Real Tuscan

Of all the regional cooking styles of Italy, none is so misunderstood as Tuscan.  Traditionally,  Tuscan food is as simple as can be — a handful of good ingredients and simple techniques add up to memorable eating.  I was reminded of that last week at a dinner hosted by the Sada Family of Fattoria Carpoli with a menu prepared by Emanuele Vallini of Ristorante La Carabaccia in Bibbona, Tuscany.

We began with a passed fritto misto of coccoli, fried bread dumplings, zucchini flowers, and sage leaves accompanied by the Sada family’s fresh and citrussy Vermentino Toscana IGT 2010.  The fritti were perfectly fried and charmingly presented in cones of brown paper, so they were easy to enjoy as we stood around and sipped our wine.

In the dining room, Davide Sada told us about how he founded the winery in 1998 in the beautiful coastal region of Tuscany known as the Maremma.  He spoke with pride about the food of the region and introduced the first course, pappa al pomodoro, a thick soup made with stale bread, ripe tomatoes, basil, and extra virgin olive oil.  He explained that in Tuscany, stale bread was either fed to the chickens, or used to make pappa.  The beautifully orangey-red soup was delicately spicy and also matched well with the Vermentino.

Farro della Garfagnana, spelt cooked with pancetta and leeks, was molded into a disk and served on a sweet bell pepper cream and topped with frizzled leeks.  The smoky bacon flavor complemented the sweetness of the peppers and crisp leeks.  With it we drank the Integolo Toscana IGT 2009, a blend of 60% cabernet sauvignon and 40% Montepulciano, which Mr. Sada said he had developed as an everyday drinking wine.  At under $15 per bottle, I could see enjoying this wine with a wide variety of foods.

Tuscans are great soup eaters, so our next course was another classic of the region.  According to Signor Sada, Caterina di Medici brought the recipe for Florentine onion soup with her to France and taught the cooks at the French court to make this classic dish.  I think I’ve heard that one before!  The slow cooked red onions were sweet and tangy.  The crowning touch was an egg yolk in its shell to add or not, as you preferred.  It brought a creamy richness to the  luscious soup.  With that we drank the Baldoro Toscana IGT, a robust wine meant for aging.

The filet of pork in an an herb and walnut crust was the next course.  Pork filet is not the tastiest cut, but the flavorful crust enhanced it and the meat was cooked to rosy perfection.  It went beautifully with the Carpoli Toscana IGT 2006.  This was Mr. Sada’s Super Tuscan wine, and it had big ripe red fruit flavors.

Dessert was a masterpiece of simplicity:  a luscious cream of mascarpone, blended with crumbled cantucci, the classic Tuscan almond dipping cookie and a few berries.  The finishing touch was a glass of espresso to pour over the dessert as you wished.  I loved the combination with the sweet and concentrated Vermentino Toscana IGT 2008, a late harvest dessert wine.  What could be simpler, or more elegant?

Signor Sada told us that this is the kind of food they eat and wine they drink in Tuscany every day.  He added that he firmly believed that if you work in quality, you will be happy.  After a dinner as good as this one, I think that he must be very happy indeed.

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    • Michele Scicolone