There are countless restaurants to cater to the visitor in Chianti, and we did our best to try a good number of them simply by following our noses. However, when booking our wine tour to Castello Verrazzano with the very hospitable Roberta, who offered a glass of Vin Santo with biscotti whilst she checked the reservations, it occurred to us that she probably knew a thing or two about local cuisine, so we asked her to recommend a couple of restaurants that were ‘non-touristo’, and she gave us two cards, with directions, and told us to ask for Vincenzo and Stefano, respectively.
After a hot, but delightful day in Firenze, visiting Palazzo Pitti for some beautiful Renaissance art, a saunter across the Ponte Vecchio to gaze at the bling, a horse and carriage ride with the bambini, and an excellent lunch at Ristorante Paoli, a converted monastery with frescoed interior, and an excellent spaghetti alle vongole with enough garlic to kill the entire cast of Twilight, we headed home, and after a dip in the pool, to the first of Roberta’s recommendations, La Cantinetta.
Set high on a bend in the road, overlooking sloping hills covered in grape vines, with a huge terrace facing the view, we arrived just as the sun was starting to slide downwards. A glass of Prosecco to welcome us, and menus and a waitress with no English, and our evening began.
Given that wild boar is the local specialty of the Chianti region, the crostini with a rustic chunky paste made of the same was a must, as was the wild boar pasta. Also magnifico was the homemade gnocchi, one served with fresh pomodoro and basil, the other with gorgonzola, a personal favorite.
Vincenzo had arrived whilst we were trying to order and was told someone was asking for him (as we had mentioned his name on arrival) and so he swooped on us like an old friend, making sure we had food in abundance, and constantly checking we were enjoying ourselves and our meals.
Grazie, Vincenzo, and si!
Recommendation number two was one of the top 2 dining experiences for us in Tuscany (the first for me being the degustation and wine matching at Castello Verrazzano). Set in the tiny but gorgeous village of Passignano, which is dominated by a huge, ancient bell tower and surrounded by rows of vines, Ristoro L’antica Scuderia was simple, elegant, outdoor dining at its best.
The man to know was Stefano, and his daughter was our waitress for the evening. Having eaten plenty of excellent pasta during our stay, we unanimously opted for steak, as it seemed to feature heavily on the menu. Our sides included some zucchini, and roasted potatoes, as well as insalata verde, but the star of the meal was the steak alle balsamico.
With delight we realized that the structure a little way in front of us in the garden perched above a vineyard, was a huge BBQ grill and that Stefano was in fact, the meat-master and was going to cook our steaks as we watched, plucking fresh herbs from a basket next to the grill, and driving us crazy with the sound and aroma as he worked at it.
The steaks were out of this world, cooked to perfection with a strong balsamic tang. From where we sat, with the BBQ lit up in the dusk, Stefano looked more like a DJ than a chef, and certainly after each ‘performance’ he walked amongst the diners like a rock star, shaking hands, and checking on his fans.
The desserts were no less than fabulous, with tiramisu, chocolate pizza, and a lemon sorbet that will stay with me as the best I have ever had.
Market day transforms the Piazza Matteotto in Greve into a sea of umbrellas, sheltering trestle tables laden with wicker baskets overflowing with locally grown fruit and vegetables, plus the freshest eggs, goat’s cheese, rye bread, and most importantly, ridiculously inexpensive truffles!
Faced with such an abundance of riches, we boycotted the local trattorias for a few days to instead take turns pottering in our rustic kitchen, and serving up on the terrace, in no particular order;
Baby green beens with garlic and toasted pine nuts
Proscuitto tortellini with fresh parsley and truffle sauce
Bruschetta with garlic, tomato, red onion and basil
Spinach and ricotta ravioli with burnt butter, sage and lemon
Insalata caprese with buffalo mozzarella, basil, tomato and aged balsamic
Scrambled eggs with truffles and parsley
Angel hair pasta with truffle cream sauce
A particularly lovely find too were the fresh figs we discovered growing in the garden by the pool, huge, juicy, dark purple fruit, warmed by the afternoon sun. We wasted no time getting them onto a plate with some proscuitto, a perfect partner for a glass of Prosecco whilst we watched the men lovingly tend their new favorite passion, the charcoal BBQ, this time for a mixed grill.
We may never leave!