The best way to see the wonderful sights of Tuscany is to drive around in a car. You can meander your way through Cypress tree lined avenues, pull over to the side of the road and admire vineyards, olive groves, rolling hills and ancient ruins and take lots of pictures of the gorgeous scenery.
you can also get away from the hordes of tourists and get to know the real Tuscany, letting the warmth of it's people and it's serene beauty seep gently into your soul.
One such drive took us to Volterra, a lovely mountaintop town that has been in existence since Etruscan times, made famous these days by the Twilight series of books and movies which are set here.
Volterra still has some remnants of it's Etruscan glory days, such as the Porta all'Arco, a stone arch dating back to 400 BC and parts of the old city walls, also dating back to those days when it's population was double what it is today. In those days, as in now, Volterra was a major center for alabaster, attracting many skilled craftsmen to base their studios here.
Once you are done shopping in the many alabaster shops lining the street, head over to Piazza dei Priori, the medieval heart of this town, with a palace and tower at one end. Explore this lovely, ancient town as you stroll through it's narrow cobbled lanes, winding up at one of my favourite sites - the Teatro Romano or the Roman theater and baths. Built in the 1st century BC, it is still an imposing sight, giving us a fascinating glimpse of the actors who played on this stage and the audience who applauded them.
On our way back from Volterra, we stopped off in the tiny village of Montemagno for dinner. Trattoria di Montemagno is a cheerful, bustling place, serving such incredible, authentic Tuscan fare that their tables are always full, with a lineup of hungry people waiting to get in!
We had their home made pasta with chickpeas, a divine eggplant tart, the likes of which we have never seen before and a local specialty known as Trippa (tripe). We rounded off our meal with an unusual dessert - strawberry tiramisu.
Never having come across a fruity tiramisu before, we were intrigued and had to order it. It turned out to be fantastic! Luscious, ripe strawberries layered with clouds of rich, creamy mascarpone, drizzled with strawberry syrup - what's not to like?!
My easy recipe tastes a lot like the tiramisu we had in Montemagno. Of course there is ground cardamom in it because I am incapable of making a dessert without it! I think it works well and adds an aromatic, citrusy depth to the dessert. You can always leave it out if you like. The overnight resting time is crucial in allowing the flavours to develop properly.
And if you want classic tiramisu, try my recipe here!
This is a dessert to enjoy when fresh, ripe strawberries are in season. They have so much sweetness and flavour that you don't have to macerate them or fold with preserves to enhance their taste. Keep it simple and savour every bite!
Strawberry Tiramisu With Cardamom
1 1/2 cups sliced fresh ripe strawberries (use extra juicy ones)
2 cups water
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp ground cardamom
3 egg yolks
3 tbsp granulated sugar
2 tbsp water
1 1/4 cups 35% whipping cream
1/4 cup granulated sugar
275g tub Mascarpone cheese
200g Italian Savoiardi (ladyfinger) cookies
3 cups halved ripe strawberries
Make syrup by combining sliced strawberries, water and 1/4 cup sugar in small saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, then reduce heat to low and simmer 5 min until strawberries are soft and syrupy. Cool 15 min, add 1 tsp ground cardamom, then puree strawberry mixture. Reserve.
To make zabaglione, half fill a large saucepan with water, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a gentle simmer.
Meanwhile, combine Zabaglione ingredients in a rounded bowl big enough to fit over the saucepan without touching the water.
Beat with a whisk until thickened, increased in volume and lightened in colour, about 5 min. Remove from heat and continue beating for 1 more min until smooth. Reserve.
In separate bowl, beat whipping cream and 1/4 cup sugar with hand mixer until thickened, about 5 min.
Add reserved zabaglione mixture and mascarpone cheese to whipped cream, beating lightly with hand mixer with each addition. Chill and reserve until needed.
You can assemble the tiramisu in a large, deep, flat bottomed glass dish or in individual cups, according to your choice.
Transfer strawberry syrup mixture to a shallow flat bowl and warm for 2 min in the microwave.
Dip the savoiardi cookies generously in the prepared strawberry syrup mixture, allowing them to soak up the syrup lightly, and lay them in a single layer in bottom of dish. Top with half of reserved zabaglione cream mixture. Layer half of the halved strawberries over top.
Repeat with one more layer of cookies dipped in strawberry syrup. If you have any syrup left, sprinkle it all over top of cookies.
Spread remainder of the cream mixture over cookies. Arrange remaining strawberries over top.
Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight for best flavour.
Serves six - eight