Thursday, July 19, 2012

Recipes and Tales from Chianti--Radda

Orazio overseeing the dinner.
You had to know where to look, or you would never find it!
Cantuccini and Vin Santo

The Chianti region is very similar to the mountains of southwest Virginia, dipping into the foothills at its southern boundary.
As far as I could tell these people are 'living well'. They enjoy life fully. This includes the butcher, the baker and the owners of the beautiful sprawling properties that have been lovingly restored.
We didn't lack for good dining, and splurged on a couple of over the top meals, but the one I enjoyed most was recommended by our hosts. They drew a map. There was no sign-not even a name. It was the restaurant of Orazio, the town baker. Our host told us it was one of the last truly authentic Tuscan dining experiences, where we would find a mix of the people in the village having lunch.We finally found the door after passing it more than once. Inside, down a little hall, up a couple of steps and we walked into what could have been the dining room of a modest home.
We had been told we would be greeted by a very stern look--and we were, but it turned into a beautiful smile. This was the daughter of Orazio. She brought water and wine and asked if we wanted pomodoro or bolognese. That was it--our only choice of the meal.
I could see into the kitchen. She began to peel potatoes and pulled out different meats from the local butcher. The meal went on for three courses when Orazio came in--90 year old Orazio--the baker of the village, dressed in his white baking coat. He reached into the bottom of a sideboard and pulled out an unlabeled bottle of Vin Santo , a very sweet dessert wine, and brought it to the table with a plate of cantuccini he had just baked. They were small biscotti to dip into the vin santo. For other diners a basket of fresh peaches was passed.
The meal couldn't have been fresher or more local, and I think you can imagine the flavor. Everyone had an air of contentment--happiness with their life. As the diners finished their meals they stepped into the kitchen to pay. No check, no cash register, just money on the counter and a grazie and ciao to the cook.
They were all 'living well'! In that moment they were contented with their lives, and so was I. There is a lesson to be learned. 

Pasta Pomodoro
Pasta Pomodoro

Extra virgin olive oil to cover the bottom of the pan (about 1/4 cup)
1sweet onion chopped
3 garlic cloves minced
6-8 medium tomatoes peeled and chopped
1 tablespoons fresh parsley chopped
1teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon sugar
Pinch of red pepper flakes
8 large basil leaves ( or similar quantity) rolled together and cut into tiny strips
12 ounces of pasta, your choice, cooked according to package
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Extra olive oil

Place skillet over medium heat and add olive. When oil is heated add onion and cook stirring occasionally until onions become translucent. Add garlic and cook another minute before adding tomatoes, parsley, salt, pepper, sugar and red pepper flakes. Cook slowly for about 20 minutes until tomatoes lose their shape and sauce thickens.
Drain cooked pasta and add sauce and basil. Serve with grated Parmesan and a drizzle of olive oil. 

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