Holding Back The Years…

I recently appeared in the Daily Mail’s ‘FeMail’ in an article covering the secrets to remaining youthful as the years goes by. While I’m certainly not against growing old gracefully I do think that certain actions (or regimes if you like) are beneficial not so much to your looks but to your health and enjoyment of later life. Here’s the tips I shared with the journalist and a few more besides:-


I’m obsessed with olive oil. It soothes dry hands and elbows and makes a great natural make-up remover for sensitive skin. Choose a good-quality version. I buy mine in Tuscany, but Waitrose Duchy Organic Italian Extra Virgin Olive Oil would work just as well (£4.25, waitrose.com).


It’s amazing how fit you can get while you’re doing something else. I have a standing desk at work, and at home I balance on one leg and hold in my core while brushing my teeth. When my husband and I watch TV, we do press-ups and squats.


Within eight months of starting a low-carb diet, I lost a stone. My husband was diagnosed with a gluten allergy and type 2 diabetes, so he had to give up pasta and bread. I changed my diet to support him. My eczema and arthritis is much better now, too.


I love to treat myself to a personal shopper in big department stores, but I can recreate this in High Street shops by visiting during the week, preferably on a monday morning, when assistants have more time to help. I like to approach women of a similar age for assistance. I trust them more if they are honest and occasionally say: ‘That looks awful! Try this instead!”


With the risk of sounding self-righteous I don’t eat ultra-processed food. (Processed food includes cheese and ham so I can’t say I don’t eat them). At home we cook everything from scratch and I mean “we”. The kids cook too or at least share the workload. Since they were little and I have been writing cookbooks they have helped in the kitchen. They used to sit each side of our induction hob and stir, tear up mozzarella or chop veggies up with scissors. I hadn’t got time to play lego with them so if they wanted to be with me, it was the kitchen or not at all. Sometimes it is hard after a long day but we have perfected some really quick recipes to knock up that please the family. We always share these recipes to encourage others to get into the kitchen more and cook their own food.


Surround yourself with inspirational women. When I hit my mid-40s, I joined a women’s networking group called Athena (theathenanetwork.com). It’s a good way to make friends and boost your confidence. One member, a drama teacher, gave me advice on how to overcome my fear of public speaking, such as standing with my legs apart in a Wonder Woman pose. It changed my life, as I do book tours for work. My phobia is now an enjoyment.


When I look in the mirror in my 55th year I can of course see the wrinkles and marks of a well spent life. However rather than focus on something I am not prepared to alter I smile at the mirror; the wrinkles turn to laughter lines and I have a postive, happy image of myself in my head!

Read the original article HERE.

Celebrating 10 Years in Bray

A Celebration of Seasonal Italian Eating…

It’s been 10 years since we threw open the doors of Caldesi in Campagna our ‘rural idyll’ in the culinary mecca of Bray on Thames. In that 10 years we’ve made loads of friends and introduced our authentic seasonal Italian regional food to literally thousands of people.  It’s been a wonderful journey and we are very happy to have gained many fans of our style of cookery in the village and surrounding towns.
To celebrate our 10th anniversary and to thank our customers old and new we’re offering a fantastic  selection 10 dishes at £10 each up until the end of November.
The offer is available weekdays lunches and Wednesdays & Thursday evenings and you’ll find a menu of 10 of some of our favourite customers dishes all at just £10 each.
For the finest Italian regional cuisine prepared using the best of the season’s larder why not join us for lunch or dinner and our own special blend of midweek birthday madness?
The 10 dishes on offer at just £10 each include*:-


Thinly sliced pork belly, Umbrian lentils and parmesan shavings

Breadcrumbed sardines stuffed with spinach, pinenuts and raisins

Buffalo mozzarella cheese, heritage tomatoes, sweet and sour onion vinaigrette

Salmon carpaccio, fennel, orange and pink peppercorn dressing

Homemade fettuccine, ricotta cheese and cherry tomato sauce

Main courses

Venetian style calf’s liver with onions and white wine, mashed potatoes

Sea bream fillet with cannellini beans, salsa verde and roasted cherry tomatoes

Roasted guinea fowl stuffed with veal and dried fruits, carrot cream

Fregola pasta with seafood and tomato sauce

Baked aubergine Parmigiana, tomato sauce, Mozzarella and basil

To Book Call 01628 788500

Or Click HERE

Please note:-  The offer is only available for lunch Tuesday to Friday inclusive and for dinner on Wednesday and Thursday evenings. The offer is subject to availability and the *menu may change at any time. Please book to ensure a table as this has  proven to be a very popular offer. Offer ends 30th November 2017.
10 for 10 2 copy

Sicily… Italian Fusion Cooking

Our big, bright, shiny new book is out! It’s called Sicily, Recipes from an Italian Island. It follows in the series produced by the brilliant publisher Kate Pollard from Hardie Grant UK. She steered our happy little crew through the regions of Amalfi, Venice, Rome and now Sicily to produce stunning books with Helen Cathcart’s enticing photographs.
It’s been amazing to see the complete contrast in the cooking styles from the North to the South of Italy. Venice was about spice and rice, Amafi was fish on a dish as well as pizza and lemons everywhere, Rome was quick dishes and famous pasta greats such as Carbonara, Cacio e Pepe and Amatriciana – but Sicily, well that’s a whole different thing. I was astounded to read about who had lived in Sicily; practically everyone has invaded this poor, but strategically-placed little island. Most did nothing to improve life for the locals but all left their mark on the food. I think it must be one of the first places that had fusion food. You will have to read the book for our culinary time line of Sicily but here are a few points that I thought fascinating:-
Pic 1

  • The Phoneticians were some of the first to arrive and live with the locals in around 650BC. They made themselves rich by picking out shellfish from tiny shells. These shellfish made a rich purple dye called Tyrian that was used to create a rare purple cloth for royalty. Apparently the process smelt awful and it took loads of shellfish to dye one piece of fabric.


  • The Greeks built Syracuse and incredible temples which still stand today. They also built the first chef’s school as Syracuse was the gastronomic capital of the world. The first ever cookbook in the West was produced here called The Lost Art of Cooking by Mithaecus.


  • The Romans arrived and took over the growing and supply of wheat and called Sicily “the empire’s granary”. Caligula had a holiday home on the island where he would hunt and enjoy game flavoured with spices such as ginger, cinnamon and pepper. At the same time lemon, plum and cherry trees were imported from Asia.


  • After the fall of the Roman Empire, Sicily was under Arab rule; Muslim, Christian and Jewish traders crowded the markets of Palermo. The Arabs brought better methods of irrigation and agriculture and most importantly, for the whole of the Italian cuisine of the future, they brought the first pasta to Italy from Palestine called itriyya. Pasta making became a huge business in Sicily and many families became immensely rich by making and selling dried pasta for export.


  • For centuries strands of pasta were originally eaten with your hands and dangled above your mouth. Cous-cous, another type of pasta, was introduced by the Arabs and is still cooked on the west coast today.


  • The poor ate vegetables or were given the entrails of the animals to eat. This formed the basis of Sicilian street food which is still adored today. This is Giancarlo relishing spleen-in-a-bun. On the right is one of my favourites, a cherry tomato and basil risotto.


  • In 1060 the Normans landed. They were descendants of Vikings and it’s not unusual to see red-haired Sicilians today. After a rough start they settled in and Roger II (Ruggero in Italian) became a hero. He embraced the multi-cultural society, he spoke French, Latin, Greek and Arabic, employed Muslim chefs and wafted around his court wearing Arab dress. He built the stunning Palantine Chapel in Palermo which incorporates dazzling craftsmanship from all the various religions of the time.


  • After a brief rule by the German Empire, the Spanish arrived in 1302 and brought cocoa, cacti, pumpkins, tomatoes and peppers. In 1492 they threw out the Jews who had to flee to Rome, Venice and elsewhere in the world taking with them culinary traditions learnt from the Arabs such as using pinenuts and raisins in a dish.


  • The Englishman John Woodhouse invented and began the production of the sweet fortified wine Marsala in 1773. It is the alcohol used to flavour tiramisu.


  • The French, under the rule of King Ferdinand IV and his wife Maria Carolina, sister of Marie Antoinette, brought their chefs to Sicily known as the Monzu from the word Monsieur who influenced the cooking again.


  • Finally in 1860 Garibaldi and his redshirts took over and Sicily was united with the mainland to become Italy.

There are loads more fascinating facts about this melting pot of culinary history. Here is one of my favourite recipes from the book that is easy to make and has loads of uses.
Marmellata di Mandarini – Clementine marmalade
Pic 3
We loved this bright orange bittersweet marmalade for breakfast on yoghurt when we were in Sicily. It is equally at home spooned over a ice cream, ricotta or on toast with mascarpone. The perfume of bubbling clementines fills the house as you make it and a jar makes a good gift.
This will be a loose-set marmalade and fairly low in sugar compared to traditional varieties. There isn’t enough sugar to enable the marmalade to be kept safely out of the fridge, but since we’re only making a small batch a few jars don’t take up too much room.
Makes approximately 1.5 kg (3 lb 5 oz)
1 kg (2 lb 3 oz) clementines
juice of 2 lemons
1 litre (34 fl oz/4¼ cups) water
400 g (14 oz/2 cups) granulated sugar
Remove the stalks and hard knobbly bits at the top of the clementines and cut in half, keeping the skin on. Now roughly chop into smaller pieces by hand or in a food processor. The pieces should be no bigger than 1 cm (½ in) cubes. Put them into a large heavy-based saucepan with the lemon juice and water and bring to the boil. Turn the heat down to a simmer and allow the mixture to bubble away slowly for 1 hour. By this time the skins should have softened so that you can squash them easily with a spoon against the side of the pan and the marmalade will have thickened to a soft, runny set.
Next add the sugar and stir through. Bring to a rapid boil for around 5 minutes or until the sugar has dissolved. Pour into clean, warm jars (I do this by rinsing them out with hot water from the kettle) and screw on the lids. Allow the jars to cool and keep in the fridge.
The book is available from Amazon and all good bookshops but you can order copies signed by us for you here.

‘Sicily – Recipes from an Italian Island’ published by Hardie Grant. All photography by Helen Cathcart.

Venice – Off the beaten canal

Photo by Helen Cathcart

Giancarlo and I spent a lot of time enjoying the bars, restaurants and foodie hang-outs of Venice while researching our book ‘Venice – Recipes Lost and Found’ and I thought it would be nice to share some of our favourite places with you. This list is in no particular order but I have separated by the various areas of the city:-
 al covo
Al Covo
Campiello della Pescaria
Castello 3968 Tel: 041 522 3812 www.ristorantealcovo.com
Very good food. Owner Cesare is passionate about his choice of ingredients. Do book. They have a tiny, more modern sister restaurant called Covino down the road.
Bistrot de Venise
San Marco, 4685 Calle dei Fabbri Venezia, Tel: (+39) 041 523 6651 www.bistrotdevenise.com
Really great traditional food but also amazing historical food recreated from the work of Renaissance cooks. Do book and have the historical menu if you can, you won’t taste anything as lovely and unusual as this elsewhere. The owner Sergio Fragiacomo is a passionate foodie, send him our regards.
La Cantina
Strada Nuova, Cannaregio 3689
Tel: 041 522 8258
Don’t expect to rush Francesco Zorzetto as he meticulously prepares the food for you but it is amazing and worth the wait. Go for cicchetti or lunch or dinner. Watch his knife skills for the sheer joy of seeing an expert at work. And do try his selection of wonderful cheeses and artisan beers.
Corte Sconta
Castello 3886, Calle del Pestrin dietro rival degli Schiavoni, 30122
Tel: 041 522 7024
Elegant restaurant, you have to book. Service and food excellent.
Enoteca Mascareta
Castello, 5183
Calle Lunga Santa Maria Formosa
Tel: 041 523 0744
A buzzing place open late, go for a huge variety of wines, cheeses, quality antipasti plates as well as cooked food. Lovely atmosphere.
Harry’s Bar
Calle Vallaresso, 1323, tel: 041 520 8822 www.harrysbarvenezia.com
Treat yourself to a Bellini or two and plate of Carpaccio in their place of origin. It will always have a buzz about this place, there is nowhere else like it in the world. 80 yr old Arrigo still regularly frequents the bar keeping an eye on the food and service.
Osteria alle Testiere
Calle del Mondo Novo, Castello
Tel: 041 522 7220
Tiny but busy place with great food so you need to book well in advance.
L’osteria di Santa Marina run by Danilo and his partner Agostino. It is elegant, food and service is outstanding. Agostino’s food is traditional with a twist. It is best to book especially in the evenings Tel: 041 52 85 239.
Trattoria Antiche Carampane
San Polo 1911, Tel: 041 524 0165 www.antichecarampane.com
Tucked away next to the Ponte delle Tette in a less busy area behind the Rialto bridge. Really traditional but ‘cool’ feel and warm hospitality. Food is delicious, try a Gianduja semifreddo and a Sgroppino after dinner.
Taverna La Fenice
San Marco 1939
Tel: 041 52 23 856
Just near the Fenice opera house.
What a romantic, warm and elegant place to eat. The wood paneling and warm lighting draws you in. We loved it. You have to try the potato spuma on secoe on a traditional Venetian stew served in a martini glass.
Trattoria La Madonna
Calle della Madonna, San Polo 594 Tel: 041 522 3824 www.ristoranteallamadonna.com
Near Rialto bridge and all the locals know it. Big and bustling, the waiters wear white tuxedos and work a long day including cleaning the spider crabs and all the other shellfish freshly every morning. Have the seafood risotto and black cuttlefish. Don’t wear white.
Vini da Gigio
Cannaregio, 3628/A Tel: 041 528 5140 www.vinidagigio.com
Venetian wine bar and restaurant run by a brother and sister. Traditional food but updated by this young couple. He can’t eat wheat so there are lots of alternatives for those like him. Try the borlotti bean and pasta soup – it makes you sigh with comfort. Wash it down with Prosecco in the style of the Contadino (peasant farmer), cloudy and light but full of flavour and dry. They also have gluten-free food.
On the pretty island of Burano – Go for lunch and have a walk around this colourful toy-town like island; the two best places are:-
Il Gatto Nero
Fondamenta della Guidecca, 88 Tel: 041 730 120, www.gattonero.com
Run by father and son team. Massimo is the son and charms the visitors speaking English with a Scottish accent while Dad works furiously in the kitchen making just delicious food. Sit outside and watch the world go by.
Trattoria Da Romano
Via Galuppi, 221
30012 Burano
Tel: 041 73 00 30, www.daromano.it
The oldest restaurant on the island, full of charm and run by the original family. Grandma and mum cook in the kitchen while Dad serves the customers. They are busy and bustling and serve simple, traditional food. The fritto misto and risotto are their specialties, ask to watch Mirko throw toss the risotto in the pan.
On the glass making island of Murano
Busa alla la Torre da Lele
Tel: 041 739 662 – you don’t need an address just ask when you get off the boat.
Flame haired Viking-like Lele shops, cooks and breathes Venetian food. Very traditional and good cooking from a passionate man.
Bacari – bars that sell cichetti and drinks
These are great often stand up bars where the locals go for a snack like little fried meatballs or tiny filled panini. You can sit down in some but they are often small. Drink Proseco or order an Aperol or Campari Spritz. No need to book unless you want to sit down. There are so many bars but these are our favourites.
Al Merca
213 San Polo – as its name suggests it is near the old market at Rialto and sells really good cichetti. You have to stand outside as the bar is miniscule. Go at 6pm and mix with the locals drinking Spritz and eating meatballs.
Cantina Do Spade
859 San Polo
Tel: 041 521 0583 – serves risotto to the locals at 12 noon, cichetti and simple plates, good for lunch or light supper. Its snug, warm and busy so good on a cold day.
Il Cantinone già Schiavi
Fondamenta Nani, 30123 in the Dorsodoro area. A really lovely wine shop, bar and caffe all in one serving cichetti made by the owner Allesandra de Respinis. She has written a book about her recipes which you can buy. Lovely atmosphere and choice.
 IMG_1723BoatBurano_hi copy

Photo by Helen Cathcart

Things to do
Take a rowing lesson with Row Venice or better still a Cichetti Row when you are shown how to row a gondola and you stop off at bars along the way! Our guide was Nan and she is really knowledgeable about wines as well as rowing. http://rowvenice.org
Take an authentic and informative cooking lesson with two fun local ladies; Monica and Arianna or let Monica take you for a tour of her favourite cicchetti bars, see www.cookinvenice.com
See all our recipes and recommendations for Venice in our book ‘Venice -Recipes Lost and Found’ which you can be purchased here.

A Perfect Weekend…

We spent last weekend at the stunning Castello di Casole, a Timbers Resort in Tuscany which is a beautiful, luxurious hotel set in the hills near Siena and describes itself as ‘Tuscany – past, present and perfect’. The hotel itself mixes contemporary Italian design and style with it’s historic castello foundations seamlessly and when you’re there you’re transported to a world where your comfort and happiness is their focus.
We were very spoiled with lovely local truffles and Ferrari fizz…
Fizz and Truffles
And the surrounding countryside was breathtaking…
I have to say we had a most dreamy weekend… even though we were actually there to work as we ran a cookery course and a Venetian feast for guests of the hotel.
During our time at the hotel Giancarlo ran a demo on how to make the perfect pizza with some of his new found chef friends. We promised to publish the recipe for his special beer infused dough which you’ll find below.
Pizza alla birra
Pizza with beer
Makes 4 pizzas
For the pizza dough
10g fresh yeast or 5g dried yeast
220ml Birra Moretti at room temperature
125ml tepid water
500g strong bread flour or ‘0’ flour
2 teaspoons salt
For the topping
400g Italian tinned plum tomatoes
1 heaped teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
a little semolina for dusting under the pizza
2 x 125g balls of Mozzarella, drained and sliced
a handful of fresh basil leaves
Add the yeast to the beer and water, then mix with the flour and salt. Knead for 8–10 minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic. Shape into a ball, put in an oiled bowl and cover with cling film or a tea-towel. Leave in a warm, draught-free spot to rise until doubled in size. After the dough has risen, split it into four even-sized balls and leave to rise until doubled in size again. Meanwhile, make the tomato sauce: put the tomatoes in a bowl and squash them into pieces with your hands or blend with a stick blender. Add the oregano, the salt and the oil, and stir well.
Bake the pizzas two at a time. Put two baking trays, spaced apart, upside-down in the oven. This gives a flat surface to cook each pizza on. Have a thin wooden chopping board or pala (a thin piece of wood or metal used for transferring the pizza to the oven) and the semolina nearby.
Preheat the oven to its hottest setting – 250–280?C is perfect. Roll out the dough on a floured surface. Scatter some semolina onto the board or pala, pull the first pizza onto it and spread over a tablespoon of tomato sauce. Top with a quarter of the mozzarella and/or other toppings. Slide the pizza into the oven and quickly pull the board or pala away so that it glides onto the hot, upturned oven tray. Repeat with the second pizza. Bake for 7–10 minutes. The bases should be golden underneath and the cheese bubbling. Garnish with the basil leaves and serve. Bake the second batch of pizzas in the same way.
Pic 4 A passion for pizza
Pizza toppings
Pizza toppings tend to be the same from one restaurant to another but each establishment puts its own twist on a classic. Our favourites are:

  • Marinara (tomato, fresh basil, garlic and oregano)
  • Salsicce (sausage) and turnip tops or broccoli
  • Smoked scamorza and tomato
  • Potato, garlic and rosemary
  • Bitter escarole mixed with capers, olives and provola cheese
  • Roasted peppers, olives, capers, escarole or lettuce and garlic
  • Capricciosa (mozzarella, proscuitto crudo, mushrooms, artichokes)
  • Calzone (mozzarella, prosciutto crudo, ricotta cheese, egg, Parmesan or Grana Padano)


When In Rome…

During our research trips for our new book ‘Rome-Centuries in an Italian Kitchen’ we stumbled across some great bars, restaurants and food shops that are not part of the normal ‘tourist trail’. There’s a full list in the book but here’s a few of our favourites:-
Trattoria De Teo
Situated in the Piazza dei Ponziani, this fabulous little trattoria is run by Teodore Filippine and his wife Tiziana. It’s always full of local diners which is always a good sign. Try the arrabbiata pasta and the polpettine de bolito. Say ‘hi’ to Teo for us.
La Taverna del Ghetto
Specialising in traditional Jewish Romanesque food this traditional tavern is situated on Via Del Portico d’ottavio. Try the wilted tomatoes, the chef’s bean dip and bread. The courgette flowers stuffed with sea bass and their Carbonara Jewish style are also worthy on note.
Dress up and enjoy spotting the celebs while you sit outside, drink bollicine (bubbles) and eat the freshest seafood or try their home marinated thinly sliced beef and delicious pasta. It’s situated in the Piazza dé Ricci a short walk from the banks of the Tiber.
Pizza da Forno Campo dei Fiori
Quite simply we think this is the best pizza in Rome, which is strange given it’s location in the centre of the tourist haven of Campo De’ Fiori. Press your nose up to the window and watch them making them before going inside and ordering a slice or two of pizza perfection.

Supplizio, Rome

Visit during the day for Dandini’s amazing suppli and a cold beer. They won’t bettered. You’ll find them in Via Dei Banchi Vecchi.
Volpetti and Volpetti Piu, Testaccio
A shop selling a huge variety of artisan cheeses, salumi and pastries. Down the road in Via Marmorata you’ll it’s cafe serving tavola calda dishes and wonderful pizza.
We also found the Buzz in Rome website very handy for suggesting places to eat and local events of interest.
For a full list of our favourite places, Roman food blogs, recipes and a lot more then buy ‘Rome – Centuries in an Italian Kitchen’ here.

Rome – Centuries in an Italian Kitchen – Out Now!

Our latest book is now on sale and you can purchase signed copies here.
We visited Rome many times to unearth the capital’s gastronomic gems – recipes both contemporary and centuries old.  We selected and tested a vast range of recipes including rustic seasonal soups, quick pasta dishes, slow-cooked joints, indulgent dolci and many, many more. The book’s photography, by our talented friend Helen Cathcart, takes you on a sumptuous visual journey of the city, from the Pantheon and the Colosseum, to the Renaissance palazzi, Baroque fountains and neighbourhood trattorie. We think it is one of the most beautiful books we have created to date and is a history, recipe and travel book rolled into one.
PAGE 45 web version
It is wonderful to see our thoughts, ideas and experiences with Romans finally brought to fruition. Now we have a tangible book in our hands and we can thumb through the pages remembering the meetings with chefs, cooks and Romans who we now are happy to call friends. Their faces smile out of the pages at us reminding us of the times we spent together.
rome 2

A Night in Venice… at the RAC!

We were recently asked to hold an event at the historical Royal Automobile Club in London’s Mayfair. Our theme of the evening was our recent book ‘Venice – Recipes Lost and Found’. We designed a menu based on recipes we had discovered as we researched the region’s dishes.
Giancarlo, with the kind assistance of RAC Head Chef Phil Corrick and his brigade, prepared a banquet which included Crostini of Whipped Salt Cod on Toasted Polenta, Ricotta and Walnut Pesto on Crostini, Beef and Potato Patties and Spiced Fish Patties.
The fish course was at the truly fine flavours of Cisame De Pesce or in English Sole and Prawns in Soar.
Our main course is a dish truly highlighted the spice trade roots of the city and was a dish of Chicken with ginger, saffron and dates, this was served with a pomegranate bejewelled rice and spinach. If you have seen us doing our live demo this week then this is a dish we feature at food festivals this year.
Our dessert was the crowd pleasing Fritelle Allo Zabaione – doughnuts filled with a zabaglione cream. I remember eating these gorgeous morsels when I was supposed to be studying art and sculpture in Venice when I was 21. I don’t remember a single painting but I do remember the doughnuts; I should have known then that I would have a career in food!
The meal concluded with coffee, mascarpone and ‘S’ biscuits. This is something we learnt from Casanova’s writing. ‘S’ biscuits were and are still made on his native island of Burano. He used to eat them at Florians in St Mark’s Square which is still there today. He dunked them, we believe, in coffee or sweet wine, then into the mascarpone. We invited the guests at the RAC to try – “absolutely delicious!” was the resounding conclusion.
Maternity, Children & Family Photographs
As is traditional on these occasions I was asked to put on my public speaking hat and give a talk on the writing of our book which is the 2nd in a series that we started with our book on the food of Amalfi and will continue to feature the food of Rome, which comes out in September. So perhaps our next trip to the RAC will include togas, laurel wreaths and suckling pig.
Maternity, Children & Family Photographs
*All photos courtesy of LGM Photographic.

Three Wise Italians visit Saturday Kitchen

Giancarlo enjoys his debut appearance on Saturday Kitchen on 21st December.  It was recorded earlier in the year when they got into the festive mood by donning Christmas jumpers on a particularly warm weekend.  I think Giancarlo got away with it lightly actually in a smart navy blue affair festoned with a not so subtle Christmas pudding on the front. Gennaro had an particularly OTT comedy reindeer and Carluccio was resplendent in a more subdued red, patterned number!
Giancarlo was spreading the preserving message from our book The Gentle Art of Preserving by showing James Martin how you can hot and cold smoke at home. Below is the recipe he used for the Hot Smoked Salmon Pasta, the smoker and the book  are both available through our online shop.
Hot smoked salmon (if you don’t have a smoker buy hot smoked (cooked) salmon and go straight to the recipe below).
preparation: You will need salmon fillets for this. The size doesn’t matter but thicker pieces will take longer than thin. Sprinkle a thin layer of fine sea salt over the base of a lasagne dish or similar and arrange the salmon fillets, skin-side down, on top. Sprinkle some more salt over the surface of the fish, cover the dish with clingfilm and set aside to cure in the fridge for approx. 1 hour.
Rinse the fillets briefly under the tap and pat dry on kitchen paper. Arrange on a wire rack in the fridge or a cool room to dry for 30 minutes or so to form a pellicle (a thin skin that attracts the smoke particles).
Wood choice: Alder, maple, beech or oak dust.
Timing: Hot smoke for approx. 20 minutes in a Cameron or barbecue style smoker. Once the fish is cooked it should feel firm to the touch.
Serving suggestion: Enjoy hot, straight from the smoker. Alternatively, cool it down and have it with salad.
Storage: Keep wrapped in cling film or in a covered container in the fridge and eat within 7 days.
Smoking salmon
Pasta with hot smoked salmon, cream and chilli vodka
There is a well-known recipe in Italy that combines smoked salmon with penne and vodka bound together with cream. I am not sure of its origin, as neither salmon nor vodka is found traditionally in Italy. However it is a wonderful combination whatever the origin and even better when made with your own produce. I love to serve each person with a shot glass of chilli vodka to drink with their pasta – it adds a real kick and a giggle to the meal.
Serves 8–10
600g rigatoni or penne pasta
300g hot smoked salmon (see opposite)
1 white onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled, lightly crushed but left whole
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
100ml chilli vodka (see page 00)
600ml double cream
roughly chopped fresh parsley, to serve
Put the pasta to cook in a large pan filled with boiling salted water. Meanwhile, fry the onion and garlic in the olive oil in a large frying pan over a medium heat until soft but not coloured, approx. 5 minutes. Add a pinch of salt, bearing in mind that the salmon will be salty already, and a generous pinch of black pepper. Pour in the chilli vodka and ignite if you wish (stand back) or simply leave for a couple of minutes to burn off the alcohol. Flake the salmon into the pan and pour in the cream. Cook over a low heat until the sauce has thickened and the pasta is al dente. Drain the pasta through a colander and add to the pan with the salmon and cream. Toss through gently so as not to break up the salmon any more and serve with a sprinkling of fresh parsley.
Recipe extracted from The Gentle Art of Preserving by Katie and Giancarlo Caldesi published by Kyle Books 2013.

Drying tomato seeds for next year’s crop

Tuscan smallholder Nello Ceccuzzi hates shops. In fact he never really goes to one as he is 80% self-sufficient. He and his wife Livia grow nearly everything they need in their “orto” or vegetable garden. This year we visited him as he was picking tomatoes which he does as they just turn ripe. He was particularly proud of the ones with dark skins, they have a “sapori buoni” he told me, a good flavour.  They have tough skins but he will use them to make passata so the skins will be sieved out anyway. I will cover passata in the next blog post.  As Nello is ever watchful of pennies and proud of his bounty he takes seeds from this year’s crop for the next.
Nello has never bought seeds but instead used varieties year in, year out that he got from his family or his neighbours. He knows they grow well in his soil and he likes their taste, size and texture. You can’t save seeds from hybrid varieties also called F1.

Drying tomato seeds for next year’s crop

Here is how he does it. Remove enough seeds from a perfect tomato to give you a good batch of plants for next year and extras to allow for mistakes. Put them into a sieve and  rinse them under cold water to remove some of the gel that surrounds them.
Spread them onto paper or baking parchment and leave outside on a dry, still day or on a sunny windowsill weighed down so that it doesn’t blow away. Alternatively use kitchen paper, the seeds won’t come off but if you spread them out you can plant them on the paper and it will degrade in the soil.
When the seeds are thoroughly dry fold up the piece of paper and write on it what they are and when you dried them. Then keep in a tin or box in a dark, dry place until next year when you are ready to plant.  Simple, tomatoes for eternity without stepping over the threshold of a shop and parting with money.