Foodie Window Shopping in France – Part Two

I just can’t resist the French food shop displays, here are a few from the trip.

Mr Foxy at the Cheese Shop in Fountainebleau

A shop solely dedicated to dragées!

Fudge and toffee





Diana’s fountain in the gardens of Fountainebleau

We arrived home two weeks ago having done 4231 miles on the clock. On the way back we stopped off at the village of Bourron Marlot (more of that, in the another blog) but while we were there visited Fontainebleau, a beautiful town nestled in a forest and dominated by the vast Palace of Fontainebleau, which was the favourite hang out of Napoleon I and III (Versailles being too redolent of the Royals even though Fountainebleau was built by them too). We spent the morning in the market where the produce was as good as the South but a little more expensive.

I was intrigued by  the fishmonger’s Elizabethan attempt to ward off the smell of fish with oranges spiked with cloves.  In addition to fresh fish, fruit, meat and vegetables, there were many delicious ready made foods, or dishes one could finish up in the oven like pies and stuffed tomatoes.  We ended up buying bread, peaches and a delicious liquid cheese called St Felician du Dauphine.

Oranges spiked with cloves to perfume the fish

We sat in the palace Gardens of Diana where the fountain honours the staue of the Godess by surrounding her with four peeing dogs (a hilarious eighteenth century joke, no doubt. I can imagine the King showing this to his new guests,  doubled up with laughter in his powdered wig, while the servants rolled their eyes thinking ‘here we go again’ ). We were only mildly amused, as we dipped the bread in the unctuous cheese, but were happy people. We finished the day with some more foodie window shopping and a ride on the carrousel.

Dinner in Siena

We were lucky enough to hit Sienna during a gastronomic festival held by the ‘sea shell’ district ‘Nicchio’ in the Eastern corner of the city (near our hotel Il Gardino, just outside the city wall). In the past, Nicchio residents worked as potters and their symbol is a crowned scallop shell flanked by two branches of coral. We were visiting during the run up to the Palio horse race which is held in mid August, so all the streets in the area were lit by sculptural lamps, representing these marine symbols.

Nicchio is one of only four nobile (noble) contrade; it earned its title for bravery shown during the Battle of Montaperti against Florence in 1260, when its soldiers led the attack. Now the only attack is from the lethal moped riders zooming through the streets.

From 28 July to 9 August, the ‘sea shells’ hold a food festival at the contrade headquarters ‘La Pania’, a building that opens out at the rear into a expansive park one would never guess was there. Those in the know, book tables in advance at one of several pop up restaurants scattered through the park, selling traditional Tuscan dishes such as Pappa al pomodoro, Pasta al ragù of sausage and fennel, Tegamata to Siena, and Torta della nonna.

Damn and blast, we were not in the know and all the tables in the festival were booked. They also provided a public buffet of local foods but the queue would have filled a small stadium and the wait was just too long for the kids. We soothed ourselves at the wine pavilion instead where the bar man told us ‘La Pania’ means something sticky, like resin, and the place was named after the old men of the contrade who used to ‘stick around’ all night drinking. We would have happily helped keep up the tradition but we had children to feed so we left with reluctance.

Eating in Siena is expensive unless you buy pizza and walk with your supper in hand. We had been told of a reasonable trattoria called Zest but when we arrived we preferred the simpler ‘Osteria la Chiacchera’ directly opposite. Both are on a fantastically steep hill street, Costa Di Sant’Antonio, with a Medieval ambiance worthy of a scene by Caravaggio.The chairs and tables are all cut to fit the precipitous slope. There were many delightful eateries on this street and the prices on the menus had dropped considerably too. I had that warm feeling I get when I finally find an oasis of real food in an area of over-priced tourist entrapment, sad but true even in Siena. We decided to have our starters at the Osteria which was the simple and unsophisticated, cooking you might get in a Sienese home (Zest looked good too though- finer dining, with big portions and more effort on the presentation). We ate local salami, spreads on toast, cheeses and panzanella, a typical Tuscan bread salad.

We moved on for secondi to ‘Bagoga – ristorante Grotta. S Caterina’ as I noticed a Slow Food sticker in the window. We were not disappointed with either food (a simple grill), wine or service and the girls had fun trying to refold the napkins into jackets.

Much later we walked home and I was transported back 25 years by the taste of the best yoghurt ice cream in Italy and possibly the world. I had found the Sienese gelateria I first visited as a teenager on a school art trip and nothing had changed. The kids had triple cones in celebration and they ate up every last lick.

Napkin folding that amused the kids

Pizza from the Bread Oven – painting holidays

It is our last night staying with our friends, Caroline and Andrea at their farm near Camerino in central Italy. They run painting holidays from the farm.
We spent an exhilarating day with Caroline, driving around the area and stopping to make sketches and returned to find Andrea had fired up the pizza oven. The traditional brick oven is large and would have been the main hub of cooking on the farm in the past, probably feeding twenty people or so with a couple of firings a week, this time it fed a mere ten. Pizza dough is sold ready made around here in trays of soft yeast risen orbs dusted with polenta flour. Andrea makes the thinnest crispest crust for his pizzas which took less than a minute in the oven before we fell on them like the wolf pack that still runs wild in the hills around here. We began with the simplest of pizzas – rosemary and olive oil, before feasting on dozens more.

My favourite pizzas include artichoke and we had many of those while the kids begged for more with prosciutto (added to the pizza after cooking). Pizza from a wood fired oven really is the only way to go with this food stuff. We have a bread oven in the Inglenook fireplace at home in Devon and our pizzas take less than a minute in that too. They taste delicious, but different, due, I believe, to the perfume of the different woods we burn there.

We sat with friends surrounded by the moonlit hills, eating Andrea’s pizza, hot from the oven, and accompanied with lashings of Verdicchio di Matelica white wine, and, blimey, the flavour was lifted to the sublime.




A supper of regional fare in Camerino, Italy

We had dinner in ‘Noe restaurant in Camerino last night and began our meal with these delicate ‘flowers’ of local Bresola and shaved goats cheese
Mmmm. In addition to a plate of regional salamis and pecorino.

Followed by pasta with shaved truffles and spinach ravioli with ‘baby’ deer sauce. G and I swapped dishes halfway through and tried to decide which was the finer dish, Bambi was the winner but it was a tough call.


Pasta Bambi