Italy: That’s what I call lunch – Travel

When I expressed an interest in the origin of the special for the day, fresh porcini mush-rooms, chef Stefano de Arrivati beamingly beckoned me into his kitchen.

There he produced a tray of huge brown mushrooms and in English which was not much better than my Italian led me to understand that they had been gathered that very morning from the surrounding forest.

I could, he said, have them sliced in a salad, fried or in a sauce served with pasta.

Fried sounded a good choice and so it proved. The mushrooms were cooked in a in a light batter which allowed their delicate taste to shine through. Delicious…

Italy: That’s what I call lunch – Travel – NZ Herald News via @nzherald

Splendid isolation: The Tuscan countryside between Montalcino and Campiglia D'Orcia Splendid isolation: The Tuscan countryside between Montalcino and Campiglia D’Orcia

A Slow Food Journey in Italy

I’m standing in a 1,000 year old wine cellar in the medieval Tuscan hilltop town of Montepulciano, listening to a venerable wine master whose career spans 50 years. This is the beginning of a week long “Boutique Journey” introduced by Brendan Vacations in association with Slow Food Travel and I’m already captivated!

The Slow Food Movement was founded in 1989 by Italian food writer Carlo Petrini as an alternative to fast food and fast life and as a means to promote local sustainable food. It recognizes the strong connections between plate and planet and takes the position that our daily food choices have a major impact on our health as well as the health of animals, the environment, and society as a whole.

It is said that Tuscany produces the world’s best wine and our small group continues our tour of the ancientEnoteca Contucci wine cellars. We learn about the Contucci family who has lived in Montepulciano since the 11th century, celebrating 1,000 years in 2008. At the conclusio

A Slow Food Journey in Italy

Top 10 Foods to Try in Tuscany

Italians have a saying when wishing someone good luck: “In bocca al lupo.” Literally, it means “into the mouth of the wolf.” (As in go ahead, put your head into the wolf’s mouth.) The response, naturally, is, “crepi al lupo, ” or “may the wolf die (when my head is in his mouth).” I could have used luck, and another stomach, during my first visit to Tuscany. The menu is structured in the same fashion as the rest of Italy: the primi piatti, or first course, offers fresh pastas, rich risottos and thick soups. The contorni, or side dishes, are made up of salads and in-season vegetables. And the secondi piatti, or entrees, mean the usual suspects like veal, hen, fish, pork and steak, along with game like boar and rabbit.

The surprise, for me, was how outstanding the food was, and how much I would miss it, dream about it, long for it, after my trip. So, dream along with me. Here is a list of what you must eat while in Tuscany. You’ll notice most of the dishes are simple, with few ingredients. The amazingness lies in the intense flavor of the ingredients themselves – the handmade pasta, the mushrooms just pulled from the ground, the olive oil so naturally green it looks like food coloring. I didn’t include standard Italian gimmes, like pizza or gelato or tiramisu. You already know plenty about those. This is Tuscany, known for its extra virgin olive oil, its unparalleled wines, its farm-to-table preparation (the Tuscans were so ahead of the curve). Enjoy it. Bon appetit. And in bocca al lupo.


Bread salad. A light combination of day-old bread and ripe tomatoes, often with marinated red onions and basil, tossed with vinegar and olive oil. To me, a perfect lunch. To Italians, a good start to a summertime dinner.

Minestra di Farro Lucchese

The flavorful signature dish of every kitchen in the Tuscan town of Lucca. Made with farro, an ancient (now trendy in the States) spelt-like grain, it’s similar to lentil soup or pasta e fagioli.


A thick, hearty vegetable soup made with day-old bread. Literally meaning “reboiled,” it roots lie in Tuscany’s “cucina povera,” or “poor cuisine.”

Pappa al pomodoro

A rich, creamy soup made with tomatoes and, yes, day-old bread (you’re seeing the theme here). Tomato soup to the nth degree.


Truffles, found in the wild, and so revered throughout Italy as to inspire parades and festivals dedicated solely to this fungi. Tuscany’s tartufi are considered among the world’s finest, and when in season, can be found on everything from pasta to crostini to dessert. Black truffles grow from October to March; white truffles, October through December.

Tagliatelle alla boscaiola

Fresh pasta with a flavorful sauce made with porcini mushrooms. The name refers to its woodsy, mushroom-y flavor.

Pasta al ragu di carne

. A must-try in Tuscany. Different from meat sauce found in the States, it uses little-to-no tomato. Instead this ragu is made mostly from simmered-down veal or pork (or both) and carrots, onions, celery and sometimes tartufi.


Wild boar, hunted in Tuscany, often served in pasta or as its own secondo.

Bistecca alla fiorentina

Tuscan porterhouse made from the region’s famed Chianina cattle, prized for their flavor and tenderness. Simply prepared with salt, rosemary and olive oil, then grilled over a wood fire. Served rare/medium rare.


Also known as biscotti, the crunchy almond-flavored cookies that hail from Tuscany. Usually served with vin santo, another Tuscan claim to fame.*

*A note about vino. Red or white, il vino della casa in Tuscany is among the best house wine you’ll find anywhere in the world, and is usually as good as the labels listed on the menu, at a fraction of the price. Vin santo is an excellent option after dinner, as the majority of this dessert wine is produced in Tuscany. If you’re heading to Cinque Terre, sciacchetra (pronounced shah-kee-TRAH) is a slightly sweeter white wine produced solely in the vineyards of the five towns, and is nearly impossible to find in the US. Stash away a bottle or five to bring home as gifts (for your friends and yourself) if your suitcase can handle it.



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