November 02, 2011

Plate to Page - Eating and Drinking in la Bella Toscana

How many days does it take, I wonder, to get perfectly accustomed to having wine at every meal? In la bella Toscana, it seems the answer is barely two. Just days into the Plate to Page workshop and already I’m anticipating the wine we’ll have with lunch at Il Salicone winery.

Il Salicone is not your typical Tuscan winery. It’s an artisanal operation, producing small batch Sangiovese blend wines that are more likely to find their way into demijohns for local purchase as they are to be bottled and sold at retail. There’s no proper restaurant; tables are set outside, mismatched glasses and plastic utensils belying the feast that’s to come. The three signore preparing our meal smile and say “buon giorno” as we walk through the kitchen and out onto the simple terrace.

There couldn’t be a more perfect day for it, with the sun so blazingly hot it feels more like July than October. There’s barely a whisper of a breeze and even the birds seemed fooled into thinking it’s summer, singing like crazy as they scramble for stray crumbs. The meal is brought out and almost offhandedly laid before us. Platters abound: chicken liver crostini; cheese with acacia honey; simple salume. Ribollita¸ a slow cooked soup of day old bread and seasonal vegetables are here, along with a choice of fritatte: cheese, pancetta or leeks. The Poggioalcanto we’re drinking is just right with this Tuscan spread: full and fruity, without the rough edge that many Sangiovese wines seem to have.

We sit back, sated. And then la signora comes out with one last bite – a plate of cantuccini, traditional Tuscan almond cookies. Twice baked to draw out the moisture, cantuccini are deliberately hard and dry, to store them for long periods of time, as was the original intent, or better yet, to dip them into our wine. I move to a shady spot to savour this last bite.  As I dip the cantuccio, it absorbs the liquid like a sponge, transforming it from buttery yellow to a deep plum, and softening it just enough to take a resounding bite. Sweet and acidic, soft and hard, the conflicting sensations combine somehow in the most satisfying way.

I drain the last sip in my glass, thankful that the next meal – and next glass of wine – is only hours away.


This blog post was conceived and written at the recent Plate to Page Tuscany workshop, in partnership with Marta Majewska, who blogs at Princess Misia.  Marta is a fantastic photographer, and shot the first and the last photo in this post, while I captured the words that described our experience, and the biscotti in the middle.  Thanks, Marta, for being an amazing assignment partner and a great roommate to boot! And hugs to Valentina Jacome, our other roomie, who blogs in Portuguese at Trem Bom.

And if you are passionate about food and blogging, and you haven't heard of Plate to Page Tuscany, get thee to their website.  The four organisers are not only truly successful food bloggers; they are absolutely delightful, and the very best hosts for an intensive, engaging writing and photography workshop.  The next Plate to Page is taking place in Somerset, Engalnd; be sure to register your interest!

With thanks to the P2P rock stars: Ilva Beretta of Lucullian Delights, Jeanne Horak-Druiff of Cook Sister!,Meeta Kurana Wolff of What's For Lunch, Honey?, and Jamie Schler of Life's a Feast.  Watch this space for more P2P posts!