A couple of weeks ago, I visited my beloved Italy.
Ever since I studied Fashion design in Milano at the age of 19, and Art History and Caravaggio in Rome a few years later. It´s become my second home that I return to again and again.
This time around a wee trip to Tuscany, or paradise, either name fits, at least that´s what our driver told us as he skilfully manoeuvred the car through quaint little mountaintop villages and ridge lines, before turning onto an unassuming pathway of sorts, that eventually led us to the most charming retreat.
I´m not much of a resort traveller, I enjoy the more private and intimate, perhaps with a dash of old school history and with a bit of soul.
So I was pleasantly surprised at how tucked away and intimate it felt to stay at the lovely Villa Lena in the heart of Tuscany. A lovely hotel with soul.
Now, this place isn't just another Tuscan Villa, and perhaps that´s why I felt so at home there, as their main villa, a family house of sorts was filled to the brim with creatives, artists in residence that stay for a number of weeks or months to create, freely, from the heart however they feel inspired too.
They all have studios down a sandy path and to the right of an olive grove, but they all live together like one big family in the old villa.
So as a guest at the hotelI, with a beautiful room above the converted old stable, I thoroughly enjoyed the creative buzz that practically filled the air we breathed.
In the gentle heat of a Tuscan spring on the verge of summer, I got up early and went to bed late, wandering slowly through the villa, and its surroundings, taking it all in, breathing deep and recharging.
Early one morning after an enchanting house concert the night before by one of the artists in residence the musician..... I raised with the sun, and accompanied only by a few birds singing in "Italian", I ended up taking a seat in the villa´s organic garden dreaming of my own garden, that one day hopefully will look a little like this one.
Beautifully laid-back, yet organised, and filled to he brim with fresh vegetables that my mind translated into little dishes, the ones casually spread out on a table with drink before dinner with friends on a warm summers day...
And luckily, I found a kindred spirit that morning.
In chic leather sandals, that I secretly coveted, Alexis Delaney, the chef in residence from New York, greeted me warmly and walked me through the villa´s garden, talked about the slow food movement, and we may or may not have bonded over our love fore the brilliant Alice Waters and breton striped tops.
As the sun rose and morning began nibbling on noon, she heard my belly rumble a bit, as I had skipped breakfast for a wee hike to the top of the mountain on the estate that morning, and was indeed ripe for a nibble or two.
I followed her around the garden and we picked the loveliest butter yellow zucchini flowers, ready to be deep fried and dipped in an anchovy mayonnaise with a naughty little side of Prosecco.
I could only but smile as here was a woman after mine own heart
So after a few skilful minutes in the Villa´s restaurant kitchen over a refreshing pitcher of mint and cucumber water, Alexi mixed together a Prosecco batter for the zucchini flowers.
«Remember», she told me and lifted her gaze from the batter mixing, «without a bit of fizz, the batter doesn't get as airy and crisp».
I took mental notes, and thought to myself that a quality bottle of a local Prosecco was as good of a fizz as any.
With a bottle of the remaining Prosecco. some glasses, and the fried treat in hand we made our way to the villa´s backyard «family» table, took a seat and talked food like there was no tomorrow.
Luckily Alexis was willing to share her recipe with me, so here it is, in my case breakfast, but probably more suited as a wee apritivo snack, a starter or as a treat on its own eaten in the garden with dear friends as the sun sets.
It´s always such a treat to meet people and especially women who follow their own dreams, who keep walking and who make their dreams come true, without sounding too cheesy, one deep fried zucchini flower at a time, or in the owner of Villa Lena´s case, one artist in residence at the time.
What I think inspires me the most in addition to their vision, is their passionate faith in their dreams, the diligent and patient work in making their dreams come true, and to never give up.
As I sit here in my wee english cottage writing this post, I feel excited about the future and ready to leap, once again, out of that comfort zone and into the unknown…
Here´s to following ones dreams!
Don't forget to serve up the remaining precious drops of Prosecco with the zucchini flowers.
Fried Zucchini Blossoms:
Vegetable oil for frying
Up to 2 dozen Zucchini blossoms, ideally with tiny zucchini attached
80 g flour
60 g rice flour
325 ml prosecco
Gently wash blossoms and baby zucchini in a bowl of water and remove to a towel to dry. Fill a pot with vegetable oil no higher than halfway, or you run the risk of boiling over. Heat the oil until a deep fry thermometer reads 350 degrees F or 180 degrees C. Prepare batter by whisking both flours and prosecco until just barely combined. Do not over mix. Working in batches of four or five, dip blossoms in batter until evenly coated and lay them in the oil. Avoid over crowding the pan. After a minute, flip the blossoms once with a slotted spoon, fry another minute, and remove to a paper towel. They should take no more than 2-3 minutes, and should be a golden brown. Season liberally with good sea salt and enjoy as soon as they are cool enough to handle. Serve with anchovy mayonnaise and a small glass of prosecco!
1 egg yolk
1 T lemon juice
3/4 c. vegetable oil
1/4 c. olive oil
1 clove garlic
4 anchovy filets
salt to taste
Whisk egg yolk and lemon juice until light in color. Very slowly, drop by drop, stream in first the vegetable oil and then the olive oil. Pound the clove of garlic and the anchovy filets in a mortar and pestle until smooth. Whisk into the mayonnaise, let stand for one minute and then check the seasoning, adding a pinch of salt if needed.