November can be a month of real mood swings and I don’t just mean for hormonal women. Historically November in Tuscany can be wet and I mean wet. The last couple of years the normal weather pattern has changed and we have enjoyed wonderful Indian summers but this year things sadly seem to have gone back to the old weather pattern and it simply hasn’t stopped raining for more than a couple of days at a time for what seems like forever. When the sun does break through it is wonderfully warm but when it isn’t, it does get you down. Everybody is complaining. The odd optimistic tourist left behind has turned to gastronomic and cultural tourism, rather a delightful option in my opinion, leaving farmers to look mournfully at their olives groves wondering after the false start at the beginning of the week, if they will get them picked before Christmas! City dwellers often find that it is colder inside than out particularly on sunny days and in a country where gas is incredibly expensive no one wants to turn the central heating on, even on those days of heavy November rain. The cities seem to change from sad in the rain to radiant when the sun comes out. The country dwellers are in many ways more fortunate as they can light the fire in the evening close their heavy green shutters and roast chestnuts. Skiers however are starting to look towards the mountains hoping that this rain is turning to snow at higher altitudes.
So therefore after a three days of listening to the rain beating down I was delighted when a friend rang and invited us to a village dinner. I certainly believe in comfort eating and Tuscan winter fare is good comfort food.Therefore last Saturday evening, dressed more for a fishing expedition than evening in a Tuscan hilltop village, we headed off having fasted all day in preparation.
Many Villages have Circoli or village clubs that organise social events and keep local traditions alive. The feast was held in what had been the theatre and it is incredible how many tiny communities had theatres. Some have been restored and are still used for the odd performance and other neighbourhood events. The money raised was to be used for a new centre light.
Now these feasts are much more about food and company than aesthetics and as Italians don’t heat plates these meals are often served off plastic plates which some visitors find slightly odd.
We started off with an antipasto, which included wonderful local salami and crostini Toscani, lightly toasted bread with a homemade liver pâté, next came the first primo, Ribollita, icon soup of Tuscan cooking, originally made from leftovers from other soups. The most important ingredients are “cavolo nero” or black cabbage, a local vegetable that is now quite widely available outside Italy, beans and bread.
As you can imagine this soup is no light number but a meal in itself. However we had a second primo to enjoy of home made maccheroni with ragù, a very slow cooked meat sauce, one of the most common dishes in Tuscany but it never fails to please the palate.
Tuscans truly love their beans and the chickpeas and cannellini beans served simply with olive oil were delicious.
Next came Baccalà. I have never understood why this Atlantic fish is so diffused in Italy and so far nobody has been able to explain when this to me. Beautifully cooked very thinly sliced roast beef was then served with roast potatoes.
My favourite part of the meal is always the primi and I can often resist the dolce “Sweet”, but the two small pieces of tart were exquisite. The apple was perfect and refreshing and the chocolate rich and velvety.
The whole meal was of course washed down with local wine and homemade limoncello. After the meal our group left because our children had a pile of homework for the next day, they therefore require their beauty sleep. The villagers however moved the tables to the side and the music started and as we went out into the damp air smelling of fresh herbs, the dance floor was already filling up.