The Courses of Il Campo Cucina - October 2012, Part I
Italians traditionally divide a main celebration meal into several different courses. As we reflect on our week at Il Campo Cucina, our experiences were as sumptuous as any fully-coursed Italian celebratory meal. It seems only fitting, then, to follow this menu by sharing the food, wine, people, and beauty of Tuscany, Radicondoli, and Il Campo Cucina, course by course!
The aperitivo opens a meal, and it is similar to an appetizer. Most people gather around standing up and have drinks such as wine, prosecco, champagne, or spumante. Occasionally small amounts of food are consumed, such as olives, crisps, nuts, cheese, sauce dips, little quiches or similar snacks.
There are times when the forces of God, nature, and the world align so completely and seamlessly so as to bring people together to create a perfect set of circumstances. That was our week with Il Campo Cucina. The Italians call it "destino." It was meant to be. From the moment that Marlane Agriesti Miriello pulled an impromptu visit to a thousand-year old grain mill out of thin air, completely off the program, to fill an hour’s time on our way to La Speranza for lunch, we knew we were in for something special. She charmed Giuliano, a man clearly not used to visitors (and especially 9 non-native Italian women) and brought him from a place of skepticism to that of a kindly tour guide, even grinding wheat into flour in his mill for us to see. We had been transported back to an ancient time and were spellbound from that moment, Throughout the week, we got used to Marlane making magic for us at every turn.
No sooner did we arrive at Il Bel Canto, our home for a week in Radicondoli, that we realized this was no ordinary magic. We were surrounded by the palette of beauty and serenity that is the quintessential Tuscan countryside. We had everything we could ask for in our accommodations. Every morning, I jumped out of bed to open the shutter to take in scenery that looked like a live painting, looking out the window often to make sure I didn’t miss a hue or perspective that wasn’t there an hour ago. One morning, there was a vibrant rainbow—how was it that what was already beautiful could be made more so by such a magnificent streak of colors across the sky? We surely had to be in heaven.
Il Bel Canto was so aptly named, because all of the elements in its surroundings created a good song. The trees, grass, sky, the clouds, hills, the village lights in the distance, the olive trees, the lone pomegranate tree, the 16th century stone structures, the vegetable garden, the rooster crowing up the hill--were among the instruments that created this beautiful symphony! Nothing, however, could compare to the magnificent sunsets, that changed as if with a brush stroke, in every next moment. There were chairs set along the ridge just to honor this daily feat of ever-changing beauty with thousands of years of iterations, and the realization was then, that Tuscan’s do not tire of their beautiful surroundings, nor do they take it for granted. Un salute alla vita!
The antipasto is a slightly heavier starter. It is usually cold (not in all cases) and lighter than the first course. Affettati (sliced meats), charcuterie, salami, hams, (mortadella, Parma ham), cheeses, (mozarella, scarmorza), sandwich-like foods (panini, bruschette), vegetables, cold salmon, are examples of foods eaten.
Anqua. Just saying the word emotes the remembrance of another heavy-duty dose of magic. Anqua is a 16th century castle, built on the ruins of a 12th Century castle in Radicondoli. It still belongs to the same family who originally built it, one of the oldest of Siena. On our first visit, we were entranced by our first glimpse of the enormous grounds and expansive vista, but that almost didn’t compare to entering the magnificent rustic dining room, simply and anciently elegant, complete with roaring hearth fire, where once, all the cooking was done.
We were graciously welcomed by Count Andrea Pannocchieschi d’Elci and friends. Could that beautiful table be set for us? Were we the guests waiting to experience a fabulous wine tasting by Level I Sommelier, Luigi Pizzolato. Could this night be any more special? How had we been able to be immersed so quickly into an Italy that most travelers never get to experience? If we pinched ourselves too hard, would we wake up?
The wine tasting was informative and warmly engaging. Italians are very proud of their wine (and that is an understatement). We tasted San Gimignano Vernaccia and paid much homage to the Sangiovese grape, Luigi’s favorite (and mine). “Know the grape, the farm, and the age” and you know a lot. It was sad to learn that due to the summer’s drought conditions in Italy this year, it would not be a good year for Italian wines.
- Andrea and friends
The jewel of the evening was the magnifico dinner. The jewel of the dinner was the ovuli mushroom. It is more precious than the porcini, and both were at the height of their season. (We often saw cars pulled over at the side of the road, with their occupants in the fields and forests searching for the revered porcini). The ovuli were picked the day before on Anqua’s property. The antipasti of the evening was simply chopped ovuli mushrooms, onion, olive oil and nipotella served on crostini. It was divine.
We were treated to Andrea’s fresh tagliatelle with porcini as the primo. Absolutely heavenly. Il Secondo was thinly sliced pork.
We finished the meal with a dolce: Vin Santo cake. This simple and not too sweet cake is made with Santo Spirito and ground walnuts. These beautiful and tasty courses and more of Andrea’s wine from Anqua’s grapes, and the warm and spirited company and friends of Marlane that we shared this amazing dinner that evening will stand out as one of our most memorable meals--ever. We were special that night, and we knew it