Saturday, June 09, 2007

Vals VF Food Report - Now on the Blog

Here is the long-awaited Food Report from our VF Pilgrim reporter!


“Whilst we might seem to have a preoccupation with food it is not surprising given the demanding days we are having - we average 7 -10 hours of off road climbing in high temperatures. It is hot by 8am until late evening. We are drinking coke and water to replace the electrolytes regularly. We are also carrying heavy backpacks, supposed to be maximum of 6-7kg - mine however weighed 8.5kg at the airport check-in.
(Surely a little black number cannot weigh that much?) Not surprising then that my highlight and reward is a cool glass of wine and an espresso nightcap and of course something special to eat - our stomachs rumble all day as we burn up the calories so quickly”.

It was never my intention to write so much on food, although I knew I was looking forward to trying as much as possible. So what started out as just a comment in my blog reports became my all consuming passion, I would think about food all day, with every step….heaven!

It is Friday morning and we are at the travel agents to confirm our tickets. We have a photo taken on my camera but this crashed before I managed to download the pics but we can all remember it very well. The travel agent enquires as to any special meal requirements.
“Yes” says Sil, “I am a vegetarian.”
“I’m also fine with that” says Marion.
“Oh what the hell”, I say, “Count me in.”
Kathy and Rayna follow suit.

Economy Class Vegetarian… bread or cheese and biscuits for us, no yoghurt, no milk for our coffee – we have been classified as vegans and have very little other than a stew of vegetables and some nuts and seeds. This is too much for Kathy in the next aisle who pleads with the Air Hostess that there has been a serious mistake! Marion shares in her alarm and the (single) gentleman next to her offers up his cheese and biscuits. In the morning, he demands yoghurt from the Air Hostess for her. A sparkling wine takes the place of my supper and I feel very content indeed.

What a pleasant surprise, expecting Styrofoam cups of coffee and 3 day old sandwiches from a dispensing machine, we have (as only the Europeans can do) a full selection of coffees made to order, I have my first espresso since leaving JHB Airport. And what is this? A beautiful restaurant with starched white tablecloths, waiters and a view over the lake.
We book in for lunch and enjoy an excellent array of fresh fish and vegetables and pastas. The fish is fresh pink steaks of salmon with an exciting light sauce. We all try to guess what the ingredients are and Rayna gets it right, Pistachios. I asked the Chef for the recipe, a butter sauce with saffron, turmeric and pistachios. It was the first meal I tried when I got back into my kitchen. As I didn’t get the precise recipe, I used a very light wine and butter sauce that one might make for a delicate fish dish and included the turmeric at the beginning and added saffron, seeped in hot water, and then the pistachios which Martin sat and shelled. (Take a 250g of Pistachios, ask your husband to shell them and you should end up with 100g for your recipe!) Whilst mentioning saffron, I have been taught two ways, steam the saffron on a plate over a saucepan of boiling water to bring out the vibrant colour and heighten the flavour or steep in a little boiling water… warned - saffron will not dissolve in oil.

Monday, June 19, 2006 DAY FIVE La Douay to Gr San Bernado
I couldn’t cope with the dinner at the Hospice and decided to try out the local restaurant where I enjoyed "Polenta grille a la Valaisannne" - polenta with cheese and speck (bacon) - chf 22 (R110) Rayna joined me for glass of house wine. Then I spoke to Martin and had a few “long distance” toots with him. I had to creep into the dorm and in the dark could just make out a shape sleeping at the bottom of my bunk which did not resemble one of our team….an interloper?
Tuesday, June 20, 2006 - DAY SIX Gr San Bernado to Aosta
We were forced onto the road due to the snow and ice so we decided to treat ourselves to lunch at Entroubles. Pretty little place with a very friendly Tourism office.
Determined to try something different for my first meal in Italy I chose "Pappardella al sugo di Capriolo" - pasta with Roe Deer Sauce" € 9.30 (plus R100) Belissimo!! As one would expect, I ate a lot of pasta dishes but only because they were just so different and obviously authentic. Can you imagine having Pappardella with Roe Deer Sauce at the local Italian restaurant in SA? Other favourites were Rigatoni with Italian sausage and artichokes and cream. Wonderful combination and somewhat easier to make at home than “first hunt one Roe Deer”.
Recipe – the real thing
The River Café cookbook 2 has a recipe for loins of venison wrapped in coppa – they use Roe Deer. It’s a lovely recipe and would taste fantastic.
Recipe – just as good
Similar to the texture of the roe deer I had an equally tasty ragu – Delia Smith has a wonderful recipe in her Winter Collection - “Authentic Ragu Bolognese. Not for the faint hearted or those with cholesterol it contains pork, beef, bacon and chicken livers. Martin makes this every winter and we keep tubs in the freezer for an easy but great meal in minutes. It’s really worth a try – “spag bogs” will never taste the same again.
Recipe – exceptionally good
Another take on the authentic bolognese is a recipe from Australian Chef and my food hero – Neil Perry – his book Neil Perry – the Food I Love. Duck Ragu with Papparedelle – Fantastic!! Again I must state that this is what the Italians eat and look amazing on it…they are definitely part of the Beautiful People Club.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006 - DAY SEVEN Aosta to St Vincent
Wednesday seems to be early closing day with many restaurants remaining closed in the evening. As such we finally came to an "IRISH PUB". Expecting the Italian version of Guinness Pie, the menu turned out to be pure Italian, the music Country and Western. Somewhere around here is a very mixed up proprietor. I chose the Crespelle Alla Valdostana €7.50, crepe with ham and cheese and it appeared to be swimming in cream; however this was soon absorbed by the generous coating of freshly grated parmesan. Rayna and Kathy took the Toertellini Panna Prosciutto € 6.50 also with a light addition of cream - very good. Syl had a pizza with a generous coating of Italian cheeses € 6.50 literally dripping with Gorgonzola. Marion had a tuna salad, very fresh with lots of vegetables (good girl!) Our wine was local Le Rime 2004 Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio €10. The Italians it would appear have not been drawn into the rest of the world’s preoccupation with cholesterol testing....delicious!
Thursday, June 22, 2006 - DAY EIGHT St Vincent to Pont St Martin
Faced with a supper of instant soup and Melba toast (pinched from the Breakfast table) Kathy and I headed for the supermarket where we found excellent minestrone soup, bought some parmesan and fresh bread and cheese. Very Good! Following on from Sil's comments about the accommodation - the standards are exceptionally high. To gain a license the owner must invest substantially in upgrading the amenities. No 1970's shagpile carpets and old furniture which isn't wanted anywhere else in the house. Considerably less is expected of his culinary skills - just the ability to slice a loaf of bread and open a jar of jam will give him the right to advertise as a bed AND BREAKFAST establishment. A lot can be said for the Great British or SA Breakfast - no Wors, chops and curried mince to be found here!

Friday, June 23, 2006 - DAY NINE Pont St Martin to Settimo Vitonne (“Il potremmo avere ancora un po’di – Can I have some more Please?”)
Word must have spread throughout the B&B community that the "Gourmet Girls" were 'chowing' their way through Italy. Our first true Italian B-fast served by our first male host - sorry girls but have to admit that this one was the first to get it right. Salami, block of beautifully matured Parmesan, pasties, yoghurt, cereal and really good coffee - well done Fabio. And a kitchen to die for - true Italian design - Marty you will be pleased to know I have found my next kitchen!
Dinner: This eating experience deserved a special mention...On arrival in Settimo Vittone we stopped at a restaurant for coffee to prepare us for the climb to the castle which would be our rest place for the night. The owner, Signor Antonella greeted us and we looked at photos of him on the wall - he turned out to be the conductor of the local band. We looked at the menu and said we would return for supper. Osteria La Sosta was well worth the 2km round trip. When we arrived in the evening the daughter greeted us and handed a postcard from the owner. He had written a personal message to us:

" Ladies - from the "Ospitality Il Castello"
Dear Ladies, Unfortunately (for me, at least) I won't be there when you're coming tonight. I just want to give you some information about the way to have good food and not to spend too much. The PRIMI PIATTI and also the SECONDI are portioned for two people. The antipasti can be shared as well. The Spontine del Viandante is the Pilgrims Dish. Have a Good time and good luck for your trip."

Accompanying the postcard was a brochure and menu with the family history and a Dolci recipe. I collect menus and this will become part of my collection.
Sil chose the grill di zucchini, melanzane - a selection of grilled vegetables. Kathy insisted on the ravioli cooked in the copper pan and said the sauce was delicious and spicy - she didn't offer a tasting - Kathy says she doesn't share!!
Val, Rayna and Marion decided to try the Proposte Di Menu De Gerstazione (€18) each. (The degustation menu). We had no idea what we were getting into.
Antipasti were served in two courses.Sausage - red, could have been blood but we told ourselves it was beetroot.Lard - literally strips of bacon lard - it tasted good but was spoiled by the voice in my head which was that of Chef Michelle of the Christina Martin School of Cookery lecturing us on the reasons NOT to cook with duck fat or lard..."it goes straight to the arteries!”
Dried beef - Biltong?Bowl of Salsa...which reminded us of Chakalka.
Second course of AntipastiCarpaccio - deliciousEggs on bruschetta - like eggs benedict without the spinachSpicy sausage in yellow peppers
PrimoRavioli meatRisotto - cheeseGnocchi Verde
DolciPanna cotta al caffee con salsina alla branda (disappointing - too much gelantine?)Sorbetto al limone - lemon sorbet - excellentTiramisu - because you have to! It is one of those dishes that became fashionable about 15 years ago and few of us probably would recognise the real thing. We went on to taste a Tiramisu made in heaven at the Hostel in Berceto - but remain unsure if it was the real thing. I need to look it up in Elizabeth David’s diaries of Northern Italy. (note: Elizabeth David’s makes no mention of this dish, however I believe translated it means “pick me up” – yes could certainly agree with that).
Saturday, June 24, 2006 - DAY TEN Settimo Vittone to Casio
Breakfast at the Castle deservers a mention: Our host and hostess at the Castle excelled with breakfast…I doubt that anyone could beat this. Everything you could ever want from freshly baked bread and pastries, cheeses, hams, homemade yoghurt, jams and great coffee. I cannot do it justice so Rayna took photos. Reading the guest book, everyone raved about the breakfast and we can understand why.
Supper: On the food front - we ate at the tavern over the road before the Saturday night locals arrived. We had some very non-descript pasta. The locals obviously patronize this establishment for the atmosphere but certainly not for the food.

Sunday, June 25, 2006 - DAY ELEVEN Cassio to Berceto & Tugo
We are in Parma country - Parma ham and porcini mushrooms and of course the real Parmesan - but the mushrooms are only in season from September. The restaurant is part of the hostel and has a real "Mama" in the cupboard. Good menu of home cooked dishes featuring lamb, wild boar and guinea fowl. The body however needs a break so will be choosing something a little lighter tonight. Tugo Hostel …. Just before Berceto. Tonight we chose:
Antipasti selection of tort di patate, (potato tart), frittata con Zucchini, Mortadella di Cinghiale (rolls of mortadella meat - apparently Wild
Boar?) all three for €5.
Primi - Polenta ai funghi porcini €7: Contori - Inslata, pomodor, verdure grigliate €2 - salad with grilled vegetables - beautiful veggies with olive oil served warm. (like ours Marty!) We find roasted veggies are always better if you can cook them in a single layer – using a large flat baking sheet.
Room for Puds! - Crostata di cioccolato e ricotta, di marmellata di pesche (peach), or di marmellata di lamponi, Tiramisu - delicious - if this is authentic then we love it! Real dark chocolate and layered firmly not mushy.
Monday, June 26, 2006 - DAY TWELVE Cisa ostello Tugo to Pontremoli
Mama Norina takes us to our seats, she will cook especially for us the two specialities of Pontremoli. The first is Testaroli – this is believed to be the very first ever pasta, thin, eggless, wheat flour pancakes are cooked in large terracotta or cast iron pans called Testi. Cooked like an omelet, then cut into pieces and dropped into boiling water and served with pesto, or olive oil and parmesan.
A carafe of wine appears, we nod appreciatively and she pinches my cheek! We enjoy our first course of Testaroli and mop up the green rich olive oil and herbs with bread - our plates are clean and Mama Norina is very pleased.Next we are served the Torta d'Erbe - edible field grasses, leeks and mushrooms. Mama tells us proudly that she makes the pastry - only she can do this! It is very similar to a Greek Spinach and Feta pie but the pastry is really special and not as flakey as Filo. It is delicious and we finish it all. She is pleased and I get a hug! We ask Mama to recommend Dolci.We are served Ricotta and Apple Cake - much lighter than it looks - excellent.She offers coffee - I ask for Espresso - obviously the right choice - she pinches my cheek and I get another hug! We take a photo of our Mama and me! I have been married twice so I've had two chances to win over "Mama-in-Laws" (you know...those Mothers of Sons) - I should have married an Italian - I would have been very fat but the Mother in Law would have loved me!
Recipe –whilst not using the Italian cheese Ricotta, Sprigs have an amazing Lavender (or substituted with Ginger), Orange and Olive Oil Cake – it reminds me of Mama’s cake because it has the same unexpected lightness. The recipe is in their latest cook book and they also include it in their cookery classes. (For those of you who are not fortunate enough to live in SA and especially in Kloof – Sprigs is THE ladies coffee and lunch venue where you should be seen!) (Carole – you will agree, I’m sure).

FRIDAY, JUNE 30, 2006 - DAY FIFTEEN San Miniato to Gambassi Terme
The ristorante served fish and specialised in seafood. The first we have seen. As such we had a lovely spread of salads, seafood kebabs and delicious grilled vegetables. We felt in need of chips - he bought us a huge platter of fresh crisp chips - he offered us tomato sauce (Ketchup), he looked relieved that we were not of the tomato sauce variety. He then came to the table with a bottle of liquor. This he tells us is made by his wife - he gives us the recipe, it is made from oranges that have no chemicals - you cannot buy it in the shops and you cannot buy it from him - you must be invited by the owner to sample it! We are honoured, it tastes like cointreau but better.

Saturday, July 1, 2006 – day seventeen - Gambassi Terme to St Gimignano
Breakfast ….Well today we all agreed that in the name of the Real Food Movement we would be true Italians for the day so, forget the yoghurt and fruit - it was straight to the "La Pasticceria and savoury and sweet croissants, pastries and cappuccino and hot chocolate.
Lunch "when in Rome" - Crostini €3 - € 3.50 -toasted bread with a selection of toppings, olives, capers, cheese, aubergines and mushrooms - washed down with a glass of Vino Bianco Frizzante (becoming rather partial to this!) followed by Espresso and Cappuccino and English Breakfast Tea (as the only Pommie, I don't drink tea). Marion and I decided to mark our Cappuccino’s out of 5 - they have been getting progressively worse as we left the however, we got to 4 out of 5. Most have been Luke warm milk but today's was hot with a good flavour and a top froth, yes very good indeed.

Recipe: What is the difference between Crostini and Bruschetta? – well as far as I can make out is the type of bread used and the angle at which it is cut. Sourdough bread would normally be used for Bruschetta (sourdough resembling a good honest crusty country loaf) and cut straight, Ciabatta bread for Crostini cut at an angle, both types are cut approx half inch thick. Toast, rub with garlic and drizzle with olive oil and serve with your chosen topping. Tuscan purists will tell you that bread and oil and salt compose the best “Bruschette”. Correct pronunciation is “brew-sket’ –ah). The ‘c’ is sharp in this case and not a ‘ch’ sound like French. Italian is an easy language in as much as you pronounce all letters, almost like reading phonetically. It is always tempting though to use the soft sounds of French.
Dinner: For tonight’s meal we needed to escape the Tourists - out of interest I read a number of menu's outside the "posh" places - admittedly divine sounding food but it was 'tourist food'. We opted for a ristorante in a back street, family run with only 6 tables. The "smells of real food" reached us as we opened the door. We didn't get to meet Mama but she was definitely in the kitchen.Rayna and Marion had the Crespellas, light pancakes with spinach and ricotta - really good. Kathy chose spaghetti with a meat sauce (it must have been good because she wouldn't talk to us until she had finished). Rayna is my photographic food stylist and we are irritating the others because they have to wait for us to photograph their food before they can eat it!) Kathy just gives us that look which says "don't mess with my food!" Sil had gnocchi with tomato and cream - "the best ever" was her verdict. I had Ossobuco in crema di oderce (Ossobucco - shin cooked in the most delicious mixture of herbs, vegetables - it fell away from the bone - I moped up the juices with bread but the finale was to put the marrow on another piece of bread - just as well we walk again tomorrow.Dolci - Rayna had Tiramisu - like our Cappuccino’s we are marking these - this one got a big thumbs down - it was just like a weak custard. Kathy had Apple torte – an authentic dish of sliced apples with a "batter" poured over and baked - very good. A true torte!. I had Panna Cotta with Chocolate - as it was set down before me it wobbled on the plate - that was a good sign. "Heaven, I'm in Heaven!" it was perfection. So light, hint of vanilla and dark, pure chocolate across the top - 10 out of 10. The latest trend is to make this desert with yoghurt instead of cream to appeal to the more health conscious - I am of the school that you either have this desert as it is intended or don't have it at all. I am always amazed at Diet Cook Books that go to great lengths to give recipes for deserts so you can eat one every day. Rather go without and enjoy just one real one occasionally.

Sunday, July 02, 2006 - DAY EIGHTEEN San Gimignano to Monteriggione.
From around 1213 the fortified village of Monteriggione was one of a series of Sienese Ghibelline hill forts - and is described by Dante in the "Divine Comedy". Here we had a good food day (in other words…no ice creams, cakes etc.) we opted for salads - a huge mixed salad including tuna was €6 , the desserts were fit for a king - only Sil was tempted and had a pastry lined torte, confectioners custard topped with figs and nuts - gorgeous. I am getting withdrawal symptoms from the lack of a sparkling glass so I had a couple of glasses - equivalent to a Pongraz or Graham Beck €3.50 a glass, the real thing €6.50 per glass - my drinks bill was more than the cost of my food tonight!

Monday, July 03, 2006 – DAY NINETEEN Monteriggione to Sienna
Lunch: We cannot shop so we hit the restaurant - we probably won't eat out tonight as we are 6km from the Centre so....I had a glass of Sparkling and Carpaccio Bresaola, rucola e grana (cured meat with rocket salad and parmesan €7 - delicious 'Heaven'!The girls had Tremazzinis - which were white (very dry) bread sandwiches - not toasted as we are used to and Kathy and Rayna two really good salads for €5.50. We hadn't intended to eat supper out but,,,, we found a restaurant with a real Pizza oven where they made the pizza bases in front of us- this was a first! So, we decided "to support the locals" Boost the Italian economy. We walked into a restaurant full of men! Men in groups men in pairs - we were eyed with suspicion. I assured the girls that European men do this sort of thing. Eventually a male & female couple walked in and we all relaxed. We had fantastic pizzas - not paper thin, not double crust, just light as a feather dough, lovely friendly waiter - such a contrast to Sienna - even brought a plate of anchovies to Kathy and me. We had 1/2 a lt of wine for €3.50 We have been paying more for a glass in the tourist areas. We walked back to the hostel singing: “We feel good, like a fat pilgrim should” “We feel fine after a bottle of wine”. Marion and I crept into our room trying hard not to wake Sil.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006 - DAY TWENtY Sienna to Lucignano D'Ariba
Kathy and I offered to shop for supper - we found a really good Minestrone, croutons, fresh shavings of grand Parmesan (so cheap) followed by huge Tuna, salad with bread - the bread was once again weighed and not sold per loaf - wine of the evening was from Castelplanio - a crisp white Verdicchio.Rayna and I are going to have a bottle of really good Merlot when we reach Roma. Safe in the knowledge we do not have to walk the next day!
Wednesday, July 5, 2006 - day twenty-one Lucignano DArbia to Saint Quirico D Orcia.
Supper: Another side road restaurant, very attractive inside, but few people. A lot of restaurants were closed until mid July but we couldn't find out why. Some had salads and potato chips, lasagna. Rayna and I had ricotta and spinach ravioli with sage butter. Homemade large squares (3 to a dish) with really good flavour. I was expecting a burnt butter, brown and nutty with crisp sage, but it was more like an oil poured over with 2 plain sage leaves. So the dish although tasting great looked insipid. However, just because the chef on BBC food uses brown butter doesn't mean its authentic, I guess?

Thursday, July 06, 2006 - DAY TWENTY-TWO - San Quirico to Abbadia San Salvatore.
Lunch was in the only place open! San Marco. It turned out to be a lovely, homely place with Mama making us feel very welcome indeed. As soon as we sat, she announced with a shake of her head “NO PIZZA!” She had laid out a buffet (Cadauno) which included Polenta cake and "Polpettone" Meat loaf €6.50. This was surprisingly tasty, perhaps a cross between a meat loaf and a good pate. Usually made from a mixture of finely minced veal, chicken, pork, mortadella and bound together with eggs, Parmigiano, garlic and parsley. Slices of salami and egg are laid on the “loaf” and rolled like a swiss roll and baked.
A few of us had a bug and as this affected the food writer, shock and horror - she went to bed without supper!!
Friday, July 7, 2006 - day twenty-three Abbadia San Salvatore to Aquapendente
Lunch - we made the most wonderful discovery today. A little restaurant on a corner and run by a young couple. Both the decor and the food had a fresh approach but still retained the authenticity of its origin. To start, we were given a Chef's complimentary tasting of crostini with the freshest tasting tomatoes, basil, marjoram and olive oil, black pepper. (The first peppermill we have seen). Followed by Kathy and Marion - Rigatoni con formaggio misto, pomodoro and basilico €6.50. Sylvia had Petti di tacchino all origano €7.00 (vegetarian dish of courgettes and potatoes with cheese. In the market today we saw "salt cod" "Bacaala" so I asked if they served it. It wasn't on the menu but the Chef had some prepared and made me a dish of salt cod, fresh tomatoes and herbs - delicious, light and served with a very light wine. We realised we had found a very special place so we just had to try Dolci della cassa (deserts of the house) We shared:Tortino Di coccolata cou Panna (chocolate mousse)Mille Fogli con crema di Mascarpone (layers of the most amazing pastry, with a mascarpone cream with chocolate)Mouse di RicottaRicotta with chocolate sauceBest ever deserts!
Speaking to the young chef, he explained that he had not been professionally trained but had grown up in the kitchen. His style was to add a fresh twist to traditional dishes and this he has most certainly achieved without copying the trends. The owner signed the handwritten menu and gave it to me to add to my collection. "Lacapracampa Trattoria" in Acquapendente, Lazio Province - worth a visit! Tel 0763.734546, Via Marconi, 100, Acquapendente (

Saturday, July 8, 2006 – DAY TWENTY-FOUR Acquapendente to Bolsena.
Lunch: Today was indeed a food day. Bolsena lake has an abundance of fish. The local fish is called 'Coregore', a white fish, usually served filleted and for you 'when-we's' - it is just like Kariba Lake bream.The local and famous wine is called Est! Est! Est! – The story is that in about 1110 a Bishop was on his way to Rome for the coronation of Henry V . He sent an aide ahead to try out the wines along the way and write ‘Est!’ ('It is' in Italian) on places where the wine was particularly good. In Montefiascione, the aide found somewhere so good he wrote the words Est! Est! Est! on the door!. We tried a 'locale' one - just €3.50 for a bottle - and we agreed with the wine taster - it was Excellent! Other prices for the wine vary from €5 - 11. We took full advantage of the fish on offer, and at lunch we had the COREGORE ARROSSo - grilled lake fish €6.50, which was very good. As it was Sunday we had pud - Tiramisu - very rich but good. The waiter had relations in JHB and he gave us free coffee and a shooter each - he called it Limone - Limone with alcohol definitely! He said he made the best Cappuccino in Italy - it was like warm froth so we guess that is how it should be?!
Dinner: We decided wherever we had the opportunity to eat lunch we would either go without supper or only have a light salad – we would hopefully loose more weight that way. BUT by the evening we couldn't resist the restaurant built on stilts over the lake, surrounded by the black sand. We had a table on the deck, watched the ducks and boats and got eaten alive by midges. Tea tree oil worked really well. Bearing in mind the earth-tremors the day before we probably didn't choose the safest place to eat! We all wanted to try some more fish so we had FILLETTO DI BACCALA PASTELLATO – battered salt cod €6.20.
Kathy said it was moist and just like Kingklip. Rayna had FILLETTE DE PERSICO - fillets of Perch €7.80 also in batter. I had FITTORA MISTA DI CALAMARI E GAMBER - €7. The translation on the menu read 'Cryfishes and squashfry' - it was calamari , squid and 3 prawns which had not had the veins removed. I also ordered FLORIDIZUCCA ALLA ROMANA - pumpkin flowers Roman style - awful- the batter was thick , the flowers soggy and the stuffing was scraps of fish. Marlena De Blasi in her book entitled “A thousand days in Tuscany” describes how beautiful Zucchini Blossoms are when dipped in a beer batter, fried to a gentle crisp and then sprayed with sea-salted water. Can’t help feeling that our pumpkin blossoms should have been similar. The menu was translated into German and English - ie Portchops and Beffsteack!! You can visit their website on

Sunday, July 9, 2006 – DAY TWENTY-FIVE - Bolsena to Viterbo
Dinner: Tonight we are 2 kms away from Town so we are eating in the Hotel Restaurant. Italy plays France in the finals tonight so we are not expecting to get too much sleep. They have put a TV in the Dining Room and we also have one in the room. The Waiter looks and acts as if he is very fed up about having drawn the “short straw” and has to work tonight – he makes little attempt to communicate with us, which is fine as we can pretty much work out the menu’s ourselves these days.
Water and red and white wine appear on the table, open without having requested it. Wines are Fattoria Madonna Delle Macchie, Red - Renaro and White Fonte Vionica. We only drink the white, crisp and dry - really have not had a bad white since we've been here. Rayna and I are going to have a good Merlot when we get to Rome, safe in the knowledge that we don't have to walk the next morning. Therefore the Red remains untouched.
The menu has prices by each item and we order. Strozzapreti con crema di Carcifi - pasta twirls with Italian spicy sausage and artichoke - €9 - excellent. Mezze Lune Burro e Salvia €8 - pasta ravioli of ricotta with sage butter, again not a brown butter. Arle cchino di Verdure €3.50 - vegetable selection moulded in a ring - beautifully presented. Sylvia is a vegetarian and has been pleased with the selection of vegetables and pastas available. The salads are on most occasions just lettuce and tomato. We were then presented with bowls of grapes and cherries and mandarin sorbets. We were charged a set fee of €15 each so we imagine we could have ordered the whole lot!

Monday, July 10, 2006 – DAY TWENTY-SIX Viterbo to Capranica
Faced with Sil’s packet soup, our spirits lifted when a local woman told us to go down the road and turn right. We see a doorway with curtains, it doesn’t look promising. But we push through and there are tables with checked cloths! We are shown to a table by the owner. He has a picture of an African woman on the wall and says he knows about Johannesburg. He brings us water and wine. We see an extensive menu on the wall and are already deciding what we might have. He arrives without menus - you can have pasta, pasta or pasta he says. He is quite suave and confident. You can have pasta with tomato and basil or with mushrooms. The variations of pasta fall off his tongue but we can't quite catch the meaning.
I ask if I can have olives - no olives he says (after all this is Italy). I ask if I can have Anchovies but my pronunciation of "acciughe" is obviously not too good and I have to show him the word in my Phrase book. He looks outraged "No!!" He then starts to recite the choices again and I pick up "sausage" and I say I do not understand the other word. He looks up the word in my phrase book and it is baby artichokes. Yes I say "Italian sausage and artichokes would be good". He raises his eyes to the ceiling, shrugs his shoulders and marches off to the kitchen.
Within moments the girl’s pasta's arrive, two with tomato and two with mushroom. A while later a plate arrives with 4 halves of artichokes. Oops! What have I ordered? Much later he comes to the table and says your order is coming. I have by now eaten my artichokes because I gather he would not lower his standards to include it in my dish of pasta. We then see him take a dish from the kitchen hatch. It is a plate, not a bowl - so no pasta for me. He sets before me a plate with two boiled sausages, Wild Boar me thinks! But also on the plate are delicious white butter beans which have been cooked in a flavourful sauce of herbs with just a hint of tomato. I really enjoy it. He arrives to clear the plates and looks disappointed that I have eaten it and even moped up the juices with the bread!We ask for the bill - he gets up from the table where he is eating with a customer and shrugs and says €35.

TUESDAY, JULY 11, 2006 – DAY TWENTY SEVEN Capranica to Campagnano Di Roma
“The Restaurant Il Postiglione – one of a kind” run by Mama Ida, her son, daughter, and daughter-in-law.
This is the first restaurant that we have seen fresh fish laid out on ice and boxes of field mushrooms on display. Campagnano is famous for Proscuitto ham and the kitchen produced platters of melon and hams, mushrooms and other delicacies. (one must remember that whilst this sounds like a grand restaurant, it is not - it’s almost humble). Marion and Sil had Linguine with mushrooms, an array of those fresh mushrooms we saw - wow, taste, texture and aroma, say no more....we all have to taste each others for the food report (remember - Kathy - don't mess with my food) so it is hard for some! Rayna had fresh grilled fish, we think it was a Sea bass or similar - Manwell was unable to tell us. Kathy had her first steak, it was huge and tender and many of the locals were eating the steak so it was highly recommended. (Bi Stecca €10) I decided this could be my last chance to have Wild Boar cooked in a different way.
So I chose the Cinghiale al pepe verde €8 - It doesn't taste like pork, it looks and tastes like the most tender, tasty beef - it was cubed and cooked in a very light cream sauce with peppercorns, very similar to a Steak au poivre (sorry spelling?) (by the way, you must know how mixed up we are, we have had to speak French, now Italian and we are staying in the Chinatown region of Rome so now our entire internet is in Chinese!). All vegetables are served cold, not warm, cold straight from the fridge - so we had cold green beans (Fagiolini €3) and cold spinach - not good).
Recipe: I am sad that this may be the last time I will ever taste Wild Boar so was thrilled on arriving home when Kathy introduced me to a book by Marlene De Blasi – “A thousand days in Tuscany” in which she gives a recipe “Braised Pork to Taste Like Wild Boar” using leg or shoulder of pork. She cooks it with the traditional juniper berries and for hours until the meat falls off the bone, in a red wine sauce. I will definitely be trying this!
Meanwhile, our good friend and Chef, John Field (Brother in Law to the “locally famous” food critic, Derek Taylor) has promised a cook out one Sunday where we will cook the best ever Wild Boar (Wild Pig – available in SA). Can’t wait!Dolci: We all raved about our meals and all opted for desert...Fresh Strawberries, Lemon Tart, wow the pastry chef knows what he is doing, and the freshness of the lemon €3, only disappointment was the Tiramisu - but given the quality of the food, perhaps this is how it should was very much a sponge. A culinary experience to savor forever.

WEDNESDAY, 12 JULY, 2006 - DAY TWENTY EIGHT Campagnano di Roma to La Storta:
Supper with the Nun’s
We went down for supper and what a pleasant surprise. Wine on the table....thank goodness! How civilized these people are. A lovely platter of pasta, beef olives and probably the best salad we've had. Without question the best bread we've had. A big bowl of fruit for desert. The Monks from St Bernard's would do well to come and take a few cookery lessons from the Nun's that's for sure. Breakfast was equally top notch. As much coffee and hot milk as we could possibly want, gorgeous bread rolls with butter (yes butter), cheese, honey, jams, juice - not a melba toast or croissant with a 6 month shelf life in sight. Then as we were finishing, we were invited to fill our water bottles from this nifty little machine which served iced water, natural, with gas or room temperature.

Friday, July 14, 2006 – DAY TWENTY-NINE La Storta to Rome
“When in Rome – have the most expensive ice cream and pizza you will probably ever have in your life!”
So once we arrived we needed to celebrate so we broke all the rules (Co you did warn us) and we ate not far from the square, we were so excited. Here it goes, Coke €5, Fanta €5, half litre of their cheapest wine €12 (I've been paying €4), a pizza €12 - the topping if you can call it that...anchovy - one cut into two pieces and placed on a pizza base with minimal cheese, I had salmon, take a tail of salmon (left over from another dish) cut it into 5 and lay over a pizza. Sil had an ice cream €8!! Cover charge was €10. The final bill came to €100.......we have arrived in Rome.

►On Cappuccinos
We have tasted Cappuccino's from the Italian Alps to Rome, in back street bars, Mama's ristorantes, pizzeria, trattoria and a 4 Star hotel. So its official - A true Italian Cappuccino is a cup of luke warm froth, no chocolate or cocoa on top, not a biscuit on the side and not a newspaper in sight. We are keen to know who sets the criteria for the Sunday Tribune's Great Cappuccino Competition - meanwhile the first thing we are going to do when we get to JHB airport is get a "real" Cappuccino!!

► On Pilgrim’s breakfast.
I thought I'd tell you about breakfast. We have given up with the B & B breakfast because they are too late (07.30pm) and too predictable (bread and jam) so we ask for a ‘picnic’ packet to eat on the go. Lunch is always bread if we are eating on the run so try to make breakfast healthy. Take one metal mug which has been hanging on your backpack and is probably full of dust. Fill up with water from bath tap. Place immersion heater into water careful not to electrocute yourself due to damaged plug socket. Add tea bag or coffee from jar (shared by Val and Marion). who take it in turns to carry) use spoon from yesterday's ice cream. Add sugar "pinched" the day before. Add milk from carton shared by Val, Rayna and Kathy. Drinks as quickly as possible so you can begin with the next course. Take packet of cereal (shared by Val, Rayna and Kathy) tip into mug (best to rinse first but a personal choice) add milk. Take one yoghurt brought day before add sachet of honey "pinched" day before from Cafe, stir and add to cereal. Eat banana. Now walk!