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.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Sale for Free

"Salt", the book, is an easy read with tons of anecdotes about the history of salt and everything connected with it. I read it myself about 2 years ago. This was before my salt restricted diet made the taste of salt a rare experience for me. However, Maddine loves salt and would prefer something salty to something sweet. For me the salt diet has impoverished my choices of food. Gone are all the cured meats, the prosciutto, the capacola, salami picante also gone are the capers and olives that we cure and the sausages we like to grill in our fireplace. Please do not worry though, I get plenty to eat.
On the web you can read the many opinions on sea salt. Some say it tastes better than the more processed mined salt and healthier because it has more minerals. Sea salts come in various colors like pink, blue and black. We like it because of the texture and it tastes great. This year our one and only trip to the beach at Argentario doubles as our sea salt collection expedition. There is a site on the far side of the Monte Argentario along that narrow road where if you arrive early you can park. Next you gather your things and step down a steep rain eroded track to the rock formed bay and small beach below. There on the outer rocks, the large waves break and spray them with the salty water. Some runs back to the sea and some pools in the small pockets across the hard surface where over time and with evaporation the crystals form out of super saturated solution and wait for either rain or wave for a re-dissolve or the occasional salt collector, Us.

It is a hot sweaty business, crawling around the boulders under that scorching (I'll not say it!) sun until you have gathered enough so you can swim back to the beach area and get under the umbrella again with my big hat. When it is time to leave for dinner that steep downward path is now a vertical and it is a hard third of a mile climb. I do like the exercise, it is a bonus for the day. By the top, I am in drenched in perspiration. Gripped by thirst I swallow way too much water until I feel like a cloud has descended over me and then the nausea hits. Uh Oh, this is the condition of heat exhaustion, not eating salt and sweating and drinking too much water lowers the amount of salt in the cells and creates this dangerous condition. Though sort of wobbly we arrive at our reserved table at Cavaliere a nice seafood restaurant in Orbitello Scalo. A day later I feel better and we have our hoard of salt! Did I say that I don't eat it?

Thursday, August 27, 2009


The other day, we were painting views of Monte Oliveto from Chiusure. We noticed on the drive up there were still lots of wild fennel growing beside the road. We had been late getting our flowers this year and some of the plants that we had seen were well past their prime. Years ago, we met a man in a 3 wheeled Ape which was overflowing its cargo area with bushes of the wild finocchio. When asked what he would be doing with this harvest, he said that he would take the flowers and rub it on meat before grilling. Ever since, Maddine and I have been collecting our own bunches of flowers and found that it tastes particularly good on grilled pork steaks.

When we arrived at our destination there was a middle aged man in no shirt, beard, and straw hat making his way along the road cutting fennel. After we parked, and before I painted I began to search a previously visited field for any of the flowers. I found that not only our bearded harvester was tramping these open spaces for the uncultivated Foeniculum vulgare. Someone had collected here in mass.

Fortunately they missed some, plenty for me and the next five collectors as well. Bag filled, I went on to paint for the rest of the day. At the end of our painting session, we cleaned ourselves as best as possible and made it to town. Maddine had made reservations for dinner at Il Pozzo. After glancing at the menu I made my selection for my primo, fresh pici with a sauce of sausages, small fresh tomatoes and chopped fresh wild fennel.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Cioccolato, Nocciola, and Brunello

Last year, we were very unlucky and unhappy to discover that our favorite hardware store had closed. There were rumors that the nice owner had been swindled by providing construction firms materials on credit which was not repaid. I really don’t know for certain that we have all of the facts, but coming into the space of the hardware store we learned in time was a couple that had run one of the popular bars in town, and were now wanting to operate a Gelateria. Not all gelaterie are equal. Many sell brands of manufactured ice cream that are distributed all over the country. Issues like freshness, quality of ingredients, additives, can degrade the experience of eating these products. Not that factory made ice cream has to be bland or worse, it’s just that there are better solutions. I’ve always found that the best gelato comes from the people that produce and sell it retail themselves and take pride in what they make. This often results in flavors that one has never seen before, Liquorice or Rose Petal or Chocolato con Pepperincino for examples. Such is the gelateria we now have here in Buonconvento. As it takes almost 2 minutes by foot, we are finding ourselves there quite often in this most hot month of August (Today is 98 F).

The other day Maddine and I were in front of the freezer unit, getting our almost daily fix. Maddine got a small cone of After Eight and Coffee gelati. I got my usual of Cioccolato and Nocciola (hazelnut). Even though it is very warm outside we usually go Crema vs Frutta. We sat down under an umbrella enjoying the shade and the ice cream. Ah, there is a copy of La Nazione I saw spread upon a table, and leisurely thumbing through it found the following article, for which the owner was nice enough to provide the scissors and gave us the piece of his paper. The story is about the final report regarding the investigation of grape content in Brunello and Rosso di Montalcino, which began in the spring of 2008 .

I went home and on the web found this in English from Wine Spectator.
Pretty much the same as what the Italian paper said except that La Nazione breaks the numbers down by saying that 1.300,000 liters of Brunello di Montalcino was reclassified to I.G.T. Toscana Rosso and 500,000 liters of Rosso di Montalcino to I.G.T. Toscana Rosso. There were also 150,000 liters of Chianti reclassified to I.G.T. Toscana Rosso and 100,000 liters of I.G.T. Toscana Rosso sent to the distillery, I presume to make Grappa. This has been an ongoing investigation for over a year. I think that one of the good things to come out of it is that the Consorzio di Brunello di Montalcino has confirmed in a vote to continue the tradition of making the wine from 100% Sangiovese grapes.

I've had Sangiovese grapes baked into a desert, or Brunello must flavored Pecorino (sheep cheese), but I've never had Brunello flavored gelato. Although at Sergio's in San Gimignano there was a Vernacia flavored gelato along with a flavor to honor the local saint, Santa Fina. And now we have a very good gelateria in Buonconvento, located in the southwest corner of the wall.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009


Capers are the buds of the flower of the caper plant. They tend to grow on old walls. We have a friend that has some of the biggest and oldest walls around here and got his permission to go caper picking. A friend of mine from Sicily told me how they blow the seeds into the cracks of the walls and put a little dirt on top, to make sure they have plenty of capers. We went about 6 weeks ago and picked 4 plus jars of beautiful big lightly scented capers and cured them in salt. One of the north african workers at the farm was curious about what we were doing. He didn't seem to know what the plants were that we were so eagerly deflowering or actually de-preflowering. An interesting cultural moment with me and the north african speaking in Italian about capers. My Italian is not very good, but I knew that he understood what I was talking about because he made reference to putting capers on pizza. By salt curing these you maintain the aroma and taste of the flower which would be overwhelmed by a vinegar treatment. Now, salt cured and delicious. A first for this year we also took the caper fruit and pickled them. OUTSTANDING! for hors d'oeuvres or on salad.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


Last night, l'amatriciana with our new guanciale (yum). Now we have a nearby butcher that has guanciale that they make themselves. It is very good, rich and deep flavored, perfect when pancetta just won’t do. Maddine savored the 2007 Asura Poggio Brigante, Morellino di Scansano. A review of her first tasting of this back in 05 said that it was intense and very aggressive, too young. Well, I guess all good things come to those that wait and now is the exact right time to drink it. Lucky for Maddine we have another bottle, from kitchen, “It had the most amazing finish.” We try to get over to Scansano at least once a year because the wine can be great and a real value.

Tonight, Pesto.