Tuscany – a combination of magic and pasta
We arrived in Tuscany a few days ago and settled on the coast between laid back Lido di Camaiore and the more happening Viareggio. We will be using this place as our base for the next four weeks and from here will make excursions inland and up the coast, probably as far as Cinque Terre and Portofino.
The kitchen in the apartment is bright and well equipped and now I understand the concept of the Italian “QB” in cooking: Quanta Basta, as in how much to add? quanta basta, meaning as much as you need).
6 burner gas stove? check
Espresso maker? check check
Juice press? check check check
Pasta pot? of course, what do you think?
Measuring cups? nooooo, what for?
Measuring spoons? never, don’t you have fingers?
Scale? how else would you know how much flour to add? (pasta dough: 100gr “00” flour + 1 egg)
I am having fun and haven’t even started to cook yet.
Just because I haven’t started cooking doesn’t mean that my fridge isn’t full already. You need food to cook with, no? (Italian hand gesture included). A trip to the grocery store had us hauling the loot up to the 3rd floor by stairs (4th floor north American) and the fridge begins to look like home. I’ll worry about cooking later.
Just picked mandarine oranges with a bunch of leaves still attached
Pecorino from Pienza
Oatmeal (had to bring this from another town)
Our gracious hosts left us a welcome array of local goodies on the counter, including fruits, cheeses, prosciutto, a beautiful bottle of Chianti Ruffino, a Vinsanto and plenty of biscotti to dip into it. There was also an almond cake with candied fruits that is a local specialty. That was a nice gesture and much appreciated as we arrived hungry after the long train trip from Milan and it was nice to have these foods ready to enjoy.
Having the fridge full and feeling settled in the apartment we are now ready to explore. There is so much to do and see in Tuscany that a month is barley enough.
Depending on whose “top 10” lists you look at, there are many must see places here. First, the historical towns: Sienna, Lucca, Pisa, San Gimignano, Arezzo, Volterra. Then the wine towns: Chianti, Montepulciano, Montalcino. Then there are the specialty food towns: Pienza (Pecorino), San Miniato (white truffles), Maremma (stracchino cheese). Then there are the olive oil producing areas (Chianti, Sienna, Lucca and Seggiano DOP. Then there are the coastal towns.The list goes on and I haven’t even mentioned Florence, because we are dedicating a few weeks to Florence alone after we leave here. I doubt we will make every town on the list but we’ll do our best.
Our two towns are beach resorts along a very long stretch of sand on the Mediterranean that in season are crowded with sun seekers who fill the colourful beach chairs and the dozens of restaurants that line the promenade. This is not the rolling hills and vineyards that we imagine when we think of Tuscany. I was quite surprised to find a high mountain range with snow on the peaks separating the coast from the inland regions.This area feels like a riviera and is where many Italian have their beach homes. We stumbled upon this place when it was offered to us for the month in a home exchange arrangement for another property we own. Although it lacks the Tuscan countryside charm it is an interesting beach resort, well located for excursions around the area.
The primary food here on the coast is sea food and the dishes that we see at the restaurants are quite remarkable. Lobsters, giant prawns, crayfish and fish are very popular here and appear on all menus. On the list to try is Cacciucco, a traditional fish stew or soup that is a popular local dish made with mixed fish and shellfish. Also Spadellata, a mix of fresh seafood such as clams, musssels, calamari, shrimps and scampi. another is the local pasta with scampi. Family style service seems to be the standard, with large platters of food brought to the table to be shared among the diners. Salad comes without a dressing but a bottle of olive oil and vinegar are placed on the table for you to drizzle over and create your own dressing. Breads are crusty and delicious, often including simple salt or herb foccacia and served plain, with no butter or even olive oil. Definitely no vinegar is in sight for dipping bread in, as is the custom in North America. Where did we get that idea from?
Unlike what I saw on previous visits, people do not necessarily order 5 or 6 courses anymore, being appetizer, first course, main course, vegetables, salad and cheese course, which is a welcome relief for me, I could never get through anything like that. It seems acceptable today to order an appetizer, a main dish and a salad and the main can be a pasta if that’s what you want. I distinctly remember annoying a succession of professional waiters in the past, not ordering the expected progression of dishes. With all due respect to culture and tradition, I can only eat what I can eat. But, we are trying to stick with local customs the best we can and have been overeating on more than one occasion. And then there is the wine. How can you say no to that? So far we have had some fabulous dinners here but it was difficult to photograph under the low lighting and the crowded conditions of the restaurants. The table next to you is often 12 inches away if not less.
So we are settling and getting ready to begin our Tosacana adventure. In the works are a couple of truffle hunts, agriturismo cooking classes, winery tours, major white truffle festival and of course, sightseeing, eating and drinking our way through this lovely part of the world.