Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Cena Toscana

Traveling offers inspiration.  My recent trip to Tuscany is no exception.  And not surprisingly, my inspiration came in the form of food.  This past Thursday at Lucca we hosted a Tuscan Dinner to celebrate this inspiration.  A family style dinner for seventy featured dishes I ate in Tuscany and wines from wineries I visited.  A good portion of the dinner was based on the meal I helped cook at Fattoria di Petroio.  Some of the pictures look remarkably similar.  Dave and Lori Hoyle from Creative Growers in Noti, OR were our guests,and I used their produce exclusively. 

We started with Prosecco to set the mood.  Platters of local salumi, pecorino Toscano, olives and pickled carrots were on the table.  Nothing like meat and cheese.  Well, except maybe fried cheese.  that being the case, we stuffed squash blossoms with herbed ricotta, dipped them in buttermilk and semolina, fried them up and served them over lemon - zucchini cream.  

Wood Fired Eggplant and Corno di Toro Peppers with Burrata

We poured 2009 Vermentino from San Felice, enjoyed the obligatory white wine, and then quickly got into the reds.  A new world-style 2007 Chianti Classico from Antonio Sanguineti nicely complimented the parade of crostini. 

Roasted Cherry Tomato Crostini

Crostini with Porcini and Salsa Tartufata

 And of course....Lardo!!

Yep. Came home and made some lardo.  Better than butter on toast.  Also made chicken liver pate cooked with Vin Santo like I had in Siena.  Next we poured 2007 Perazzeta, Rita Montecucco Sangiovese.  A little big at first but played nicely with the gnocchi and house-made sausage made from Tails & Trotters fabulous pork.  

Bread Gnocchi, Sausage, Walla Walla Onions & Pecorino Toscano
Since rabbit had been the highlight of the trip (after the lardo) I knew I had to feature it.  Polenta, a gratin of dinosaur kale and a simple green salad completed the main course.  Too much food, of course, but the meal was based on eating in Italy.  So the menu written in Italian, making it all a bit of a mystery, and eating until beyond full, were requisite. The 2004 Fattoria di Petroio Chianti Classico Riserva was so tasty with the braised rabbit.  

Braised Rabbit, Cipollini & Chanterelles with Creamy Polenta & Mascarpone

Took a little liberty with the dessert, as I think I only ate dessert once on my trip, aside from a few biscotti and two scoops gelato on my last night.  (I know it sounds tragic but I was always too full!)  So we served butterscotch melon sorbet topped with a splash of prosecco and hazelnut biscotti.  Using figs and cheese as some of my fondest Italian memories, we created the 'uncheesecake'.

Wood Fired Figs, Ricotta, Honey and Fig-Anise Bread

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Visit to Fattoria di Petroio

After three great days and some truly memorable meals in Siena, it was time to find where I had parked the car and hit the road again.  I fought the exiting city traffic and headed north to Quercegrossa, the closest small town to Fattoria di Petroio, the wine estate where I would be staying for a few days.   Got a bit side tracked at the post office, but that was mostly because I couldn't figure out how to use the mailbox.  I arrived down the cypress lined drive and was greeted by the owners of the estate and a beautiful Irish setter, who rolled over so I could scratch her belly.  Both Diana Lenzi, who I had met at the restaurant a few months ago, and her mother, Pamela were warm and welcoming. 

They had just harvested the merlot grapes that day, and I got to watch the sorting and crushing of the fruit followed by a very in-depth tour of the winery by Diana.   It's a beautiful estate and the family took me in graciously.  The next few days were spent relaxing in the countryside at the winery and enjoying meals with the family.

Pamela and I went into to Florence one day for a bit of shopping and lunch with her oldest daughter.  We enjoyed a nice walk around Florence where I was able to explore the San Ambrogio Market.  The produce, cheese and meat looked so good, I could not wait to get back in the kitchen.

My visit was timed nicely, as Saturday was Pamela's birthday and Diana, the chef, was planning a big traditional meal for the entire family.  The three of us spent the day in the kitchen creating a fantastic meal. We obviously made everything by hand, much of it picked from the garden.   Antipasti were prepared.  Diana and I rolled gnocchi made from olives, bread and milk.  The sausage ragu was simmered.  The pork roast was marinated.  Broccoli rabe and potatoes were cooked.  Diana baked Fanny Farmer Chocolate cake and tuilles to be filled with berries and crema.  I had an amazing time in the kitchen bonding with these two incredible women, sharing not only recipes and cooking techniques, but our personal stories as well. 

 Mid day, we stopped to enjoy two pizzas Diana had made - one topped with pesto and tomatoes from the garden, the other topped with roasted eggplant and pancetta.  A tortino of risotto and a quick salad that I was invited to mix completed the feast.

Hours later with the whole family gathered at the Petroio estate we started with Veuve Cliquot and lots of toasts, well wishes and gifts.   Antipasti of crispy flatbread held us over until we sat down close to nine.  The meal was fantastic and lasted over three and a half hours.  I think there may have been enough leftovers for days.  They all spoke in a mix of Italian and English, and I did my best to follow along.  We drank many bottles of Chianti Classico and followed with as many bottles of Riserva.  Any possible language barriers were easily mended with the incredible wine, food and company, and it all made for a truly memorable evening. 

 Figs picked right from the tree stuffed with salami 
& mascarpone mousse

 Roasted eggplant stuffed with cheese, 
rolled & wrapped in pancetta

 Olive gnocchi & sausage-fennel ragu with orange & pecorino

 Roasted Garlic, Rosemary & Soy Crusted Pork Loin, 
Broccoli Rabe & Roasted Potatoes

 Frutti di Bosco Tuilles

Monday, September 20, 2010

Last Supper

After a tough day of shopping, my feet are killing me... or maybe it's the new boots. I had a great apertivo of campari & prosecco at the hotel while I considered which boots to buy - the dressy high-heeled suede ones or the dark brown practical leather ones with the lower heels. I really think the apertivo helped me make up my mind... on which ones to wear upon leaving the store.

I'm eating at an enoteca tonight, La Corte dei Vini, in Lucca, for a few antipasti and some good wine, as I am still full from my huge lunch. A glass of vermentino is starting me off. I'm flattered as I was offered the menu in Italian, while the others have the English and French versions. I arrived early, just after the shops had closed, the hour of the tourist. I have ordered crostini misti and carpaccio, again, as I was let down earlier. There promises to be lardo and pate on the crostini. I knew I could not leave without more lardo! I just took a break for a few days.

The food on the other tables looks good. Simply plated and reasonably sized . They had six kinds of carpaccio, including tuna, swordfish and baccala, but my heart was set on beef. And I know I want red wine.

As per usual, a huge basket of bread arrives, but it looks good. It appears to have a nice crumb and wonders of all wonders, it has salt! Not sure if I have mentioned the Tuscan bread previously, but it does not have salt, it's very dense and tastes like my shoe. (And not like my new boots, both of which are fabulous, by the way.) Apparently, the traditional Tuscan food is very flavorful and salty, and the bread is a nice counterbalance. Its great for scooping food onto one's fork, however. But this bread is tasty on it's own.

The crostini arrive on a wooden paddle. There are five. I'm carbin' out, but it's Italy and my last night. They are terrific, it's tough to chose my favorite. I immediately dig into the lardo, as I know it's the most fragile. It melts in my mouth. The chicken liver pate is rustic, rich and tasty. For centuries, it has been smeared on stale bread, and rightly so. The tartufo puree is fabulous and decadent - who doesn't like truffles with wine? The pomodoro, the chopped tomatoes, surprises me with its simplicity, but it's the fettunta that nearly steals the show. It's grilled bread 'happy with a great olive oil'.

Crostini Misti

I alternate bites, trying for the right combo, but it's all good. My white wine is gone and it's time to move on to red. I consider the list but know I won't be happy until I have the Brunello. It's a bit tight, but so good with the crostini. I now have a new project of taste combinations. The toughest decision is trying to decide what bite to have last. I keep cutting the truffle and pate crostini smaller and smaller, trying for the best last bite. I end up with both at the same time. Ahhh... with Brunello, how can I go wrong?!

The carpaccio is beautiful and huge. The meat is thin, tender and so flavorful. The Grana Padano is thinly sliced but has enough bite and granular texture to coat my mouth. And there is enough arugula, even for me. I dig in but I'm getting full. I think I filled up on the bread. But I ordered another glass of Brunello anyway. They short pour here in Italy.

Carpaccio di Manzo

What a terrific last meal!! I'm completely full and out of wine and it's only quarter of ten. What shall I do? I'm seriously considering a gelato. It's been two weeks, how have I gotten through all of this without gelato? Two words - formaggi and lardo.

I asked the owner of the enoteca for a gelato recommendation, and it happens to be the one on the same piazza as my hotel. I chose creme fiori di ricotta di pecorino- sheep milk ricotta gelato. It's crisp and light. I balanced it with a deep, rich chocolate. I think this is what I have been missing these last two weeks. The gelato is so luscious, I'm trying to figure out if the gelateria will be open early enough so I can have some for breakfast There are at least six more flavors I want to try. For now, I will suffer through my 'four finger pour' of Frenet. It's not even close to a short pour.

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Last Lunch

I've been walking around Lucca and looking at all the boots. I'm torn between dressy and practical. Most of the shops are closed and I'm a bit frustrated. So I guess I'll switch gears to lunch. I have only two meals left and I want them to be tasty. I figure I should try the local cuisine as I am in Lucca and work in a place call Lucca. Always looking for menu ideas. This is a working holiday after all. I've found a great place called Osteria Baralla just off Via Fillungo - the shopping street. Hoping to kill some time until the shops open.

After helping the other American tourists decipher the menu, I order a half bottle of Nozzole Chianti Classico, 2007 and my other favorite companion, aqua frizzante. I always try to match the water with the wine. It helps me persevere. I decided to start with linchetto al porcini which marries three of my favorites- carpaccio, arugula and porcini.

Linchetto al Porcini

The meat and arugula were fantastic but the porcini were previously frozen. So disappointing! I have seen fresh porcini in the markets and am craving them. The tordelli lucchese were fabulous- ravioli filled with meat in a tomato meat ragu. A bit of parmesan topped them off nicely.

Tordelli Lucchese

And I did not stop there, I had to have the rabbit. Two previous rabbit dishes had been great and I decided to tempt fate. I was not disappointed - it was served alla cacciatora- hunters' style with tomato and olive, and it was melt-in-your-mouth delicious. A simple green salad with lemon and olive oil completed the meal.

Coniglio Nostrane alla Cacciatora con Olive

A quick macchiato should set me straight for the afternoon. I have a few things to buy. .

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Location:Piazza Napoleone,Lucca,Italy

A Sunday Drive

Sunday lunch

I woke up Sunday morning a bit groggy from the birthday celebration the night before. Perhaps it was all the Riserva or perhaps the five course meal that ended after midnight or maybe the cumulative effects of gorging myself for the past eleven days. Either way, I knew I could not drive the windy road to Panzano and indulge in the seven course meal of only meat at Solo Cicia. Call me soft, but I could not do it.

Cypress Drive Leading up to the Petroio Estate

Pamela & Gian Luigi Lenzi

I asked the Lenzis for some recommendations as well as some driving directions. After consulting a few books, we decided on Arnolfo in Colle de Vall'Elsa, which was basically on the way to Lucca. My sense of direction and decision making was off today and it took me forever to find. I did easily find Bar Arnolfo in the Piazza Arnolfo but it was not what I was looking for. The owner at the bar wanted to give me directions from his bar in German however. I felt more confident when we switched back to Italian.

Tortino di Verdure

I was thinking a big meal then something small for dinner but when I finally found Arnolfo, it was late, a bit too fancy and I was not that hungry. So I chose an enoteca and had a salami and cheese plate, along with a tortino di verdure con creme di pecorino e tartufo. The tortino was like a sformato, or a small flan stuffed with veggies, eggs and cream. Served with a salad and a pecorino truffle cream, all the sliced meats and a glass of Morellino di Scansano, I felt satiated. My lunch was very attractive to a bee. I didn't know bees liked salami as much as I do.

My Last Plate of Salami

The kitchen at the enoteca closed until dinner so the staff is now ignoring everyone who is approaching the patio. I am also being ignored, which is too bad because I would have enjoyed another glass of wine. It is an enoteca after all. I guess I will behave for once and settle for a coffee. Now if I can only get his attention for a macchiato...

The drive took forever to Lucca mostly because I was stuck on two lane roads behind small cars with tourists. Seems everyone was on a Sunday drive! The approach and parking situation in Lucca was full of traffic and kind of ruined my day. Too many cars, one ways streets, pedestrian-only areas and no parking frustrated me! I finally turned on the GPS on my phone. It's why I paid for the international data plan, right?! But it was not exactly accurate with all the huge old buildings.

Finally found the hotel and sorted out the parking. The two hour drive turned into a seven hour travel day. Not what I had been planning. How was I going to do any shopping?

Now I just wanted a decent simple dinner and go to bed early.

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Location:Chianti to Lucca

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Another Lunch

I think I have this eating thing figured out. Yogurt, fruit and coffee for breakfast, huge lunch and small dinner. With this plan in mind, I made a reservation at Il Carroccio, a small trattoria endorsed by Slow Food. It's just off the Campo, where I had an over-priced bottle of water while listening to lots of annoying Americans try to position themselves for the best table. I've been trying to speak a little Italian and fit in some. With this in mind, I decided to go shoe shopping and actually try some on. It made me extra hungry.

Loving the half bottles of wine, why suffer through house wine? I chose Rosso di Montalcino Col d'Orcia and got a glass upgrade as well. I wanted another Brunello but thought it best to give it a rest.

Insalata di Fegatini

With Slow Food placards in the window, I'm attempting to order as traditionally as possible. I choose insalata di Fegatini con vin santo - chicken livers cooked in vin santo over radicchio & arugula. If the first dish has arugula, I know I will be ok. It's delicious! The richness of the livers and the sweetness of the wine pair nicely with the bitter greens. And the rosso di montalcino plays it off well. For once, I'm happy I chose the cheaper wine.


Braised tripe in a rich but light broth over radicchio & arugula. Delicious! Happy for the greens under the rich food. And I'm glad I did not order the insalata. Next up: ribollita. A chance for redemption. I told the owner that I had a lousy one last night and she assured me that it would be good.


And it is. The ribollita is thick and rich. Served with chopped red onion and fantastic olive oil on the side, it is true comfort food. However, it is overshadowed by the tortina di broccoli. Light and fluffy, but rich with the flavors of broccoli, anchovies and pecorino - some of my favorites. Alas, the half bottle of wine is too small for four dishes. I should know better by now, but the BMW is waiting for me.

Tortino di Broccoli

And just as I think I will behave, the giant bottle of grappa arrives at my table...

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Hunger Pangs??

Torre Mangia

Is that a hunger pang I feel??? So exciting!

Walking around and shopping has got me a bit hungry. So I ordered many things at Osteria le Logge. It all looked so good! And it was not translated into English, rare in Siena. They are only serving vino della casa by the glass. I am fearful and seriously considering a bottle. I don't have to drink it all, right? And I'm certainly not driving.

I can relax and enjoy because they are not pouring just any house wine, they own a winery - of course! They pour glassfuls and it is terrific. And they are serving it all in nice crystal. I forgot my phone so no photos for this meal. I'm disappointed because everything is fabulous and beautiful on the plate.

They have poured me -

Gianni Brunelli
Chardonnay & Insolia, 2008 (from Sicilia)

Followed by
Brunello di Montalcino, 2003

I started with two salads, quite opposite of each other - one of octopus, the other of tongue. They are both terrific with the Sicilian wine.

Polpo, sedano & olive
Lingua, finnocchiona & pomorodi

Sorry no photos but the octopus was tender and tasty with some olives, and it was made exceptional with their olive oil. The salad of lingua and trippa was poached and sliced thinly with wonderful braised fennel and flavorful tomato wedges. And of course, extra virgin olive oil.

Paccheri con Funghi Porcini

A big fat rigatoni, with my favorite mushrooms, porcini. May all others bow down and take their respective back seat. Of course, I poured extra olive oil on top. I am not afraid. Fat equals flavor.

The food has been terrific. I am, of course, full after my first three courses. But I will prevail. The extremely handsome waiter has offered his camera for me to use. He promised to send me the photos but I think I have the USB cord in my new purse. I left only the phone in the room charging.

Coda di Bue & pecorino wrapped in cabbage with sedano rapa fritto (small arancini of celery purée, I think)

So glad I left a bit of room for my 'secondo' which is actually my fourth course here. Braised oxtail is so good! Paired with aged pecorino and wrapped in cabbage. It is fantastic! Probably the best thing I've put in my mouth in the last week. (foot note: Katie).

The server left the bottle of Brunello on the table. I assume I help myself and am charged for what I consume. Dangerous. But I love the concept.

One macchiato and I will straighten out. Certo!


I took a very long walk around town with Chiara, my friend I met earlier through Small Vineyards who lives in Siena, to see many beautiful and historic sights. Gardens, churches, and towers. I love Siena! Trying to 'walk it all off'. A Campari and soda turns into three, funny how that happens the world over. I have an offer to come cook for someone at his new cafe and I'm considering it seriously. I know I can come learn this food and cook it well. I will pour my heart and soul into it.

I make some new Facebook friends and perhaps a date for later but find myself without dinner at 9:30pm. Not to worry, this is Siena, not Portland, restaurants are not closed. I walk into a neighborhood trattoria and order crostini con formaggio, ribollita and insalata verde. The hedonistic version of a late supper. They are only pouring house wine by the glass for 2€. I am doubtful but order it. And it sucks. So I refuse it. Yes, in Italian. I apologize as best I can, but I spy a half bottle of something red on a nearby table and request the Carte di Vini. A half bottle of Aiola Chianti '08 for 10€ will do me just fine.

Crostini e Formaggi

The food is lousy. This is the first time in Italy, but I have been waiting for it. The olive oil tastes like it's from Costco - that bitter, over-processed taste that is ubiquitous in the US. The lettuce is prepackaged, so the salad is lousy. The ribollita, a classic dish of Tuscany is like a minestrone cooked with stale bread, is missing any trace of salt, never mind any soul or depth.

Ribollita and Insalata Verde

I feel like a snob but I know how to cook so much better than this. I give some credence to my earlier offer of a job. I feel a little bit like jerk, but I tell them its no good. Instead, I enjoy the wine and move on. I know I am a tough customer but also know I am right. If the food is cheaply made, I can recognize it. I have had so many great meals I feel I am due. I decide to move on to the Piazza del Campo to watch the people walk by and drink Frenet Branca.


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