A Tuscan Table

So, what to do when you don’t want to go out for dinner, but you don’t want to cook? The answer is simple – Emily! Emily is a lovely lass from Leicester, who set up a catering business called ‘A Tuscan Table’ after visiting the region from the UK some years ago, where she fell in love with the rolling hills (and probably the weather) and never left.

We discovered Emily one afternoon, cooking for the family in the villa adjoining ours, and immediately registered our interest in her delicious services, which meant we could plan a day trip (or indeed a day doing nothing) and dinner would be taken care of, including kind consideration of any dietary requirements, likes and dislikes.

You choose what you’d like to eat from her extensive seasonal menu which centers around fresh local produce, she then comes to your villa, brings all the food and wine, sets the table, fills your kitchen with magnificent cooking aromas, serves, clears up, puts the dishwasher on and leaves you feeling ridiculously pampered and well fed, at very reasonable rates. And she caters very nicely for kids!

http://atuscantable.com

We booked Emily on 2 separate occasions, including our last night at the Villa, so that we could pack, get the kids organized, and still have plenty of pool time and enjoy our last balmy day in Toscana. It also meant we didn’t have to buy groceries for our last meal at the house which was one less thing to worry about!

Emily was a dream to deal with, cheerful, accommodating and friendly, and nothing was too much trouble. There were lovely decorating touches on the table, and fresh bread and Prosecco waiting for us as we sat down, and when she left, the kitchen was cleaner than when she arrived!

Our first meal included:
Spelt with homemade almond and basil pesto
Ravioli filled with spinach and ricotta with butter and sage
Roast Loin of pork with fennel seeds
Lamb cutlets with mint pesto
Tiramisu

Our second meal included:
Stuffed zucchini flowers
Gnocchi with pancetta and zucchini
Veal saltimbocca
Fried fish skewers
Baked pears with marscapone

If you’re ever in Tuscany make sure to give Emily a call to work her magic in your holiday kitchen, and tell her we said hi!

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And now for the wine!

No doubt you have been wondering when we would seriously broach the subject of Tuscan wine. Rest assured that a great deal of research in the way of consumption has been undertaken as a service to you, dear reader.

Greve in Chianti is home to a wine store called Le Cantine www.lecantine.it which houses over 1200 wines, at least a hundred of which are available for tasting. Where to start?

Given that the Chianti Classico is the local drop, and its method of production is regulated, and has to include a minimum of 80% Sangiovese of which we are already huge fans, we have found it incredibly easy to find many good and eminently drinkable versions, from the local trattorias and even at the local supermarket.

So just when we think it can’t get any better, we discover the Chianti Classico Reserva, which hits straight out of the ball park with a richer, deeper flavor. Now we know what to look for, and having gleaned some recommendations of local wineries to visit, we plan our assault accordingly.

First stop, Castella D’Albola, just outside Radda in Chianti, itself a charming hill town of sun-warmed stone walls and steep laneways to explore. Our guide gives us a technical tour, a lecture on cork production, and a tasting of a selection of Chardonnay, Chianti Classico, Reserve, Vin Santo, as well as their olive oil which was lemony delicious.

Next stop, Castello Vicchio Maggio, a smallish winery but ridiculously picturesque, complete with turrets and breathtaking views, where the Chianti Classico was delightful, full of berries and sweetness. We bought a bottle to enjoy later by the pool.

Lastly, a 3 hour visit including a tour, and lunch with wine tasting, at Castello Verrazzano.
This is for me one of the highlights of our time in Tuscany.
An 850 year old winery, with a castle perched atop a wooded hill full of wild boar, with views across a valley covered in grape vines and olive groves.

Our host for the day is Gino, charismatic, enthusiastic and immaculately presented, with a passion for wine and life that is both entertaining and infectious. He seeks not to instruct his guests on the technique of wine making, but rather to give us a tour of the cellars, the suits of armour, the gardens, and the wild boar prosciutto curing alongside the aged Balsamic barrels. All the while he espouses the Italian art of enjoying the moment, savouring the company of good friends and good food, and in such surrounds, how can the wine be anything less than wonderful?

With a delightful Bianco Di Toscana to accompany the wild boar salami and proscuitto, we then moved onto a Chianti Classico for the penne with tomatoes and spices, and a Riserva with our pork, cannelini beans and insalata verde. Then came a plate of pecorino with pepper sauce, and then the piece de resistance, a bowl of aged Parmesan served with a teaspoon of the most incredible, aged, syrupy Balsamic vinegar which was pure nectar, and which will set you back 48 Euros a bottle. We moved onto a glass of Vin Santo with biscotti, and finally the grappa, which sent a blaze of fire into the belly and left a smile on the dial. We reluctantly bid Gino a fond farewell and toddled off home, richer for the experience.
www.verrazzano.com

As a side note, Limoncello, whilst typically from the Amalfi Coast, is available in abundance in Chianti, and we have also partaken in many icy-cold glasses of lemony goodness whilst solving the problems of the universe after dinner of an evening.

Notes from a Tuscan kitchen

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!