Sunday, June 6, 2010

Montefollonico

Our trip today took us about 65 kilometers south to a small town called Montefollonico, not far from either Piensa (which we visited) and Montepulciano (which we did not visit). Piensa is quite flat; Montepulciano is more vertical. Montefollonico is a tiny town with a fabulous restaurant - La Chuisa.

As I mentioned in a previous message one of our guests, Michelle, is a professional chef who has spent 15 years in African countries - South Africa, Kenya, Mozambique, and Tanzania, where she worked as a chef/owner and instructor. As we witnessed here, she is a passionate, enthusiastic, creative and energetic with the patience of Job who allowed us to "help" her in the kitchen as we watched her slice, chop and stir. We have been the very grateful beneficiaries of her culinary skills. Well, Michelle worked at the La Chuisa restaurant in Montefollonico about 20 years ago. She had just graduated from Cornell University with a degree in Hotel Management and La Chuisa was her first professional assignment. She worked under one of the co-owner's of the restaurant, Dania (if you want to look it up, the link is ristorantelachuisa.it) While talking with Dania's former husband, the other co-owner of the restaurant, Umberto nostalgically remembered this young girl arriving and immediately getting right to work. Umberto said she came with a "joie de vive," full of enthusiasm and a desire to learn. He talked about her first assignment to make desserts. Anyway, we accompanied Michelle with our other guests, Joe, Mike, Marlene and Yoshie to revisit the spot where she worked as a young girl out of college.

The restaurant is located in an isolated small town about 2 kilometers off of the main road that goes to Piensa. One may wonder why someone would develop a business in such a location, but over the years, the restaurant has created an excellent reputation for quality food and service. Many of the clients are tourists who visit Montepulciano and Piensa and stop for lunch or dinner as the main road passes the smaller road that leads to the restaurant. But there are also Italian guests. As some of you know from your history, this part of Italy was always a wealthy area with wine, wool, wheat and olives. The restaurant overlooks part of the Valchiana, an area know for the Chianti wine. As the photos will show, the restaurant is a well-appointed place and delightful in the late spring, summer or fall to sit outside. The building originally served as an olive processing plant. Umberto now makes his own oil from the 1001 olive trees on the property.


I'll leave Piensa for another note, but as all of you know, we love food and the quality of today's food was no exception to the consistently wonderful and tasty meals we have had since arriving a month ago. Yikes! A month has gone by - we don't have enough time to do all that we would like to - and the villa is booked after we leave. We had 8 courses and each was masterfully prepared and served. As mentioned in previous messages, the restaurants use whatever is in season - fresh vegetables, porchini and other mushrooms, fresh cheese products, etc. Today was mushrooms and pasta with a variety of sauces. We know you're not able to savor the meals by looking at the photo, but you do get a picture of the presentation. We can only attest to the taste and wish that each of you could savor each of these dishes.

The first course was Zucchini flowers, a traditional dish here in Tuscany at this time of year (my mom used to make them from the zucchini plants in our garden in New Rochelle). The flowers were stuffed with ricotta cheese and lightly sauteed.


The girls were served theirs with pine nuts;









the men with a light coating of tomato sauce (zugo). See photos 2593 and 2594.













The second course consisted of a crepe with porchini mushrooms and eggs cooked in a in a light cream sauce (perhaps Bechemel). See Photos 2599 and 2600.


Accompanying the crepes were several porchini mushrooms lightly sauteed with a bit of pepper and salt.

The Third course was ravioli stuffed with a mixture of ham and figs and served with a butter sauce and parmesan cheese, perhaps a bit of olive oil. See Photo 2602 image


The fourth course was Pici, a traditional pasta made simply with water and flour and rolled into long strands (remember the Bringoli from the Anghiari area - very similar), cut, cooked "al dente" and served with a light alio/olio and pepperoncini (red pepper) sauce. See Photo 2603
image

The fifth course was Papardelle with a tomato sauce (from a can and reduced, cooked for hours then pounded with garlic, possibly some Bechemel cream, parsley, pepperonchi but the taste was deceptive because it appeared that the sauce was cooked with meat, but there was no meat. Sorry, no photo; they were too inviting that with excitement to taste, I forgot to photo.

The sixth course was a Steak Fiorentino - a 3 pound plus- three inch, much like a Porterhouse cooked to perfection on a wood fire. See photo 2606. It served the 7 of us.
 image

The seventh course was a variety of desserts. Linda had Pan di Cafe (something between a flan and a mousse) photo 2618; with a cream sauce and coffee beans.

Mike had the Carmel ice cream with figs, drizzled with Carmel, photo 2621;






Marlene had a chocolate cake with a hot chocolate center, with a scoop of Carmel ice cream on the side, photo 2622.







Joe had the Carmel ice cream with strawberries with a Carmel drizzle, Photo 2623;






Michelle had Pane Cotta with a spun sugar veil,photo 2624;








Yoshie had lemon sorbet, photo 2619









and Al had the tiramisu with spun sugar, photo 2625.







Coffee followed.

Along with the various courses, we had 3 bottles of Icario Reserve red wine, a regional wine, and one bottle of spumante (Italian equivalent to French champagne).

The owner, Umberto, gave us each a bottle of his olive oil pressed from his olives.

This meal by far surpasses anything we've had here in Tuscany or Umbria and we have had some spectacular dishes. Each dish today had a distinct taste that lit up the taste buds and, at the same time, produced a sensation that we can only talk or write about, but one has to experience for him/herself when they come to this part of Italy.

This was another day to remember. Too bad our friends Tony and Susan could not be here; their both gourmands and both have a passion for cooking.

The guest of honor: Photo 2633. Michelle on left and Dania, the teacher, chef and co-owner of the restaurant, on right.

Al/Linda

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