Category Archives: Eating

Wine Run: La Maremma and Bolgheri – Part II

Another guest post from The Wine Guy.
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Day 2
maremmaLeaving our hotel on a gorgeous early fall morning, we head south on the A1/E80 following the old Roman road to Rome, crossing the flatlands around the provincial capital of Grosetto, and entering the rolling hill country of the Monti dell’Uccelina. From there we branch inland into the rugged wine region around the mountain town of Scansano.

The region around Scansano takes its name from a varietal of the Sangiovese called Morellino. One of the more romantic theories around the name is that it comes from “morello”, which literally means “brown”, the color of the region’s horses. More down to earth observers suspect it derives from the morello cherry, a dark red cherry known for its acidity and tartness. In any case, the local Sangovese has been granted the highly prized DOCG status since 2007 as Morellino di Scansano. A Morellino di Scansano must consist of at least 85% local Morellino, with up to 15% coming from a list of other permitted varietals maintained by the Tuscan wine authorities. This makes it essentially a local version of the wines of Chianti. Morellino can come in two subtypes, the Morellino di Scansano, which does not require any oak aging and is primarily a light, crisp everyday drinking wine, and the Morellino di Scansano Riserva, which must be held for two years after the harvest, with at least one of these years in oak, a much heavier wine with considerable aging potential.

outdoors

Our first goal in the region is Col di Bacche, just outside Montiano in the high hills around Montiano. This relatively new property of 13.5 hectares rises above the surrounding hills and offers a splendid view of the bright blue Mediterrenean in the distance. It was first planted in 1998 with the first release appearing in 2004. It has rapidly advanced, becoming one of the premiere wineries in the area. We are greeted by Cosimo Carnasciale, son of the founder. Before trying the wines, we talked a bit about the intense heat and drought and its probable effect on the vintage. Cosimo was very upbeat, explaining to us that the area around Scansano is considered the hottest part of Tuscany, and that the weather there had been hot, but not drastically so by local standards. He’s expecting lower yields, but the quality is high and there has been no signs of diseases, which seem to worry Tuscan winemakers considerably more than the weather.

We began with the Vermentino, which was an interesting contrast to the Narà which we had tried the day before. Here, the nose was decidely fruity and florid, with very pleasant acidity that did not overpower but promised a good pairing with fish, antipasti and milder salamis.

vermentinoWe followed this with the 2015 Morellino di Scansano, the lighter of the two Morellinos produced here. It’s a ruby red wine meant for relatively early drinking, although it has some aging potential with 40% seeing five months in old French oak while the majority undergoes clarification is stainless steel tanks. This yields a well-structured fruity wine with soft tannins and notes of vanilla and strawberries. It’s lovely now.

scansano

We next turned our attention to the Morellino di Scansano Riserva Rovente Riserva 2013. The flagship. This wine is made from a hand selection of the best grapes with a maceration 18 to 21 days to express the full potential of the harvest and aging in new French oak for 12 months. “Rovente” is Italian for “fiery” or “passionate”, and the wine expresses these sentiments well, with a warm, round nose, mouth-filling, spicy body and a full finish. This wine is built to go the distance, and should reward 10 years or so of aging. It is considered one of the best Morellino di Scansano by many of Italy’s leading wine journals.

sreserva

Factoid: Cosimo remarked that in the future, the wine will be labelled solely Morellino di Scansano Riserva, dropping the word “rovente”, which can also mean “sizzling” or “scorching”. He says the winery has decided this is a bit over the top now that the vineyard has found its place among the top producers.

cosimo

As his final offering, Cosimo brought out his pièce de résistance, the 2014 Poggio alle Viole (Hill of Violets), his version of a Brunello di Montalcino. It is 100% hand selected Sangiovese, as is Brunello from what he considers his best parcel and sees 15 months of aging in small oak barrels. (Brunello actually requires 36 months) Oddly enough, he is not allowed to put the DOCG of Morellino di Scansano on the label: although the DOCG requirements mandate that the wine should be mostly (85%) Sangiovese, it cannot be 100% Sangiovese. It’s an Italian thing–Go figure.

poggio_viole

In any case, the wine is lovely, but a bit young. Dark ruby red with a gingery nose with some peppery hints. Lot’s of body in the mouth and a deep finish. The tannins, not overpowering, but clearly present, hint at a wine that could improve for many years. Cosimo thinks it could go 20 years. This is clearly the masterpiece of the house and Nancy, who usually trusts that I will buy everything in the house, took no chances on this one, insisting we had to have some. This is high praise indeed.

Leaving Col di Bacche heading south, we pass lovely hill town of Manciano in Toscana with its magnificent walls and medieval Fattoria della Campiglio, its stronghold. It’s a lovely day and we’d love to visit, but we want to get to Scansano for lunch and it looks like a bit of a drive. And so it is. The SS323 linking Scansano and Manciano winds it way up 500 meters through brush and pine forests with wonderful views towards the coast and into the mountainous region separating the Maremma from central Tuscany. The top is down and the weather is perfect. A lovely drive.

Another Sunday, another Sagra…

sedano_neroThis past Sunday we decided to visit Trevi, a hill town between Foligno and Spoleto. I had passed this pretty town perched way up on its hill many times but had never stopped. The occasion was their annual Sedano Nero festival. This means black celery. It is grown only between Borgo di Trevi and the Clitunno river on a small strip of land. It is not black but dark green and does not go through any processing, like whitening. It is planted and grown by strict traditions. The seeds are planted during a waning moon on the day before Easter. It has to be carefully supported as it grows. Most of the work is done by hand. It is one of the six Umbrian Slow Food specialties.

Trevi from above.
trevi

Trevi is also known as the Capital of Oil
olives

This is the very beginning of the olive harvest. I bought some of the new olive oil. See how cloudy it is. And incredibly green. It is unfiltered.
oil

The sedano nero was stacked like firewood everywhere!
sedano

It is a beautiful green. They say it is stringless. Not sure I’m buying that. So I bought some to bring home. I am here to say, it does have strings but less that normal celery has.
sedano2

Also on offer were lots of specialties. We tried lots of cured meats. Many specialties were, of course, celery based. For instance, celery jam and celery cream.

This stand had many types of cured meats and sausage.
cured_meats

A discerning nun.
discerning_nun

It was a very warm day so I felt for this man who was cooking up the sausages.
fire_walk_with_me

We decided to have lunch in Taverna del Sette. We sat in a pretty courtyard at the end of the short street. The sky was mesmerizingly blue.
sky

Luther went for the celery soup.
soup

And he tried the stuffed celery. It sure looks good.
stuffed_celery

I tried the cinghale ragu. Wild boar.
cinghale_ragu

After lunch we decided to make a short stop in Bevagna since our friend Jennifer had not ever been there. It was Sunday and there was a small flea market going on. But for me, the best thing was coming upon a group of men just finishing up lunch outside a restaurant. They performed an impromptu a capello melody. It was hauntingly beautiful, the voices blended seamlessly. I wished I had a way to record them.
acapella

Scenes in Bevagna. Such a beautiful town.
bevagna2 bevagna1

The old guys. Every town has its own cadre of old men. They sit together companionably on benches, or they gather to play Briscola, the national Italian card game.
old_men

The Sedano Nero festival was one of the better ones I’ve visited. Not too crowded but plenty lively. And Trevi is a beautiful town that few tourists visit. Too bad, their loss. It was a lovely outing made super by the dazzling day.

Unmistakably Autumn

Well, it’s official. It is suddenly Fall. Temperatures still rise to low 70s in the afternoon but as soon as the sun sets it is decidedly chilly. This is the time of year I have a hard time deciding what to wear. Inside the house is colder than outside so I tend to overdress. This is not a problem for Italians who dress to the calendar, not the temperature. So already they are wearing puffy winter coats and scarves. And I’m in a T-shirt.

And it is time to wrap up the corn saga. As you may recall, I planted corn in containers on my terrazzo and also in a friends garden. We had the hottest summer on record and consequently only a little of the corn plumped up and was edible. I believe I harvested 11 ears. And they were wonderful. The container corn was not a success at all. It tassled and had small ears that never matured. So here is our final goodbye to the 2017 corn project. Next year!

corn

And the foods in our markets are changing rapidly. Gone are the tomatoes…sniff. And the melons. But we still have mounds of just ripe peppers to include the picante types. And we still have zucchini. The sweet, tiny ripe grapes from the fields nearby have just come in. And the pumpkins and winter squash have arrived as well.

Recently I did an interview with a writer for International Living. She’s writing an article about retiring and the differences in prices people can expect between Umbria and the US. I was happy to oblige. One misconception is that we have to pay more to eat local and in season here. I remember visiting the farmers markets in Virginia and paying top dollar for the products. Not so here. If you buy seasonally, when the vegetables and fruits are at their peak and bountiful, you pay the least because there IS such bounty. And I am definitely a person who cooks and cares to eat good tasting food which is in season. I spend around 8€ ($9) for a big grocery bag of fresh produce.

Winter squash is so seasonal.
winter_squash1

Almost too pretty to eat. Looks like sculpture!
winter_squash

The citrus has arrived. It will get better as we go through the winter.
citrus2

citrus1

Last of the Borlotti beans and eggplant. The eggplant is scrawny.
fall_veg

And the pears are plentiful and luscious.
pears

The Wednesday market is very different than the Saturday one. The Wednesday market is mostly the big vendors who go from market to market in the different towns each day (for instance Città di Castello is Thursday, Gubbio is Tuesday). Their produce is not necessarily local. I believe they DO buy local when they have the chance but most of the food comes from the south of Italy and Sicily. Still local to this country but… And you can get things from them earlier than when they are coming into season here. You can also get tomatoes all year, from Sicily, but I don’t care for them. There are one or two locals who come to both Wednesday and Saturday markets. Now, the Saturday market is only very local products from nearby farms. Thus you really do eat only what is in in season nearby. Winter can be pretty sparse in this one.

Greens are what is growing around here.
rapette

And cauliflower…
cauliflower

And Cabbage…
cabbage

And I thought I would plant some fall things this year. I got a few lettuce plants and four petunias. I think the petunias may last the winter. And we shall see how the lettuce does.
flowers_lettuce

petunia

lettuce

i primi d’Italia – festival in Foligno

It was Sunday and we had plans to visit a fest devoted solely to first plates, or antipasti – appetizers in English.  It is the only festival of its kind in Italy. The weather was not so good. Spitting rain. But not too bad and we had been wanting to go to this since we came. So, not letting the weather stop us, we set off to Foligno. This town lies 25 miles south of Perugia and north of Spoleto. As we looked around I thought to myself maybe it should have been on my list when we thought about Umbria. It is flat, has a nice big Centro Storico, and is on the main train line from Rome to Ancona on the Adriatic. Very walkable.

Main Piazza with Duomo.
fest2

Foligno is host to two big jousting tournaments held in June, called 1st challenge, and September, (called counter-challenge) . The contest is called Giostra della Quintana and is named after the Roman 5th road where the soldiers were trained in jousting. Believe it or not they have had this festival since 1448 (!) It has been held uninterrupted since then. The contest is between the ten “neighborhoods” of the city. Each neighborhood is represented by a Knight. They gallop on horseback trying to catch three rings, each smaller than the previous one. I must go see it sometime.

Note the flags on either side of the street. These are two of the Neighborhoods.
fest1

Another Neighborhood with pink flags.
flags

Anyway, back to the Primi Piatti. The fest is four days long.  Their were 14 booths all over town, each specializing in an area of Italy, or a type of food, like pasta. Some were kind of like restaurants where you paid 3 to 8 Euro for tastes. We walked all over town. In the main Piazza they had cooking demonstrations. There were random bands and lots of music. We visited the Sicily tent. It was very crowded we could barely make any progress. Then went to the Jewish food one. It was really just a restaurant with tastes and we didn’t want to do that. Next we went to the Pasta piazza with people selling all shapes and kinds of pasta. Then we visited the Street Food one which had Hamburgers, hot dogs, fried Olives, mozzarella balls and beer. Lots of beer. Finally we visited the area dedicated to local Umbrian foods. Cheeses, wines, olive oils, honey, confitures. It was a fun time. Next time we’ll go earlier and have lunch.

Marching band.band

People enjoying the food.
crowds

The Booths

First booth was billed as Sicilian. A lot of the things in there were not from Sicily. This first cheese is a lovely oozing Gorgonzola which I had a taste of.
oozing_gorgonzola

This is Mortadella, from Emilia-Romagna.
mortadella

Big booth of alllll sweets!
sweets

Next up were what they were billing as “Street Foods”.
streetfood2

streetfood1

This one was too funny not to take a picture of!
beer_pump

And all the beers on tap in this pub, called Beer on the Road, were American micro-brews.
american_beer

Next up was the Pasta Booth. This packet seemed to have many different shapes all together. I’d never seen that before.pasta

And I couldn’t resist these beautiful pomegranates. They grow everywhere here.
pomegranits

Last booth we visited was dedicated to Umbrian specialties, like these cheeses…
local4

Famous onions of Cannara!
local3

Local Montefalco Sagrantino.
local2

Norcia meats and sausages. This is from the area hard hit by the earthquakes last year. Norcia was heavily damaged.
local1

And finally I started fixating on the very inappropriate, in my opinion, shoes some women wear who will be walking uneven streets for hours.
shoes1

shoes2

shoes3

Here is my idea of appropriate footwear! Not…these guys clacked along loudly with wooden sandals.
sandal_guys

Hope you enjoyed the Festa pictures!

Maremma – Wine journey

We went for a quick two day getaway to the Maremma which lies on the southwest Mediterranean coastal region of Tuscany. It is a beautiful area. Our agriturismo (Tenuta del Fontino) where we stayed, was made up of thousands of acres. Horses, an entire lake and a person could jog and never leave the property. The house is the main manor and they refurbished an old barn into rooms where our room was situated.

Enormous rosemary bushes!
rosemary

Pretty grounds of the hotel.
hotel

That’s the normal part. Now for the weird part. We went to dinner the first night at 7:30 in the hotel dining room. It was on the upper floor of the manor. When we were seated they ask me “Was möchten sie zu trinken?” Huh? Was I transported to die Heimat? Deutschland? Germany? Turns out this hotel caters to, and is full of Germans. We had noticed everything was in Italian and German but it hadn’t occurred to us this could be the reason. The whole room was full of Germans! And German was the default language.

So, we settled in at a table set for three which they said was ours. After we were there a bit a single woman came in – and she was Italian – who joined us. We proceeded with the five course meal. Now I should say, when I read TripAdvisor the people raved about the food. One of the reasons I went here. So, first we saw the hoards of Germans falling on the salad bar…What? salad bar? Where am I? We’ve lived in Germany and I saw it was a typical German style salad except for the cannelloni beans. These would figure often into the rest of the meal. Tuscans are known as “the bean eaters”. Next course was a large piece of toasted bread with cannelloni beans. They had a bit of rosemary in them but overall a very bland dish. Next we had a pasta which was shaped like very short macaroni. Served in a broth that I swear was cannelloni purée with….potatoes!!! Ugh. Again, super bland. Finally we got a very thin slice of roast beef in a bit of gravy. It was obviously a cut meant for long roasting and it had been. It was tender to the point of falling apart. Five boiled potatoes (more potatoes!) accompanied it. The roast was strongly reminiscent of Sauerbraten, a German dish. We opted out of the chocolate mousse, also typically German. It was maybe the worst meal I’ve ever had in Tuscany, which is known for good food.

Our single woman table mate told us she was on a two day getaway from her husband and family and their business. They own a restaurant and hotel in the Livorno area. I thought that was cute. She was very out front that she needed some ME time. So, seeing as she was a cook we asked her about the food and she assured us it was an authentic Tuscan meal. I am still in a state of shock. As an addendum, after we got home I described the dinner to my Italian teacher and she, too, said it was pretty typical Tuscan food. Funny, I’ve been there a lot of times but never disliked the food before. Maybe, since I’ve always eaten in decent restaurants I would not get typical food Tuscans eat at home which was probably what the set, five course meal was more like.

So the objective to our trip was to visit some wineries and purchase some wine. The Wine Guy is in his element doing this. There are five main wine regions in the Maremma and we visited our first one on the way to our hotel. I won’t go into describing our winery visits because I know you will read about it in an upcoming blog.

Wine tasting.
wine_tasting

Beautiful vineyards.
beautiful_vineyards

We found our lunch which was quite good. Ristorante Rintocco. They brought out two beautiful fish to show us and a big plate of porcini mushrooms, which are in season now. We split an antipasto which consisted of a bowl of Tuscan soup, a plate of marinated zucchini and a bruschetta with fresh tomato. I had the home made tagliatelle with the porcini.

ristorante_rintocco

Porcini, (means little pigs in Italian) are the same mushroom called cèpe (in French), and in Germany, Steinpilz (the “stone mushroom”). They are gathered wild in the woods and people make some extra money selling them to vendors and restaurants.porcini

House made pasta with porcini mushrooms
firstlunch2

Luther’s fish. We were near the coast so there was a lot of seafood and very fresh.
firstlunch

The one whole day there we went south of Grosetto, the capital of the area. We visited a small winery with a very nice guy letting us taste all his wines. The business was the father, mother and this son. Fun visit.

Off in search of lunch in a small town. Beautiful vista!countryside

Town where the restaurant was…alas, it was closed.
small_town

So we drove to the next town called Scansano which was way up on top of a mountain and fairly big. We drove through and found a parking lot and started walking up the hill. We happened upon this restaurant which turned out to be a lucky choice – Osteria Fiaschetteria Rurale.  It was a real dump as Luther said. But the couple running it seemed to care about the food and its presentation. For instance, we had an excellent cheese plate with five or six types of goat and sheep. One goat was super strong and I loved it. We each had pici pasta which is a traditionally Tuscan shape like thick spaghetti. Nice and dense and chewy.

fiaschetteria

My Pici cacio e pepe…yum!
second_lunch

Luther’s pici in cinghale ragu.
cinghale_ragu

Afterward, we decided to purchase another cheese plate to take with us for our evening picnic. It worked out well. We had bought some wine which we enjoyed with the small plate which was of mostly meat. I think the lady misunderstood what we wanted. I thought we’d get another cheese plate but turned out to be meats. Many very fatty. Luther liked them so I didn’t eat much. It was a nice light meal with not too much wine.

The next morning we headed home. We stopped in one more winery which didn’t let us taste but Luther bought six bottles. He was lamenting the fact that there was still space in the car for more!

The weather was beautiful. We put the top down and drove through the Tuscan mountainous center. We passed near San Gimignano. When 1 o’clock came around we began looking for a place for lunch. And we found a cute little place called Ristorante Tre Archi.

3rdlunch

First the proprietor brought a little cart with six olive oils to try with the bread. Yum!
tuscan_oils

Then I had Tuscan onion and potato soup. Toasted bread to put in it. Very like French onion. And tagliatelle house made, with fungi porcini again. Since these big mushrooms are very much in season I took advantage. Luther had Ribolitta, or Tuscan bread soup, and lamb chops. Over cooked. The man, I assume the owner there, was super nice.
3rdlunch_pasta

We arrived home about five pm. A productive and fun trip.

My fourth Otto Cento!

It is September 2nd. What a long HOT summer we have endured. Yesterday we had our first rain since April – over 100 days with nary a drop! It is so dry. Many trees are already dropping their leaves. The Umbrian grape harvest is predicted to be down 40%. But they do say the vintage will be epic quality. When I got up this morning I heard the sound of gunfire from all around. Then I realized the beginning of the hunting season starts in September. Signs of autumn.  It is clear and cool today after our storms.

Thursday marked the begining of our annual Otto Cento festival. It will be our fourth. They moved it up into late August this year. Until now it has been on the third weekend in September. We went out last night for dinner with friends. During the festa all the regular restaurants change over to set menus. Last night we had four courses, water, vino and coffee for 25 Euro a head. There are also around 15 or 20 pop-up restaurants along with numerous stands selling specialty things and drinks. The stilt walkers were back. So ethereal and graceful. There was a puppet show for the kids going on.

After dinner we walked around the town and looked at all the action. There were millions of people out and about. Umbertide has seen a decline in summer activities this year so I think everyone was ready for the party now. Here are some pictures of the festival scenes.

One of the pop up venues. Notice the costumed folks over on the right. There were lots of people in costume this year.
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The Rocca – our fortress.larocca2

One of the busy street scenes.street_scene1

Moon over la Rocca. A beautiful evening for the celebration.
laRocca

As we headed back home we decided to pay a call on our Briganti. They are the bad-boys always up to no good but really the most fun place. Here is a group of the Briganti musicians.
briganti_band

He is my favorite Brigand. He has a great smile.
fav_briganti

And of course, the bad boys and girls must have the brothel with the Ladies of the Night.
night_ladies

I will check back on the Briganti during the night Saturday when they take over the town. It is all part of the reenactment of the events in the late 1800s forming the Italian country. Usually the Briganti do something naughty to shock everyone. You can look back at past September posts to see previous years. Hopefully, I can get pictures on Sunday morning of the mayhem wreaked on Saturday night and early Sunday before the authorities remove it.

We stopped by to see my friend Angelo who owns the Alimentari downstairs from us. He was is a great mood. He had transformed his shop for the festival.angelo

And, of course, we paid a brief visit to Bar Mary to find Mary manning the bar. They also serve snacks during the festival.mary

A final observation. I have NEVER met an Italian who did not love to have his or her picture taken. They are cute.

CORN!!!

Oh my god…we have harvested our first corn. It was AMAZING. After four corn-less years it was heaven on earth. I am so happy  we got some corn this year from our shared garden with Angela.

We have a guest so we went together to check the corn and I deemed it ready to harvest. We picked 5 ears for our test run.

corn1

Shucking.
corn2

All ready for the pot. within three hours of picking will ensure a mighty sweet ear.
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um um good. Buttered and salted and peppered. Soooo good!
corn5

Alas, all gone. Going back tomorrow for more. 🙂
corn6

My unfortunate timing means we are gone on our Croatia cruise next week so I will not enjoy it as much as I would have liked. We will see what is left when we return.

Corn – part 3

Well folks. I am the proud grower of my first ear of corn on the terrace!!! Whohoo!!

It’s just a baby but my mouth is watering!
ear

My two pots are producing radically different size plants. One, tall and thin, on the right, the other short and sturdy. They get the same sun, food and water. The only difference is the soil I guess. Our experiment continues.
rows

And a report from my “corn partner” Angela. She reports the first few rows on the left have about 20 ears!!! The plants on the right have not tasseled. I did get a fast and a slow maturation mix so I imagine that’s the reason.

Fun restaurant posting

Today, for Luther’s birthday, we decided to try a recommended restaurant called L’Umbricello del Caccio. It is nominally in Magione which is between Lago del Trasimeno and Perugia. This restaurant is south of both of these towns up in some modest hills. Very pretty countryside with lots of olive groves and yellow fields of just-harvested wheat stubble.

We arrived in a small hamlet with an old church with a pretty clock. The bells rang every quarter hour. There is plenty of parking and the restaurant is on one side of the small road through the village while it’s dining terrace is on the other. This terrace sits right on the edge of the hill. Too bad the view is marred by three unsightly power lines. For this reason I didn’t take a photo.

The fun part of this post is that, like almost always when we walk into a restaurant, they spoke English to us and automatically gave us English menus. We have gotten used to this fact of life here. Somehow we are nailed as foreigners before we open our mouths. I’ve figured out they don’t know what sort of foreigner you are generally. German, English, Dutch usually. When we spoke in Italian to him he asked if we understood Italian. We said we did so he brought over Italian menus.

Here’s the fun part. This is a good example why I hate getting the English menu. They don’t really translate it fully or correctly. The first picture below is the English version of the Antipasto menu. The second picture is the Italian one. I count 10 choices on the English one and 16 on the Italian one. This illustrates how much tourists miss out on if they don’t at least understand “menu” Italian. What a difference! The subsequent pages were equally deficient.
antipasto_english

antipasto

They specialize in a dish called Caccio e Pepe. It is made by putting the hot pasta into the hollowed out rind of a parmigiano cheese. The cheese is scraped and stirred so it melts into the pasta. They also specialize in house-made Umbricelli. It is a very fat, dense, chewy spaghetti type of shape. Luther’s pasta was made in house and was what they call integrale or whole grain. Hence the slightly unappetizing color. Worm-colored…don’t think about it. He liked it! His second course was Cinghale or wild boar which they do wonderfully here. Sorry, my picture didn’t come out.

Here is the wheel of parmigiano in which they make the pasta.
caccio_pepe

Luther’s Umbricello.
luthers_pasta

I had caprese salad. The tomatoes should have been better, especially at this time of year. It tasted good. Then I got Umbricello too but mine was Carbonara with truffles. I had not had this is a long time as it is not normally on menus in Umbria. Carbonara was invented for the American soldiers after WWII in Rome because they had eggs!

My pasta.umbricelli_tartuffi
fork_umbricelli

We were sent on our way by a sweet angel. It was a nice outing…if very HOT!
angel