Panzanella

Panzanella

Waste not, want not.

We’re trying very, very hard to live a much more sustainable lifestyle and to really take note of what we buy. In the past, we might have popped into Manchester and come bag with bags of *stuff* that we just didn’t need. We don’t do this now. Because we’ve kind of had to start from scratch, with our Istria house, we’ve had to be a lot more careful. OK, so we had all of our furniture and boxes of accessories etc from our West Didsbury house, but we also now have a house with a whole lot more floorspace, so we’ve had to think carefully about how we furnish and accessorise it. Upcycling and recycling has played a much bigger part this time around – and it’s very satisfying to see something we’ve actually created.

But this is not the only aspect of our lives, where we’re trying to be more careful. Rather than chucking food which we think looks a bit “off”, we now try to eat what we buy when it’s fresh. Or, certainly in my case, being a bit braver with food and not think I am going get food poisoning if it’s a day or two past its best.

Like the ciabatta loaf that hadn’t been eaten quickly enough this weekend, and was too hard to do much with. Like the tomatoes which had gone a bit too soft. Like the jar of anchovies which had been opened for a pizza a couple of nights previously and needed to be eaten. Then I remembered a dish I had always intended to make – but then never got round to, because I’d always chucked the perfect ingredients for this recipe. Those a bit on the stale side, and just past their best. No excuses this time, as I had everything to hand…

PANZANELLA

Panzanella (or panmolle) is a Tuscan salad, the main ingredients being stale bread, onions and tomatoes, with red wine vinegar and olive oil. We had a few more ingredients to hand, so threw these in, too. The easiest and quickest dish to make – even adding in the additional time to roast the peppers.

Ingredients

  • Stale ciabatta loaf
  • Over ripe mixed tomatoes, roughly chopped
  • 1 handful small capers (drained)
  • 1 small red onion – peeled and finely sliced
  • A couple of red peppers, chopped & roasted – make sure the skin blackens in places for extra flavour
  • About 10 small anchovy fillets in oil, drained and chopped up
  • Red wine vinegar
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Parmesan cheese
  • Salt & pepper
  • Torn up fresh basil leaves

And this is how simple it is to make…

  • Chop the red peppers, smother with olive oil and black pepper and roast for about 30 minutes.
  • Place the chopped tomatoes in a big bowl and season with salt and pepper, and then add the red peppers when roasted.
  • Rinse the capers, squeeze out any excess liquid and add to the bowl, along with the sliced, red onion, ciabatta and anchovies.
  • Toss the mixture together with your hands, then stir in a splash of red wine vinegar and about 3 times as much extra virgin olive oil.
  • Taste and add a little more salt, pepper, vinegar or oil, if needed.
  • Tear in the basil leaves, stir together and grate parmesan cheese over the salad.

Serve, with a lovely glass of chilled wine. The perfect Italian salad, using what you probably have in the kitchen anyway.

 

 

 

pisa : tuscany : italy

pisa : tuscany : italy

A double header of an Italian trip meant that we could visit Florence and Pisa in one trip. We travelled independently and so our schedule was very flexible. The main stay was in Florence, with a train journey to Pisa. At just over an hour and less than €15 for return tickets, it was well worth the journey. Standard tickets on Italian trains generally are a great deal – uncrowded carriages, plenty of trains, usually bang on time and clean. For just a little bit more you can travel the equivalent of first class – although not all routes/companies offer this option on all journeys. However, well worth it if you can book first class.

If your prime reason for visiting Pisa is the Leaning Tower, and you’re arrived by train, it’s an easy 20 minute walk along Via Roma, almost in a straight line across the river. We visited in late October and this was a great time to do this trip – far fewer tourists than in the height of summer, and sufficiently chilly enough to be able to be quite wrapped up without melting. The lack of tourists was the main thing for us though, as it meant we weren’t jostling with crowds and trying to avoid people taking the very obvious photo with the Leaning Tower in the background.

The Leaning Tower & Cathedral

If you want to know about the tower and its history, this is quite a good summary. The Torre Pendente really does live up to its name – I definitely hadn’t expected such a lean. The 58m-high tower, which is officially the Duomo’s campanile (bell tower), took almost 200 years to build, but was already listing when it was unveiled in 1372. Over time, the tilt, caused by a layer of weak subsoil, steadily worsened until it was finally halted by a major stabilisation project in the 1990s. It’s now said to be about 4 degrees on a lean, from the vertical.

Access to the Leaning Tower is limited to 45 people at a time, and it’s probably good to know, that for safety reasons, children under eight are not allowed in/up, and children between 8-18 can climb the Tower, but only with an accompanying adult. To avoid disappointment, book in advance online or go straight to a ticket office when you arrive in Pisa to book a slot for later in the day. Visits last 35 minutes and involve a steep climb up 251 occasionally slippery steps. All bags, handbags included, must be stored at the free left-luggage desk next to the central ticket office – cameras are about the only thing you can take up. You need a good head for heights and not think about how easy it could be fall over the edge…

The Leaning Tower is actually the campanile of the cathedral, a medieval Roman Catholic cathedral dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, in the Piazza dei Miracoli. It’s architecture is quite unusual in that the interior is reminiscent of an Islamic mosque, thanks to the use of raised arches, the alternating bands of black and white marble, and the unusual elliptical dome. The entrance to the Cathedral is free, but you still need to collect a ticket and book a specific time. 90 people are allowed to enter every 30 minutes, and when there’re too many people, they only let you in if you buy the ticket for the Baptistry or the Cemetery (to the rear of the cathedral).

The Baptistery

The Battistero di San Giovanni is the largest Baptistery in the world. You can visit the white 12th century building from the outside for free and from the inside for an entrance fee. It is famous for its acoustics, and if you time your visit right, you will experience, every half an hour, a guardian comes in to intonate a few notes, to shows just how well the sound resonates around the space.

A bird’s eye view of the lean on the Tower.

Our top tips, from we visited, would include :

  • try and go out of season
  • leave the under eights at home (or the hotel) if you want to climb the tower
  • wear trainers as you’ll do a lot of walking
  • make sure you have charger packs for your phone as there are a lot of photo opportunities
  • combine Pisa with a trip to Florence
  • use the good Italian rail network

 

florence : tuscany : italy

florence : tuscany : italy

Our trip to Florence was pretty whistle-stop as we also wanted to tie in Pisa, and we only had a few days. So, every time we return to Italy, if we are in the region (or thereabouts) of Florence, if we’re in a car, we intend to revisit. It’s not happened again yet, as there are just too many places we want to see, but it will as we know we definitely didn’t see everything. We also didn’t stay in the best hotel or find great places to eat – and I think this has coloured our perception of Florence. So, we need to put it right. And hopefully, sooner rather than later.

The name of the hotel escapes me – such was its impression on us – but what I do remember, is that it was located very close to Piazza del Duomo. A fantastic location, BUT we also stayed when a morning market was held and which started being set up at about 2am. The shouting and noise of trolleys being pulled to and fro over cobbles was just unbelievable. So bad, that we requested a room change, so lost our view of the Duomo but did manage to get some sleep – as the market seemed to be a regular occurrence. So, there you go – you may want a room with a view in Florence, but unless your room has super sound proofing, you’ll also get a room with lots of noise.

However, even with little sleep, you can’t fail but to be completely blown away by the pink and green marble duomo. Inside it is beautiful, but sometimes you can be a bit overwhelmed with the interiors of Italian churches and cathedrals – I know that I always miss so much, and it’s only when i read up on something afterwards, I wish I’d either taken more notice or known before what treasures could be viewed. With Florence, I kind of felt the same way with the interior, but the exterior could definitely not be ignored.

Formally the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, the Cathedral of Florence was begun in 1296 in a Gothic style, and was structurally completed by 1436, with the dome engineered by Filippo Brunelleschi.

The famous Baptistery bronze doors, known as The Gates of Paradise, in front of the cathedral were actually made by the winner of a citywide competition in 1401. Before the dome itself was constructed, a committee in Florence held a competition to decorate the east doors of the baptistery, giving each contestant the same materials and amount of bronze, allowing them to submit their ideas within the guidelines. The two finalists were young 23-year-olds Fillippo Brunelleschi and Lorenzo Ghiberti, who were both trained metalworkers and goldsmiths. Ultimately, Ghiberti won, due to the judges favouring his classical style. Michelangelo commented that the doors seemed like the gates of paradise, thereby giving them the name by which they are now known.

Obviously, a highlight of any Florence visit, has got to be the Statue of David. The original sculpture is in the Accademia Gallery of Florence, with the second copy of the David being ocated in Piazza della Signoria (Duomo Square), just opposite the Palazzo Vecchio. Of course, not having done my homework properly, I was quite surprised to see David in the square, open to the elements. Until I realised that to see the real thing, we needed to get our early morning slot booked at the Accademia. Which we did – and once again, we were utterly blown away by the statue.

After the Duomo and Accademia, on such a short visit to Florence, we were a bit over-full of art, but still wanted to experience the Uffizi Galleries. However, when we got there, we couldn’t face another gallery, and so experienced it from the outside – still mightily impressive!

The late October weather did take a turn for the worse and we had drizzle and fog, meaning that shots of the famous red tiled roofs, weren’t quite as vibrant as they could have been. Definitely, another reason to return.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tuscany : Italy

Tuscany : Italy

Tuscany is an area of Italy I’ve never really discovered -I’ve visited & stayed in Florence and Pisa, but have never before experienced the rolling hills and fields full of sunflowers, which seem to be so associated with this part of Italy. But, in the first week of September, that was put right, with a stay in a small Tuscan town, about 30 km south west of Pisa (where we flew into direct from Manchester), called Santa Luce. Sadly, we’d missed the sunflowers in full bloom, but it was still very, very warm! And even though we’d had a lovely English summer, it was a different kind of warmth – an Italian warmth.

We were staying with friends, so the villa we stayed in was slightly bigger and more grand than if we had been on our own, but a gorgeous way to end a very busy summer and begin a bit of relaxation…

Santa Luce is a small town. You definitely need your own transport as it’s also fairly isolated. However, it is possible to get to Pisa, Florence and Lucca for a day trip as motorway access is good (the FiPiLi – Florence Pisa Livorno road – is the quickest way to get around the region). We visited the Tuscan coast – there are plenty of beaches along the “Toscana Riviera” but Vada, with its white sand fringed with pine woods,  is probably the most well known…

A little further afield, but well worth the drive, is the medieval walled hilltop town of San Gimignano, famous for its fourteen towers of varying heights, which dominate the skyline. The town is very much geared up for tourism – there are huge car parks at the foot of the hill and the streets are full of shops selling miniature towers etc – but it is still a must see. We were lucky that we visited on a Tuesday in early September – not a weekend in July or August – as there weren’t crowds and it was easy to get around. And find a parking space, which I guess are at a premium in the height of summer…