Eating Tuscany – Villa Breakfast

Location: Staggia, Italy

Date: June 11-25, 2011

Cuisine: Tuscan

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This is our third year renting a villa in Europe for a big chunk of June. I’ve experimented with different ways to handle the breakfast situation for a large number of people (9-15 is what we’ve had). It’s not practical to go out everyday, it would just take too long to wrangle everyone, and a free for all at the house (which we tried last year) has all sorts of issues. Namely the challenge of restocking the groceries and cleaning up. So, our houses at this year’s villa arranged to set and clear a continental breakfast table, to which we added some local products. Overall it worked out very well.


The first thing I need is my coffee. Cappuccino this time of morning. Our hosts made them, which was convenient as last year my dad was making them straight for 90 minutes every morning. Given that many people have two, and the slow speed of the little home machines, it’s hard to churn a lot of them out.


The full spread.


Various dry goods, yogurts, jams, cereal, orange juice.


Fruit, cookies, toast, blood orange juice (yum).


We also put out some of the local cheeses, mostly Pecorino.


And more.


And the stubs of all sorts of them.


A few cow cheeses from the local market.


No Italian breakfast is complete without Prosciutto.


Or Salami.


Our hosts also baked a variety of pastries and breads over the two weeks. Homemade croissants in this case.


A really yummy chocolate torte. Buttery crust, with congealed nuttella type filling.


We had some extra ricotta and our baker turned it into this wonderful cheesecake.


Chocolate inside, with a tasty crust and coco top. It was like breakfast tiramisu!


Pound cake.


Cherry tart.

Delicious chocolate cake, tasted like a giant brownie. Nothing like chocolate to pick you up in the morning.


Tuscan apple pie. Really good stuff, perhaps drier and more bready than the American version, halfway between that and an apple strudel. Delicious.


Blackberry tart. These kind of fruit tarts are typically Tuscan.


Mixed local fruit.


And cherries, which are local and in season.

Click here to see more Eating Italy posts.

Eating Tuscany – Boar at Home

Location: Tuscany, Italy

Date: June 12, 2011

Cuisine: Tuscan

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During our day in Siena we picked up a few supplies.

Most notably, at the sign of the Cinghiale, the Tuscan wild boar.


This funny little gourmet shop sells all sorts of big products — plus some cheese and wine.


The don’t allow photos, but I stole this one of the inside. Zoome in and check out the salesman and his mustache!


Back at our temporary “home” we opened this old Barbaresco. One of my brother’s friends in Milano had given it to him thinking it wouldn’t be good anymore — being almost 40 years old — but lo and beyond it was delicious.


We did have to decant it to seperate out the sediment, but I managed to extract the cork (in 2 pieces) without loosing any.


At the boar shop we picked up two kinds of pecorino, this fresher one.


And this aged “good with old wine” one.

We also got some of this boar salami, pure wild pig mixed with Brunello!


And this “Panna Rustico” which is hearty bread with pecorino and pancetta baked into it. What more could you want with a nice old Italian wine but variants of pig and cheese?

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Eating Staggia – Pozzo dei Desideri

Restaurant: Pozzo dei Desideri

Location: Bologna, Italy

Date: June 11, 2011

Cuisine: Tuscan

Rating: Good food, good value

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Today we drove through the mountains between Forli in Emilia-Romagna and Tuscany, then down past Florence to Staggia a small town near Siena. As this was a transitional day and we were settling into our new (temporary) home we just popped down into town for a quick local dinner.


This joint is in the center of this one horse town.


It has a big menu of typical Tuscan fare and very reasonable prices.


This being the heart of Chianti we chose a local Chianti Classico. This was probably about an 89 point wine, but it had some decent age on it making it fairly nice.


It was old enough that they decanted it.


In this modern age, the old adage, “don’t order seafood in the country,” no longer applies. This was billed as Zuppe di Mare. There wasn’t a lot of “soup” but it was tasty with a hearty garlic tomato sauce and various and mysterious shellfish.


Torte of Zucchini in a Pecorino sauce.


One of the MOST typical of pasta dishes, Pappardelle Cinghiale (wild boar ragu) with olives. The Cinghiale is the local hairy wild boar of tuscany. Click here for some pictures of this delightful creature.


This is a big wide fresh pasta with pomodoro and pecorino.


Gnocci with pecorino, tomato, and arugula.


The omnipresent insalata misto.


And another Tuscan classic, the block of beef. This is a fillet in balsamic sauce.


Notice how it’s served rare. Really rare. Tuscans don’t believe in cooking their beef. It was tasty though. Leaner and a bit tougher than an American filet, but full of flavor.

Overall the place was very good for just being a casual inexpensive local spot. We did however run an odd service quirk when they brought out a second steak a full hour after everyone else got their food (they had forgotten the order). Unlike in America they didn’t want to pull it from the bill (although it was only about 10 euro) and instead insisted on boxing it up for us.


Then we walked across the street for gelato. The place was humming at 11pm, packed with kids.


The didn’t have a lot of flavors, but they are all artisanal and very good.


Some various gelato cakes too.

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Sotto – Sicily con Sardo

Restaurant: Sotto [1, 2]

Location:  9575 W Pico Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90035  310.277.0210

Date: April 16, 2011

Cuisine: Sicilian and Sardinian Italian

Rating: Bold flavors, off to a great start!

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This new venture into the crowded LA Italian scene is a welcome change of pace. Sotto offers very reasonably priced regional Italian dishes (southern, with a Sicilian and Sardinian slant) with an unabashed traditionalism of a sort. There is no real effort on this menu to cater to the long standing American Italian palette, as influences as it is by late 19th century Southern Italian cooking. This is no red sauce (restaurant with red and white checkered table cloths and chianti bottles).

Located in the rising lower Beverly Hills district we had to fight through crowds leaving shul to descend into the packed, loud, and hard surfaced interior.

The short but very reasonable menu.

James Suckling gives this 2004 Poggio Il Castellare Brunello 94 points. “A decadent and ultra-rich red, with plum tart, prunes, cooked meat and berries. Full bodied, with soft and silky tannins and a long, flavorful finish. An aromatically beautiful wine. Best after 2012.”

“Pittule pugliese (vincotto, ricotta).” These little fritters tasted like supreme funnel cake, and were delicious with the fresh ricotta and vincotto (which is a sweet grape must). The amusing thing, for me, about this dish is that it’s pretty much straight out of Apicius, the 1800+ year-old cookbook. Delicious any way you cut it, but very filling.

“Blistered little gems (anchovy garlic pestata, breadcrumbs, pecorino moliterno.” An interesting salad with a smoky grilled flavor.

“Shaved beet and mixed chicory salad (wheatberries, lemon vinaigrette, fiore sardo).”

Olives. There was a little wait between the first and second courses and they brought us these complementary olives.

“Bruschetta lardo.” And this gratis charred bread spread with lard and fennel pollen. Very wood fired (not to mention rich taste). I was in danger of extreme over eating before the entrees even came.

“Maharrones de pungiu (sugo semplice, fiore sardo).” A wonderful homemade take on a simple tomato and cheese pasta. The choice of fiore sardo (a Sardinian cheese) gave it a slightly different tang.

“Casarecce (braised lamb ragu, egg, pecorino).” This was one damn fine pasta. The pasta itself had exactly the right texture and firmness of good homemade egg pasta. The ragu was nicely flavorful and meaty. Yum! I love great ragu. Some of my other favorites are here at Drago or at Capo.

“Pizza Marherita (tomato, mozzerella, basil, EVOO).” Your basic Marherita, but well done. These pizzas have a VERY wood fired taste going on, much like those from Gjelina, they are a little over-fired to my taste. The dough is good, but they taste very strongly of the grill (char, smoky flavors). When I do them on the stones in my hot gas grill (see my Ultimate Pizza) they showcase the dough and toppings a bit more.

“Pizza Salsiccia e friarieli (sausage, broccoli di ciccio, mozzarella, chillies).” A very nice meaty sausage paired with the bitter tones of the Italian brocoli. Interesting, and good.

“Bittersweet chocolate crostata, hazelnuts, salted rosemary caramel.” This looked amazing, and the texture was fantastic and very chocolaty. There was a slightly odd flavor tone in here, which might have been the rosemary. I’m not sure it added, although certainly I enjoyed it.

After 11 and the place is beginning to thin out a bit. I really enjoyed Sotto and it BOLD take on Italian. This is heady stuff, and the homemade pastas were totally amazing.

For a second review of Sotto, click here.

Pecorino – No Sheep is Safe

Restaurant: Pecorino

Location: 11604 San Vicente Blvd., Brentwood, CA 90049. 310.571.3800

Date: April 9, 2011

Cuisine: Abruzzi Italian

Rating: Unusual, tasty, very slightly over priced.

 

Pecorino is one of the twelve or so Italians on San Vicente in Brentwood. It’s relatively new, and replaced a good new American called Zax at the end of the street. One might ask why the street needed another Italian. Well it didn’t but Pecorino does offer a different (and good) take on the boot. The place specializes in the rustic cooking of Abruzzo, which is not only interesting and good, but certainly underrepresented.

The facade. Inside is cozy and stylish.

The menu.

Pecorino has a number of premium wines by the glass, which is nice. They are a little pricey, but I still like the option. I got a glass of Brunello followed by one of Amarone.

The bread.

And they serve it with this chickpea paste, which is tasty.

Caprino. Warm goat cheese “Crouton” served on a bed seasonal greens with hazelnuts.

Spaghetti with lobster. Chopped Maine lobster in a light garlic sauce with lobster juices and parsley. This is a really nice pasta. There’s a lot of lobster meat in here too.

Penne. In a tomato and basil sauce with green onions, cherry tomatoes and shaved pecorino cheese.

Lamb “Casserole”. De-boned Rack of lamb with pecorino cheese and artichokes “Chef’s Hometown recipe. This is an unusual, rustic, and delicious dish. It’s mildly cheesy, with big chunks of lamb and lots of artichokes.

Pecorino is a very good place, and it’s nice when an Italian gets away from the same old litany of dishes. It is however, mysteriously a bit more expensive than some of the others of fairly equal quality (like say Palmeri down the street). There’s a good amount of price variation in the Italians, and I’m not sure I get it. Still, the food’s very good.