Cook in Tuscany – La Chiusa, A Surprise, Innocenti and Farewell

*** EIGHT – yes, EIGHT!!  months have gone by since I returned from Tuscany.  I had so many issues with my computer that I had put this aside to finish later and later never seemed to come.  I am now, if you don’t mind, ready to finish the telling of this fabulous life-changing (for me) trip! ***

♣♣♣TWO YEARS – yes, officially TWO YEARS have, as of today, gone by since I started my Cook in Tuscany Trip.  I am not counting my day in Zug because that would have made yesterday the official two-year mark.  Though I am not pro-resoution, I have promised myself to finish every project I have started and that includes this one.♣♣♣

Now where was I….

Sigh, the last full day in Montefollonico, at La Costa with this fabulous group that made the start of my trip so wonderful. The next morning most would be hopping the van to Chiusi-Chianciano Station to continue their adventures elsewhere or return home.  But till then, we had a full day of wonderful stuff!

As per usual, we had our breakfast in the closed-in veranda before making our way to our last cooking class.  It is kinda funny that we had the van, considering how close we were!  We could easily have walked there and back but hey, why not?  And it’s not like any of us knew where we were going anyway.

This time we made our way to the restaurant La Chiusa, run by Michelin-star chef Dania, a woman who is somewhere in her 70’s but does not dress “accordingly” (whatever that is supposed to be)!  She is one sexy lady!  Though divorced, her husband still works with her.  How very European, eh?

Dania is very artistic and she showed us how to decorate plates with zucchini and beet purées.  We made stuffed zucchini flowers, pesto risotto, chicken stew, caramel nests, fig and caramel ice cream.  The colour of the egg yolks… I have no words.  And this standard for them!

Once most of the mains were started, Dania brought us through to her gardens, which were still amazing in September.  Huge kale, leeks, rows and rows of rosemary, basil, eggplants, peppers, fig trees, zucchini with their blossoms – it was amazing to walk through, while Dania chattered away, occasionally translated by the lovely Geraldine – same who had translated on truffle-hunting day.  I think I would spend hours on this bench, dreaming of what to pick next…

Group photo!

We then went into the “pasta” kitchen where Antonietta had us making ravioli stuffed with ricotta and lovely gnocchi.

All that hard work meant we got to eat al fresco on the terrace.

To return “home”, we decided to walk this time.  It was just up a hill, less than a kilometre and let’s face it, walking was not a bad idea.  As we entered the gates of Montefollonico, we were chattering and laughing when I heard “Dale?”.

What the… I spun around and there was Pierre.  One of Mick’s close friends and former clients.  Oh. Em. Gee.  You cannot make this stuff up!  I mean, come ON!  This is not THE rocking place of Tuscany.  This tiny village is tucked away in the middle of nowhere!  I can still hear Donna saying:  “You turned French Canadian in front of my eyes!”  Speaking of eyes, the whole gang got all misty-eyed at seeing us hug.  Pierre looked at me, then up at the sky and let out a “Mick, tabarnac!”  He said he was a little bit of a believer but now was full-fledged.  I had no idea he and his wife, Geneviève, were there on vacation.  And it was his in-laws who wanted to go visit there.  What were the chances?

Pierre and Me

We exchanged emails and made arrangements to hook up in two days.  So. Very. Cool.

We had a few hours to kill before our next adventure and Sandy wanted to deliver an apron to Dania in thanks.  So I joined Donna and her for a walk back to La Chiusa and Dania.

Our last excursion was down the street from LaCosta to Innocenti Wines.

We were greeted by Vino, Vittorio Innocenti’s sweet dog.  We entered and a few feet in, found ourselves in a fairly dark and musty wine cellar with the big casks.  Vittorio and Laura (Geraldine’s mum) were waiting for us to give us a tour.  Not a very big one!  The place is quite small and feels very intimate.

It was our last night together! How quickly it passed.  How much fun we had.  The memories created will remain forever, of that I am certain.  Friendships created and with the magic of Facebook, maintained.

Our last supper was at La Costa in the closed veranda as the evening was quite cool.  We had a lovely feast of pork chops and the lemon roasted potatoes and balsamic roasted cipollini, three types of crostini (mushroom, roasted tomato and olive), salad and a birthday cake for Cindi and Alison!  A perfect ending to a perfect week in perfect company.  Linda and George gave us each a lovely ceramic plate as a memento.  We would save our good-byes for the morrow.

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A Tuscan Feast

“The preparation of good food is merely another expression of art, one of the joys of civilized living…”
Dione Lucas

 As this is a post about food and Italy, here’s a little dinner music to keep you company as you read 😉

I thought for sure that this morning I would be suffering from dysania, but no.  The alarm clock went off for François at 6:25 and I was wide-awake.  Dammit.  I had been planning on sleeping in and being totally lazy today.

For those of you who don’t know, in September 2016, I went to Tuscany all by myself.  BEST. TRIP. EVER.  My first week of that trip was spent with the fabulous Cook in Tuscany group, created by the wonderful and irrepressible hosts, Linda and George, and 13 other fantabulous participants, learning how to cook Tuscan food and experiencing a lot of what the area had to offer.  A dream of mine since forever.

Fast-forward to last night.  Okay, maybe not so fast.  It has been one and a half years since said trip.  It was about bloody time I had my sisters and their hubbies over to show off what I had learnt.  (Thank you, Tracy, for nudging me…)

I warned them to come bellies empty because I had a lot to show them!

“I like a cook who smiles out loud when he tastes his own work.
Let God worry about your modesty; I want to see your enthusiasm.”
Robert Farrar Capon

To get us started on the right foot, I served Aperol Spritz – did I take a picture?  No.  So right.  With our cocktails we had two kinds of bruschette.  Bean and onion and the classic tomato.  I only cut and toasted so many slices so that no one over-exaggerated…

Once they had a little food in their bellies, I put them all to work!  To truly appreciate Pici, one must roll with the dough 😉

“No one who cooks, cooks alone. Even at her most solitary, a cook in the kitchen is surrounded by generations of cooks past, the advice and menus of cooks present, the wisdom of cookbook writers.”
Laurie Colwin

Having worked for their supper, they were then allowed into the dining room for the first course, a Tuscan tomato and bread soup.  Now.  I may have screwed up a bit.  I had toasted my bread ahead of time and was supposed to add it to my soup in bits and pieces till I felt there was enough.  In my usual over-zealousness, I dumped the whole bowl into the pot.  Um.  Can we call it Bread and Tomato soup instead?  No one seemed to mind and hey, Tuscan cooking is all about stretching out what one has….  All around, it was declared delicious.

“The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you’ve got to have a what-the-hell attitude.”
Julia Child

As I had not quite finished preparing my crumbs for the pici, I had them all come back, with their glass of wine, into the kitchen to keep me company (next house, OPEN CONCEPT).  This was a very interactive meal, in case you’ve not noticed 😉

When in Sienna, I went to visit one of the Frescobaldi vineyards, Castel Giocondo, in Montalcino.  I splurged (BIG time) and bought two bottles of their Brunello.  These I kept for this special night.  We decided to decant each one and oh wow.  They were both fantastic.

Pici now cooked and sautéed, it was back to the dining room!  Before Tuscany became the “go-to” vacation spot, even for Italians, they were quite poor.  Salt was used sparingly on food, kept mostly for preserving.  Not everyone could afford cheese, so they “cheated” by cooking stale bread crumbs in olive oil.  It truly gives incredible flavour.  Everyone loved their pasta – it was theirs, they rolled it, after all!

“Sharing food with another human being is an intimate act that should not be indulged in lightly.”
M.F.K. Fisher

While we were enjoying our pasta, the pork tenderloin and grilled veggies were being warmed in the oven so there was no longer a need to dance between rooms.

I did, however, remember that I had a bottle of Grappa.  Instead of sipping it as a digestif after the meal, we used it as a “Trou Normand” – a shot which, as they say, serves to make room for the next course.

This was a cheat in the whole Italian evening and I may get a frown from a true Italiano but I’m willing to take my chances.  Besides, the deed is done.

We’re still smiling.  Certainly  not because we are overstuffed.  Yet.

You still with me?

The meal is not quite done!  Time for dessert.  I made panna cotta with two sauces, chocolate and strawberry.  Pick one, pick none or pick both!

“A gourmet who thinks of calories is like a tart who looks at her watch. ”
James Beard

Coffee was served and one would think that it ended there, right?  Wrong.

A little Vin Santo and Cantucci to cap it all off… hoping no one would be feeling crapulous after such a feast!

“I lurched away from the table after a few hours feeling like Elvis in Vegas – fat, drugged, and completely out of it.”
Anthony Bourdain

 

#WeekendCoffeeShare – In Which I Played Tour Guide

Good evening my Blogger Friends!  It’s Sunday evening and I am in no mood for coffee.  Red wine for me!

First things first, however.  Thank you Emily from Nerd in the Brain for hosting our Coffee Talk!  For anyone wanting to join in on the fun, just click on the coffee cup above and you’ll be directed to her site where you can add your link or click on the link and read other stories.

Now, without further ado… My week.  Oy!  What a fantabulous week!  No, I shall not talk about my water woes other than to say that one issue has been fixed and one has been diagnosed – not in the manner in which I would prefer… Next subject!

If we were having coffee, or frankly, it is Sunday night, so, if you want that hot beverage spiked, just say so, I’ve got a lovely collection of liqueurs that could be added.  I might even be able to whip up some cream as a topping, should you wish!  I, on the other hand, shall go and get myself a nice glass of wine.  I also have white or rosé, should you prefer!

If we were sharing a nice beverage, I would tell you that I had a most wonderful week with Alison.  Who is Alison, you ask?  Would you imagine?  Last September, I went to Tuscany for almost three weeks.  The first week was a cooking week with Cook in Tuscany and where I met Alison.  I wrote part of my story  here.  (I’ve got a few posts still to go to bring it all up to speed – yeah, yeah, I know.  Way late!  Anyway.)  Well, as happens when you spend a full week with a group (we were 14 in all), friendships form.  We exchanged emails and quite a few of us are now Facebook friends.  Alison asked me if I was serious when I said, should you come to visit Montreal, let me know.  I responded absolutely!

She said cool… She’d be in Montreal from Tuesday, April 18th, till Saturday, April 22nd.  I offered my home for her to stay in but she is very allergic to cats and I’ve two of them.   She was very content to stay in an AirBnB in downtown Montreal and I was happy to go pick her up daily so we could do the tourist thing.

Alison really wanted to see our Montreal Symphony Orchestra and had asked me to look into buying tickets.  Then Punta Cana happened and I got all involved in the passport thing and the trip itself and…. When she texted me saying,  “So? Where are we sitting?”  I had to sheepishly admit I had failed at purchasing them.  I did manage to get us tickets for the first night but we’d not be sitting together.  She said what did it matter?  It’s not like we are going to talk while the music is playing… she had a point.  I had never been to our new Symphony House so I didn’t know what the seating was like.  There were some seats behind the musicians but I didn’t dare take them.  I should have.  It’s not like I could see the faces of anyone way up in the balcony!

Picked up Alison at the airport at 5pm, drove through the traffic to bring her to her apartment.  She changed and we made our way down to the “Quartier des Spectacles” in Montreal, parked and attempted to find something decent to eat.  Problem was it was also a hockey night so all restaurants were filled to the rim.  Ended up eating two steamies and greasy fries at Lafleur!  Sheesh.  Quite the beginning!

We made our way to the new (well, new to me, but open since 2011) MSO Symphony Hall to enjoy the concert Brel Symphonique.  Fans of Jacques Brel were treated to interpretation by mostly Québécois singers.  We were not disappointed.  Alison’s goal was to hear the Montreal Symphony Orchestra and she found the 81 members for this concert amazing.  I was not disappointed because I love Jacques Brel’s music and I found that the 10 artists did a wonderful job interpreting his songs along with the wonderful orchestration by the MSO.

As Alison had been up since very early, she was ready to hit the hay for the next day of adventures!

Wednesday morning, I picked her up and we made our way to St. Joseph’s Oratory.   We explored every floor, nook and cranny that we could.  Of course, once we were ready to go, it started to rain, so we didn’t take a picture of the oratory from the street!  Alison didn’t believe me when I told her that you could always find at least one person climbing the steps on their knees…

We worked up our hunger (it was near 2:00 pm!) so we made our way to Côte-des-Neiges Street and into McCarold’s Irish Pub for a delicious burger and fries.

My son’s friend was coming to do some of the plumbing – no, we’re not talking about my water woes! – and I wanted to be there when he did so we made our way to my house.  A tour of the mess and then we just sat and chitchatted.  And eventually got hungry so I made a vegetable & tortellini “Stoup” and heated up a frozen baguette.  Voilà!  Supper is served.  Alison was my expert stirrer…

On Thursday, we drove around the different boroughs of Montreal so I could show Alison the “Stairs of Montreal” and we wound up in Little Italy and the Jean-Talon Market.  It is such a fabulous place in summer but does remain open year-round (maybe 1/5 to 1/4 of it?)  We then made our way to Outremont, which has a totally different vibe, drove up Mount Royal, walked around Beaver Lake then made our way to the Camilien Houde Promontory to see a view of Montreal.  Though not raining, it was sort of clear…  Oh!  And as I drove around to the front of the entrance of Mount Royal where there are statues and, in the summer, the Tam-Tam players, I kept wondering why there were so many cops!  I sent Alison out to take some pics while I stayed in the car, illegally parked, and she came back stating there was quite the scent around the place.  D’oh!  It was 420 – Weed Day!

All that walking around made us hungry, so we made our way to Old Montreal.  We had a show at the Notre Dame Basilica (Aura) at 6 pm so we figured we’d have time to walk around and admire the old buildings and whatnot after lunch.  We ate outside in a heated terrasse (yes, I spell it the French way because we say it the French way!)  I wanted to bring Alison to the Jardin Nelson but it was closed for the day. Grrr.  So we went to Le Fripon.  No regrets!  After a delicious pizza, we made our way to the Basilica and enjoyed the Aura light show.  Truly beautiful.  A tad pricey for the amount of time we spent there, I have to admit but there was still no regret at having watched the light show.

I had never seen these two statues and the plaque explaining them….  They are so representative of the English-French thing that we have going on in our province!

Not yet hungry, we decided to go have a drink.  I decided we should go to Crescent Street where there are so many happening places.  I was telling her about Winnie’s and Margo and how she was THE bartender for years, knowing many Montreal writers and such but that she had taken her retirement and… bloody hell!  Who is at Winnie’s?  Margo!  Unknowingly, it was the 50th anniversary of the club and it was Bartenders Alumni Night!  Score!  What a perfect ending to a perfect day.  We decided to stay and have a late supper.  Introduced Alison to poutine, to boot…

So now it is Friday.  Our last full day to do stuff.   And I’m expecting a plumber to come and check out the mess – but we’re not talking about that, right?  As well, I have an 80th birthday cake to make for a friend of mine so my time is kinda wack.  I pick up Alison at 10:30 and off we go to the Biodome or Biosphere.  This was originally the American pavilion during Expo 67.  It was a spectacular sight then and in 1976, the outside walls (or membrane) caught fire but the original structure remained intact.  The Biodome became a natural museum and is most interesting.  I figured it was close enough to my house so we would be able to get to my house quickly should said plumber call.  There are a few halls closed for preparation of Montreal’s 375 birthday celebration so price is cut in half.  I’m jiggy wid it…   We enter one of the rooms for a 360º presentation but 2/3 of the screens are blank.  Not good.  I go out and advise the people in charge and they come and fix it.  In the meantime, we go to see other interesting things on the planet, global warming and such and make our way back to the original hall for the next presentation in English.  Very interesting and as we leave, my phone rings and it’s my son telling me the plumber is there.  Sigh. So much for him calling first…

We decided to lunch on my leftover stoup and, once the plumbing done, made our way back to Montreal.  It was a bleary day.  (Seriously, Alison was so not lucky weather-wise!)  We decide to take in the Chagall exhibit at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.  Park the car, make our way there and I find it weird there is no one at the reception.  Wait in line at the VIP line only to be told that the museum closes at 5 pm.  It was 4:50.  Ugh.  Only on Wednesdays is the museum open until 9 PM.  Dammit.   A lovely woman tells us, hey, if you want to, across the street at the Bourgie Hall, you can have a concert and a private tour of the exhibition.  Well.   We immediately crossed over and paid the fee.  Oh my goodness!  What a score!  We had the most wonderful guide Elena (Elaina? Elayna?) who knew her stuff.  It was a speedy tour, to be sure, and just whetted my appetite to return before it is gone.

 

After that, we settled into our seats in the converted church and enjoyed – well, I cannot lie, I am not a fan of Stravinsky but still.  The first half was a Stravinsky piano piece for four hands and the second was a piano duet for two pianos by Francis Poulenc.  The pianists were James Anagnoson and Leslie Kinton, celebrating 40 years of playing together!

They did a bang-up job!  By the end of the concert, it was almost 8 PM so we were hungry and I brought Alison to the Gay Village and my most favourite restaurant, Mozza Pâtes et Passions.  There is no place like it.  I told Alison she must go to the bathroom.  And to bring her phone with her… 😉

Bathroom at Mozza

The next morning I had to go to a work meeting from 9:30 till 11:00, rush home to meet the foundation guy – no, we’re still not talking water woes – then finish the cake for my friend Martin B.  I picked up Alison around 1:30 and drove her to the airport.  Our five-day-extravaganza had come to an end already.

I cannot believe how many things we did in such a short time!  It was a blast and I was told I was a good tour guide.  Phew!

I hope I’ve not rambled on way too long.  It took me almost three days to write this thing as the weather has finally turned (doesn’t that figure, Alison?) so I did come in and out of the house between raking and stuff to write this!

Oh. My bad.  I almost forgot all the goodies Alison brought me as a thank you.  Sheesh.  She spoiled me with Louisiana hot sauces, an apron and a bottle of wine!  All products from her home State of Louisiana.  Spoiled rotten, I tell ya!

Thanks to any of you who stuck it out and read the whole shebang!

See you next week!  I can promise you it will be way less exciting!

Lotsa love,

Dale

xoxo

 

 

Cook in Tuscany – To the Farm! Then Hunt For Truffles!

Apologies for the delay… Major problemos with my computer and I just couldn’t upload photos!  What’s the point of tormenting you with my trip if I can’t supply the photos, eh? 😀

Darn, with each new day came new adventures but also brought us closer to the end.  This day was a fun one, for sure!  We were off to Podere il Casale, a 100% organic, self-sufficient working farm where sheep and goats were raised to make the famous Pecorino cheese.  As well, the outdoor wood-burning stove was ideal for bread making.  Aww shucks.  We were going to learn all about cheese and how to make Tuscan bread and foccacia. How sad.  Broke my heart, really. 😀

The owners of the farm, a lovely couple named Sandra and Ulisse (originally from Switzerland) were wonderful hosts.  Ulisse is a self-taught cheese master and Sandra does hostess duties.

Allora, first things first.  As bread and foccacia need time to rise, first thing to do was to get the breads started.  Piero, our bread teacher was so very sweet and charming. Most of us were put on foccacia duty while four were put on Tuscan bread duty.  Mixing and kneading and resting – interesting note:  as salt was once so expensive it was used as currency, the Tuscans did not salt their bread.  They’ve kept up the practice.

While the dough was doing its magic, Sandra took us on a tour of the farm, introducing us to all the animals and showing us her impressive garden, then showing us where the cheese is made and stored to age.  The farm is fully functional and many young people were on hand doing their stages, learning all the inner-workings.

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We then hung out with the Cheese Doctor, Ulisse.  It was amazing to watch the cheese come to life before our eyes.  There is an obvious joy to his doing his craft.  To think he is self-taught and is now one of the top pecorino cheese guys in all of Tuscany!

Time to bake our foccacias! Piero showed us how to roll out our dough, prick it all over with a fork, pour olive oil over it and smooth it all over, sprinkle with fresh rosemary and salt… except Piero filled the salt bowl with sugar!  We couldn’t figure out why it was so sweet… That situation got rectified soon after amidst lots of laughter

So, of course, now that we have opened out appetites, it was time for lunch!  This ended up being a vegetarian meal, ending with a sampling of some 15 different cheeses!  Is there anything better than dining al fresco?

As if the day wasn’t already fabulous, we were off to truffle hunt with PierPaolo (not sure how he spells his name) and his interpretor, the lovely, Geraldine. When not giving a tour, PierPaolo takes all four dogs out with him but since he had all of us to worry about, he only brought two!  It was the funniest thing to see these dogs get all excited and not want to give up their truffles!

After such an exciting day, it was back “home” at La Costa for pizza and salads and frankly, I think we’d had quite a bit of excitement for the day!

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Cook in Tuscany – Cantucci, Bagno Vignoni and Beautiful Pienza

Allora, what was in store for us on this day?  Allora is my new favourite expression, by the way!  We heard it from just about every Italian we dealt with!  It basically means “and so” or “then”.  For example:  Allora, next we take the eggplant and we…  Doesn’t it sound just so much better than “And now….” 😀

Allora, my friends, on this day we were staying “home” at La Costa to learn how to debone a chicken, stuff it with prosciutto and ground pork and tie it all into a neat little bundle.  We also learned how to make melanzane parmigiano (eggplant parmesan) and I can promise you folks, I am no longer making it the same way I have for years!  Matter of fact, just this week, I made it for mi famiglia!  Plus panna cotta and cantucci (or cantuccini) which is an almond cookie basically the same difference as biscotti, which can or not be double-baked (though that kind of goes against the origin of the name biscotti as it means twice baked).  Sorry, I got carried away there.  The important thing is these little babies are absolutely delicious, especially when dipped in vin santo! (see my welcome by Milena!)  Some pici rolling also took place. (We couldn’t possibly have a meal sans pasta, right?)

But first, we watch Terry debone that chicken.  Don’t you find he looks like a young Vincent Schiavelli?

Now it was Donna’s turn.  Love how her tongue sticks out when she’s concentrating… 😉

I will not torment you with finished product pictures… nah!  Just kidding!

We had some time to do whatever (attempt at blogging…yeah…uhhh…no) until 3:30 because we were off to the Roman baths, Bagno Vignoni, and then the beautiful town of Pienza.

On our way there we stopped off at “the most photographed house in the Val d’Orcia region of Tuscany”.  Why? Who knows? However, if any of you buy a “Tuscany” calendar, chances are this house is one of the monthly pictures. Well darn it, wouldn’t you know?  When I got home, I looked through my old calendars (though I was convinced I had chucked them all) and lo and behold, there it was! February 2010!

Lovely and all… but MY picture is so much more… mine! 😉 Plus! There was a wedding going on (pretend I am happy to have people marring my perfect photo…)

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Moving on, we made our way to the Roman baths of Bagno Vignoni. What a delight to dip our toes into the warm waters surrounded by such a view!

Back into the van and off to Pienza.  Finally had my first gelato of the trip a scoop each of Fig and port and blackberry.  They even had one that was spinach & kiwi.  Sounds gross, eh?  Well, it wasn’t!

We all walked around shopping and taking in the sights, then met up with everyone at the Restaurant La Bandita, where we had yet another fabulous meal.  So weird to be served by a Scot!  He told us that the previous Christmas, they held an all Scottish feast that we very well received by the locals!

Zucchini carpaccio, pesto linguine, chicken on a carrot purée and finished off with a semifreddo of white chocolate and salted caramel and a blueberry sorbet.  Mmmm

A funny thing happened on our way home… Angelo put on some disco music and we started dancing in our seats.  He then turned on the disco lights in the van!  Well… all hell broke loose.  There was dancing up and down the aisle and laughter galore.  Wonder how often that happens, eh Linda and George?  We must have been a special group…  And Linda went and posted MOI on the Facebook page!  Well now…

Did I mention Rosemarie, as well as her daughter Venetia are actors (actresses?)?  Venetia directed her mum in the play “Calendar Girls”.  Needless to say, this means that Rosemarie (who, for a reason I cannot explain, I kept calling Annemarie – her sister, by the way – for two days) is not exactly shy about letting it all hang out.  I apologise again, Rosemarie, as I am caught on tape!  As are you…

Laughing our heads off, we made our way back to La Costa where most of us continued to party.  Paulo was kind enough to get us a bottle of wine, which did not suffice so we “stole” one from one of the displays – can’t really call it stolen as we left a note with our names on it.  Thank you, Sandy, for picking up the tab on that one… gulp!

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Cook in Tuscany – Pici, Canneto & Montepulciano

Now that the first cooking day was under our belt, we were ready for more.  Back to Enoteca (wine shop) La Botta Piena for cooking lessons with Elena & Simone, Sandra and Kathleen & Giovanni (Elena & Simone’s son) for 9:30.  Met the gang first for breakfast and across the street we went.

They set up the dining room tables as a long work station.  We each had our bowl of flower and container of water with oil.  Same method as egg pasta but without the egg.  Once upon a time, Tuscans were quite poor and would never dream of wasting an egg on pasta so they learned to make do.  The fun part with pici is you don’t use a rolling pin to flatten it and then cut it into strips, you take chunks and roll it on a board or between your hands like we once did with Play-Doh when we were kids.

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While our dough was resting, we prepared Chianina steaks – huge T-bones that are cooked on the bone.  Literally. Standing up on the flat part of the bone!  We also made a bread stick crust to go with a savoury ricotta cheesecake, roasted some veggies, made Tuscan tomato-bread soup and a lovely peach crostada – this time with a crust topping.  Awww… and we had to eat all this?  Poor, poor us!

Before eating this, however, back to rolling the pici!  Music was turned up and everyone started dancing around…

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We sat outside while the gang did the final plating then sat down to our feast!

Happily stuffed, we stumbled back to La Costa to do whatever we wanted until we had to meet at the van for 3:30.  We were off to Canneto winery, a very small operation – they do their bottling on a truck! We were invited to taste all their different wines.  Quite enjoyable and a lovely place to visit.  As with most wineries, they compliment their business with the creation of olive oils so there are olive groves planted next to the grape vines.

A short stop at the Santuario della Madonna di San Biagio, a Renaissance Greek cross central plan church that, for reasons unknown, remains unfinished.  Only one of the bell towers was completed, the other, left with just the base.

Off the the town centre of Montepulciano to run around and discover at will until 7:30 pm for dinner at La Grotta restaurant.   Venetia, Rosemarie, Donna and I ended up at Cantucci Cantina, tasting more wines! (I know, it just so sucks to be us…) Somehow, Venetia and I ended up wandering off, cameras clicking away, realising we had pretty much the same eye and stopping at the same things!  Goes to show…

 

At La Grotta, we were treated to another fabulous meal.  One table…ahem… was a “tad” loud… Janet, Donna, Terri, Sandy, Linda, Conrad, Cindi, Frank and MaryEllen…. not saying you were out of control but you know that couple that should never have been placed in the same room with us? They were NOT pleased!  We, at the quiet table: Paula, Nancy, George (surprisingly 😉 ), Ventia, Rosemarie, Alison and moi, were quite taken aback when poor Paula went outside to take a breath of fresh air and was told by said couple – who had attempted to get peace and quiet despite all being wet from the afternoon rain – that we were rude and should leave! Luckily Paula did not go all Long-Island on them as it was suggested she do! I’m not saying we were jealous of all the ruckus going on at YOUR table but…

The “Rowdy Ones”

We started off with a fabulous eggplant & zucchini terrine topped with crispy pancetta, then a Pecorino cheese soufflé, papardelle with duck sauce, beef stew with braised spinach and finally, a plate of three desserts: mascarpone w/coffee gelato, chocolate cake with orange sauce and Sambuca parfait.  Of course, me the “Scarpetta” cleared off all my plates… Of course, the appropriate wines accompanied each service.

You’d think I’d sleep like a baby after all that…

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Cook in Tuscany – Cortona – Yes! Cortona!

Talk about starting off with a bang!  We were going to Cortona!  Home of “Under the Tuscan Sun” – I used to joke with my family (sorta) that I was going to pull a Diane Lane and not come back…the movie version… (very different from the books – which were fabulous in a whole ‘nother way).

So, this was an early one!  We had to be ready to hop on the van with Angelo, our driver for the week, by 8:30!  Hey!  I thought we were on vacation here?  I have to set an alarm?!  All jokes aside, we gladly gathered for breakfast by 7:30-8:00.  I tell you, the Tuscans are not big on breakfast.  Some sweet cakes and pastries, a few hard-boiled eggs, Rusk crackers (I had forgotten how much I enjoyed them and have started buying them again!), some fruit, maybe some cold meats and cheese and coffee.  Paula’s cappuccinos were wonderful.

Oh. Em. Gee!  I was going to the place that probably started this dream of mine; or, if it didn’t start it, definitely fed it.

On our way to Cortona, we noticed the fields of sunflowers were pretty much done, heads drooping, petals non-existent.  We were pretty bummed when hark!  Someone let out a shout to look to the left.  Yes!  One last field of sunshiny faces looking towards the sun.  We begged Angelo to stop so we could get in there.

Cortona is built on quite the hill and Angelo was a total sweetheart to drive us up where vans are not supposed to go so we could all jump out as quick as can be to go meet up with Antonietta, our chef teacher for the day.  First order of business was to go shopping for the necessities – some pork tenderloin (cinque filette di maiale, per favore), tomatoes, canned barlotti beans, eggs, rosemary, etc.

We made our way back to Netta’s Kitchen, donned our aprons for the first time and set about making tagliatelle.  Once we had all held up our creations, it was on to stuffing the pork tenderloins with garlic, salt, pepper and rosemary.  These would be prepared in a pear and Chianti sauce and served with lemon rosemary potatoes, all chopped and prepared by us.  We also chopped tomatoes and red onions, splash of balsamic vinegar, glug of olive oil, salt & pepper and voilà! The makings of a tomato bruschetta topping.  Did the same with the beans for a second topping.  Oh!  And we made our own individual crostadas, filled with jam and decorated as we saw fit.  I call them rustic pies.  We all called them delicious!

Once everything we cooked, we settled down to eat our creations.

After all that work we were set free to roam the streets of Cortona.  What was to become a standard (unbeknownst to me until this trip) was walking through cobble-stoned streets, stepping into doorways to avoid being run over by their cute little cars – which I am sure would still hurt if rolled over my foot!

We then went to visit “Le Celle”, the last place St. Francis of Assisi lived and did his work.  His room was beyond spare and the gardens were just lovely.

We also visited the Santuario di Santa Margherita where the amazingly preserved Saint’s body lies in one piece (a miracle, considering other churches have bits and pieces of various saints for all to see!)

Back to La Costa for a snooze or rest and then off for dinner at La Botta Piena, almost across the street from home.  MaryEllen was finally well enough to join us – and a good thing too!  She is a hoot and a half!

Frank and MaryEllen

Frank and MaryEllen

There we were treated to a fabulous dinner by hosts Elena and Simone.  A dinner comprised of six courses!  Olive and ricotta mousse, onion flan (Oh, I have begged Linda to get the recipe from Elena – and I shall continue to harass her until I get it!) and veal carpaccio, chickpea soup with spelt and rosemary croutons, spaghetti all’amatriciana, chicken rolls stuffed with sausage and olives and pork with tuna sauce and finally a grape mascarpone charlotte.  Lawsy!  A total of four different wines were also served to go with each course.

If this was a sign of the rest of the trip, we were going to have to roll me out of there!

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