As the cooler months arrive in Le Marche, our ingredients change with the weather pattern and we adapt our recipes to the local produce around us.
Years ago, I once asked a neighbour what he did when he wanted to eat strawberries in November and he looked genuinely confused. Why would I want to eat strawberries in November, they grow in summer! Nature takes care of us during the different seasons and the earth gives us what we need. I eat oranges in winter because we need their vitamin C.
After this short, but very interesting conversation I started to change my focus on food. It isn’t always about what we want to eat, but what we should be eating, produce that grows naturally during the seasons each year. As the months and ingredients change, so does the family table in Italy.
November is prime truffle time here and truffles represent the greatest culinary treasure of the gastronomic area of Le Marche.
Try out one of our favourite truffle recipes, it’s quick and easy to prepare and truly delicious.
RECIPE – Truffle Pasta
Cooking Time: 20 Mins
Serves: 4 people
fresh black truffle
Grate cheese. Cook pasta in a large pot of salted boiling water until al dente, according to package instructions.
Meanwhile, melt butter in a large sauté pan.
Reserve some of the pasta water before straining.
Add cooked pasta to sauté pan and toss to coat with butter.
Add grated cheese and some pasta water to loosen mixture to desired consistency and mix to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Thinly shave black truffle over each bowl at the table. Enjoy!
If you want to experience delicious, locally grown food and fine wine visit Le Marche.
For more information on Le Marche and factional ownership opportunities with Appassionata’s Italian lifestyle brand go to www.appassionata.com , or contact Dawn directly email@example.com
Years ago, growing up in England, olive oil was something we used a few times a year when we had guests over to impress. Unless you were prepared to pay a King’s Ransom the olive oil on sale was pretty basic and tasteless. Fast forward a few years and I treat olive oil the same as wine, with respect and enjoyment. Here in Le Marche, we are blessed to be surrounded by olive groves. The olive tree is a dominant and enduring feature of the Italian landscape, and the months of October and November are spent picking and pressing the olives and trimming the trees.
The olive tree ranges in size from a small shrub to an immense, gnarled tree, spreading it’s branches far and wide. It yields both fruit for eating, as well as a rich prize of precious olio di oliva, the basis of the so-called Mediterranean diet. Olive oil, and especially olio extra vergine di oliva (extra virgin olive oil) is certainly one of the greatest gifts Italy gives to the world. Olive oil is widely considered a superfood, being both very healthy and utterly delicious. No surprise, then, that it fits in so well with today’s modern lifestyles and diets.
A Few Facts
The traditional production of this trendy modern superfood has changed little since time immemorial and essentially remains a very simple process. The olives are harvested and ideally taken to the frantoio – the olive oil mill – as quickly as possible. The first phase is known as la frangitura whereby the whole olives are ground to a paste.
In the old style traditional frantoio, this was done utilising slowly revolving granite and stone millstones. Then the ground olive paste was layered into straw or fibre mats placed on top of each other in a press. Extra virgin oil would come from la prima spremitura fredda, the first cold pressing, whereby under gentle pressure, the liquid was extracted from the olive paste. This liquid consisted of both oil and water contained within the olives. The liquids had to be separated and this was normally achieved either by using a centrifuge or simply by decanting.
In modern state of the art frantoi, technology is now used to make sure we get the best possible product. Producers have full control of the whole process, modern machines are used, leaving no room for a second pressing. In modern systems the label “first press” is often more of a marketing tool than a real reflection of the production methods.
In both cases, the old style frantoi and the modern ones, the olive oil produced after these important phases is unfiltered olio extra vergine d’oliva, extremely low in oleic acid (by law less than 1%) and traditionally stored in large earthenware urns known as orci or in modern stainless steel containers. Such oil, when made from carefully harvested olives and straight from the frantoio, is undoubtedly one of the greatest and most special food products on earth.
KEEP AWAY FROM THE LIGHT – Extra virgin olive oil should be stored at cool temperatures, away from light and without exposure to oxygen. The oil is happier stored in dark glass bottles or tin containers and always close the bottle as soon as you finish using it. Keep it in a cupboard and it will prolong the taste.
EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL DOES NOT AGE WELL –Check the date on the bottle and make sure you are getting oil produced during the last harvest. Buy only the quantity you might need for the year to make sure you are not stuck with old olive oil when the new oil is out on the shelves.
GREEN COLOUR DOES NOT AUTOMATICALLY MEAN TOP QUALITY – The most emphasized characteristics of extra virgin olive oil is often the colour. It should range between green and yellow. However, a deep green colour does not automatically indicate a better quality oil. The professional olive oil tasters use blue or green coloured tasting glasses so not to influence their final judgment. Focus on taste, smell and acidity levels rather than colour when buying extra virgin olive oil.
FIRST PRESS AND COLD PRESS – Remember that quite often the label “first press” is only a marketing tool and does not really mean that there were two different pressing phases. Extra virgin olive oil must be produced entirely without the use of any solvents, and under temperatures that will not degrade the oil (less than 86°F, 30°C). If it was not produced “cold press” it cannot be extra virgin olive oil.
10 Reasons To Love ‘Liquid Gold’
Olive oil is rich in healthy monounsaturated fats.
Contains large amounts of antioxidants.
Strong anti-inflammatory properties.
Olive may help to prevent strokes.
Protects against heart disease.
May reduce the risk Type 2 diabetes.
The antioxidants in olive oil have anti-cancer properties.
Can help treat rheumatoid arthritis.
Has antibacterial properties.
May help fight Alzheimer’s disease.
A Little Beauty Hack – Olive Oil Hair Mask
One of my favourites…
½ cup of olive oil
2 tablespoons of honey
1 egg yolk
Just mix together all the ingredients to a smooth paste. Apply to your hair and leave on for twenty minutes. Wash off with warm water and then apply your favourite conditioner, rinse again, dry and admire.
For more information on Le Marche and fractional ownership opportunities with Appassionata’s Italian lifestyle brand go to www.appassionata.com , or contact Dawn directly firstname.lastname@example.org.
This is a question I have been asked many times over the past few years. While I don’t like to generalise, the common theme is people who want to experience real Italy, immerse themselves in the culture and history, value the importance of family and of course the great cuisine!
For our family, for our business, Le Marche is the perfect place. Trying to find some authenticity in this crazy, busy world is getting more and more difficult. Sometimes we just need to escape the chaos and experience something real and true.
Le Marche prides itself on being quintessentially Italian and that’s what people fall in love with, and it still remains one of Italy’s best kept secrets.
A Leader or Follower?
There are some people who are leaders, they are adventurous and like to make their own discoveries, each day is exciting and they have a thirst for knowledge. Some people are followers, they go where others have been and see what others have seen. They like to travel the well trodden path.
Most visitors to Italy travel to the main tourist cities like Rome and Florence and bask on the beaches along the Amalfi Coast. These places are amazing and definitely worth a visit, but does this give you a true insight into the real Italy?
For those of us who really like to get under the skin of a country and integrate with the locals rather than be surrounded by thousands of tourists, Le Marche is the place. I prefer to hear the beautiful tones of the Italian language being spoken while drinking my early morning coffee, rather than my mother tongue.
Picture a place where mountains roll gently down to a stunning coastline of blue flag beaches, dotted with restaurants serving the catch of the day.
A patchwork vista really does exist here, a blend of olive groves and vineyards and fields of sunflowers shimmering in the sun ….. sometimes I feel like I’m driving through a film set. Generation after generation have farmed the land for hundreds of years, growing produce for their family or selling it onto the local shops and restaurants.
This is a region brimming with ancient churches, abbeys and monasteries. Tiny village theatres, with fresco ceilings and gold leaf mouldings are found tucked away along the cobbled streets of virtually every medieval village. I have had the great privilege of watching many productions over the past years and I often have to pinch myself that I’m not in Covent Garden. I’m sitting in a tiny, exquisite, eighty seat theatre, built hundreds of years ago in a hill top town in Le Marche, but the standard, the professionalism and the dedication is the same
How Do You Spend Your Time?
I like to stay busy, which is good as I have four children, two grandchildren, four rescue horses, two rescue dogs, and six cats, and I work…..
Whatever your interests and passions there are so many possibilities here.
It’s All About the Experience
Here is a brief snap shot of our down time in Le Marche.
Monday evening was magical, sitting under the stars in the piazza of the museum, Polo Museale di San Francesco, in the town of Montefiore dell ‘Aso, watching an old Italian movie L’Albero Degli Zoccoli. This museum dates back to 1264 and the painting Polyptch by the famous artist Carlo Crivelli is the centre piece.
Sergio, the owner of Osteria della Cornacchie, one of our local restaurants, kindly invited our family over for dinner on Tuesday as a thank you for being one of his best customers. He is famous for his sense of humour, and polenta served on a wooden board. Italians travel for miles to taste this speciality and enjoy the great atmosphere.
Early to bed on Wednesday evening, as we had a 4.30am alarm call on Thursday morning. A sunrise concert performed by the violinist Valentino Alessandrini, down on the beach in the seaside town of Pedaso. The music, the setting, everything was totally breath taking. The waves crashing against the rocks added to the emotion of this very special occasion. It was certainly worth the early start and I will definitely be returning again next year.
Friday is the day I love to cycle along the promenade, which runs for miles alongside the beach. I pull over for a cappuccino, chat to the locals and browse the local market in San Benedetto. I can never resist stopping off for lunch in Grottamare at one of the best seafood restaurants in the world, Il Grecale.
Saturday evening…… this was something I have always wanted to experience, La Cena in Vigna, dinner in the vines. One of our local cantina’s, Dea Flora, organised a wonderful evening of food, wine and live music. A magical setting, with shooting stars lighting up the night sky.
Our philosophy is to celebrate and share the very best Italy has to offer, without compromise.
To find out more about the magic of Le Marche and our luxurious holiday homes, please contact me.
The history of Agostini olive oil is a story of passion, tradition and excellence. A story that began in 1945, a business handed down from father to son, today, in its third generation. The Agostini company has created a unique olive oil, ensuring the highest quality and an unforgettable taste.
The Agostini Olive Mill has been nominated as one of the 200 best olive oil mills in the world, by the prestigious food sector magazine Der Feinschmecker. They are multiple gold medal winner in Italian and international competitions.
The company is located in Petritoli, in the Marche Region of Italy. Nestled between the Sibillini Mountains and the Adriatic Sea, where the air is pure and fresh, and the climate is ideal for olive trees.
In Le Marche the culinary heritage of oil dates back from the ancient Romans. In 1945 Alfredo Agostini started to produce olive oil in a small olive mill. Now, his son Gaetano Agostini is managing the company with his sons Marco and Elia, and his brother Maurizio.
Gaetano Agostini has been able to reproduce the same traditional process to make an extra virgin olive oil.
He personally selects only the finest quality olives. He carefully oversees each single step of the production, to obtain and guarantee a product with authentic quality and taste.
At the Agostini Mill the harvest is done by hand and the pressing takes place within 6-12 hours. First the cold press to allow the final oil a larger amount of natural antioxidants, polyphenols, vitamins and carotene, important for healthy living.
The passion and the commitment from the Agostini family has resulted in them winning several prestigious awards.
Over the years, their growing dedication to olive oil has made them continue in the direction of key guiding principles: Quality, Sustainability and Innovation with an absolute respect for the Land.
Agostini has embarked upon an Enterprise Project, focusing on sustainability and biodiversity. They believe that the land and its welfare will become the primary interest of our society in the future. An Enterprise based on dignity, of the people and of the land.
They began to implement this idea by starting the production of Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Its application for certification was made 17 years ago, and was promptly acknowledged in 2002 after three years of assessment.
Their main concern was to pursue the ultimate aim and minimize the environmental impact.
In 2010 they decided to abandon the old energy supply systems and focus on Renewable Energy, investing in a solar energy panel system placed on the roof of the olive mill. They chose to use renewable energy without needlessly occupying green space
This also allowed them to become completely energy-independent, while reducing close to zero c
arbon dioxide (CO2) emissions resulting from the use of the traditional energy supply systems.
They also looked at the issue around disposal of the waste products. In 2012 they decided to make a
step further in theminimization of the environmental impact. They installed a machine to extract the “Olive pit granules” from the processing waste. A 100% natural and ecological biomass fuel. In this way they are now able to recover an important and optimal natural source of energy which is usually thrown away.
Here’s our favourite variety from the Agostini Oil Mill, a gold medal winner in both Italy and New York!
Extra Virgin Olive Oil – Sublìmis
Oil extracted in Italy from olives cultivated in Italy.
Variety/Cultivar:: Frantoio e Carboncella.
Harvest Time: October/November.
Max Acidity: 0,3.
Pac: Glass Bottle 0,250 Lt; 0,500 Lt; 0,750 Lt.
Type of Harvesting: Hand-picked.
Extraction System: Continuous Cycle, cold pressing ( within the first 12 hours after the harvesting).
Flavor:Intense aroma with strongly grassy hints. It has an intense artichoke taste and light scent of almond and tomato.
Food Pairing: Excellent on grilled meats, legumes soups, bruschetta and on all dishes enhancing the rich taste of mediterranean cooking.
The award winning Agostini Family:
One of our American owners,Debbie Yackal, was so impressed after tasting the oil she now ships and sells it in the US. Please check out her website:
Here’s one of our favourite recipes, probably because it’s quick, easy and delicious!
Spaghetti alle vongole
Spaghetti with clams and cherry tomatoes
This is a light, fresh and yet full flavoured pasta dishes so frequently served along the coast. Small clams are usually used for this recipe.
The spaghetti remains in bianco (without a tomato sauce). The cherry tomato halves are tossed into the pan at the last minute to heat them through.
Here we go –
1 kg (2lb 4oz) small, fresh clams
4 tablespoons olive oil plus a little extra
3 garlic cloves peeled and finely chopped
1 small dried red chilli, crumbled
1 medium bunch of parsley, chopped
125 ml (1/2 cup of white wine, plus a glass for drinking while cooking!!)
500 g (1 lb 2oz) spaghetti
200 g (7oz) ripe cherry tomatoes, halved
Soak the clams in lightly salted water for a few hours. Change the water frequently and drain in a colander to get rid of any sand. Rinse and drain well.
Heat the olive oil in a large wide stockpot. Add the garlic, chilli and half the parsley. When you begin to smell the garlic, add the clams and the white wine. Turn up the heat to high, put a lid on, and cook for 5 minutes or until the clam shells have opened.
Remove from the heat and discard any clams that have remained tightly closed. Remove about half of the clams from the shells, discard the shells and return the clam meat back to the pan. Leave the rest of the clams in their shells.
Cook the spaghetti in boiling, salted water. While the spaghetti is cooking, add the cherry tomatoes to the clam pan and season with salt and pepper. Return to the heat for a few minutes to heat through. Drain the spaghetti when it is ready and add to the clam pan, toss with a pair of tongs.
Coat the clams with the liquid from the clams. Put into individual pasta bowls, sprinkle with the remaining parsley and serve immediately, with a drizzle of olive oil.
Fabulous with a slice or two of fresh bread to dunk and a glass of Passerina to drink!
Over the coming months we want to share a selection of seasonal recipes with you, from the heart of Italy.
Year after year, as the months and ingredients change, so does the family table. We prepare and serve what is in season, strawberries are ready in April, we don’t eat them in December! The earth gives us what we need, oranges and their vitamin C in winter and refreshing watermelons arrive in August.
Ingredients vary, not just seasonally, but monthly. Sometimes subtly, sometimes dramatically. Each month passes and we see a change in the fields. The locals are passionately involved with their surroundings and respect the land. They lovingly sow their crops and naturally reap most of their produce in the summer months.
Some products are ever present, carrots, celery, sage and rosemary, and they form the basis of most casserole dishes.
Here in Le Marche the quality of the ingredients is very important. Dishes are simple and delicious. A piece of meat, grilled and transformed with lashings of local olive oil, a peach eaten off the tree after lunch. The gorgeous artichoke dipped in lemon juice and luminous green olive oil. Tomatoes bursting with the scent of summer.
It’s April and the weather has changed. We are surrounded by flowering fruit blossom. Their beautiful colours reveal the imminent peach and plum harvest. There is tarragon and rocket and the wonderful arrival of succulent strawberries, which help to rid the body of toxins, accumulated over the winter, with their slightly astringent qualities.
April is the month of spring cleaning and Easter. Artichokes are now in the fields. Their tall, solid, lilac crowned stalks stand proudly in smart lines.
This week’s recipe – starting with something simple.
Carciofi Ripieni – Stuffed artichokes, perfect served with roast lamb.
12 medium globe artichokes
1 medium bunch of parsley, chopped
4 garlic gloves, peeled and finely chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil
30g (1oz) butter
500ml (2 cups) vegetable stock
Rinse the artichokes and trim the tough outer leaves.
Cut away about a third of the top spear of each artichoke. Cut away the stem completely, in line with the artichoke bottom.
Put each artichoke bottom side up, onto a wooden chopping board. Push gently against the artichoke with your hand to widen the central cavity of the artichoke. Using scissors, snip away any top spikes of the internal small leaves.
Mix the chopped parsley and garlic together and divide the mixture between the artichoke cavities and the leaves.
Put the artichokes upright in a high rimmed saucepan, where they can fit in a single layer. Drizzle with the olive oil, season with salt and pepper and add the stock. Put a knob of butter into each artichoke and bring the stock to the boil. Spoon over a little of the stock, lower the heat, cover and simmer for 30-40 minutes, until the artichokes are tender. Remove the lid and continue cooking to reduce the liquid until only a little remains.
Pasqua is upon us, one of those special times of year that Italian families all get together to celebrate.
While you probably won’t see the Easter bunny , this a popular holiday celebrated as only Italians do. The days leading up to Easter include solemn processions and mass, Pasqua is a joyous celebration marked with rituals and traditions. The Monday following Easter, La Pasquetta, is also a public holiday throughout Italy. Church is always full, you will definitely not find a seat, standing room only. Many churches have special statues of the Virgin Mary and Jesus which are paraded through their village or displayed in the piazza. Parade participants are often dressed in traditional costumes, olive branches and palm fronds are carried during the processions and adorn the churches. At the end of the church service olive branches are given out to everyone to symbolise peace. These olive branches are kept in your house and exchanged the following easter for the new branch.
Easter Food in Italy
Easter symbolises the end of Lent, which requires sacrifice and reserve, food plays a big part in the celebrations. Traditional Easter foods across Italy may include some of these classic recipes – carciofi fritti (fried artichokes), a main course of either capretto o agnellino al forno (roasted goat or baby lamb) or capretto cacio e uova (kid stewed with cheese, peas, and eggs), and carciofi e patate soffritti, a delicious vegetable side dish of sautéed artichokes with baby potatoes. As most people are aware Italian cooking is very regional so dishes do vary. The centre of Italy – Le Marche, Tuscany, Emilia Romagna and Umbria will no doubt have for the first course cappelletti with ragu’. Meaning “little hats”, made with fresh egg pasta and filled with 3 different types of mixed meats generally pork, veal & chicken, the pasta is then made into the shape of little hats and served with a mixed meat or wild boar ragu’.
A holiday meal in Italy would not be complete without a traditional dessert, and during Easter there are several. Italian children finish their dinner with a rich bread shaped like a crown and studded with colored Easter egg candies. Another treat is the Colomba cake, a sweet, eggy, yeasted bread (like panettone plus candied orange peel, minus the raisins, and topped with sugared and sliced almonds) shaped in one of the most recognizable symbols of Easter, the dove. The Colomba cake takes on this form because la colomba in Italian means dove, the symbol of peace and an appropriate finish to Easter dinner.
Uova di Pasqua ‘Easter Eggs’
Although Italians do not decorate hard–boiled eggs, the biggest Easter displays can be seen in all the bars, pastry shops and supermarkets. The chocolatiers sell brightly wrapped uova di Pasqua—chocolate Easter eggs—in sizes ranging from 10 grams (1/3 ounce) to 8 kilos (nearly 18 pounds).
Some producers distinguish between their chocolate eggs for children and expensive “adult” versions. All except the tiniest eggs contain a surprise. Grown–ups often find their eggs contain little silver picture frames or gold–dipped costume jewelry. The very best eggs are handmade by artisans of chocolate, who offer the service of inserting a surprise supplied by the purchaser.
Italy is famous for many things, especially food! Their passion for pasta is on a whole different level. Browse the local supermarkets around Le Marche and you will find aisle after aisle displaying every shape and make of pasta. Most Italian’s eat pasta at least once a day!
Here we give you a small insight into a special pasta made locally.
Regina dei Sibillini is a farm in Montefortino, Le Marche. They cultivate durum wheat on the Sibillini Mountains and use it to make pasta. The late growing wheat is sown at the end of October and grows slowly under the falling snow between November and March. During this time, it rests, keeps warm and is slowly hydrated. The wheat grows and sprouts and from this originates the popular Italian saying …. ‘Sotto la neve, pane – under the snow, bread!’
The durum wheat has a strong ear of corn that overhangs on a very tall stem, usually measuring between 150-160cms. Its rustic nature contributes to the production of an excellent durum wheat flour. The fragrance released during the pasta making process is an intense scent of bread and biscuits!
Regina dei Sibillini produces pasta according to the artisan process. It is drawn through bronze wire and then put to dry at low temperatures. Only wheat that comes from the topsoil at an altitude between 600 to 900 meters above sea level is used. Their philosophy is to cultivate a quality product.
The geographic position of the farm in the Sibillini Mountains guarantees a truly uncontaminated ambient: water and air. Essential elements in the production of quality pasta.
This raw material cultivated, wholesome and with unique properties gives the product a characteristic taste rich in flavor. The aroma is distinguished the moment the pasta is cooked.
Compared to other durum wheat its low gluten content makes it much more tolerable.
“It is the bond with the land where we live, love and respect that brought us to undertake this journey. The nature that surrounds us is what inspired us. The best way to honour this is to capture the taste, smell and colours.”
Respecting the Italian tradition Regina dei Sibillini produces all the classic shaped pastas.
Their logo and packaging was inspired by the mountains. The icy colour of the snow, and the winter sky. The transparent opening on the front of the box allows you see exactly what you are buying. The irregular form of their logo reminds us of the white slopes and the mountains profile. The snow that covers and protects the wheat.
REGINA DEI SIBILLINI
via R. Papiri, 30 – 63858 Montefortino (Fermo)
Marche – Italia
Hidden away in the hilltop village of Cupra Marittima Alta is one of our favourite restaurants. Make the effort to search out this restaurant, you will be well rewarded.
A wonderful warm welcome from Michele Alesiani will greet you as you walk through the door. If you are carrying excellent wines watch that warm welcome turn into a huge grin. Michele loves wine, and knows what he is talking about. He loves to go around each and every table sampling the wine and giving his opinion on your choice!
I love the fact you bring your own wine it adds to the whole experience.
The evening is an event, be prepared to have your taste buds tingled. The interior of the restaurant is eclectic, warm and fun. The exterior terrace is ideal for evenings during the long summer months. Michele has an individual style that is evident in his food and every aspect of the restaurant experience.
The food tastes fantastic and is presented with an artist style that encourages you to take a food selfie! Our most recent experience was Dawns birthday at the end of January. A great party with good friends and family. Non-meat eaters are well taken care of and Michele always substitutes amazing options for the few dishes that have meat.
Great value for money and well worth making a special trip to experience this unique and special restaurant.
A few of the wonderful dishes we enjoyed that night:
A great all inclusive menu, and amazing value for money:
Michele Alesiani & his lovely family…
Address and Bookings….
Osteria Pepe Nero
via Castello s.n.
63064 Cupra Marittima, AP, Le Marche, Italy.
I gazed around the Piazza and sipped my cappuccino elegantly, copying the glamorous Italians on the next table. Trying not to get the milky froth all around my mouth.
I love to people watch. The tourists racing to keep up with their flag bearing tour guides. The Nonna’s dressed in black, carrying their heavy bags of shopping back home to their families. I listened closely to the sing song melody of the Italian language, exaggerated with arms and hands waving in the air. Everything about the Italians is passionate and dramatic.
I meandered back to the hotel, absorbed in the sounds of the city. The walk should have taken me ten minutes. You guessed it, luckily for me I took another wrong turning!
I stumbled upon a lovely little shop halfway down a narrow street. The window had a wonderful display of tassels, braids and ribbons.
As an interior designer I am always on the lookout for things fabulous and unique. This was an Aladdin’s cave of colour and texture. I bought tassels in every shape, size and colour. Natural greens, blues and siennas with a hint of gold.
Each item was lovingly wrapped in tissue and delicately placed in a posh paper bag. No sign of plastic in this shop!
Shopping in Italy is a very different experience. Most shops are owned and run by family member. They are proud of what they do and love to tell you how many generations have worked there. Their knowledge is extensive, and they take the time it takes. Note to self, allow more time when shopping in Italy!
I floated back to our hotel, clutching my purchases and feeling rather proud of myself, I had found my way back.
My husband, Michael, was happy. The rugby match had gone well, his team had won and he was celebrating with a cold beer in the hotel bar.
He looked suspiciously at my shopping bag. “What have you bought”? I told him,” gorgeous tassels in natural hues………” I received the typical response from a man who thinks shopping is only to purchase essential items, food and drink. “How many tassels do you need, what are they for, how much did they cost”?!!! I quickly changed the subject and asked about our dinner plans for that evening, while visualising one of the tassels threaded through an antique key, hanging from wardrobe I had recently finished painting.
I eat fish, no meat. Michael loves meat and eats fish. He had spoken to the hotel manager earlier and asked his advice on fish restaurants on the outskirts of the city. Away from the touristy eateries and high prices. He knew the perfect place!
We were picked up in a taxi later that evening, it was the first and only time I have travelled in a taxi in Italy. The manager had given the driver directions to the restaurant so we both sat back and enjoyed the drive across Florence. Thirty minutes later we pulled up outside a large wooden door, with no sign, in the heart of an industrial estate. We stepped out of the taxi and looked at each other, both thinking the same thing. This can’t be right. Before we had chance to get back into the taxi, it roared off into the distance.
We rang the doorbell and waited. I was feeling a little nervous. Not about my surroundings, but it was nine o’clock and Michael was hungry, we needed to find food before he turned all hunter gather on me.
The door opened and we cautiously stepped into another world. Before our eyes was a busy, bustling restaurant. A beautiful, yet simple décor. Delicious aromas wafting from the open kitchen blending with the lively voices of sixty plus Italians all talking at once. In the large walled courtyard, huge interconnecting sunshades provided a soft textured ceiling. The lighting was low and atmospheric, with a blend of candles and fairy lights. Each table dressed with a small vase of fresh flowers. Crisp white linen tablecloths draped down to the cool cotto tiled floor.
We were shown to our table, and looked around. There were large families, three generations enjoying a celebration together. Young lovers with eyes only for each other. Young children out with their parents, babies peacefully sleeping in their pushchairs. Children are always made to feel welcome in restaurants in Italy, however posh or expensive. Family is very important and younger members are never excluded. Another plus for the Italian lifestyle.
Our waiter came to take our order. This was going to be tricky. He spoke no English, we spoke no Italian and had left our phrase book back at the hotel!
We shouted “menu” at him and mimed opening a book. Why do people shout in their own language at foreigners, expecting them to understand once the decibels are turned up?
He shook his head “no menooo, you wanta da otta fish o colda fish”. Whita wine o reda wine? Hot fish we both said, white wine we agreed
I glanced across at Michael, he was looking a little concerned. He’s lovely, but he likes to know what’s happening at all times, in the present and the future. I knew he would struggle with the concept of not being able to converse with the waiter, he loves to talk!
He also likes to see a menu, ask questions and check nothing has vinegar on it. He likes to see the wine list and chat about different grapes, countries, regions, years. He especially likes to see prices and mentally calculate how much the whole meal will cost. He likes to feel in control of the situation.
Our waiter disappeared into the kitchen and we sipped our wine, poured from a glass jug. Michael shared his concerns about not knowing what food would arrive and how many courses would be served. I tried to reassure him. “Let’s just relax and enjoy the experience, it will be fun to try new tastes and not know what to expect”. He looked doubtful and took a large swig of wine, it was delicious, he looked happier.
The more courses we ate, the more wine we drank, the more he relaxed. I wish I could give you a detailed description of the food we ate, but I can’t. I can remember the interiors, because I seem to have a photographic memory for those. I think I drank too much wine and the food detail got lost. It’s a little hazy. What I can remember is that every dish was exquisite, fresh and unpretentious. The seafood was scrumptious the pasta cooked to perfection. I think we had seven courses, to be honest I lost count.
I have never seen Michael so relaxed, enjoying the present and not worrying about the future. We had no idea how much this dining experience was going to cost, we didn’t care.
The waiter brought over bottles of grappa, mistra and limoncello, to help with the digestion! The limoncello was divine. Michael was so, so happy, he tried all three, twice.
We swayed over to the bar to pay the bill and hopefully order a taxi. Michael was very pleasantly surprised when he saw the total, half the cost he had toted up in his head. The bar man generously offered him another drink on the house. I began to wonder if I would be able to get him back to the hotel. The taxi arrived and I managed to steer him onto the back seat and close the door.
We were dropped off at the end of a one way street, only a couple of minutes walk from our hotel. We needed a walk! In the distance we could hear opera music, as we walked closer I recognised an aria from La Boheme, one of my favourite operas. We entered the Piazza, and there under the moonlight of a warm summer’s evening were hundreds of people enjoying an open air opera. I looked up to the balconies of the surrounding apartments, each one crowded with local Italians holding a candle and swaying to the music. It was truly magical and that was the exact moment I fell in love in love with Italy.