My Reflections of Siena, part III

10 Euros later

Part III of IV

Once I arrived in Florence, I spent the day there before I continued on to Siena. Click on the image for the complete photo gallery.

Here I am – a lone American – and trying to find the next train to Florence, Italy with survival Italian. Needless to say, that I was saved by the best freeby gift I ever received from Eurail. A pocket sized picture booklet. This book had everything – from restrooms to hamburgers. Just point to the picture and you were golden. Lei parla gli inglesi? ‘Do you speak English’ was my catch-all phrase and when that didn’t work out came the book. The first person I tried it on told me to – well I won’t say, but after that it was ok. Maybe it was too early in the morning for them. Anyway, with myself on a train to Florence in order to transfer to Siena. My journey was just starting. Or was it.

I had forgotten that it was New Year’s Day. Note to self – never travel on a holiday, especially when many have been drinking extensively the night before – bad hangover ratio. All though I was only accosted by one guy, it was enough to send me hastily to the train. Unfortunately, it was the wrong one. I didn’t find out until the conductor came by to collect tickets. So when he came to me, ‘I biglietti per favore’, tickets please, he said something that I didn’t need my survival Italian for – I was on my way to Venice. UGH! Thankfully this train was going to stop in Florence. The best news I’ve heard all morning. So I paid the extra fee.

Now, ten Euros later and on the verge of exhaustion from traveling for 10+ hours, I transfer trains and I am finally on my way to Siena. What else could go wrong?

Be sure to check the blog week the week of May 24th for part 4 of this adventure. For now, enjoy more recipes below. All recipes are from the owners and artists that work in the stained glass studio where I studied for three weeks.

If you missed any of my adventures or recipes, see the links below:
intro click here>>>
part I click here>>>
part II click here>>>

Ribollita (Tuscan bean soup)
4 people

Difficulty: HARD
  Author: Tuscan classic
  • 500gr black cabbage
  • 1kg bietola
  • 500gr Tuscan white beans (cannellini) soaked overnight and cooked (keep liquid)
  • 1 and a half cans crushed tomatoes
  • 1large onion
  • 3 carrotts
  • 5 sticks of celery with leaves
  • 3 tbsp olive oil


medium red
  Chop all ingredients. Saute onion in olive oil. After about 10 mins add tomatoes and cook for another 10 mins. Add carrots and celery and cook for 15 mins. Add black cabbage and bietola, little by little until they reduce. Add the liquid from the cooked beans and cook for a further 30 mins. Add cooked beans at end of cooking.At any time during cooking, if you feel that the soup needs more liquid, add liquid from beans.Cut stale white country bread into slices and put a layer in a large soup tureen. Cover with soup and then another layer of bread, soup, bread, soup etc. Leave for the bread to absorb. You will have a lot of soup left over but this is good so you can add it to the mixture in the tureen, that may be a bit dry.Since this makes a lot of soup (enough for a few days) you may want to halve the receipe.               

Stracotto al Chianti
4 people

Difficulty: MEDIUM
  Author: Gianni
  • 800gr beef in one piece
  • one stalk of celery
  • one small onion
  • one carrot
  • one sprig of sage
  • 1/2 litre young Chianti wine
  • one cup crushed tomato
  • 4 tbs oil
  • salt & pepper


medium red
  Make holes in the meat with a skewer and fill them with crushed salt, pepper, and sage. If necessary, tie the meat so it doesn’t fall apart.
Chop the celery, carrot, onion and remaining sage thinly and put it in a large stewing pan/casserole with the oil.
Sautee at low heat for 30 min.
Add meat and brown it for 10 min turning often.
Pour the wine over the meat, salt, pepper, cover and cook, turning the meat occasionally, for 2 hours or until wine has evaporated.
Add tomato and cook for 20 min more adding water or broth if it tends to dry out.
Once the cooking is finished, remove the meat, let it cool and slice it thinly. Sieve the sauce with a moulie or blend in a blender and if too liquid add a tbs of flour and reheat until you get the right consistency.
Pour on to the meat and serve.
Polpi alla Marinara (Octopus marinara style)
4 people

Difficulty: EASY
  Author: Italo Bracciali
  • 800 gr octopus
  • 3 cloves garlic (crushed with the side of a large knife),
  • one small sprig rosemary and sage
  • ½ cup white wine
  • 8 slices country style bread


young red wine
  Clean and chop the octopus. Sautee oil and 2 cloves garlic, add octopus, rosemary and sage.
After 5 minutes add white whine and a little water, cover the pot with a tight lid and let it simmer until cooked. Adjust with salt.
Toast bread, rub with the last garlic clove and place in 4 plates. Pour the octopus and liquid on top.
Melanzane alla Parmigiana
4 people

Difficulty: MEDIUM
  Author: Mamma Bruna
  • 3 eggplants
  • 2 cans of crushed tomatoes
  • 500ml milk
  • 1 heaped tbsp flour
  • 1 heaped tbsp butter
  • vegetable oil for frying eggplants
  • olive oil for tomato sauce (3 tbsp)
  • 4 cloves garlic (crushed)
  • basil
  • salt, pepper
  • nutmeg
  • parmesan cheese


  Tomato sauce:
Saute crushed cloves in olive oil. Once garlic is starting to turn golden, add tomotoes, basil and a bit of water plus salt and pepper. Cook for 20-30 minutes. You may have to add a tsp of sugar if sauce is too acid.Bechmel sauce:
Melt butter and add flour. Cook on a low heat, stirring for about 3-4 mins to cook. Add milk from the fridge all at once. Turn up heat and cook, stirring, until sauce begins to thicken. Add salt, pepper and lots of grated nutmeg while cooking.
Gianni read somewhere that adding the milk all at once avoids lumps – and it works !Wash, dry and cut eggplants into slices. Put slices in layers on a plate, with a pinch of coarse salt on each layer and cover with another plate and then cover this with a large pan filled with water. This will cause the two plates to press the eggplants. The salt causes the eggplants to lose their bitterness. After about two hours, wipe off eggplants.Dip eggplants in flour that has been seasoned with salt and pepper and fry slices in vegetable oil.In a low ovenproof dish, cover the bottom with some of the tomato sauce, then a layer of eggplants, then tomato sauce, then bechmel,then a sprinkling of parmesan, then another layer of eggplants, then tomato sauce, then becbmel and a sprinkling of parmesan, then another layer of eggplants, then tomato sauce, then finish with bechmel. Grate some parmesan cheese over the top and bake in the oven at 180 C for half an hour.Some people use mozzerlla cheese instead of bechmel sauce but I prefer it with bechmel. I consider it worth the extra effort.       

Grape Brulee
6 people

Difficulty: EASY
  Author: Anna
  • A bunch of white grapes to fill a pie dish
  • 500ml Whipping or double cream
  • Brown sugar (Demerara)


  Halve the grapes and take out seeds. Place in the bottom of a low glass or ceramic pie dish.
Whip cream until it makes firm peaks and cover grapes. Place in fridge (not freezer) for the night. In the morning completely cover cream with brown sugar and place under a very hot grill until the sugar has melted and the cream has seeped through in some spots. Place in fridge (not freezer) until the evening.

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