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.