A Day at Podere La Fonte: Cooking at the Source

One gorgeous afternoon last October, six American visitors eager to explore the undiscovered places of Tuscany and cook some authentic, rustic Tuscan dishes, arrived at Podere La Fonte for their third day of cooking with Il Campo Cucina.  A cloudburst had just passed through the valley and set the gray-green leaves of the olive grove shimmering in soft sunlight.

Podere means “farm” and La Fonte means “the source,” a fitting name for a farm that produces its own food and cooks old Tuscan dishes with antique implements just as the ancients of this land once did. Emanuela or Marco would be quick to explain that actually, the name refers to an old spring that once was part of the farm, but which now belongs to the property next door. Never mind. La Fonte is The Source–to me they are one and the same.

Emanuela Giua and Marco Garosi have owned their whimsically beautiful organic farm, which is nestled in the hillside just below Radicondoli, since the early 1970s and tended their sixty-some acres of vineyards, olive groves, heirloom wheat, fruit orchards and vegetable gardens with loving care and devotion. In addition, Emanuela is well versed in the local flora and makes teas, unguents and soaps with wild herbs she forages from the woodlands that surround their property, as well as from  the abundance of sage, rosemary, lavender and countless other herbs and plants that are cultivated on their land.

Podere La Fonte, an agriturismo, teaching farm (podere didattica) and member of WWOOF –the World Wide Organization of Organic Farms–is a place where travelers can experience life as it was once lived in Tuscany, but with the comforts of modern living to ease the way.  As a WWOOF farm, La Fonte takes in travelers willing to work for room and board, and teach them the old techniques that Marco and Emanuela learned from the elders of the village when they first arrived as teenagers from Rome. Depending on the season, WWOOFers may find themselves making elderberry blossom, cherry, apricot, fig, pear, apple or quince jams and juices, harvesting wheat or grapes or olives and helping Marco produce his fabulous wine and outstanding emerald green olive oil. As guests of the agriturismo, for a modest sum you can rent out one of the farm’s comfortable, antique furnished apartments and either walk up to the village at mealtime, cook in your own kitchen with vegetables you found in the garden, or have your dinners cooked for you by Emanuela.

When Il Campo Cucina guests go to La Fonte for a lesson, they make all vegetarian organic  dishes with whatever is growing in the garden at the time, supplemented with cheeses and other ingredients from local farms or the market. Typically we will make a pasta dish or two, a savory tart, a variety of vegetable dishes including Marco’s scrumptious eggplant parmesan (see Recipes for details), and rustic cookies like cantucci di prato or ciambelline di vino (ring-shaped wine cookies).

On the day our last fall group of 2014 arrived, Marco had just harvested and crushed the grapes for the beginning of fermentation, and he let the visitors climb up a ladder to peer into the vats to see what this beginning stage of the  wine making process looks like. Then we took a brief tour of the grounds and went into the grand rustic dining room for a cup of herbal tea or homemade juice, before donning aprons and rolling up our sleeves to cook.

Today, Emanuela had a special new dish in store for us: walnut lasagna (see “Recipes” for details). In addition, we made a tomato lasagna, eggplant parmesan, pappa al pomodoro, boiled chicory (for digestion, Emanuela wisely explained) fried green tomatoes, bruschetta grilled over the fire and drenched in the farm’s magnificent olive oil, and for dessert, cantucci di prato. It’s the sort of menu that sounds alarmingly, well, huge, until you see the dishes and taste them, then it all goes down effortlessly and you find yourself shamelessly reaching for seconds. At least that has been my experience!

Today was no exception. The guests rolled out their own handmade egg pasta, and while the lasagna sheets were resting, Emanuela showed them how to make bechamel, the white sauce Catherine di Medici is said to have introduced to French cuisine, and which is used in a wide variety of Tuscan classic dishes. She mixed the cantucci with her own hands, which is a sticky, gooey process but makes for a more tender cookie in the end than my Kitchenaid mixer with its metal paddle does. Somehow, in only three hours we were all sitting down to partake in a meal that would have taken me days to prepare.

Marco had set out bottles of his outstanding red and white wines and set the table, in between turning over slabs of Tuscan bread that were slowly toasting over the coals in the grand fireplace, and frying slices of eggplant for the melanzana parmigiana in the kitchen.

Then we sat down to eat, and we were so happy to have helped cooked the meal which tasted all the more delicious for our part in its creation.

I am eternally grateful to Emanuela and Marco for maintaining their beautiful jewel of land that graces the view below my own house in the village, where the impossible labors of two people and a few WWOOFers passing through somehow make  a cornucopia of high quality, organic products that awaken the tastebuds to the true meaning of life–eat, drink, be happy. If you are ever in the village, stop by their cantina and buy any products you can find on the shelves. You will never taste better quality, no matter where you might shop.

And if you haven’t made your vacation plans yet for this fall, join us for a week of amazing experiences such as this one, and discover the goodness of the true Italian life in off-the-beaten path Tuscany.

 

 

Ranch & Coast Magazine: The Trip of a Lifetime to Tuscany

It’s easy to get lost on the back roads of rural Italy. Just ask Marlane Miriello. In 2000, the former San Diegan was enjoying a vacation in Tuscany when maps failed and she ended up in a tiny Tuscan hill town called Radicondoli.

“I fell in love with it,” Miriello explained to me, “and went back once or twice a year until I finally moved there in 2009.” It was the sense of community and sustainable lifestyle that first attracted her. “I was so impressed by the unbelievably delicious meals made in local kitchens that I started to research a cookbook — but then realized that no one in the village used recipes.”

In 2010, Miriello found another way to share Radicondoli’s food traditions: she launched Il Campo Cucina, a cooking school where guests learn first-hand about farm-to-table cuisine and the preparation of traditional Italian dishes. Groups of up to 12 people stay at Il Bel Canto, an 18th-century stone farmhouse and spend a week cooking with villagers, enjoying local wines, and soaking up the countryside. While the emphasis is on food, wine, and local culture, Miriello also includes a daytrip to Siena, dinner with a Count, and free time for biking, hiking, photography, and relaxing by the farmhouse pool.

Read the full article by veteran travel writer Elizabeth Hansen.

 

Authentic Luxury Travel: Tuscan Cooking School

It was a stroke of good luck that I met Marlane Miriello and heard about her Tuscan cooking school. The Italian-American was visiting with friends in San Diego who thought I might find her story interesting.

Of course, I was – not just interested, but really interested. Marlane and I are both of Italian descent, and I love hearing about travelers who fall in love with a destination. Our first coffee date lasted nearly two hours. By then, I knew I wanted to write about Il Campo Cucina – her Tuscan cooking school – in Ranch & Coast, San Diego’s ultimate lifestyle magazine, where I am the travel editor.

Read the entire article by Elizabeth Hanson on her enticing Authentic Luxury Travel Website, then enter the contest to win a free with with Il Campo Cucina in Tuscany!.

 

Best Palio Video Ever!

CLICK  HERE TO WATCH THE VIDEO

ESPN Wider World of Sports host, Kenny Mayne, provides a rich and entertaining view into the August 2012 Palio–which he viewed from the San Martino curve, where Il Campo Cucina guests will be watching this August! Enjoy!!

 

 

 

Artisan Breadmaking Workshop at Festa di San Giovanni

June 23, 2012 – Radicondoli

I arrive at the Poggio park at 10:00 AM for a six-hour workshop in the making of artisan bread with heirloom grains. Our instructor, WWOOF-Italia President Claudio Pozzi, started the fire in the new village forno a legna (wood-fired oven) at 5:00 AM.  He is waiting for the temperature in the oven to drop down to 220 degreees centigrade before placing the first batch of the day into the oven. Yesterday the loaves burned because the new and unfamiliar oven was too hot, so today Claudio has taken pains to achieve a beautiful golden crust.


At 10:25, Claudio throws a handful of flour onto the oven floor and counts to ten; the flour in the back of the oven turns black before he counts to seven.
“E un po prestino,” he says (it’s a tad soon). So we wait. He swabs out the oven floor with a wet cinder broom, round instead of flat, wrapped in burlap. It is a looks like a wizard’s broom, but blackened with soot. Note to self: I need one of these if I ever build my own wood-fired oven.
At 10:40 Claudio is swabbing out the bottom of the oven for the fourth time, after a fourth flour toss-and-count test produces brown, not black flour, in ten seconds. The first batch of bread is shovelled in on a large round flat metal paddle that looks like it’s been in use for at least fifty years. Claudio made these loaves this morning, before the arrival of our class, for the dinner tonight at the Festa di San Giovanni.


The Festa di San Giovanni, Saint John’s Feast, is all about the harvesting of grains and protecting the summer crops from evil spirits who were presumed to have easy access to the earthly realm on the summer solstice, when the separation between the worlds was considered to be nearly nonexistent. Otherwise known as Midsummer’s Eve, fairies, sprites and goblins were said to roam the countryside inciting mischief and mayhem with farmer’s crops. So farmers would light bonfires in their fields to keep the troublemakers away, and in the olden days, I have been told that you could see bonfires across the hills and valleys of the  vast Val di Cecina, lighting up the night sky. Nowadays the Radicondolese celebrate with fire-jugglers and one symbolic bonfire that is lit in the piazza an hour before midnight on June 24.
Yesterday I tasted the bread for the first time; it is moist and tangy and toothsome, like the bread baked near my grandparents’ village in Puglia at a famous forno a legna called Pane e Salute in Orsara di Puglia, a bakery that has been in continuous operation for over five hundred years. They make enormous round loaves that are nearly black on the outside, and a lovely golden color on the inside; little did I know when I tasted that bread in 2005 that one day I would learn to make something very nearly the same, here in my own adopted village in Tuscany!.

In this workshop, we are using a starter dough that dates back 130 years. I realize upon hearing this that my Italian grandmother  was born 130 years ago almost to the day of this class, and I sense her presence near. More of that Midsummer’s Eve magic, I suppose.

Claudio distributes bowls with a measured portion of the starter dough, then has us measure our own flour and water and mix it together with our hands. It’s more fun than I’ve had cooking since I made mud pies as a little girl.  We let the dough rest a few minutes, then mix in more flour and lay it on a length of cotton to rise. We each mark our own loaf with our initials. While we wait for the dough to rise,  we learn about heirloom grains and their health benefits. While refined white flour increases appetite, contributes to obesity, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, the growth of tumors, increased LDL (bad cholesterol) and decreased HDL (good cholesterol), whole grain flour satiates appetite, decreases abdominal fat, prevents diabetes, and supports the immune system with high antioxidants. In addition, whole grain flour has much more flavor and the bread keeps for several days.

Finally, it is time to shovel the bread into the oven. And in only 35 minutes, the bread comes out a gorgeous golden brown! This year, the evil spirits have surely been frightened off by our determination and enthusiasm, and Radicondoli’s farmers will have a successful and abundant growing season.

For the Artisan Bread Recipe, click here.

 

Il Campo in The Bangor Daily News

Read article: Cooking School in Tuscany is All About Food, Friends and Sharing

Here is a wonderful article published in the Bangor Daily News about a special one day class we held for our friends out of northern Maine, Fresh Trails Adventures.  This spirited group of eleven cyclists rode out to Radicondoli from Siena (in two hours flat) and then donned aprons and cooked a meal to remember with Il Campo‘s amazing Michelin chef, Francesco Costagli at a beautiful farmhouse nestled in the forest south of the village. Read more here.

Fresh Trails Cycling group steps outside for an al fresco lunch they cooked with Il Campo Cucina.

 

 

 

 

 

Marlane Miriello’s Magical Il Campo/Cucina

Read Kimberly Wainscoat’s Review of Il Campo/Cucina in Tango Diva

 

Il Campo Featured in Greer’s OC: See and Taste the Real Italy in Tuscany

 

Read More..

 

JOHNSON CITY PRESS: Bound to the Earth

Read “Bound to the Earth” (PDF download)

“Bound to the Earth,” cont. (PDF download)

Read “Bound to the Earth” (online version)

 

SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE: It Takes a Village Italiano

CLICK TO READ IT TAKES A VILLAGE ITALIANO