Saturday, September 09, 2006

Tuscan Culinary Journal

Wednesday Afternoon, September 6, 2006: We dine on a lunch of grilled vegetables and meats at a local restaurant, where the fire of the open brick oven permeates the food. Our driver then takes us deep into the countryside where we pass fields of sunflowers that have dried up from the summer heat and look like monks with heads bowed in prayer. There are hills upon hills, pheasants dashing through the fields and mustard colored villas with brightly-painted shutters. By late afternoon we pull onto a gravel road that runs alongside grape vines that are weighted with blue-black grapes awaiting harvest.

This is a 16th century Tuscan estate owned by a woman vintner who produces award-winning Italian wines. The business has been passed down from mother to daughter. She hires primarily women to produce her wines and is a pioneer in the region. The villa is an ancient structure of tawny brick, terra cotta tile and smart green shutters. Apple and pear trees dot the landscape, and there are groves of tall, stately Cyprus trees. By the pool, one can look out deep into the straw-colored valley of Tuscany where medieval fortresses cap distant hilltops.

At 5:30 we meet at the osteria for our cooking class, and are introduced to our chef instructor – a woman raised in Rome who is self taught. She is quiet and serious, but on occasion, will burst into a sunny smile. She teaches us to make a variety of pizzas, hearty Tuscan bean soup, salad and a creamy chocolate ricotta pie with bronze crust. Olive oil flows with each dish. The food is simple and robust, all featuring ingredients from the region.

Before the meal is served, we take our glasses of light, fruity white wine and watch a spectacular fiery sunset over the hills of Tuscany. We dine al fresco on the patio with the hill-top village of Trequanda beyond us, which was once inhabited by the Etruscans. We drink rich Chianti and toast our arrival in the country.

© 2006 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

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