Travel

Eating Local – in Italy

Last week, we made a return visit – and we hope the first of many return visits – to Tenuta di Spannocchia in central Tuscany. A former estate farmed under the mezzadria system, guests can stay at the main house (the castello) or former farmhouses scattered throughout the property. The estate produces organic wine (red, white, and rose), olive oil, and cured pork products from the heritage breed Cinta Senese. The estate also has an extensive garden that produces almost all of the food for the main house and its guests.

The bucolic setting is perfect for hiking, reading, etc., but it’s absolutely inspiring when it comes to cooking. When we open the door to our farmhouse to find a loaf of tuscan bread, a bottle of vino tavolo rosso, and large crate of produce (onions, garlic, potatoes, zucchini, string beans, tomatoes), it’s difficult to refrain from cooking right then – even if we did just come from a multi-course feast at the main house.

Of course, this was Italy, so we gravitated to pasta dishes that took advantage of the produce, the cured meat, or both. This carbonara did just that.

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Spannocchia cures a variety of meat products – coppa, salame toscana, prosciutto, lardo, and pancetta. Using farro pasta purchased at the the Consorizio Agrario (see below), I made this carbonara with the pancetta and the zucchini flowers that the gardeners had kindly left attached to the fruit. First, I rendered the fat from the pancetta over low heat. Then, I added the onions and gently sauteed them. (I have found both a long rendering and gentle saute of the onions over low heat to be crucial to good carbonara.) When the pasta was cooked, I added it to the pan with eggs and grated cheese (an organic pecorino from a nearby farm) and tossed in the zucchini flowers that I had cut in a chiffonade.

Before Spannocchia, we spent several days in Siena. In anticipation for all of the cooking, we did our grocery shopping at the Consorzio Agrario. Akin to a boutique grocery store, it sells many prepared foods (and, apparently, excellent pizza) that showcase the farmers and producers from around Siena. We were lucky to find locally-made ragu made with the local boars, or cinghiale. For pasta, we made the traditional pici by hand, using only flour (both semolina and white “00”), water, and a little oil. The thick, chewy pici demands the big, bold flavors of something like boar ragu, and I would hesitate to pair it with anything delicate.

Many traditional Italian recipes are deliberately unspecific when it comes to quantities for ingredients; the preferred phrase is quanto basta, just enough. In this spirit, and because the farmhouse was totally lacking in measuring cups or spoons, the pici was simply two coffee cups of flour (one literal cup of each type) and just enough water to make it cohere.

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Of course, between the salame toscana, risorgimento, and bistecca fiorentina, we needed a break from all of the meat at some point. So, a light dinner of several garden-grown vegetables was perfect.

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My only regret here was that I didn’t think to roast the beets in the cooling ashes of the wood-fired pizza oven the night before.

The last time we were here, I was amazed at how easy the “00” flour was to work with. Both my gnocchi and hand-rolled pasta was so easy to work with. As with the pici, I poured out the flour on the table, added two eggs and one egg yolk, and incorporated just enough flour to make a dough. Not having my Kitchen Aid attachment from home, I stretched and rolled the dough by hand, stopping when the large disk was transparent enough to see the grain of the marble table beneath. This was paired with dried porcini mushrooms I picked up on a day trip to Volterra.

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One of the highlights of a stay at Spannocchia is the salumi tasting class. It occurred to me at that moment that my food was never going to be more local than this – eating pork raised several hundred yards away, cured in a room several hundred feet away, washing it down with wine grown and vinted several hundred yards away.

We are very fortunate that we have quality wine, salumi, and flour here. It won’t taste like Spannochia, but that is exactly the point.

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