurants were closed until the evening, which included ALL of the places on our to do list 😦 However, we enjoyed the last rays of sun by the coast before heading home.

What an epic blog post! Congratulations to those of you who made it to the end. I hope my enthusiasm and new found love for Italy came though in my words and pictures. I highly recommend a trip to Umbria…we only touched the tip of the iceberg in 5 days! I have a feeling I’ll make an excuse to go back as soon as possible!

A presto Italia!

x

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