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Posts Tagged ‘Monterchi’

The walkway up to the pool

The walkway up to the pool

The view from the terrace to Umbria

The view from the terrace to Umbria

Preparing dinner en familia

Preparing dinner en familia

Chianti Wine Country

Chianti Wine Country

View from the Driveway

View from the Driveway

Grills for the polenta& sausage at the Monterchi polenta sager (festival)

Grills for the polenta& sausage at the Monterchi polenta sager (festival)

Grilled Polenta, sausage & pork liver

Grilled Polenta, sausage & pork liver

Radicchio & Chicken Liver Salad with Balsamic Vinegar

Radicchio & Chicken Liver Salad with Balsamic Vinegar

Bean Side Dish (contorno) On every menu. Surprisingly delicious

Bean Side Dish (contorno) On every menu. Surprisingly delicious

Rack of Lamb In a pistachio crust

Rack of Lamb In a pistachio crust

Spinach and Ricotta stuffing w/ a Truffle Sauce. Sublime.

Spinach and Ricotta stuffing w/ a Truffle Sauce. Sublime.

Succulent Scampi w/Pasta

Succulent Scampi w/Pasta

Seafood Pasta- I don't know how it tasted because he didn't share!

Seafood Pasta- I don’t know how it tasted because he didn’t share!

So simple, so perfect

So simple, so perfect

Grilled Squid Salad

Grilled Squid Salad

Grilled Vegetables

Grilled Vegetables

Pappardelle & Boar Ragu

Pappardelle & Boar Ragu

Figs & Prosciutto

Figs & Prosciutto

Everyone helps around the centre island.

Everyone helps around the centre island.

Three  2.5 inch thick steaks  grilled to rosy red perfection. Thank you Peter!

Three 2.5 inch thick steaks grilled to rosy red perfection. Thank you Peter!

Fennel simmered until tender and covered in Parmesan and fresh bread crumbs

Fennel simmered until tender and covered in Parmesan and fresh bread crumbs

Roasted Ducks with dried Fennel Stuffing: Enjoying a white wine bath

Roasted Ducks with dried Fennel Stuffing: Enjoying a white wine bath

Caprese Salad

Caprese Salad

Crostini:  starter for a 7 course meal created in our home for our last night together

Crostini: starter for a 7 course meal created in our home for our last night together

Market Porchetta:  a regional specialty

Market Porchetta: a regional specialty

Tuscan Hill Town

Tuscan Hill Town

The view from our Living Room

The view from our Living Room

This past September, eight family & friends fulfilled a long-standing dream by renting a farmhouse style villa on the border of Tuscany & Umbria for two glorious weeks.  I had managed to get the other side of 50, and had never traveled to Italy before, despite being a self styled foodie and lover of Italian food. Osso Buco with Risotto Milanese is my default choice for family celebrations and Spaghetti alla Carbonara, so sublimely rich, is an indulgence best savoured alone. Or maybe by two.

How to explain this gap in my gastronomic travels?  Let’s just say that the south of France has been a road traveled well and often.  

So it would be natural to offer comparisons:  the late fall weather in Tuscany and in Provence is temperate, the scenery post card perfection and the harvest still generous with fragrant musk melon, black truffles, gigantic porcini (called cepes in France) and the last of the summers’ sweet corn and scarlet ripe tomatoes. You awake every fall morning to the barking of hunting dogs and reports of rifles in the fields below.  Rosemary and lavender grow lavishly and perfume the air.  The insistence on traditional food prepared in the traditional way is carried on by generations of grandmothers, toiling in the Sunday kitchen.  The drivers are all mad.  Every day is market day somewhere:  rough handed men unload their baskets of produce from ubiquitous white vans on the pavements of civic parking lots.  More complex canopies unfold like metal origami to reveal glass fronted cases, stuffed with rounds of fresh and aged local cheese, whole legs of ruby red prosciutto rest on the counter and gigantic beach ball sized sausages of  homemade mortadella, are ready to be carefully hand sliced with a sabre like knife. As in Paris, as in Pertuis, as in our little market town of Monterchi, they admonish my mother in French or Italian:   “don’t touch the produce madam. I will select it for you. Is your melon for today or tomorrow”.  So far, so similar.

But unlike the French, the Italians are happy to see you. Yes, the rudeness of the Parisian is legend, but it warms up to simple brusqueness when you travel south of Lyon.  But in Tuscany, we were genuinely welcomed and appreciated, even at the end of the tourist season, when they should by rights be weary of our presence. For those had prior experience with French” hospitality”, the welcoming attitude was the most surprising element of our trip. 

When you have a family group that consists of three former restaurateurs and their spouses, the vacation tends to center on food.  Or should I say, obsess.  My friend Peter was not happy unless he had the next 4 meals planned out! Possibly 6. I had intended to focus on just the “best of” our trip but that would not do justice to the two weeks of feasts.  For breakfast, we enjoyed fresh pressed coffee, and platters of ripe melon, sweet pears, Pecorino cheese, and various charcuterie (including crostini with Tuscany’s famous chicken liver pate, Ben’s favourite), all artfully arranged by Rita and Betty.  Tuscan bread is famously unsalted, possibly because the food can be over salted, and it is free from preservatives, so it goes from merely hard to granite in just a day: a cherry studded coffee cake was the delicious substitute for my mother’s breakfast.    In and around the farmhouse gardens we picked masses of herbs, honeyed green figs and possibly the sweetest tomatoes I have ever tasted:  truly, I am now spoiled for tomatoes forever.

We tried valiantly to alternate our “big meal” of the day between luncheon out and dinner in or out, and there were so many delicious leftovers that the fridge constantly threatened to overflow with mysterious wax paper packages and take- away containers.  Was that cheese from last week? Did the porchetta come from the market in Arezzo on Saturday, or Marcello’s, the affable grocer (who liked to flirt with m mother)? Who cares, let’s make a sandwich! 

 And then there was the beverage fridge with bottles of Perroni beer, sparkling Prosecco (so many varieties to choose from), white wine made from the Vermentino grape, (dry, crisp and herbal flavour) and the famed Vernaccia di San Gimignano (full bodied, heady floral bouquet). My brother Brian sourced the best balance of flavour and value in the locally available Chiantis, and we occasionally splurged on a Chianti Reserva or Brunello to accompany an extra special meal.  But then again, with a group like this one, they were by most people’s measure, very special.

 I will let the photos (thank you Rita) take you through the rest of our culinary adventures in the Tuscan countryside.  On every measure, our stay surpassed our expectations  and of course, it was the fulfillment of our dream to be all together in Tuscany, sharing our love of food, of wine and of each other as family and friends.  

*A favola non si invecchia is a popular Italian food saying, which translates as “You don’t age while seated for meal”.  How marvelous:    the fountain of youth is a table in Tuscany! 

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