Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24: An Italian Affair---recipes and a glorious meal from an Italian farm kitchen
Oh yes, I am having an affair with Italian food. Day by day, I am falling in love.
I signed up to participate in Foodbuzz' 24-24-24 and was selected. My theme: pure Italian food. Better said: all of the Italian I can possibly insert into one fantastic menu, an outpouring of all I have learned and experienced while living in Italy. Yes, I am living in Florence. Normally from Seattle, mio marito (my husband) and I are suckers for risk and living large: we sold our house, our cars, gave up our jobs and left the country. Our goal was to go abroad for year; we started with cycling from Amsterdam to Paris, visited friends in London and landed---decidedly---in Florence, Italy for the school year.
I was fresh out of culinary school, we took the earnings from our house and cars and plopped our lives in Italy. For 'mio marito' it was a well-deserved break to soak up family; for me, it became an extended focus on food and writing---while our sons dove into soccer and school (we put them in an Italian school).
Toward the end of February, we took a '6 day Tuscan road trip'---which was 'wicked awesome' as it included hot springs, seeing Elba Island and finding Sant'Egle Agriturismo. An agriturismo is essentially a Bed and Breakfast but in a Tuscan, farm-like setting. It means the food you enjoy for breakfast is local, from the farm and made from scratch (heavenly preserves from fig to green tomato to wine confettura, mixed fruit and white peach... wild honey). They could call it Local or Organic---but that would be redundant. Of course it is the most natural meat, and organic eggs and fruit from their own/neighbors' trees...
If you travel in Tuscany: stay at an agriturismo. No two are alike, and each offers a unique, special experience. We have been to a few, but Sant'Egle will forever stand out in our minds because it was so cozy and quiet, the hosts/hostess were fantastic, we loved breakfast and signed up for dinner---twice. Some agriturismos offer the option of dining 'in' for your evening meal (while the breakfast is included in the price, the dinner is a flat fee per person---in this case 25Euros. And worth every bite). If dinner is an option: take it. Traveling about all day and coming 'home' to a meal made just for you with all the trimmings? Priceless.
So when I invited Erika to my house for this Foodbuzz event, I was floored when she turned the tables: she invited me to come cook a dinner with her. I rented a car and drove to Sorano, Italy (Sorano pictured, is in Grosetto---the southern region of Tuscany). And we cooked---and ate---a full Italian meal. (And I learned some fantastic new recipes and kitchen tips---stay tuned as I share them in the next few posts!).
Italians don't mess around. Their dinner is multiple courses, starting with an Antipasti (appetizer), followed by a Primi (pasta, risotto), Secondi (meat, fish), Contorni (vegetable side, salad) and Dolci (dessert). Add in a basket of bread, wine for every course, espresso or grappa/limoncello/liquori to finish... and you are: FULL. And in this instance, not only was my stomach full---my brain and heart were overflowing as well.
And I find that after being in Italy for months and months my culinary brain is starting to deconstruct meals in a similar fashion (starter, first and second courses, side vegetables and dessert). Even if the starter is just olives or slices of salami. Even if dessert is just a smallish plate of biscotti and a decaf macchiato. It isn't that each course has to be huge... but nothing is better than when each course is heavenly and leaves you wanting for more. (Plus, it helps me mentally organize my meals!).
This Agriturismo---and the meals Erika served us---will be some of the meals-from-Italy I remember my entire life. It will color my own kitchen experience, inspire course-by-course menus and propel me to new heights. When signing up for this 24-24-24 event I simply meant to create a typical, multi-course meal with my new Italian friends. Which happened... but it turned out to be so much more: cooking with Erika at her farm house Agriturismo was about as cool as it comes for a cheeky food blogger from Seattle.
Heart palpitations.Thump, thump, thump.
I brought ingredients and some wine, Erika supplied even more ingredients and with new Sant'Egle aprons on (thanks Erika!)---we stepped into the kitchen to begin (recipe names in English):
Grilled Vegetable Appetizer
Blue Cheese & Walnut Ravioli
Chocolate 'lava' cake
This week's posts will include more tips, recipes and pics from this once-in-a-lifetime meal---heart beating happily. It just leaves me hungry for more: more Italian food, meeting more Italian chefs, sponging all I can learn from talented cooks and restaurant kitchens and and and...
I am in love.