Thursday, May 21, 2015

AND NOW LUNCH................{Tuscany}

Following our  morning
cooking class at Il Falconiere (last post), James and I were treated to lunch on the terrace.
It began, as many Italian meals do with a sparkling wine. Our glasses were filled with a light and bubbly sparkling  Brut Rose from the Baracchi family vineyard.

The meal were to have for Pranzo ( lunch) was the food we prepared earlier during our class, all plated and pretty. Stuffed Zucchini flowers in a green sauce was antipasti.
Again, an estate wine was served to accompany this dish

The first course or Primi featured the pic pasta we have worked so hard to get right. We plan to continue to practice this when we get home. The sauce is of fresh cherry tomatoes with herbs and garlic and fave beans , since they were in season.
This course was served with, as I recall,  Baracchi Smeriglio Sangiovese.

Tell me this does not look completely elegant!

With  fanfare the covers were lifted to reveal our Secondi ( main course )!
Pork  with an black olive filling all wrapped lardo, with a lovely sauce.
We had a great experience in the kitchen with Chef Richard Titi, but I must say this lunch event would be hard to match!
This wine that was poured with this meat course  was another fine , rich Tuscan red from the family's vineyard.

Alas.....the final course......dolci, served with Vin Santo, one of finest we have tasted.

Such a lunch like this only happens in Italy. We have learned not to rush, but to sit and savor each bite of food along with the flavors of the wines. Here the setting in the Tuscany countryside is breathtaking....why hurry, let time pass, for what could be better than this?

This path through the grounds at Il Falconiere, where cypress, rosemary, lavender and roses grow with grace and harmony.

James during lunch as we are visited by owner Chef Silvia Baracchi.

 And before I forget...The falcon.......thus the name....Il Falconiere.

After all the food and wine it is time for a nap and dream, as if this whole thing isn't dream enough.

Thursday, May 14, 2015


A cooking lesson in Tuscany, maybe not an original idea, but, certainly something I thought James would love, an ideal Birthday gift for him. But where?  I did some research and came up with
Il Falconiere in Cortona. On a clear day we can see Cortona (Tuscany)  from here in Panicale, built on the mountainside beyond Lago Trasimeno.
Il Falconiere is a one star michelin restaurant along with being a lovely wine estate and hotel, so as part of his gift a night over seemed ideal. I knew that wine would be involved in our lunch and who wants to or should drive after that.
I also took the class, since with 2 we could have a 'private master class' good is that!

Our teacher was one of the two head chefs at Il Falconiere, Chef Richard Titi.
After some chatting and showing us around the kitchen we got right to work.
No, first, wash hands, then we are presented with our aprons.
Let's get started.

We were to make four courses in three hours.
First in the order was biscotti, get that made and put in the oven for first baking.
Next up, pasta. We were both hoping we would have a chance to make pasta in Italy and now here it was. The pasta we made is called pici, a typical fresh pasta of Tuscany. The only ingredients are flour  ( single zero flour), water and salt.

Pici is like a thick hand rolled spaghetti. Chef Richard was  very patient and worked with us until we were able to roll it out the pasta strands just thin enough.

The pici waiting to be cooked .

A sauce of fresh cherry tomatoes and herbs, from just outside the kitchen door was made for the pici. In the meantime....the biscotti came out of the oven to cool. 

James readies for a taste of the pici in the tomato sauce. It always stuns me how a few fresh ingredients can taste so heavenly.

Ingredients for stuffed zucchini flowers are assembled on the work table.
Again, everything is fresh and local.

More conversation about food and the recipes we were making.....all in Italian, as we requested.

Then, we were each poured a glass of wine, Baracchi wine from the Il Falconiere estate.
A taste, then it was back to the zucchini flowers. The ricotta on the table is farm fresh made from sheep's milk, very typical here in Tuscany and Umbria, and the basis for the filling along with herbs and other ingredients......I can't give away all the secrets!.

You are going a good job there , James!
The word to 'stir' or mix in Italian is 'mescolare".
This class is a real hands on experience....and hard work!

We filled the flowers and prepared them for baking, a drizzle of real good olive oil before they go into the oven.

A sauce, or pesto is made from herbs, a few other ingredients and of course, the Baracchi estate olive oil.

A pesto type green sauce is made to accompany the zucchini flowers, made from herbs, etc. and of course, the olive oil.

A drum roll, please.......the plated stuffed zucchini flowers....which we also sampled.
 Simply divine!

In the meantime.... the biscotti were sliced and returned to the oven for a second baking.
Now, the main course , or secondi  as it is referred to in Italy.  The meat ( pork) is stuffed and wrapped and held together with a spring of bay, then sautéed.......the other secrets i will not tell, you have to go take the cooking class for yourselves!

The meat is all prepared and while it is cooking the zucchini flowers are baked.

 The kitchen at the end of the class.

James and Chef Titi when all the work is complete. Thanks Chef for not only your cooking skills but your teaching skills as well.

It was hard work, as I said, but fun and we learned new things. What could be better. And see, I am here in the kitchen too, stirring, making pasta and stuffing zucchini flowers between photo taking.

Pranzo.  There is lunch to follow? How about all the sampling we did during the lesson?
Aprons off, we go back to our room and freshen up. A table on the restaurant terrace will be waiting for us at 1:30..................lunch, Il Falconiere style.

See you at lunch................................!

Monday, May 4, 2015


The winter and early spring brought rain to Umbria overflowing the banks of Lago Trasimeno. The lake is quite shallow and the color of the water changes from day to day. The surface can be quiet and mirror like or churned up with wind driven white caps, all adding to it's magic. From our vantage point in Panicale the vista of  Trasimeno and the plain of agricultural land that surrounds it becomes part of our daily panorama.

This lake has a long history, some of which is rather brutal, and includes names like Hannibal, Napoleon, and The Knights of Malta.
World War II left a scar. But that is a story for another time. This is about discovering the lure of the lake.

The first few times James and I stayed in Panicale we rarely came down to the lake, we were always busy finding art in Florence, Perugia, Siena, and a long list of other places. A few years ago we began to connect to the lake spending time drawing there and visiting it's unique islands, Isola Polvese and Isola Maggiore.
Artists have always been charmed by Trasimeno. I am talking the likes of Perugino ( 1450-1523)  and his "school" that brought along Raphael. The Perugino fresco that is in the church of San Sebastiano in Panicale, clearly shows Lake Trasimeno in the painted landscape.

Martyrdom of St. Sebastian
Pietro Perugino
Chiesa San Sebastiano, Panicale.

 Somehow food always enters the picture here in Umbria. Our friends Janelle and Johnny told us about a restaurant they thought we would like in San, since their tips are always good we decided to go. Osteria Rosso di Sera is not the easiest place to find, so we all went together the first time and  James and I have returned several times since.

The Osteria is right on the lake in a marina, not for your upscale yachtsman! On this day boats were being put into the water for the season. The dining room is simple and the owners and chef are very friendly.

And the food........

Gnocchi pepe e cacio,  my choice, was a bowl of pillows tossed in a silky sauce. 

James loves burrata  and carciofi so he decided on this ravioli made with grano duro flour.

On another visit I had a lentil soup, made from  local small lentils. It was delicious.

The food here pays attention to the idea of local and seasonal and that is what is on the menu. Being on the lake, it also features "lake"fish, and their specialty is "tegamaccio" is a fish soup cooked in a crock pot, continuing in a tradition that goes back to the Etruscan civilization that inhabited this region.

Fisherman fish in small boats that dot the lake as they check their nets and weirs for the day's catch.

It is mid Spring and wisteria is in full bloom with a fragrance that lightly perfumes the air around it. Walking back to the car it is sweet.. "dolci" to walk beneath the pergola. and linger for a few minutes.
A hum of bees at work can be heard.

One thing leads to another and soon James and I find ourselves back in the car and........making a stop at a small borgo the we have heard about many time, Monte del Lago.
Following our lunch a walk through this charming lakeside town, build on the side of a hill keeps us from the urge for a nap!

The ruin of a crenulated tower of a castle ( rocca) reminds us of the lake's strategic importance. The southern side of Lago Trasimeno is largely farm land with fields that extend to the edge of the lake. On the more northern shore there are a number of small towns, like San Feliciano which is one of the towns where there is a ferry landing.  The largest town is Castiglione del Lago which dominates the western shore with its medieval  Rocca del Leone overseeing Trasimeno.......the castle or rocca thing again! 

See.....what did I tell you........" sempre salire".....always up here in Italy!

There are three islands in the lake, two of which can be visited by ferry. On a still day the ride is across the water is glorious.
Isola Maggiore is inhabited full time where some of the residents continue in the tradition of lace making.
St. Francis came to this island to spend time in reflection and prayer. Why here? Perhaps he became mesmerized by the water or the quiet broken only by bird song or wind through the trees and the isolation.

Isola Polvese does have a handful of residents, a beach and a bar. It too has a rocca and ruin of a castello. James and I have walked the trails there and spent time drawing in this quiet place.

Back in Panicale a group gathers at Bar Gallo and it is time for a Spritz and later maybe a lake view with a sunset before dinner.
The beauty of doing nothing!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

San Quirico d'Orcia and Bagno Vignoni


 I learned about this town from our friends Janelle and Johnny and since the day was warm and sunny James and I decided to make a visit. Bagno Vignoni is located in one of the most beautiful regions of Tuscany, the Val d' Orcia.
Tiny Bagno Vignoni  is known for it's thermal spring in use as far back as Roman times. The Piscina, or pool which dominates the piazza was built  and used by the Medici family. Lorenzo d'Medici went to the thermal spa in hopes of a remedy for his gout. He was in such pain he had to be carried around  and he likely died in his 40's from complications due to gout, or so I've perhaps the thermal waters never did cure his gout.

There is a quiet serenity here created by this pool, which in itself could be calming and healing.  A walkway and handsome buildings surround the water filled piscina.
James and I found an enoteca where local cheeses and cured meats were featured, along with wines of the region. There are several places here to eat as well as a hotel that does have a thermal spa that is in use.

Rocca d'Orcia is another well preserved Medieval village that is on a hill  side in the distance towering above Bagno Vignoni. The castle makes for a spectacular focal point in the distance and must have been a very strategic location in the 12th Century.


After lunch, we drove to San Quirico d'Orcia. I have seen signs for this town for years, but we have never stopped since there has always been a different destination planned and we drive past. Today was the day for San Quirico d' Orcia.

It was after lunch, so the shops were all closed, but we were here to look at the town itself, and the churches were open as well as a rose garden. The largest church in town is the 12th Century Romanesque  Collegiata.

After a visit to the Rose Garden we discovered an allee of Ilex trees that lead to the Collegiata. Interesting to find that this was constructed to give a shady and restful place for the pilgrims walking the via Francigena, a Medieval holy route from France to Rome.

This  finely preserved well stands proud at the corner of the Collegiate

 Sandstone lions  support figures that are the columns supporting the arch. This dates somewhat later than the building itself and is attributed to Giovanni Pisano.

There was some damage to the exterior of the church during shelling in World War II.

A column supported by a Lombard lion, a very ornate portal and unusual for this region.

The Chigi Palazzo was built in 1697 for cardinal Flavio Chigi. The Chigi family were wealthy bankers in Siena and eventually Rome, where wealth, power and the church all were intertwined.

The main street,Via Dante Alighieri is lovely. It is lined with small shops and trattorias housed in buildings that date from the Medieval and the Renaissance. Due to the fact that San Quirico was on the pilgrim route there were in the 13th C. several small hospitals and hostels to care for them on route to Rome. It is said that St. Catherine of Siena stayed in a house here along the Via Dante Aligheri. 

The Val D' Orcia

Both San Quirico D 'Orcia and Bagno Vignoni are in the Val D'Orcia region of Tuscany.
The entire Val' D' Orcia is a UNESCO site. The beauty of this part of Italy is overwhelming.

The Val D'Orcia is one of my "Thin Places", a place where heaven come together.
It is hard to explain, it is a feeling that overcomes you when you are there in it's midst.
It is a powerful place who's memory lives within you even after you leave.