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San Feliciano Umbria

18 May

After many years in Cortona, I thought we had visited most towns and villages that surround Lake Trasimeno, but not surprisingly, there is always another gem to discover. Knowing we love fresh fish, some friends suggested we head to Ristorante Da Massimo in San Feliciano, Umbria. The restaurant is nestled on a quiet hill overlooking the lake.

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Meet Massimo, chef and proprietor of this over 25 year-old restaurant.

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We began with appetizers, and they were so good, we jumped right in and I didn’t get photos. Len and I shared an enormous plate of spaghetti con vongole (clams), one of the best we have eaten in Italy, while our friends shared a mixed seafood appetizer – first cold seafood then hot.

While this is not what we ate, I was able to get a photo of this spaghetti with mixed seafood.

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For our second course, Len and I shared grilled spigola, or sea bass, and it was delicious!

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Our friends ordered the oven roasted version with potatoes and olives.

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To accompany our meal, we drank a light sparkling white wine, perfect with seafood.

After coffee, we decided to take a walk in the town. From Cortona, the winding scenic ride along the lake eventually brings you to this small fishing village, perhaps “on the map” as it is one of the places you can catch a ferry to Isola Polvese in the lake. San Feliciano is about 35-45 kilometers from Cortona, depending on your route.

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Being that it was a weekday, and not quite summer, the town was quiet and we had much of it to ourselves. Not sure how busy it gets in summer, but there are campgrounds nearby, so our timing was perfect. In addition, in late July each year, the town hosts the annual Festa del Giacchio, a festival that pays tribute to an old fishing technique dating back to Etruscan times. Although the technique is no longer used on the lake, during the festival there are demonstrations, competitions, and opportunities to participate in all kinds of events.

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Len has long wanted to rent a small boat and fish in Lake Trasimeno, and San Feliciano seems to fit the bill perfectly. Perhaps the best part for me is that Len can throw back whatever he catches, and after a relaxing day, we can all eat well at Ristorante Da Massimo, no fish cleaning or cooking required.

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Ristorante Da Massimo and San Feliciano, two great additions to our list of favorite places!

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Ciao,
Judy

Food, Friends, Family

30 Aug

The greatest benefit we enjoy in returning to Cortona year after year is the friends we have made. Many are local and others are repeaters who love the town and its people as much as we do. Being small in size, it’s nearly impossible to walk down the street and not see familiar faces. Friends here become extended family, and spending time with them is a favorite pastime.

Last night, 25 of us gathered for a traditional Italian celebration of friendship. When we arrived, the setting welcomed us with open arms:

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As did three generations of the family:

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The beautiful table would soon be filled with food and lots of conversation, and the bbq in the back let us know that grilled meats were part of the dinner.

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The challenge, of course, is pacing oneself.

First up, Aperitivo, almost a meal in itself. Everything is freshly cut and sliced. I’ve yet to be in an Italian kitchen that doesn’t have a deli sized meat slicer! This course is generally served with Prosecco, and soon the corks were popping.

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For Primo, we enjoyed homemade lasagna, both meat and vegetarian styles,

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Followed by melanzana, (eggplant parmigiana).

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For someone like me, who generally feels that pasta è basta, (pasta is enough), sticking to smaller portions is essential.

Next up, time for grilling. First the steaks…

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cooked to perfection.

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followed by sausages…

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and served with salad.

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At this point, almost all are leaning back in their chairs, taking a deep breath, and thinking they have reached the end…until…

Time for dessert!

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Fresh fig and fresh apple/pistachio tortes served with gelato, caramelized figs, and moscato, a sparkling white wine.

Una bellissima serrata, as we say here…a beautiful night… filled with great food, great friends, and lots of love. We also had a surprise visitor during Aperitivo. Our dear friend Ted (who is looking terrific!),  joined us via FaceTime. After everyone said their hellos, we raised our glasses and saluted him and his health with a rowdy round of Brindisino!

To you, Ted, from your Cortona family, buona salute!

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And many thanks to our hosts and dear friends for sharing their Italian traditions with us.

Ciao,
Judy

Ferragosto

15 Aug

Ferragosto is an Italian holiday celebrated on August 15 and coincides with the major Catholic feast of the Assumption of Mary. For many Italians, it is their summer vacation period and a time when many places of business also close their doors for vacation.

The Feriae Augusti, from which Ferragosto takes its name, comes from the “Festivals or Holiday of the Emperor Augustus” which was introduced in 18 BC.  The Feriae Augusti linked the various August festivals to provide a longer period of rest, called Augustali, which was felt necessary after the hard labour of the previous summer weeks.

Crowds flock to Cortona for this holiday, as they can enjoy live bands in the piazzas, various exhibits, and most of all, the Sagra della Bistecca held in the public gardens. This year numbers 57.

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Large open grills, built for the occasion, become the center of attraction in the public gardens. Those tending to the grills are seasoned veterans, and know just when to turn the bistecca. Seared on the outside, very rare in the middle.

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For 28 euro, you get a bistecca, potatoes, choice of beans or tomatoes, a peach, and some vino.

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Family and friends come together at long canopied tables to celebrate the holiday and share stories and laughter.

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Like every festival, there is music, even if just one man and his many accouterments.

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After dinner, many walk through town to marvel at the ancient city’s beauty.

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And if your family is like mine, and a peach doesn’t quite qualify as dessert, it’s time for gelato.

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Even the weather contributed to the weekend’s success  – bright blue skies, hot sun, and low humidity.

If you are thinking of Italy next summer, remember Cortona and Ferragosto.

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And if rare bistecca isn’t your thing, coming next weekend: the porcini festival!

Ciao,
Judy

 

 

 

Un Buon Lavoro!

28 May

Translated, the title means A Good Job, and in this case, several good jobs were accomplished at our friend’s home in the country. It all started with adding some cane to the iron fence for added privacy.

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After that, we planted the garden or orto, which despite two bouts of hail, is doing quite well…tomatoes, zucchini, peppers and onions.

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When Len asked, “What else?” Fernanda said the next job was too big, but alas, off we went in search of the best wooden sheds. And soon, the building process began.

Using extra bricks from the garden…

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And some pallets …

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ingenuity set in and the foundations began to emerge.

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Oh, did I mention she bought TWO sheds?

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Neighbors Bruna and Loreno heard the noise and wanted to be sure we had food for lunch, so they generously donated “supplies” from their very large garden and healthy hens.

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Shortly after, Loreno added his expertise to the construction team. As Carlo would say, Len was the design engineer,

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Loreno was the boss of the workers, and Carlo was the worker and translator.

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It was so interesting for me to observe the communication. Loreno speaks no English; Len, just a little Italian; and when Carlo needed to run to the store for more supplies, Len and Loreno’s hand gestures, smiles, frowns, grunts, eye movements and laughter worked well.

Since Fernanda was at work, my job was to be sure the team had espresso and biscotti breaks often, and also make them lunch, which in Italy, always includes pasta.

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By the time Fernanda came home from work, the first shed was nearly complete and the team was tired but satisfied.

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A few days later, work commenced on the second shed. Understanding the construction better, the work went smoothly,

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and roofing shingles were added for extra protection.

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Mission accomplished – two wooden sheds and a big smile from Fernanda.

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Fernanda planned a BBQ dinner celebration to thank everyone involved, and as you might expect, it was quite a dinner. She and Bruna headed to the butcher for the meat: ribs, sausages and steaks.

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Bruna brought supplies from her garden.

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Loreno was in charge of the grill – his hand-made steel grill which he brought over from his yard.

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Len and I brought lots and lots of wine. And then the eating began.

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Afterward, Barbara surprised us with her homemade desserts.

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It was a wonderful evening filled with great food and lots of laughter.

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Before the sun set, there was one more thing to do…

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The three “artists” each signed a door as a happy reminder of their effort. Un buon lavoro – A job well done, for sure!

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Next up? Time to return to Chicago for some rest!

Ciao,
Judy

 

 

 

 

The Mighty Chianina

14 Apr

If you’ve been to Italy, and Tuscany in particular, you’ve no doubt heard of bistecca fiorentina. I remember the first time we ordered one. It was over 15 years ago and we were having dinner in Firenze. Not being much of a carnivore, I was a bit surprised when it arrived at the table –  huge and very, very rare. I was about to ask to have it returned to the kitchen for a bit more grilling when Len and Benita said they’d be happy to eat it as is. And they did. They both said the steak was tender and flavorful. I took their word for it.

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Since that time, I have learned more about the steak and its origins. Chianina is one of the oldest and largest breeds of cattle, originating in the Valdichiana, hence its name. The cattle have been raised in the area for over 2200 years and were primarily used as oxen due to their size and strength. Being the tallest and heaviest breed of cattle, a mature bull can weigh over 3000 pounds and can grow to nearly 6 feet tall.

After WWII, machinery replaced these oxen in the fields, and chianina numbers began to dwindle until several breeders worked to bring back the breed. At the end of 2010, there were 47,236 head registered in Italy, of which more than 90% were in Tuscany, Umbria and Lazio.

For me, there are two other interesting things about them besides their size:
One, they are porcelain white;
Two, you never, ever see them.

Each year, we spend hours driving through the hills of Tuscany. We see the sights that paintings, no matter how good, can never quite duplicate. The hills are filled with farms, vineyards, and acres and acres of growing fruit trees, grains, vegetables, etc. But never, ever, a chianina. Not one.

Until now. Yesterday, I came face to face with some young chianina.

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In color or black and white, they are quite unique.

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Now for sure I don’t think I’ll ever eat a bistecca fiorentina!

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Ciao,
Judy

 

 

 

 

 

Ciambra Ristorante Monreale

21 Mar

Meet Michela and Marco, owners, and Gino, master chef of Ciambra, a two-month old seafood restaurant in the oldest part of Monreale.

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Coming to Sicily, we had expected that finding fresh seafood would be easy. But not so true for Monreale, which is on a hill overlooking Palermo and not adjacent to the sea. And then as luck would have it, we learned of a recently opened restaurant and met its owners. We had two nights left and ate at Ciambra both nights. Besides, for seafood lovers, their sign says it all.

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The decor of the restaurant is lovely with great attention to detail including the flowers, table settings, artwork, etc.

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But it’s the food that brings one back to Ciambra, and for good reason. Len said this might be some of the best seafood we have ever eaten. I agree.

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After we were seated, we were presented with fresh sardines, mixed with scallions and red peppercorns, on grilled toast. At home, I won’t touch a sardine, but I happily ate these.

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We asked Marco to select a bottle of wine for us from their large selection.

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For our appetizer, we ordered the seafood caponata consisting of fresh swordfish, eggplant, celery, tomatoes, onions and olives. Wonderfully seasoned.

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Then for Primo, we had linguine con vongole, one of the best we have ever eaten!

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For secondo, we chose sea bass on a bed of pureed potatoes and a vegetable torte. Delectable.

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Too full for dessert, we made a reservation for the following evening, when we repeated the linguine con vongole and then chose grilled swordfish and red gamberetti for dinner. Perfect.

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Although they were not on the menu, we asked for roasted potatoes.  If only my Dad could have tasted these! Amazing, and I have a feeling Chef Gino made them up just for us.

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Since it was our last night, we also shared a tiramisu for dessert. Luscious.

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What an unexpected find in a small town overlooking Palermo, but we are so very happy we did.

Our compliments to Chef Gino, and our very best wishes to Michela and Marco for a hundred years of success in both your restaurant and your soon to be married life together!

I nostri complimenti allo Chef Gino, ed i nostri migliori auguri a Michela e Marco per un centinaio di anni di successo sia il vostro ristorante e la vostra vita presto per sposarsi insieme!

And finally, given that we ate the linguine con vongole twice, I think I’ll leave you with another picture…if only I could share the taste and aroma! Heavenly.

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Ciao,
Judy and Len

Arrivederci Cortona – 2014

30 Jul

Some wonderful sights, sounds, smells, settings, 
and most of all,  salutes and smiles (and a bit of splash!)
that we will take home, in photos and in our hearts…

Sights:

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Bagnoli dei Trigno - blogginginitaly.com

Bagnoli dei Trigno – blogginginitaly.com

Gubbio - blogginginitaly.com

Gubbio – blogginginitaly.com

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Sounds:

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Terrenean Sea, Quercinella – ©Blogginginitaly.com

Marinelli Bell Foundry Agnone ©Blogginginitaly.com

Marinelli Bell Foundry, Agnone ©Blogginginitaly.com

Carmen in Cortona ©Blogginginitaly.com

Carmen, Cortona Teatro ©Blogginginitaly.com

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Smells:

Tuscher Cafe - blogginginitaly.com

Pasta with Melon and Ham, Tuscher Cafe – blogginginitaly.com

Pasta Napoletana, AD, ©Blogginginitaly.com

Pasta Neapolitana, AD Ristorante, ©Blogginginitaly.com

Pasta with Mozarella, rocket and Tomatoes, Domus Hotel, blogginginitaly.com

Pasta with Mozzarella, Greens and Tomatoes, Domus Hotel, blogginginitaly.com

Eggplant a la Giovanna©Blogginginitaly.com

Eggplant a la Giovanna©Blogginginitaly.com

Fernanda's Green Peppercorn Filet - ©Blogginginitaly.com

Fernanda’s Green Peppercorn Filet and Garden Vegetables – ©Blogginginitaly.com

Settings (come rain or shine):

Ivan, Lori & Tomas ©Blogginginitaly.com

Ivan, Lori & Tomas
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Lapo & Paola - ©Blogginginitaly.com

Lapo & Paola – ©Blogginginitaly.com

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Giovanna & Franco – ©Blogginginitaly.com

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Massimo & Daniela – ©Blogginginitaly.com

And most of all – Salutes:

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Smiles:

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And a bit of Splash!

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Grazie a tutti! 

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A prossimo!!! 

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Tanti Abbracci!

Giuditta e Leonardo

 

Ristorante El Comanchero

26 Jul

The stars at night are big and bright ….deep in the heart of ….

Cortona?

Yep, you read that right! Having lived in Austin for 10 years, I can recognize a bit of ol’ west cowboy, and believe me, there’s some in Cortona that’s as good as it gets. Really. So to my Austin friends, this one’s especially for you.

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In a million years, we would have never found this place, down a dirt road with as many twists and turns as a viper. But of course, it was no secret to Lapo and Paola. The sign reads Club House and American Saloon, but the front of the restaurant gives little indication of what awaits inside.

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And there it is – the dream realized of a born and bred cowboy, Franco. Note the resemblance in the painting.

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This is a 30+ year adventure of a man with a passion, “The Man who Lives on Horseback.”

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Watch your back, Clint…Franco’s got you cornered, and he has SIX Stetsons.

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And a collection gathered and also gifted by the many friends he has made over the years.

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I didn’t realize that my brother Bill left his Black Hawks jersey when he visited us here two years ago! (Actually, son Andrea picked up the jersey when in Chicago because of the Black Hawk.)

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This is a family run business and all are involved.

Franco, Gianluca, Ornella, Andrea -  ©Blogginginitaly.com

Franco, Gianluca, Ornella, Andrea –
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But let’s not forget about the food!

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Son Andrea tells us about the menu and specials,

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while some appetizers are brought to the table.

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We let them decide our menu, and it was not only international but also delicious.

Gnocchi

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Pasta with ragu

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Bison steak from the U.S. or Canada,

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Local chianina beef with green peppercorns,

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Grilled pork from Spain.

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While we were eating, Franco entertained us with his pet owl, Archimedes. Seriously.

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And Andrea brought along a one-month old they found abandoned.

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After dinner, we moved to one of the verandas for dessert and caffe,

where the stars at night are big and bright,
and the views, they go on forever!

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and Franco served grappa, not tequila, from a glass rifle.

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Before leaving,  a few more photos with the family,

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including Franco and all the wannabe cowboys, (well at least for the night)!

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Although we have walked nearly every street in Cortona over the last four years, this was such an unexpected and very fun surprise. The address is Localita Piazzanella, 247/A, but I doubt that will help you find them on a map. Funny thing is, the next day I mentioned our dinner to some local friends, and they’ve all been here. Go figure!

My toast to friends both near and far, and all whom I hold dear… do like Franco,

Grab those reins, sit tall in the saddle,
and never let go of your dream.

Ciao,

Judy

 

Ristorante AD Braceria

20 Jul

There is a wonderful new restaurant in Cortona called Ristorante AD Braceria. The ancient setting was rebuilt several times over many years from four small homes with a street down the middle and the building is still owned by the original family. What was the old street now runs through the center of the restaurant.

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Today, there are many intimate settings for dining…(if only these walls could talk!)

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Business partners Anna and Tito opened this wonderful restaurant which specializes in meat and fish, the latter being a great addition to Cortona, more known for Chianina beef. I felt an instant connection with Anna, as she is from Naples and her husband Marco is from Nola, southern towns where my maternal grandparents were born.

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Braceria can be translated as a carvery, or a place where they slice the meet to order, whether it is prosciutto, veal, or a chianina beef steak.

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At AD, the fish is always fresh.

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We have dined here many times with local and visiting friends and have enjoyed a variety of dishes each time.

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Our meals have been delicious and beautifully presented, and we often let Anna decide our menu. Here’s a sampling:

Shrimp carpaccio with burrata:

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Breaded Clams:

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Seafood salad with five grains:

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©Blogginginitaly.com

Salmon marinated with citrus fruits:

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©Blogginginitaly.com

Octopus salad with mashed potatoes:

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©Blogginginitaly.com

Mixed grilled seafood:

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©Blogginginitaly.com

Len having fun:

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©Blogginginitaly.com

Handmade fresh pasta stuffed with sea bass, shrimp and tomatoes:

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©Blogginginitaly.com

Rigatoni with artichokes, bacon and pecorino:

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©Blogginginitaly.com

Grilled chicken (wait time 35 minutes and well worth the wait!)

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©Blogginginitaly.com

Grilled fillet with rosemary:

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©Blogginginitaly.com

Handcut veal with rosemary:

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©Blogginginitaly.com

Fresh green beans with balsamic:

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©Blogginginitaly.com

And my very favorite –

Paccheri with braceria ragu (veal and pork):

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©Blogginginitaly.com

This pasta is a traditional peasant dish from Naples, made from the various cuts of meat, and simmered for 12 hours with tomatoes and wine. Note: THIS IS THE BEST PASTA I HAVE EVER EATEN!

As one might expect, the desserts are incredible.

Hot and dark chocolate cake with gelato:

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©Blogginginitaly.com

Daily fresh fruit sorbet, (on left) …Typical dessert from Napoli on right:

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©Blogginginitaly.com

We are delighted with the addition of this restaurant in Cortona. Incredible food in an incredible setting – Perfetto!

Ciao,

Judy

 

Making Pasta with Paola

27 Jun

Last night, we were at Casale della Torre again for dinner with our friends Larry and Carrol. As usual, it was such a treat and always a learning experience with Lapo and Paola in the kitchen.

We arrived to find Paola making fresh pasta.

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Naturally, I had to try this myself.

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After a few tips, they said I passed. It was just to get me out of their way, I think.

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Next up, Paola’s fried veggies including zucchini flowers, zucchini, and onions, freshly picked from their garden.

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The men moved outside to enjoy the view and the Prosecco, and wait patiently for the appetizers to arrive. They were also in charge of grilling the sausage.

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Meanwhile, Paola opened the treasure chest from the freezer…porcini mushrooms Lapo had found last fall, and had saved for Carrol and Larry’s arrival dinner. Such a treat for all of us.

Lapo's Porcini Find! - blogginginitaly.com

Lapo’s Porcini Find!

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Frozen porcini sections – blogginginitaly.com

After appertivo on the veranda, we moved inside for dinner. Gustavo, a guest of Larry and Carrol’s, and the evening’s assistant chef, had requested Tripe. Yikes! But the men were all happy and said it was delicious. The ladies just looked on with eyebrows raised as the men enjoyed several servings.

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Gustavo was very grateful!

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Next was two kinds of pasta – one with ragu of chianna beef, a Tuscan speciality, and the second with mushrooms. These were followed by a salad from the garden and the grilled sausage. Delicious.

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Finally, dessert – peaches marinated in Lapo’s red vino, vanilla gelato with mint sprig, and my hostess gift apple torta.

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We quickly learned no evening is complete without a taste of Lapo’s homemade liquors.

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At the end of a very relaxing and fun evening, Lapo decided that Gustavo reminded him of Popeye. And why not – here is a man who, along with his brother, rode his bike from Mexico City to Toronto back in the 50s! Lacking a pipe, Lapo gave Gustavo a wooden spoon and actually lit it.

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Before we left, Paola and Lapo invited us to make cheese with them the next day. Fresh pasta Thursday, cheese on Friday. My cup runneth over!

Ciao,

Judy

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