Friday, July 20, 2012

On the Road From Pienza to Montepulciano

Our Italian wandering continues from where we left Pienza . After touring the Palazzo Piccolomini and the garden a break for lunch is called for. In and around Pienza there are several places to eat, the problem is to choose just one. We decided to try one that we had not tried before. We remembered one.... Latte di Luna it has been on our list of places to try and we pretty much stumbled upon it walking through town.

We were seated outside under the shade of an umbrella on an ever so gorgeous Tuscan afternoon . Latte di Luna is known for grilled and roasted meats as well as house made pastas. Arugula salads began this meal. So, with our vegetable requirement accounted for it was on to pasta. Since we were having porchetta for dinner we opted to not have meat for lunch. Looking back we should have ordered one grilled meat dish to share. We had order envy each time we saw one of those meat dishes get delivered to a nearby table!
Oh time.... Being that Pienza is the center of pecorino cheese I had to have the pici pasta ( another regional gem) with pecorino and pepper. A perfect bowl of pasta.

And since it was spring and artichoke season James, without hesitation, ordered Artichoke Lasagne.

The artichoke lasagne was unbelievably flavorful and lighter than you would expect since it is made with only three thin layers of pasta with a puree of artichoke between the layers with a grating of pecorino cheese.
We will be making this in our kitchen!

Before leaving Pienza we generally stop at the Consorzio Agrario to pick up a few items. The Agrario is a co-op market that features local foods and wines. The dried porcini mushrooms they sell here are the best we have found.

Back on the road we stopped for a look back to view Pienza perched up on the hill that overlooks this beautiful place known as the Val d'orcia. It has magic, this brilliant city on the hill along the ancient pilgrims route.

Next stop is caseificio Cugesi for pecorino.

You would think after our pecorino centic lunch and being immersed in the wafting aroma of pecorino that fills the streets of Pienza, we would have had our fill of cheese for the day. Nope.
We followed the sign.

The "white road" bianca strada is narrow and opens up to this more than spectacular view across the valley of farms, olives groves, tracts of winter wheat, grasslands and sheep. The sheep that provide the Tuscan pecorino that we were seeking at the end of this dirt road.

There are several kinds of pecorino cheese, young or fresco, stagionato is more aged, the award winning gran riserva, and so on. This image from a tee-shirt is a good primer for pecorinos! Buy a shirt and then try all the different kinds available, or at least choose a few to try.

Oh, so many wheels of pecorino. My favorite is a semi -stagionata. On the day we were there they had this beautiful fresh ricotta.

We were shown this ricotta and of course we had to buy some. This ricotta has nothing to do with the ricotta that is sold in plastic tubs in grocery stores. This ricotta is simply exquisite.

There are several picnic tables outside the Cugesi shop. This is grand because you can bring bread, salads, and then go inside and buy fresh cheese , especially if ravaggiolo ( the first curd) is available ....and eat right here.
This will be your view as you picnic al fresco with a Val D'Orcia view over to Montepulciano, with the Catherdral of San Biagio sitting boldly below the city.

Our purchases of ricotta and pecorino made, it was then time to get back into the car , drive up the white road to the main road and continue on towards Montepulciano. Being that this road is rather winding and narrow and we thought better than to try to stop for a photo of San Biagio so I took this picture of San Biagio from our car as we passed by.

The first time James and I saw this church was a number of years ago when we were having lunch at La Chiusa in Montefollonico. After we finished one of the finest lunches we had ever experienced, the owner took us for a walk of the grounds where he pointed out a church in the distance, the "White Church" Chiesa bianca. The church he pointed out was San Biagio. Although it hardly needed to be brought to our attention because it's white travertine was radiant in the late afternoon sun drawing our full attention immediately to it.

San Biagio was designed by Antonio da Sangallo the Elder. The construction began in 1518 on the site of a former palaeochristian site. It is an excellent example of High Renaissance architecture.

Sangallo designed this church based on the central plan of the Greek cross. It is of grand scale, I might say immense. Sangallo was looking to a design with a perfection in geometry with circles and squares.

The high relief rosette details of the arches take the eye up to the monumental dome where sun light comes through to light the interior space.
At the time the construction of San Biagio was a huge project, the only other project that was larger was St. Peter's in Rome.

The avenue that leads in and out of San Biagio is cypress lined. I love these tree lined roads of Tuscany and Umbria and this one is spectacular in scale. Before we left Montepulciano we needed to make one more stop. The last stop was for some wine, Vino Nobile was what we were after.
OK. with that done it was time to return "home" to Panicale.

Most of the time our rental car ends up being the alright but average variety the likes of a small Ford Focus or VW, and one time a real albatross, an Opal Astra.
For some reason this time, perhaps it was the luck of the draw, we were handed the keys to this sweet Alfa Romeo Giulietta.
We were always ready for a road trip in this!
Back in Panicale "our" Alfa parked for the night we walked to the villa known locally as The Pink Palace , dropped off our purchases and made our way over to Aldo and Daniella's
Bar Gallo for prosecco.
Then it was time to return to our kitchen to prepare dinner.

A great day!

Quick reference:

Trattoria Latte di Luna
Via San Carlo, 2-4
Pienza, (Tuscany) Italy
open for lunch & dinner ( closed Tues.)

Caseificio Cugusi
Montepulciano, (Tuscany), Italy
the caseificio is off the main road between Pienza and Montepulciano.
Coming from the direction of Montepulciano it is about 3 kms. then a right hand turn.
Watch for the sign.

San Biagio
Via San Biagio

Bar Gallo
Piazza Umberto Primo
Panicale, (Umbria) Italy

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

WGBH Arts: James Aponovich: A 52 Week Painting Marathon

Three Pears in A Glass Bowl, Tuscany /week # 29
James Aponovich

We heard this morning that WGBH Boston has done an online review of the year long painting project that James painted his way through over the period of 52 weeks.
Below are a few images of that project, that is now on exhibit at Clark Gallery in Lincoln, MA.
There is a link at the bottom of the page where you can click on to read Mary Tinti's thoughts and views on Aponovich 52 in her WGBH ARTS review.

James Aponovich
Sebasco Nasturtiums, week #27

These are some of the 52 paintings created by James Aponovich during his year long project.."painting in a time based arena". Some are of place, as these nasturtiums that were painted during a short stay in Maine last summer.

These two pears are the first painting .....the painting that set this project in motion.
The idea for the painting- a- week- project at a time when the entire economy was struggling and the art market was "in irons"......just not going anywhere. So, James decided to give himself this challenge and to paint the things, people and places that he wanted to paint.
Why not?

An interior from an apartment in Rome, an unusual subject for James. You just never know where or when an inspiration or visual impact will occur.
To read more.....

click on the link below.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

So Sweet the Mid Summer Lavender.....

The heated air of mid summer is filled with the scents of lavender and rosemary.

Outside our front door is a lavender lined walkway that invites a passing touch. I cannot resist pulling off a few flowered stems releasing that lavender perfume into my hand, as I walk through the morning garden. James and I grow two types of English Lavender (L. angustifolia), Munstead and Hidcote.

Pliney the Elder, wrote of lavender's medicinal uses. Ancient Romans noted it's healing qualities and used it for washing. In the time of Nero, 77 AD., the Greek military physician Discordes used it on battlefield wounds, as did the medics in World War I.
And of Nero, I wonder if his Golden Palace was filled with lavender?

Lavender has long been considered to have healing qualities, from use as perfume by the ancient Egyptians and Romans to medicinal use by monks in Medieval Europe continuing into the Renaissance with hopes of preventing plague ( that hope was not realized). Victorian England was awash in the stuff. Still today, lavender is used with the thoughts that the oils quell stress and aid in sleep and so on.

All I really know is that I love it in the garden and I adore the fragrance.
Bees love it too, so when it is time to harvest it is always a competition with the bees. I always yield to the bees.

Although we do harvest some of our lavender to dry, we mainly grow it because we love having it in the garden. We can barely bring ourselves to cut it at it's prime, when that mist
of blue- violet is just beginning. But, when the deep freeze of January and February roll around, the summer scent of dried lavender is so, so welcome.

As for rosemary, another fragrant herb that thrives in our mid summer garden, that my friends finds it's way into our kitchen . With the chives having gone by, cut back and waiting for that second crop, we turn to rosemary, adding it to roasted potatoes and vegetables, lamb, grilled chicken, etc...... mid summer cooking at it's best.