Monday, February 1, 2010

Chess Nuts Gathering

We usually get our chestnut gathering dose by going up to Monte Amiata and helping some friends of ours with their harvest. For various reasons this did not happen this year, but we still were able to gather our own even if only a few. Late last fall we were driving west of Siena on the via Pian del Lago on our third trip to try to see the medieval hermitage San Leonardo al Lago reputed for the beauty of its painted decorations, which were very nice, but not our main subject here. While driving here on a previous weekend we took a meandering drive over a mountain toward Monteriggioni. On the way we saw an almost impassable amount of cars parked and the former occupants all toiling away at taking the wild and free chestnuts as if it were some great holiday. The nuts they were collecting were not from the tended orchards but from the overgrown, maybe abandoned, trees that grew there. After a successful trip to the hermitage there was still enough daylight to try and collect some of our own chestnuts. Gone were the weekend warriors and we had the forest to ourselves.

In this first picture you can see a chestnut tree with its unique leaves along with the pods that usually contain a cluster of nuts. Below is what happens to the uncollected chestnuts, they turn into little trees. The leaves can turn bright yellow and into a warm brown before they fall.

Here's what you usually find, the pod drops and opens on the ground. It then is a race for the nuts between man and beast. First there are worms that often get in there very quickly and second the wild boar, squirrels, and other mammals find them as delicious as we do.

Did I mention that you should wear gloves for this activity? You should wear gloves! Even these cotton gloves get penetrated, but they are better than the alternative.

Look closely at the nuts for worm holes, if you see them throw it away. You should soak the nuts in water for a couple of days after you clean them off. These uncultivated nuts are much smaller than are available from the shops, but you can boil them and add to a rabbit stew or with sausages, tomatoes and cream to make a pasta sauce.

Oh yeah...this tastes good.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Food Tour Wine List 2009

Our last event of the season is a Gastronomic Tour. We do only one of these a year during the local white truffle festival. You can find more information by going to This year we spent the week with a delightful group of people, who loved to make and eat good food. Here is the list of wines that were included with the tour this year. The 1-3 glass awards are from the publication Vini d'Italia and the points are from Wine Spectator.

1 Ajello /Grillo-Catarratto/ 2008
2 Cusumano /Nero d'Avola / 2006 / 3 Glasses
3 Micelli / Moscato di Pantelleria /Tanit
4 San Giusto a Rentennano/Chianti Classico/2007 /2 Glasses
5 Boscarelli/ Vino Nobile di Montepulciano / 2006 /2 Glasses
6 Poggio Antico / Brunello di Montalcino / 2003
7 Poggiarellino / Brunello di Montalcino / 2004 / WS 91 pts
8 Ferrero / Rosso di Montalcino / 2007 / 2 Glasses
9 Col di Bacche / Morellino di Scansano / Rovente / 2006 / 2 Glasses
10 San Polino / Rosso di Montalcino / 2007
11 San Polino / Brunello di Montalcino / Helichrysum / 2004/ 2 Glasses
12 Collemattoni / Rosso Toscano/ 2007
13 Collemattoni / Rosso di Montalcino / 2007
14 Collemattoni / Brunello di Montalcino / 2004 /2 Glasses /WS 95 pts
15 Collemattoni / Rosso di Montalcino / from stainless steel tank /2009
16 Collemattoni / Brunello Di Montalcino / from tank / 2009
17 Casali di Bibbiano / Casalone / 2006
18 Poggiarello / Rosato / 2008
19 La Doga / Morellino di Scansano / 2006
20 La Canonica / Orcia DOC / Assoluta / 2007
21 Boscarelli / Rosso di Montepulciano/Prugnolo / 2007 / 2 Glasses
22 Colombaio /Rosso Di Montalcino / 2007
23 San Giorgio / Brunello di Montalcino / Ugolforte / 2004 / 3 Glasses
24 Campriano / Chianti Colli Senese / 2005
25 Campriano / Chianti Colli Senese / Reserva / 2001
26 Campriano / Vin Santo / 2003
27 Casanova di Neri / Brunello di Montalcino / 2000 / 3 Glasses
28 Verbena / Grappa di Brunello /
29 Wine Circus / Davide e Golia / 2007
30 Guicciardini /Massa di Mandorlaia / Morellino di Scansano / Reserva /2003
31 Giocciardini / Massa di Mandorlaia/ Morellino di Scansano / Reserva /2004
32 Tenute Nardi / Moscadello / 2006
33 Lungarotti / Aurente / 2007/ 2 Glasses
34 Avignonesi / Nobile di Montepulciano / 2006/ 2 Glasses

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Huntington and Gathering

The importance of food in Italy is reflected by our increased time in hunting and gathering activities while we are here. Last Sunday was a good example of this Italian behavior because the hills near Siena were choked with cars parked along the country roads whose occupants were out gathering either mushrooms or the seasonal chestnuts. So it is to be expected that when we return to America we sometimes continue in our gastronomic pursuits. And what better place than Huntington, NY on Long Island. We were there for my brother-in-law's wedding, but managed to put a little time into other avenues.

Guided by my father-in-law, Dino, we arose early one morning to help ourselves to nature's bounty. We walked down to the private beach and proceeded to gently press our feet into the wet, rocky sands on the shore. A jet of spitting water signaled the point of attack. Here within six inches of the surface we found all the steamer clams we could hope to eat. Next we started to search for mussels, which was even easier to harvest as they had attached themselves to almost any surface around including the small pebbles that make up the bulk of the material of the land there.

Back at home, we made our feast. Delicious! The steamers were the freshest I have ever eaten. They were soft with a complex flavor of sea and shellfish without grit, dipped in the briny juice they made when cooked. There was also a small dish of melted butter to trawl them through before tasting. I did some butter trawling, but really I ate most of them butter free and when there were no more clams to eat, I drank the broth. Then I looked over at Maddine's plate, and ate some of the clam’s thick feet that she had declined.

Next were the mussels. Cooked with some garlic and fresh tomatoes salt and pepper along with some parsley and a little white wine served on a bed of al'dente spaghetti, they could not have been any better. These were simple clear flavors blending enough but not too much. Oh yeah!

One home gathered meal was not enough. We went to the same beach another day late in the afternoon to arrive with the evening tide. We carried a couple of light fishing poles and some frozen octopus. Dino said that the best fish to catch here were the small bluefish that eat along the grass near shore, but the fish that were biting that day were the porgy. It is also known as Scup and for the scientists here (Stenotomus chrysops). Having not fished in quite a while, I found it not only fun, but a good excuse to enjoy a beautiful afternoon outside. More than once while closely watching my red and white bobber my eyes would drift over the quiet scene and I would think that we could have still been in 19th century from the evidence right at hand. I wished I had more time and my paints with me. Back home with the fish, we wrapped them in foil with some oil and lemon and put them on the grill. On opening the foil we were seduced by the first wave of steam coming off the fish. Tender white meat with a very delicate flavor made a very satisfying meal and very complete day. Ok there are small bones in the porgy but that just made it more of a slow food type of thing.