Reminiscent of our wedding that took place in Tuscany last September, the viking and I decided to spend our summer break in a holiday home between Arezzo and Siena, Tuscany.
Lost in our romantic memories of those perfect September days, we forgot that Italy in August can be brutal. We arrived in Civitella Val di Chiana in the middle of the worse heat wave that the region has experienced in a while: 40 + degrees and 50 +% of humidity. The weather channel named it Lucifer for a reason. Luckily, the property where we were staying had a pool that the viking decided to inaugurate the day of our arrival preparing a huge caraffe of Aperol Spritz. After all when warning about the health implications of Lucifer, all Italian experts recommended: drink more! He took it at at face value.
Lucifer arrived to town with a number of infernal creatures. One morning we woke up to the sound of thirsty wild boars who serenaded us angrily out of our windows. The wild boars felt like friendly neighbors compared to what I can now call my arch enemy: the Tafàno (horsefly). The first day I was bitten twice and my leg became a swollen mess. I was not bitten again but this creature of Hades became a personal obsession. I entered the property’s pool like a US Marine ready for war, the body completely submerged, only the eyes out of the water scanning the horizon. Like an exorcist with holy water, I casted ritual circles of spray repellent around my chair to deter the bugs away. I walked around, in a home made burkini of bath towels in the hope that the flying pests got confused or amused, or both.
Bugs aside, the region is glorious. Endless forests and vine fields open around medieval villages whose churches tower the valleys. Foxes and deers run on the small country roads undisturbed by the few bypassing cars. Children play hide and seek at night, while their parents share a beer in the only bar that the town has to offer. Wild and carefree, with gelato stains on their t-shirts and the knees scorched by an earlier fall on the warm stones of the renaissance streets. Grandmothers dance the Alli Galli with their grandchildren, forgetting their crutches on old braided chairs.
I love Tuscany: its food and wine culture, its long history and the beauty that envelops you like a lavender scented cotton blanket on a fresh summer night. I am amazed at the pride of the people who live here. They face the seasons and the terracotta colored earth with grace and determination. Their faces both hardened by the work in the fields and softened by the chianti they produce with so much care and love.
I spent my university years in Florence, and I miss this region of Italy more than my actual home in the south. The viking and I dream about moving (back) here. It might be a dream for now but who knows? Tuscany might have a new Calabrian pest in town in a few years.
Arancini di riso
(for 13 arancini)
400 gr of rice carnaroli
1 bottle of tomato sauce
400 gr of minced beef/pork
1 glass of red wine
Olive oil EVO
fontina cheese (or mozzarella, drained) diced
mortadella (or ham) diced
3 handful of parmigiano, grated
few leaves of parsley
oil for frying
1. Make the meat sauce: dice the onion, fry in olive oil, add the meat and render. Add the wine and let it evaporate. Add the tomato sauce, a generous amount of basil and some water. Adjust seasoning. Cover and cook min one hour max the whole day, at low eat. If the sauce gets too dry, add a bit more water, mix and keep cooking.
2. Cook the rice according to instructions. Drain and let it cool, covered. When the tomato sauce is ready add some to the rice. The rice needs to become red and meaty. When cold, add two eggs, the parmesan, the parsley, salt and pepper. The mixture needs to be wet but not too mushy.
3. Prepare the following: one plate with water, the meat sauce left, the rice, the diced cheese, the mortadella, the breadcrumbs. Wet your hands, put some of the rice in the palm of your hand, make some space in the rice with two fingers, add one dice of cheese, some mortadella, a teaspoon of meat sauce. Add some more rice on top and start making a ball (like you would do with meatballs), making sure to keep the sauce, cheese and mortadella inside. Wet your hand some more if needed, the water helps the ball find its shape. Roll the ball in the breadcrumbs and set aside. Wet your hands and repeat until you finish the rice.
4. Heat the frying oil in a tall pot. A frying pan is no good here because the arancini must be covered by the oil. To check if the oil has reached the perfect temperature put a small pinch of breadcrumbs in the oil, if it fries, the time has come to add your arancini. Add the arancini and fry for 5 minutes or until the color reaches a dark and deep brown.
5. Drain the arancini on some paper towel.
5. Eat one arancino, repeat until full.
Paccheri with italian sausage and zucchini
(for 3 people)
300 gr of Paccheri
3 Italian style sausages without the skin
5 small zucchini
1 red onion (small), 2 cloves of garlic
200 gr of cherry tomatoes
half a glass of white wine
salt and pepper
olive oil EVO
1. dice the onion, clean the cloves of garlic and add them to a heavy pot with some olive oil EVO. Let the onion and garlic soften. Add chili pepper, diced. Add the sausages that you have previously cut into small pieces with a knife. Render the meat and keep stirring with a wooden spoon so that the sausages are broken into even smaller pieces. Slice the zucchini and add to the meat, let it cook for 2 minutes. Add the white wine. Let it evaporate. Add the diced tomatoes. Cover with a lid and cook for 3 more minutes. DO NOT add salt at this stage.
2. The sausages are salted so you need to make sure that you don’t add too much salt. Taste and adjust seasoning. If necessary add a bit of water and keep cooking until the sauce has come together and looks and smells amazing. Add some Parsley if you wish.
3. Boil some salted water. Add the paccheri, cook according to instructions. Reserve some cooking water. Drain the paccheri and transfer them in the pot where you have the sauce. Add some cooking water and cook for one minute stirring. Add a handful of grated parmesan and some freshly ground pepper.
4. Serve with some more grated parmesan and ground pepper.