Traveling north out of the city of Florence, Italy, my drive into Tuscany meandered through rolling vineyards blanketed in distant fog. Even with limited vision along the roadways, the exquisite Tuscan landscape was almost too much to absorb all at once. The grapes, the farmhouses and the misty air appeared almost digitally enhanced as I arrived in the village of Castelfalfi.
A few hours later, it was raining as I entered Il Rosmarino, a trattoria named after the deep-rooted herb planted along the streets here. Just as rosemary offers a scent of simplicity and taste of tradition, so does my plate of a Siena specialty called pici alla norcina, thick hand-rolled pasta mixed with sausage, topped with a cream sauce and crowned with slices of the region’s indigenous truffle. This rich dish, plus a glass of local Chianti, hastened me to sleep.
By morning, like a gift unwrapped, the clouds and fog had lifted and I stood on the terrace of my room at Hotel Tabaccaia (a former tobacco drying barn) to take in all 2,700 resplendent acres of the Castelfalfi Estate. Months later, I still savor this profound moment in time under the Tuscan sun.
Once a small village dating to medieval times, most of Castelfalfi’s former staff and residents relocated to urban areas to earn a living. The estate has since been reimagined as a resort with an 865-acre wild game reserve, an original Etruscan tomb, olive groves, vineyard and winery, golf course and, most recently, a five-star spa resort.
As I strolled along the estate’s main pathway with its apartments and shops, I browsed through a few boutiques before entering the castle itself, which is now the site of Ristorante La Rocca, a Michelin-starred restaurant. One begins with an aperitivo di benvenuto, a welcome splash of Old World sparkling Calice di Cuvèe orestugem Cà del Bosco paired with morbido di spinacino, a kale-colored appetizer molded into a gold bullion shape. Its mousse-like texture and creamy fondue topping set a high bar for the courses to follow. Asparagus risotto came with sausage-stuffed roast quail wrapped in bacon, and the capretto nostrano was a wine-glazed leg of local lamb over polenta with artichokes. It was enough to drive a taste bud senseless.
But the tasting adventure isn’t over until one has visited Castelfalfi’s on-site winery. Highlights of a tasting there included a Cerchiaia 2013 Chianti blend of sangiovese and merlot complimented by shards of pecorino cheese, and a Poggionero 2011 Red Tuscan blend of cabernet sauvignon and merlot with a finish of truffle … as if I needed one more reminder of my whereabouts in this magical — and once again misty — corner of Tuscany.
— Charlene Peters is a passionate explorer of indigenous dishes throughout the world. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tuscan Kale Flan
• 2 large bunches of Tuscan kale (or spinach)
• 2 T extra virgin olive oil
• 1 white onion
• 2 potatoes (medium, par-boiled)
• 4 eggs
• 3 T flour
• 3 T Parmesan cheese
• 1 1/4 cup heavy cream
• 3 T mascarpone cheese
• Salt and pepper, to taste
Peel and wash the kale leaves, then softly boil them. Cut the boiled leaves Julienne-style and brown in olive oil with onions and potatoes until they are soft. Transfer to food processor, add remaining ingredients and puree.
Butter and lightly flour 12 ramekins. Pour the puree to the top of each ramekin. Place ramekins on a sheet pan filled halfway with water and cook in a 350-degree oven for 30 minutes.
Flip ramekins upside down on each plate to release the flan. Top with cheese fondue.
• 2 cups heavy cream
• 1 1/4 cup fresh pecorino cheese
• 1 to 2 tablespoons flour to thicken
Cook in double-boiler and quickly whisk until thickened. Garnish with parsley and/or sliced white truffle. Serves 12.
— Courtesy of Ristorante La Rocca; recipe edits by Mary Anne Dimitry