I have always been fascinated with trains and exploring Italy ranked highly on my ‘must do rail journeys’ list.
Last September I was fortunate to acquire an obliging husband who shared this dream and together we embarked on a multi-city, whistle-stop tour taking in Rome, Florence, Milan and Lake Garda while consuming plenty of good wine and food along the way. Italy’s high speed rail network makes this very doable.
Florence was my favourite place and I could happily spend all day walking around, admiring the ornate architectural detail on the many cathedrals, palaces and bridges; everything is beautifully preserved and the city has an old-world grandeur which contrasts completely to that of ancient Rome.
(Pictures from Florence)
Nestled in the middle of the Tuscan valley and surrounded by mountains there is plenty to do in Florence – we brushed up on our culinary skills at an authentic Italian cookery class, enjoyed a wine tasting tour and at one vineyard I bought a 12-year-old bottle of balsamic vinegar at an eye watering 40 euros.
Generally the only liquids I purchase at this price are for my face and aimed at improving my complexion, not dressing up a salad. This balsamic though is truly delicious and goes beautifully with Italian Pecorino cheese.
So as you may have already guessed there is an Italian themed recipe coming your way now… and it is not pasta or pizza!
Tuscan beef stew – slow cooked meat in red wine sauce – is a signature dish for Florence and a favourite from my travels, served with roasted rosemary potatoes or crusty bread this stew is rich in flavour, but still light enough to welcome the spring sunshine.
Tuscan beef stew
(Serves four to six)
- 2 pounds stewing steak (cut into chunks)
- 1 pound shin meat (bone included)
- 12-15 whole peppercorns
- 1 bottle of Chianti red wine
- 2-3 sprigs of rosemary
- 1 onion finely diced
- 4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon of cornflour
- Pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees. Add the olive oil to a pan and sauté the onion over a low heat.
- Remove the onion and add to a casserole dish – traditionally the stew is made in a terracotta cooking pot.
- Season the meat well with salt and pepper and brown in batches using the same pan as for the onions; I kept the shin piece whole.
- Add the meat to casserole dish and coat well with the cornflour.
- Now add the whole peppercorns, wine and rosemary. Cover the dish and cook in the oven for 2-3 hours until the meat is tender. Remove the shin bone – if the meat is tender enough it should fall off the bone.
- If the sauce becomes too thick during the cooking process, add a little water.
- Adjust the seasoning as required and serve with crusty bread or potatoes.