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Tuscany is for food lovers

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Patsy Pridgen

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BY PATSY PRIDGEN
Life Columnist

Sunday, September 9, 2018

There are many reasons to visit Italy: World-famous art, ornate cathedrals, historic walled towns — and food.

Between visits to the Uffizi Gallery, Florence’s Duomo, the Leaning Tower of Pisa and the small towns of Tuscany, my recent trip gave me the chance to chow down on some fine Italian cuisine.

In Florence, the first thing my husband and I ate was gelato. Not long after our arrival, we easily found a vendor. I studied an array of choices, bypassing the conventional chocolate and vanilla flavors. Organic peach and cantaloupe for me.

For dinner that evening, we ordered pasta with wild boar sauce. The wild boar population in the Tuscany area of Italy is plentiful and hunted. Wild boars are not pretty animals, but the meat of one was a tasty pork treat over the thinnest bowtie pasta I’ve ever seen.

After three days in Florence, my husband and I joined our friends at a villa on the outskirts of a little village called San Donato, 45 minutes or so from Florence. Here it was our good fortune to rent from Alfonsina (Fonsi), a lady who once owned a restaurant in Florence and was willing, for a reasonable price, to cook for us. Thus began a week of wonderful, authentic Italian breakfasts and dinners.

Italians don’t seem to be calorie-conscious, so neither were we during that week. Our fresh-fruit platter was accompanied by an assortment of cheeses, breads and coffee cakes. Yes, I ate cake for breakfast, washed down with our landlord/cook’s idea of caffé Americano, a slightly weaker version of Italian espresso. Our protein was a big platter of ham and salami and some of the fluffiest scrambled eggs I’ve ever eaten.

Dinner was the showcase. I already knew Italians consider pasta the first course, so I was not surprised when we were served a healthy portion of lasagna with pesto followed by a beef entrée with potatoes. Another night it was ricotta and spinach for a first course and osso buco for the second. Salad each night was a third course, almost an afterthought, and consisted of a platter of lettuce with our hostess’ home-grown tomatoes, dressed with olive oil and vinegar. Speaking of olive oil, I consumed my weight in Italian breads doused in the stuff.

We ate lunch out in whatever town we were in for the day. Bruschetta in Lucca sitting under an umbrella at the town’s main square, the Piazza Anfiteatro. A hamburger classico, an Italian hamburger much like ours, in Cortona at Tonino’s Ristorante, perched high above the surrounding countryside. A slice of spicy pepperoni pizza in a sidewalk café in Volterra.

The last day of our stay at the villa, the ladies signed up for a late afternoon cooking class, helping Fonsi to prepare that evening’s meal. We learned to make eggplant parmigiana, zucchini flowerets stuffed with ricotta, potato gnocchi and homemade pasta and pesto. I got an apron and a certificate for attending the class, but I’m pretty sure I’ll never attempt these recipes, especially the labor-intensive homemade pasta. Better to simply have the memory of great Italian food.

Check out Patsy Pridgen’s blog at www.patsypridgen.com.

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