Sunday, September 27, 2009

If It's Tuesday, This Must Be Orvieto

A delayed United flight meant losing a day of our vacation and starting it off with 26 hours of traveling, but once we finally arrived, with grazie mille to our greeter Kathryn and her husband Julian who went the literal extra mile to guide us off of the A-1 from Chiusi, where we'd become hopelessly lost, we felt right at home at Casa del Lauro. Peter and Victoria, who own the property, have done an impeccable job renovating the farmhouse and grounds, which are filled with Italian cypress, chestnuts, figs, lavender, oleander, cedars, begonias, herbs and olive groves. They've added a loggia and trained a grapevine and wisteria to create a living roof. Modern bathrooms and kitchen, a swimming pool, a large sitting room with two cozy couches, several outdoor eating areas, and large libraries of books and CDs (Bill Evans, Ella Fitzgerald, Charlie Parker...) made for a very pleasant home away from home. We also met Silvio, the gardener, who knew almost no English yet still managed to communicate well enough with us, smiling broadly all the while.

The morning after our arrival, we awoke to the sounds of a hunt in progress. "Wah, wah, wah, wah, wah?" is how one asks one's hunting dog if they've found anything. Or perhaps how one thrushes out quail or guinea fowl. The rifles sounded like muskets.

Views from the house, with the olive groves behind:

Ripe peaches, milk, coffee and a bottle of Prosecco were set out for us to enjoy upon our arrival and to get us started the next day. We took daytrips and night rides on twisting country roads to Umbrian hill towns surrounded by fortress walls: Panicale, Castiglione del Lago, Chiusi, Citta della Pieve, Cetona and Orvieto; and in neighboring Tuscany: Montelpuciano and Cortona. All had historic centers with beautiful hilltop views over cultivated valleys, ancient churches filled with paintings and interesting, intricate architecture, and extremely skinny climbing streets that often pinned pedestrians against the walls to allow cars to squeeze by. Driving laws are taken as mere suggestions, if that, with drivers flying up behind you, passing you on two-lane roads, straddling the middle of the road, and playing a game of chicken when approaching head-on a skinny section of road, one pulling off at the last minute to let the other one pass. Needless to say, I asked Gnome to drive after the first night.

At night there were a million stars twinkling overhead that we're not used to seeing living so close to the lights of the city, and an orange harvest crescent moon. The sun set dramatically behind layers of rolling hills. We threw open the shutters in the mornings and evenings, securing them with wrought iron hooks of a sort we've never seen, which was quite exotic. Two sweet black cats awaited our return at the end of each day trip and every morning, mostly to fill their bowls with kibble, but also for a pet. One liked to sneak in and sleep on the towels in the linen closet.

We enjoyed the food everywhere we went, but especially at Osteria Vecchia da Nilo in Cetona, La Solita Zuppa in Chiusi, and Ristorante Nessun Dorma in Cortona. The service was at a somewhat slower pace, as expected, but very gracious everywhere we went. The owners of the nearest restaurant to the house, Ristorante Il Pozzetto in Moiano, were exceptionally hospitable, spoke enough English to communicate with us (and we spoke enough Italian), and were very nice people. Their restaurant has a really nice design, too. We had a salad with fresh mozzarella, grated carrot, olives, and shaved truffle, followed by pici, a thick pasta noodle, with cinghiale ragu made of wild boar and tomato, and taglietelle con porcini (with local wild mushrooms), and a 2003 Le Berne Vino Nobile di Montelpuciano on Monday. From there we also picked up a panini made with the local, unsalted bread, ham and a thick slice of pecorino to eat by the pool one day, and had wood-fired pizzas another night: prosciutto and porcini for Gnome and a classic margherita for me.

After lots of food out (more on that in my next post), I had the itch to cook, so I whipped up this pasta aglio olio with a pecorino basil breadcrumb crust:

It was harvest time for the grapes and nearing harvest time for the olives, usually picked in November.

The gelato in Orvieto was outstanding. Italians order two or more flavors per cone or cup. I chose stracciatella (chocolate chip) and hazelnut.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Yep, it's homework time again, but at least I have this nice spot in my own yard in which to get the reading done. You can't see the top of the banana tree that's blocked out by the umbrella, but it's giant. I'd estimate that it's ten-feet tall with four-foot leaves. We planted them last year and this year the two plants sprouted three more plants each. I love to watch the big leaves swaying in the breeze from the view at the dining room table.

This photo does not do this dish justice. I grilled the pork chops after seasoning them with salt & pepper and rubbing them with a raw garlic clove and olive oil. I made the ricotta gnocchi from a recipe on The gnocchi are tossed in a brown butter sauce that's cooked with a sprig of rosemary and then in grated Parmesan cheese. To reheat the leftovers, I'll make another batch of brown butter and retoss the gnocchi in it.

This is Emeril's chicken marsala recipe from the Food Network's website. I served it over fettucine. It was good, but I'm stuck on Villa Tronco's recipe, so I may need to sweet talk them into passing it along.

Reading is done for the day, and just in time to make up a batch of margaritas with fresh lime juice, simple syrup, triple sec or Cointreau, and tequila for cocktail hour. With the abundance of volunteer Matt's Wild Cherry tomatoes in our yard, I'll mix up some salsa to go along with them. Cheers!