Panzanella (Tuscan bread and tomato salad)


I’ve been spending the last few days of my time in Italy staying with my oldest friend, Catherine, in what is to my mind, the most beautiful house in Tuscany. A stunning farmhouse at the end of a treacherous road where I feel completely at home and happy. I’m incredibly lucky to have my nearest neighbor be one of my closest friends and I always make sure our time here overlaps. I just can’t imagine being here without her. We spent last night at a local festa reminiscing about a slightly more glamorous party that used to be the highlight of every summer but which sadly no longer happens.


Every August, the courtyard of Badia a Coltibuono, a 12th Century monastery outside Gaiole, would be the stage for a concert by students of the famous Academia Chigiana. The classical music was followed by food and drinks in the formal garden while the courtyard was transformed into a disco. Huge ceramic bowls filled with Panzanella and platters of Parma ham, salami and cheese were laid out for the guests to feast on before the dancing began. I decided to recreate the panzanella today and I’m sure the fact that it was so delicious was thanks to every ingredient except the bread coming straight from Catherine’s garden.





4 slices of tuscan bread or good sourdough

1/2 red onion, thinly sliced

1 red pepper, deveined, seeded and sliced into strips

2 large heirloom tomatoes

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil


Basil leaves



1. The bread should be a little stale. If it is not, you can put it in a low oven for 15 minutes to dry out. Then cut into 1″ cubes.

2. Soak the sliced onions in a bowl of water for 10-15 minutes to bring out the sweetness then drain and dry.

3. In a large bowl, mix the red pepper, tomatoes, bread and red onion.

4. Sprinkle the vinegar and then the olive oil all over the salad and mix well with your hands. Add salt, taste and mix again. Tuscan bread is made without salt so I used quite a lot but it depends on your ingredients.

5. Finish by sprinkling with some chopped basil leaves and leave it to sit for at least 10 minutes. The bread will soak up all the juices of the tomatoes and continue to improve.

Popina’s Plum Tart


I’m writing this from my very favorite place on earth. It is pure heaven to be back in Italy where everything is reassuringly unchanged. I slip so easily into the daily routine of morning visits to Gaiole to stock up on supplies; succulent meat from Vincenzo, the butcher and a replenishment of fresh fruit from Angiolo, the green grocer before heading back to a lazy day of reading on the wall before preparing dinner.  



Banished from the wall for a few hours due to a torrential downpour, I decided to try my hand at Popina’s plum tart that is usually Ben’s domain. He started making it a few years ago and it looks and tastes so impressive that I assumed it was beyond my capabilities. Guided by Ben’s husband Charlie, an expert baker, the tart was in the oven in no time at all and our sweet toothed guests were finally given something to satisfy their cravings. I can’t recommend Popina’s Book of Baking highly enough for novices to experts alike.




Popina’s Plum Tart

Adapted from Popina Book of Baking



Sweet Shortcrust:

8.8 ounces plain flour

4.4 ounces unsalted butter, chilled and cubed

3 ounces granulated sugar

1 egg

Sponge Dough:

1.6 ounces unsalted butter, at room temperature

3.2 ounces granulated sugar

1 egg

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

3.2 ounces plain flour


A selection of plums (about 15)

3 tablespoons marmalade 

2 tablespoons water



Preheat the oven to 325°F


Make the Shortcrust pastry:

1. Put the flour, butter and sugar in a food processor and blitz until you get crumbs.

2. Add the egg and blend again until the ingredients form a ball of dough. 

3. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and put in the fridge while you do the next steps.


Make the sponge dough:

1. With an electric whisk, blend the butter and sugar in a mixing bowl.

2. Add the egg and baking powder and whisk to combine.

3. Gently fold in the flour by hand until you get a smooth paste.


Make the tart:

1. Butter a 9″ fluted tart pan, preferably loose based.

2. Roll out the shortcrust pastry on a lightly floured surface and line the tart pan. You can also cheat like I did and put the ball of dough directly into the pan and use the palm of your hands to distribute evenly and then your fingers to fill the sides. 

3. Trim any excess dough from the edges.

4. Spoon the sponge dough into the tart shell and spread in an even layer.

5. Scatter the plums around the tart. 

6. Bake in the preheated oven for 45 minutes. The sponge dough will rise around the fruit and turn a golden brown.

7. Leave the pie to cool and heat the marmalade in a small pan with the water. 

8. Sieve the marmalade and brush over the tart before serving. 

Ottolenghi’s Green Gazpacho


Like many food lovers, I bow to the altar of Yottam Ottlolenghi. I love pouring over his books, visiting his restaurants in London and reading up on him but for some reason I rarely make any of his recipes. This green gazpacho is an exception probably because it’s so quick and easy. Gazpachos are fresh by their very nature but this is simply the freshest as well as the tastiest that I’ve ever had.


My friend Chris made it for me last summer and I’ve been making it ever since when I want something super clean. I made it today in a vague attempt at a pre-vacation cleanse before I overload on pasta in Italy. I’m off tomorrow and already counting the hours until I can sit on ‘the wall’ and watch the sun set with an ice cold G&T!


Ottolenghi’s Green Gazpacho

Adapted from Plenty

Serves 6



2 thick slices of 7 grain bread, cubed

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Sea salt



2 celery stalks (including leaves), roughly chopped

1 green bell pepper, seeded and roughly chopped

6 mini cucumbers, peeled and roughly chopped

3 slices of stale white bread, crusts removed and broken into small pieces

1 jalapeno pepper (seeds removed or not depending on whether you like heat), chopped

3 garlic cloves, chopped

5 cups of baby spinach

1 cup basil leaves

2 tablespoons of parsley leaves

1 teaspoon sugar

2 tablespoons of champagne vinegar

1 cup extra virgin olive oil

3 tablespoons of greek yoghurt

1 cup of water

2 teaspoons salt

4 ice cubes




1. Preheat the oven to 375°F.

2. Toss the bread cubes in the oil and salt and arrange on a baking tray. Bake for 10-12 minutes until crisp.

3. Remove and leave to cool.



1. Fit as many of the ingredients as you can (except the ice cubes) into a large blender and blitz until smooth.

2. Transfer to a bowl and blitz the rest of the ingredients along with the ice cubes.

3. Add the second batch to the bowl and mix well to combine.

4. Serve immediately with croutons.

Bacon Cheddar Bratwurst Frittata


Earlier this week, I found myself on the Upper East Side and popped in for a visit to Schaller & Weber. The store has managed to maintain its charm as it passes from generation to generation. Jeremy Schaller, grandson of Ferdinand Schaller, master butcher from Germany who opened the store in 1937, has maintained the high standards while giving the place a bit of a makeover. A few months ago they opened a café in the back and now he and his business partner, Jesse Danes have turned a meat storage area next to the store into a ‘stube’ selling incredible sausage sandwiches with a modern twist.


I can never pass by without stocking up on some of my favorites to stack up in the freezer. First and foremost, their double smoked bacon and my new guilty pleasure, their Bacon Cheddar Brats. Naughty but oh so nice, they were an obvious addition to a frittata which works for every meal from breakfast to dinner.


Bacon Cheddar Bratwurst Frittata


8 eggs

1/2 cup whole milk

1/2 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup grated cheddar, divided

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 lb Bacon Cheddar Bratwurst, thinly sliced

1/2 medium onion, finely chopped

1 small red pepper, finely diced

chopped parsley for garnish



1. In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs, milk, salt and 1/4 cup of the cheddar.

2. In a large skillet (preferably cast iron), heat the oil and fry the bratwurst until browned all over, about 5 minutes.

3. Add the onion and the red pepper and continue cooking on a medium heat until the onion has softened.

4. Turn the heat down to low, add the eggs. At this point you should preheat your broiler. Shake the pan every few minutes until you see the edges begin to set, about 10-12 minutes total. The center will still be completely uncooked.

5. Add the remaining 1/2 cup of cheddar and place under the broiler for a further 4 minutes until the top is nicely brown and the center is just set.

6. Top with chopped parsley and serve in wedges straight from the pan.