We have returned to our favorite vacation spot to reunite with old friends and enjoy the country life of Tuscany in Italy. Some things are best remembered rather than revisited, but not Tuscany. It is even better than I remembered.
I feel so in touch with the current movement to eat healthier — fresh, local, even organic when possible. Now I remember, in Tuscany there is no other way. The cooking of Tuscany is not complicated, but it does require time and effort. Everyone grows what they can, whether it’s a vineyard or a window box of herbs.
In the small hill towns of the Chianti region there usually are fresh markets once a week if the town is large enough. Otherwise, it could be only once or twice a month. There is a small co-op grocery in most villages where you can buy the necessities. The people here have used the locally available food for generations. In their minds there is no other way.
When the season is over, you wait for next year. I wanted fava beans. Too late, I am told. They are already too old and tough to be good. Oh well, next time we must come earlier in the season!
We had several destinations in mind for day trips. One was to Panzano, only 11 kilometers away, to visit Dario, the Rockstar Butcher. Even with stories on the Internet I was not prepared for the experience.
Dario Cecchini, who is the butcher of Panzano, now has three restaurants in his small village and has been visited by culinary celebrities and written about in many food magazines. The butcher shop becomes a stage with frenzied patrons when Dario takes up his knife.
The day we were there he prepared two porchettas for roasting to the blasts of AC?DC. By the end the wine was flowing and the people who filled the tiny butcher shop were cheering. It was amazing! I bought from the shop fresh tuna that he had preserved and sealed. And that night we prepared a very simple pasta dish using the tuna. (I know, tuna from a butcher shop, but it was one of his unique specialties.)
Several days later we returned to Panzano to eat in one of his restaurants and sample the delicious pork and beef dishes, another experience I will never forget. We ate at a long table of guests, including many locals. The sample platter included Tuscan beef tartar, cubes of something that tasted like a fancy meatloaf, pulled pork and porchetta, all delicious.
Life is good in the Chianti region of Tuscany!