I am the type of person who loves to travel to a destination specifically for the food it has to offer. I find great tranquility in cooking and I take great enjoyment in food shopping on holiday – whatever the season. For me, pleasure is food shared with others. Now that I have a young family, (my daughter is currently just under 2 years old), cooking is strongly weaved through our daily lives and meal times are milestones of the day, even on holiday.
We recently went to Tuscany with some friends. Sunshine, splish-splashing in the pool and good food was our entire agenda. We stayed in a gorgeous 4-bedroom Airbnb villawith a swimming pool, about 30 mins outside of Siena.
The villa had a swimming pool overlooking the endless groves of olive trees, luscious vineyards and lavender bushes spreading wildly under the golden heat. The major selling factor was also the many great dining spaces the villa boasts. Since having our daughter, we have had less time to spend with friends, and so big communal meals were always going to be a big part of our trip. We could take our pick of where on the property to eat, from the most romantic and breathtaking of places: under the tall, protective pine trees; underneath arches of thorns and roses next to the swimming pool and beside the giant perfumed fig trees. Inside the house, the kitchen was great for breakfasts, and the roofed balcony and various living spaces for snacks and feasts by candlelight and cicada cries. This was a perfect place for our new family to spend precious time with friends, especially with the bottles of wine left for us by the Airbnb host, who also owns a vineyard.
If you love cooking and feeding as I do, ideas for Italian-inspired recipes can be endless and I loved spending time in the cool kitchen, slicing melons and making fresh pasta. The kitchen had the most amazing view and such great contrasting light. I could seriously romanticise and be there all day looking out of the window, writing a novel and cooking meals for the family, if it weren’t for all the children running around! It had everything that we needed from big plates and platters for feasts, to pots and pans for cooking it all. The only missing thing was a pasta machine. We even found a second fridge for drinks which was great. If you love cooking on holiday, don’t be afraid to ask your host beforehand to detail exactly what equipment there is, just so you can make the right choice for you.
Food-wise, I firmly believe you wouldn’t miss meat if you just decided to cook all sorts of beautiful Italian vegetables and enjoy them with the simple pasta. Making fresh pasta is better but perhaps too time-consuming for all apart from the most dedicated foodies, so having it from the packet is just as good.
For me, there is no time or inclination to ever count calories or drink kale juices, especially not on holiday. Make cake, buy cake, eat cake and do what brings the family utmost pleasure.
Tuscan-inspired holiday recipes
Simple tomato pasta
Get hold of one or a variety of delicious red plum tomatoes. Fry with shallots/onions, garlic, chillies if you like them, and a splash of white wine, then season with salt and pepper. Add a couple of spoonfuls of water from the pasta pan, and reduce with butter or olive oil. When the pasta is cooked, I mix it all together and serve with torn basil and a fresh grating of parmesan. On some nights, we just used the sauce from a jar, just as good.
Roast vegetable trays
Lay your favourite cut vegetables on a baking tray and drizzle olive oil, season with salt and pepper and herbs. Choose vegetables with similar cooking times (which you can guess by the hardness/softness of each item) to roast together. If leaves are put in with butternut squash, for example, then the leaves might burn before the squash cooks.
My favourite pairings are fennel and aubergine; squash, olives and beetroot; courgettes & tender-stem broccoli. Add a whole or half bulb of unpeeled garlic, hardy herbs like mouthwatering rosemary and sage. Or make a fresh basil or parsley olive oil dressing to toss everything together in once it is cooked.
Tray roasts are also a great way of using up vegetables on the last few days when you have to eat all the fridge contents. Be inventive with ingredients and use what’s available. Sometimes the nicest things are the simplest things.
My spaghetti vongole recipe
One of my favourite meals of all time is a plate of glorious spaghetti vongole. Sweat out some onion, cherry tomatoes, add garlic, then clams and a generous amount of good quality white wine, chopped parsley, chillies (optional), a couple of ladles of pasta water, and salt and pepper, then leave on the lid for a few minutes until all the shells are open. Mix with grade-5 spaghetti. Done. Heaven!