Back from Italy!

And fighting off a miserable head-cold that claimed me on Thursday, while I was in the middle of a wine tasting in Chianti: the nerve of it!

Betty and Sandy and I travelled to Tuscany. We left Toronto on the 17th, arrived in Rome at noon on the 18th, and were in Anghiari by about 7:30pm, and were entertained while we tried to sleep by what locals claim to be a thunderstorm they had not seen the likes of before. Our bedrooms had skylights, so the flashing of lightning overhead was really impressive.

Over the next while, I’m going to be going through some of the pictures I shot, some of the meals we ate out or made in our apartment in Anghiari, and my subsequent travels to Florence (and a few day trips).

I wanted to start off with our first dinner out, at Ristorante Da Alighiero in the lovely hill town of Anghiari. It’s run by a couple: she’s the chef, he’s front of house.

Choices, choices! To get appetizers or no: primi or no; secondi? How about contorni? Which wine? How about a local wine? I think we found one from the region; unfortunately, didn’t take a picture of the label, and can’t remember who made it. It was an adequate wine, not a great wine, but it served us well with dinner.

We made our decisions, and Gianni recommended one change: truffles were newly in season, so he suggested that we add the white bean with truffle soufflé to our list of contorni.

 First, an amuse guelle arrived, and it was one of the strangest looking things I’ve seen in a while.


Amuse Bouche

Strange to look at, but delightful to eat! It’s a purée of cauliflower, flavoured with some beet juice and flecked with some parsley. There may have been a little bit of cheese in it, but not enough for us to definitely declare it so, or what type of cheese it was.  When we got this, we realized that we weren’t in for just a usual meal.

Even the bread basket was beautiful and provided us with 4 different choices.

 Bread Basket

We shared the side dishes, so each of us got to try a bit of this, a bit of that. The sautéed mushrooms were a big hit, packing wonderfully rich mushroom taste that had been concentrated by letting enough of the water evaporate from them to turn them into meaty chunks.

Mixed MushroomsOne dish I was curious about was the vegetable terrine. I’m going to have to adapt this and try it myself. None of the flavours was extraordinary; we didn’t get the sense of a lot of seasoning in the dish. Just good, solid potato, carrot, spinach. An enjoyable way to get a variety of veggies.Vegetable TerrineAnd the side dish that Gianni said we should have? Sylvia could get a lot of willing slaves with this one. Oh, was it good.White Bean Truffle Souffle

It doesn’t really look like much, does it? I would hesitate to call it a soufflé, because it didn’t have the characteristics of one, and clearly wasn’t baked like one. But oh! The flavour. This is something I will try to do at home using white beans and some white truffle olive oil. That’s the essence of the dish: a purée of beans with the toe-curling fragrance of truffles.And what of the main dishes? We all had different meat dishes, and they were well flavoured and beautifully presented. I think that Betty’s is really award winning, for the cucumber flower off to one side of the plate:

Bettys Duck

This is duck breast cooked with garlic and rosemary. Betty said the flavours were well matched, and that nothing overpowered anything else. I don’t think any of the three of us used our knives to cut our meat, it was all so very tender.Sandy’s meat dish was pork tenderloin, cooked in port.Sandys Pork

And me? I chose liver. Liver is something that the townspeople of Anghiari seem very fond of. An appetizer plate will come with some toast with liver paté on it; going for before-dinner drinks at the local sometimes included that as one of the nibblies (potato chips, olives, sometimes peanuts, sometimes bruscetta). We walked into the local butcher one day, and the slight smell of freshly-made liver paté had us all salivating.Here was the liver plate:

Pats Liver main course

 The baby beef liver was smooth, creamy, and cooked properly (pink on the inside). Bitter liver is a sign of overcooking.

One of the pieces was propped up on a whole clove of (cooked) garlic, which I ate. I ate one of the sage leaves with a fork of liver, and found that the raw, unmodified sage overwhelmed it. Maybe if it was deep-fried into crispy bits, or if it was served as a chiffonade, rather than so many leaves (they looked great on the plate, though!).

Dessert? Sylvia came out of the kitchen to let us know what our dessert opportunities were; alas, we were all full.

I think the price worked out to around 35 Euros each — really good deal for the quantity and quality of food we received.

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