I returned from my lovely holiday last weekend yet it seems an absolute age away! I have been enormously busy ever since and have barely cooked a thing, let alone had a moment to blog about it. I'm sorry. I've been a bad blogger. Slapped wrists all round.
Last week was spent mainly in Lancashire at the fabulous Northcote Manor. I was hosting a couple of dinners there for work and it was certainly a treat - the food, cooked for us by Nigel Hayworth, was extremely memorable. Delicious and clever without being too clever.
No sooner had I returned from the north and I headed down to the Isle of Wight for a fantastic outdoor concert featuring all the rousing British classics such as Rule Britannia and Land of Hope and Glory. We waved our flags and ate a delicious picnic, more of which later on.
Tomorrow it is off to Cornwall for more work events - I feel like I've barely drawn breath. Oh to be back refreshing myself in the pool in Tuscany...
Since returning from holiday, I've rediscovered my passion for Italian food. That is not to say that I had ever really lost it, just that I'd perhaps become a little staid in my choice of Italian staples. Most weeks feature pasta in some form. Usually with homemade tomato sauce or pesto. Simple and quick. Always.
On holiday it was wonderful to have time again to potter in the kitchen and create some Italian classics using the freshest of ingredients. It gave me a little inspiration for when I returned home and I've been cooking simple Italian fare ever since.
Some of my favourite meals though were our 'everything' lunches. In fact, those sort of lunches have always been my favourites. Lunches where you haul everything out of the fridge (salad, leftovers, cold meats, cheeses etc) and pop it all on the table for everyone to create their own unique combination. These lunches happen not just on summer holidays, but also at Christmas and are equally welcome at both times of year.
This photo of one of our Tuscan lunchtime feasts pretty much sums it up...
We couldn't have put more on the table if we'd tried! I love that you have a bit of everything and that you occasionally end up with a mouthful combining tuna salad with parma ham. Not quite what you intended, but strangely acceptable when on holiday!
Anyway, a great Italian favourite of mine is bruschetta. Toasted bread topped with tomatoes or ham or cheese. Whatever takes your fancy really. Every menu features bruschetta and it is perfectly acceptable to have just mixed bruschette with a glass of wine for lunch. A favourite lunch out consisted of 'surprise bruschette': a selection of toppings chosen by the chef.
Back in the villa, bruschetta (or should that also be 'bruschette' in the plural?) featured as a starter most nights. Just perfect to nibble on with a drink as the sun set...
One of our group made a great topping with grated courgettes and parmesan - I loved it. Once home, I was hankering after this favourite treat and whipped some up for a speedy yet satisfying lunch. I stuck to the traditional tomato and basil for mine although I did make a couple with melted Pecorino and parma ham. Sadly, the view wasn't quite the same as it was in lovely Tuscany...
...but I sat in the garden and the flavour of local tomatoes and fresh basil did momentarily transport me back to my holiday. I used French baguette which wasn't even vaguely authentic. It was fine, but really, bruschetta should be made with a denser, slightly chewier kind of bread. Next time, I'll make the effort to seek out the real thing. I'm popping a recipe down not because I think you don't know how to make bruschetta, but just to document how I made mine!
1. Pre-heat oven to 200C. Slice some dense Italian bread into half-inch slices and place on a baking sheet.
2. Brush bread with olive oil. Slice a clove of garlic and wipe cut side of garlic over each slice to impregnate with garlic flavour.
3. Bake the bread until crisp (about 10 minutes) and then set to one side.
4. Chop tomato into smallish dice (concasse). Mix together with chopped basil and a little slug of extra virgin olive oil. Season generously.
5. Top each bit of toasted bread with a generous amount of topping. Alternatively top with Pecorino cheese and pop under the grill until melted and then top with parma ham.