Tutti a Tavola in Toscana!

We just spent an idyllic two weeks in Tuscany - a peaceful week in an incredibly charming stone home in an oak forest outside Radda in Chianti, followed by a week of cultural banqueting in the atmospheric medieval beauty of Siena. This is a very photo-heavy post; I hope you enjoy these images from our time in Tuscany, as well as the recipe/wine pairing at the end!

Becky, David, Markipedia, and Barbara - a tavola!
Five friends and family. Fourteen days. Forty-two meals. Countless bottles of wine. It was perfect.

In addition to Markipedia and me, we were joined by OFB (Our Friend Barbara), and Mark’s brother David, and sister-in-law Becky.

We spent the first week touring the hill towns of the region, which included visits to Panzano, Castellina in Chianti, Monteriggioni, and Arezzo, as well as our own town of Radda.

The Duomo in Florence.
The second week found us in Siena, where there was easily enough to engage us for the entire time, although we did train up to Florence for a day.

The Duomo in Siena. Our apartment was adjacent to the north transept.
We were a very simpatico group; we enjoyed leisurely mornings in our rented homes, followed by impromptu explorations each day. The most special moments, though, were meeting friends, old and new. People are, indeed, what make our world so special.

Interior views of Siena's magnificent Duomo.
In San Gimignano, we had lunch with Londoners Stefano, Paul, and Laura. They were on a day trip from Lucca where they were looking at apartments for a possible piéd-à-terre. Stefano and I met online through our blogs; he writes about authentic Italian cuisine on Italian Home Cooking. It was fun to learn about their lives as restaurateurs, and his thoughts, as a native Italian, on the menu where we met for a classic three-hour luncheon. We hope they succeed in finding their dream place in Lucca.

Becky, David, Stefano, Paul, Barbara, Mark, and Laura in San Gimignano.
Me and Stefano
One evening we visited Simonetta in her stunning home in Adine. I first met Simonetta when I took a cooking class with her several years ago when she was visiting Tucson; we were deeply honored to be invited into her home.

Me with Simonetta at her beautiful home, Casa Adine.
She served us the most beautiful array of aperitivi: little spheres of Robiola cheese with pear and prosciutto; two types of focaccia (one with sage); carrot chips with a lentil dip; local pecorino cheese; and taralli. We hated to leave the comfort of her cozy living room. Alas, the time has come for her to sell her house, so... if you are looking for a handsome, 6-bedroom, 1,000-year-old stone house with a magnificent view to call home in Tuscany, let me know.

One morning we drove down to Montalcino to catch up with Laura, the estate manager for Il Palazzone - a beautiful vineyard owned by old friends Richard and Laura, who live in New York. There, we tasted some of their finest Brunello, and the most incredibly smooth grappa, and brought home a bottle of each for special occasions.

Laura preparing our tasting at Il Palazzone.
The cellar is located on a slope overlooking vineyards, olive groves and a magnificent view of distant farms and forests. The cellar itself is beautiful, and and includes an intimate setting for wine tastings.

After tasting, we got to watch Laura’s husband Marco and crew deliver the final crates of grapes just picked for 2017, an early and small harvest due to the summer’s savage drought and heat. It was fascinating to watch the hand-sorting of the deep purplish-blue San Giovese grapes of this year's vendemmia.

Another day, we drove to Carrara to catch up with friends Annamaria and Giuseppe who split their time between Tucson and Marina di Carrara - they took us on a wonderful tour of the marble quarries, a high and jagged landscape of immense natural and man-made drama, heightened when we were engulfed in Wagnerian storms.

Carrara. The sign in the window: "Those who have no memory have no future."
They treated us to a caloric quarryman’s lunch in Colonnata. This consisting of bread, hot crostini, pecorino cheeses, and heaped plates of salumi - lardo, soppressata, pancetta, coppa, and cured pork loin - served with a local white wine that was slightly frizzante. Afterwards, we toured the city of Carrara and shared a caldo-caldo (a chickpea pancake sandwich on focaccia). Such a treat!

San Michele in Lucca, and some of the beautiful ceramics in Stefano's shop.
In Lucca, we met up with our dear friends Stefano and Silvia but, sadly, for only a few minutes. However brief, we enjoyed reminiscing and catching up over a glass of wine in Stefano’s ceramics shop, Vissi d’arte. We realized we hadn't seen one another for 15 years! They looked wonderful and were so much the same - cheerful, optimistic, and ever warm and welcoming. We will be returning to Lucca soon for a nice long visit.

A festival in Siena celebrating the Oca (goose) contrada. (Goose not pictured!)
Over the course of two weeks, we usually dined out at noon, at places too numerous to list here, but always focused on local and seasonal specialties, which rewarded us with an array of new flavor combinations. In the evenings, with aching feet and heads spinning with images of the sights of the day, we cooked and dined at home.

The Piccolomini Libreria in the Siena Duomo.
But, you may well ask, what did we cook? Thanks to Simonetta, we got hooked up with Arduino and managed to get several kilos of beautiful porcini. The second time I visited his vegetable stand, he recognized me and took me to the back of the truck to select from the best and most beautiful porcini I have ever seen. We had those three different nights: once simply sliced and sautéed (my favorite way); once in a risotto; and once with homemade pappardelle, which I taught my brother-in-law David to make.

Arduino, with his beautiful porcini mushrooms.
We bought some beautiful steak from the Macelleria di Corti Riccardo in Siena and made tagliata with arugula and Parmigiano-Reggiano. Twice. We had beautiful pork chops. Barb made a gorgeous roasted chicken-and-olive dish. Other nights included pastas, pappa al pomodoro, and - on our final night - a delicious chicken and rice soup that used up all the leftover ingredients in the house.

Today’s recipe for Risotto with Shrimp and Peas is one I made up specifically to pair with a Tuscan Vermentino wine. Vermentino is the same grape the French Rolle, so I wrote about it for the Provence WineZone - check out the pairing notes HERE.

I hope you have enjoyed my photos from the trip. I certainly enjoyed being there and sharing them with you!

~ David

Risotto with Shrimp and Peas
15 minutes prep time plus 25 minutes cooking time

2 pounds shrimp, peeled - shells reserved
8 cups light chicken broth
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large shallot, diced
2 small carrots, diced
2 cups arborio rice
1 cup white wine
2 cups frozen peas
handful cherry tomatoes, quartered
finely grated zest of one lemon
1/2 cup heavy cream
Salt and pepper to taste

Place broth in a large kettle with the reserved shrimp shells and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer while you begin the risotto.

Melt butter and olive oil together over medium heat and a large, wide pot. Add the shallot and carrot; cook until shallot is soft and clear.

Add the arborio rice and cook, stirring, until it turns opaque - a couple of minutes. Add the wine and cook, stirring, until wine has almost evaporated.

Strain the shrimp shells out of the broth and return the broth to a simmer. Add a ladleful of broth to the rice and stir until it is mostly absorbed. You can tell it's ready when you drag a spoon across the bottom and it leaves a trail. Continue adding broth, one ladleful at a time, and stirring constantly until it is almost fully absorbed. Do this until you only have one ladleful left. At this point, the rice should be al dente.

Add the peas, tomatoes, lemon zest, and shrimp with the remaining broth. Once it is absorbed, shrimp should be opaque and peas heated through. Add the cream, allow to come to a simmer, then divide among bowls and serve.

Serves 6.

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