EUROPE: 21 Days Solo Traveling ~ Easter Weekend in Tuscany

DAY 5 – Journey to Tuscany

April 15, 2017, Black Saturday and I’m off to Tuscany! From Roma Termini Station I took the Frecciargento high speed train to Firenze Sta. Maria Novella Station. I bought my ticket online at Trenitalia website for 47 euros. 

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My train to Tuscany, Trenitalia’s Frecciargento high-speed train.
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The interior of Trenitalia’s Frecciargento high-speed train

It only took about 2 hours then I arrived at Firenze Santa Maria Novella Station, which is the central station of Tuscany.

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Firenze-Sta. Maria Novella Station

From there I rode a local train to Figline Valdarno Station for about 25 minutes and arranged a pick-up service with my host outside the station.

I was fetched by Mr. Nazareno Betti, father of my host Matteo Betti. I will be staying at IL Maraviglio, a family-run bed & breakfast in Reggello, a country town about 40km outside of Florence.

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Tall cylindrical shape cypress trees are common in Tuscany.
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Old stone houses with sweeping landscape views of uneven hills
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Around 4pm I arrived at this old and quaint little village, and IL Maraviglio is the one with the red door.
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The living room of IL Maraviglio looks cozy and homey.

The moment I stepped inside, I smelled the heavenly aroma of a chocolate cake baking in the oven.

20170415_180122The kitchen is downstairs where I met Serena, Matteo’s girlfriend, and she brought me to my room.

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My room for two nights here at IL Maraviglio

Back in the kitchen I met other guests including a newlywed couple from San Diego, California in their honeymoon. We all sat there talking about are travel experiences while watching Serena prepare dinner.

20170415_195457Matteo arrived from the farm and offered us a glass of Prosecco, an Italian sparkling white wine.

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My new favorite wine, Prosecco, an Italian sparkling white wine.

As soon as Matteo and Serena were done cooking, we all sat in the dining room and enjoyed the food.

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Tortiglioni Amatriciana. A very simple but VERY tasty recipe of Matteo. The amatriciana sauce he did was just onions (no garlic), pancetta and tomatoes cooked in their homemade olive oil. Buonissimo!
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Asparagus with Pecorino cheese. A very simple dish of sauteed asparagus and garlic in olive oil wit melted pecorino cheese.
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Gorgonzola Cheese
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Sun dried tomatoes in olive oil
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Sauteed green beans with tomatoes.
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Mixed greens salad with healthy seeds, shredded carrots and Tuscan dressing

It was probably the best meal I ever had so far in Italy! I believe that the key elements in Tuscan cuisine are farm-fresh ingredients, simple cooking techniques and really good homemade olive oil (yes, they make their own olive oil from their olive grove.)

After that delightful dinner, Serena surprised my fellow guest with the birthday cake she baked earlier.20170415_224641

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Serena’s homemade Chocolate Coconut Cake
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Me and fellow guests with our amazing hosts Matteo and Serena.

We all enjoyed dinner and the conversations over wine after. We stayed in the dining room until almost midnight just talking to each other and sharing experiences. I now understand that Italians does not only love to cook and drink wine but they also love to spend time with family or friends at the dinner table mingling and bonding with each other.

This is one of the things I love about traveling. Making new friends from other parts of the world and enjoying delicious local cuisine. My first night in Tuscany is truly memorable and I will always remember this forever.


DAY 6 – Easter Sunday and Cooking lessons

April 16, 2017 Easter Sunday.

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Buongiorno! What a beautiful view to wake up to.

I had a long and relaxing sleep last night. Much needed after traveling for the past 5 days in Italy. It’s a beautiful day today. The sun is up, the weather was perfect and I see the beautiful landscape around.

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Bright flowers in bloom at the terrace.

I walked out to breathe the fresh Tuscan air. The view from the terrace is spectacular. Rolling hills with vast green landscape, vertical cypress trees, old rustic houses and flowers in full bloom.

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Pretty lavender flowers fill up the trellis.
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Walking around the village in my OOTD
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Olive grove near the IL Maraviglio where they harvest olives to make their own olive oil.

When I came back the house, breakfast was already served at the dining room.

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There is Carmel, a fellow guest from Australia and she will also be my buddy at the cooking lessons today.
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Breakfast at IL Maravilgio. We had Tuscan-style omelette, bread, cereals, homemade yogurt, jams, fruits, milk, coffee, tea and fruit juices.

After breakfast,  Matteo pulled me and Carmel into the kitchen to start with the cooking lessons. This is one of the reasons why I booked this B&B because they offer cooking lessons to their guests and they have the best rate that I researched so far. At 60 euros per person and in a relaxed homey setting I think it’s a good deal for a cooking enthusiasts like me.

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It is Easter Sunday and we are cooking a special meal because Matteo’s whole family is coming for lunch. No pressure!

First, Matteo taught us how to make a traditional Tuscan dessert, Torta della Nonna (Grandmother’s Cake).  Its custard baked on a pie crust covered with a pastry topping. First we made the custard by mixing egg yolks, sugar, vanilla and milk then heating it on low heat with constant stirring. Carmel watched over the custard while I do the crust. I mixed the flour, baking soda, salt and eggs and rolled it to form the crust.

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Me and Carmel with Matteo for our cooking lesson today. He teaches us how to make a custard filling for our dessert.

We baked the crust for a few minutes. At that moment we can already smell the creamy custard. Carmel took it out from the heat and let it cool on the side.

20170416_100428While waiting, Nazareno came in to teach us to cook two dishes, Sugo Nero (Tuscan Meat sauce, usually for pasta) and Pork & Lamb Arista (Italian Pot Roast).

To make the Sugo Nero, first we chopped and grind garlic and Soffritto, the trinity of onions, celery and carrots. Then we also grind the chicken liver and gizzard to make them the same size as the ground pork and beef that we are mixing it with.

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Carmel and I chopping the Soffritto (onion, carrots and celery)

Then we sautéed the vegetables with the ground meat, liver and gizzard; put in some wine, their homemade tomato sauce and water and let it simmer for long hours.

While the Sugo Nero is simmering, Nazareno taught us how to cook the Arista. First, Nazareno prepared the Pork and Lamb by doing a butterfly cut on the meat while Carmel and I chopped some garlic and sage.

We rubbed the butterflied pork and lamb with the chopped garlic and sage with salt and pepper.

20170416_102910Then Nazareno taught us how to tie the stuffed pork and lamb with a string before searing them in a deep roasting pot with their homemade olive oil.

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After searing all sides, Nazareno poured in some white wine to deglaze the pot. And it sizzles!

The pie crust for the Torta della Nonna is done and cooled. It’s time to pour in the custard. Matteo told me to shape it like a small hill and covered it with a thin layer of pastry topping and then baked it in the oven for a few minutes until the pastry topping is golden brown.

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The Sugo Nero has been simmering for an hour so Nazareno let us taste it by putting them on crostini with some red wine.

Break time while appreciating our beautiful view.

When the wine on the Pork/Lamb Roast dried up, Nazareno poured in a bit more wine and water to deglaze the pot and turned over the meat. This is to make sure they have even coloring and flavor on all sides.

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Look at the caramelization of the pork and lamb! Yummy!

Next, we cooked some vegetable side dishes.

20170416_122816We cooked Peas with Pancetta. We sautéed garlic, sage and pancetta in olive oil then threw in the thawed frozen peas. Seasoned with salt and freshly ground pepper.

20170416_121544Then we cooked Artichokes. Matteo taught me how to clean and chop the artichokes, soak them in water with lemon juice to prevent them from browning. Then we sautéed garlic in olive oil then threw in the chopped artichokes. When the artichokes are tender, we sprinkled more lemon juice then seasoned with salt and freshly ground pepper. Done.

20170416_143136Matteo’s family is starting to arrive. Her sister Giulia set up the table while we are finishing cooking.

20170416_122627The Sugo Nero has been cooking for about 4 hours and it’s time to mix it with our pasta which is fettucine. The pork and lamb is done also so Nazareno did the honor of slicing and putting them into the serving plates while I spoon the reduced sauce to the pork and lamb.

LUNCH IS READY!

It’s now time to taste the fruit of our labor! Buon appetito!

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For the first plate, Fettucine with the Sugo Nero sauce.
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Main course is the Pork & Lamb Arista with the peas and artichoke side dishes. Also everyone gets an easter egg.

When it’s dessert time, Matteo and I went back to the kitchen to plate the Torta della Nonna. He asked me to dust some powdered sugar on top before slicing them.

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Everyone get’s a slice of the Torta della Nonna.
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And of course, the perfect pair for our dessert is my favorite Moscato wine.
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Groufie with Matteo’s family and fellow guests.

It was a big family feast! But what I love most about today is that I was able to experience the authentic Tuscan-style home cooking, feeling the energetic atmosphere of a real Italian family dining together and of course I really enjoyed the delicious homemade meals we had. I thought yesterday was great but today was even better.

20170416_192256After that amazing lunch experience, I sat on a ledge by the terrace as I watch the sunset and change the colors of the surroundings making it more dramatic and charming.

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I really had an amazing weekend in this beautiful B&B. It was a refreshing break from the busy itinerary I had in Rome and a perfect recharge sanctuary for my upcoming travel to Florence. I can really say that this is probably the best part of my trip so far.

…To be continued (Part 3 – Florence and the Renaissance)

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