Siena, with it's magnificent Gothic architecture, captivated us from the first moment we saw it. This beautifully preserved city exudes medieval charm and made us feel magically transported back to the 12th century!
We delighted in losing ourselves in it's warren of narrow lanes and steep steps....
which opened up unexpectedly to a breathtaking view of the glorious Tuscan countryside....
or a glimpse of a church on top of a hill....
or led us to one of the most unusual and beautiful piazzas we have ever seen - Piazza Del Campo. This Campo, a world UNESCO heritage site, is laid out in a unique, sloping accordion shape with a semi circle of buildings around it.
At one side is Siena's medieval seat of government, the Palazzo Pubblico, with it's majestic Torre del Mangia rising into the sky. You can climb 400 steps up this tower for fabulous views of the city and countryside below.
The famous Renaissance era Fonte Gaia or Fountain Of Joy is here as well, where people used to gather 600 years ago to get water and exchange gossip. It is still a favourite place for tourists and locals to hang out, take pictures and gossip!
The Campo is also where the famous Palio (horse race) is run, where important events have been held for centuries and where everyone gathers to sit at one of the many cafes lining the piazza while watching the world go by. People treat the red brick lined campo rather like a sandy beach, to stretch out under the sun for a snooze, eat an impromptu picnic or simply take a break in between sightseeing.
One of Siena's most awe inspiring sights is its Duomo (cathedral). You can see tantalizing glimpses of this eye catching striped black and white marble structure from various parts of the city, beckoning you to come inside and marvel at it's many wonders. The classic Italian Gothic striped design is carried on it's interior as well and the mosaic panels on the floor, the works of art by famous artists such as Michelangelo are fabulous to behold.
Some of the best food we had in Italy was here in Siena. There were so many good restaurants and so many unusual dishes to try that two days weren't enough! Grilled eggplant confit was on many restaurant menus, served in interesting, creative ways. We ate it stuffed into puff pastry envelopes for appetizers, folded into warm pasta to make an unusual and satisfying main course, and served atop thick slices of tomatoes as a superb salad. That salad was so addictive that I have been making it regularly ever since! Delicious, summery and refreshing, it is perfect for lunch, needing only some crusty bread to complete the meal.
When I grill the eggplant, I also throw some sweet peppers and onions on the barbecue, then chop them finely when charred and add to the eggplant confit for additional smoky deliciousness.
Tomato Salad With Grilled Eggplant Confit
1 medium eggplant
1/4 cup each: extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, chopped fresh basil leaves
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/4 tsp toasted ground cumin seeds
1 lb (about 4) ripe heirloom tomatoes of assorted colours, sliced into rounds
250g (about 8 oz) fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced
Grill eggplant in a barbecue, oven or stovetop until charred and soft. Cool and discard outer charred skin. Transfer pulp to a chopping board and mash well with a fork. You should have about a cup of eggplant pulp.
Combine eggplant pulp, 2 tbsp each of the olive oil, balsamic vinegar and chopped fresh basil as well as salt and pepper to taste in a bowl. Mix in the toasted cumin. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour or longer for flavours to blend.
Arrange tomato slices on serving platter. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste.
Top tomato slices with mozzarella cheese, then add a dollop of eggplant confit.
Drizzle remaining olive oil and vinegar over top.
Scatter remaining fresh basil over salad.
Serve right away.