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« Europe trip (Part 6): Florence | Main | Europe trip (Part 4): Montalcino and Montefiridolfi »
Tuesday
Jun062006

Europe trip (Part 5): La Petraia

Olive bowl


Part 1 (Paris) - Part 2 (more Paris) - Part 3 (Fonte de' Medici) - Part 4 (Montalcino and Montefiridolfi) - Part 5 (La Petraia) - Part 6 (Florence) - Part 7 (more Florence) - Part 8 (Cinque Terre) - Part 9 (Pisa, Fiesole and Volpaia) - Part 10 (Lost in Siena) - Part 11 (Siena) - Part 12 (Rome) - Final

We celebrated my dad-in-law's 70th birthday on our trip, one of the reasons we decided to overlap his Italy visit with ours. We had his birthday dinner at the Font de' Medici Trattoria, where I discovered how much I like Tuscan white beans, which are flavoured (I think) with garlic, olive oil and herbs. I want to learn to make this dish but am having some trouble finding dried cannelli beans; I somehow doubt that canned white beans will taste the same. Last night I made Scaloppine al limone and Spinaci al limone, which turned out pretty well.

But back to our adventures in Italy...

Market in Panzano


On our fourth day in Italy, we went to visit a relative of Ginny's. On the way, we dropped by Panzano in Chianti to visit Antica Macelleria Cecchini, otherwise known as "The Mad Butcher Of Panzano" (Via XX Luglio, 11R Tel: 055/85.20.20) and run by Dario Cecchini. You can see an article about him here. Sadly, Cecchini was not in the shop when we visited, but we still bought one of his famous meatloaves for dinner that night.

The shop has become a Panzano tourist attraction. We saw one fellow stroll into the shop, cross out an item on a list in his notebook, then leave. I never, ever want to become this kind of tourist, to just visit a place JUST to be able to say I visited while not being at all interested in actually appreciating it.

Throughout our trip, I also saw way too many tourists who only "looked" at famous landmarks or attractions through the lenses of their cameras. It was basically CLICK-CLICK and then they were rushing off to the next must-see item on their list. I usually took a photo of anything I really liked or found interesting but for me it was a bonus, not the main focus.

In Panzano, we also visited the Sunday market and bought a tablecloth for 5 Euros. Lots of wonderful people-watching opportunities, including a group of older Italian men who were obviously used to sitting on a bench in the centre of the square, waiting for the wives to finish shopping.

Check out the birdcage attached to the top window in this photo:

Apartment in Panzano


And then we were off to Radda in Chianti to visit La Petraia, the home of Ginny's cousin and his wife. As usual, the countryside scenery was stunning. I had stopped taking so many pictures by this time, realizing (somewhat reluctantly) that there were only so many photos of gorgeous Tuscan vineyards that I'd be needing, after all.

Vineyard and sky


Ginny's cousin was out of the country, but we enjoyed visiting with his wife Susan. Susan was a co-founder of Alias Research Inc. but then retired from the business; she now owns and operates La Petraia, a 165-acre azienda agricola in Tuscany's oldest wine region, Chianti Classico. She and Ginny's cousin are restoring the property to its origins as a working farm and winery. La Petraia is also an agriturismo, and will soon be offering meals, accommodation, and cooking classes to tourists, with most of the ingredients used in the kitchen coming directly from the property. It even has an Etruscan archeological site called 'Piazza di Siena'.

Part of their lavender crop this year:

Lavender crop


Susan is also author of "Piano, Piano, Pieno: Authentic Food From A Tuscan Farm," published this year by Harper-Collins. The title means "Slowly, Slowly, Full" and embraces a philosophy of cooking that emphasizes simple, seasonal and local ingredients, traditional preparation of foods that are enjoyed at the table with good company.

Susan was kind enough to give me a copy, and I started reading it during our visit in Italy. Wonderful writing with a ton of useful information about Italian cuisine. I can't wait to try out some of the recipes. I only recently found out, by the way, that my friend Ray did the Web site for the book. (!)

Piano Piano Pieno


Susan had crafted a menu just for our lunch with her. Here are just a few of the wonderful dishes she made:

Homemade whole grain seed flatbread crackers, using a natural levain. This recipe (like the other dishes served at our lunch) can be found in her book Piano Piano Pieno:

Whole Grain Seed Flatbread


Deep fried sage leaves, each with a small piece of anchovy sandwiched between the leaves. These were to die for, and one of my favourite food experiences during the trip:

Salvia Fritti


"Chips" of baked thin slices of Comte cheese:

Comte cheese


Spring salad of sprouted azuki, asparagus, fave beans and fresh mint from the garden:

Insalata Germinato di Campo


In the photo below:

- Scallopine from La Petraia's Cinta pigs stuffed with proscuitto and sage, cooked "the way little birds are." (latter refers to a Tuscan tradition...Here's an explanation on Susan's Web site)

- Fagioli al Fiasco - Tuscan white beans. I got hooked on these during the trip, as I've mentioned before.

- Greens are from the spring salad mentioned earlier

Ucellini Scappati


Dolci pictured in the photo below:

- Petraia Chestnut Honey (they have their own beehives) Semifreddo with a Pistachio Praline

- Peppery Fruit Cake From Siena

- Cooked chocolate and orange cream from Cogne, served with a tegole wafer

Dolci


It was one of my favourite meals during our Europe visit, not surprisingly. You can find out more about the book here and about La Petraia farm here.

Many thanks to Susan for her wonderful hospitality!

To be continued...

Lavender


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