I first visited Verona thirty years ago. I was in Venice having lunch with an aunt and two cousins who I had never met before. During the memorable lunch, which you can read about here, it emerged that my eldest cousin, Silvia, sang in the chorus at the Arena di Verona—a well-preserved Roman amphitheater where a summer season of operas are staged in a manner that Cecil B DeMille would be proud of—and was appearing in Aida that evening. A moment of summer madness resulted in my going with her (Verona is about an hour away from Venice) and hearing Verdi’s music soaring up to the stars while a cast of a thousand ballerinas danced on a vast pyramid behind the stage.
We’ve been waking up to temperatures of about -4°C at La Madera this week, proving that the Mediterranean climate is an extreme one. So, while we wait for the return of the 38°C days we experienced last summer, it’s time for winter comfort food: and here’s some from my childhood, pasta e fagioli, or as they say in Venice, pasta e fasioi.
Exploring the wines of the new Tuscan revolution
When people think of Tuscan wine, they think of Chianti, and rightly so because the Chianti region occupies the majority of the wine producing area of central Tuscany, and is the third largest Italian region in terms of DOC/G production.
Most people are aware also that forty years ago, there was a revolution in Tuscan wine precipitated by a perceived drop in quality of Chianti. At this time, a number of producers stopped adhering to the rules of the Chianti DOC and started producing the wines they wanted to make with a heavy focus on quality. Today, these wines—most notably Sassicaia and Tignanello—are known as ‘super Tuscans’ and are recognized as amongst the very best Italian wines.
What few people know, is that a similar revolution has been taking place, quietly over the last ten years and today we are enjoying the first fruits. This time, producers are seeking to produce quality wines by rediscovering both traditional methods and old grape varieties that were eclipsed by mass production and the ubiquitous Sangiovese.
Watch me make peposo, an amazing Tuscan winter warmer stew. This dish originated with the workers in the terracotta factories of Impruneta, near Florence, back in medieval times. Like them, I use a traditional terracotta pot, but you could make this in a slow cooker, or a normal dutch oven. Nowadays, some people add a small amount of tomato puree to this dish, but it was invented long before the arrival of the tomato in Italian cuisine. You need to cook this for a minumum of two to three hours: four, five, even six is better. The Tuscans eat this on top of a slice of toasted pane sciocco, which is unsalted, but any good rustic bread will do.
1kg (2 1/4 pounds) beef
18g (2/3 ounce) salt
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
6 cloves of garlic
1/2 liter (2 cups) Chianti
4 slices of Tuscan bread
- Put all the ingredients into a terracotta pot, dutch oven, or slow cooker.
- Cover and cook in the oven at 150-160°C (300-320°F) for 2-3 hours.
- Toast the bread and serve the stew on top.