The region of Tuscany
In the UK there is a tradition of eating pancakes on Shrove Tuesday, the day before Lent begins. According to the BBC’s food page, the custom originated in order to use up ingredients, particularly eggs, that were given up for the Lenten fast. In Italy Carnival is the pre-Lent celebration with feasting that goes well beyond pancakes. For the rest of the year, the Garfagnana is the place to go for pancakes, which are usually cooked over a fire between testi, two circular plates of steel. Necci are made from chestnut flour, water and olive oil and cooked between flat ceramic ‘stones’ or testi.
Cooked water' may not sound that filling, but this dish kept the hungry butteri in form while they patrolled their herds of cattle along the Maremma of the Tuscan coast. It was made by the 'donna-massaie' of the few ingredients readily available; onions, olive oil, vegetables, tomatoes, eggs, bread and a little pecorino cheese. Water was always abundant in the Maremma.
Today, the dish is created in the spirit of the folklore of the territory and is best eaten in a local trattoria or restaurant. Done well, it has an incredibly strong flavour for modern palates. The recipe below is a slight variant ideal for trying at home.
The Vasari Corridor (Corridoio Vasariano) or the Prince’s Passage in Florence, links the famous Ponte Vecchio bridge to one the city's finest Renaissance palaces.
This passageway, located above the famed Uffizi museum, not only showcases beautiful and rare views of the city, but also contains over 1000 priceless paintings.
These include self- portraits of many famous artists, such as Rembrandt and Bernini.
An invitation to visit Cantina Antinori cannot be overlooked, especially if it includes the new headquarters in Bargino together with the historical and spiritual home of the business in Badia Passignano. Both were on an itinerary proposed by the Comune of Tavarnelle Val di Pesa in Chianti as part of an international bloggers weekend in April 2014. You can follow it again via #chiantidavivere.
The new headquarters of Antinori opened in October 2012 and to the public in March 2013. I got my first glimpse of it during WineTown in Florence which was partly held in Palazzo Antinori in the city center. A huge plasma screen had been set up to showing a timelapse video of the construction of the building over a 7 year period from 2005. It was mind boggling and at the time the biggest construction site in Europe.
Monte Amiata is perhaps south Tuscany's only mountain, in contrast to the famous rolling hills which attract thousands of visitors each year. This now extinct volcano sits on the borders of Siena and Grosseto and is easily reachable from any of Arezzo, Orvieto, Perugia, Viterbo and Chiusi. Surrounded by the Monte Labro and Civitella massifs, Amiata supplies crystal clear water to Siena and Grosseto, to the Orcia valley and the Maremma plains. It is an incredibly interesting zone and even boasts its own wine, Montecucco, which is produced at the foot of the mountain.
If you are travelling from Florence towards Chianti then you may want to stop off in the zones of Tavarnelle Val di Pesa and neighboring Barberino Val d'Elsa. It is here you will find people and small companies keeping traditional artisan skills alive. I had the opportunity to do just this courtesy of an invite from the Comune of Tavarnelle Val di Pesa and was taken to Sambuca Val di Pesa to visit the workshop and showoom of L'Argento Firenze.
If you have never heard of the Valdambra in Tuscany, then it's probably because, for a mere 2 km, it does not feature on any map of the Chianti Classico wine route.
Administrative borders have placed the valley and its principal town, Bucine, in the province of Arezzo and also a stone's throw away the River Arno and the province of Florence.
So when Delicious Italy received an email from Tenuta di Lupinari located near Ambra to participate in a weekend long discovery of the zone in the company of a group of Food Bloggers, it was an invitation too good to miss.
The added spice was that Antonella, the owner of Tenuta di Lupinari, had lined up a cooking contest between all of us for the Saturday, as well as Sunday morning choice of quad biking at Pergine Valdarno, the thermal baths at Rapolano Terme or horse riding at Villa A Sesta Polo Club towards Castelnuovo Berardenga.