Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Under The Tuscan Spell

A WNED / AAA Adventure in Tuscany
Text and photos by Eileen Elibol TuscanLandscape

Ahhh, Tuscany.....

The very name evokes images of gently rolling hillsides dotted with sun-drenched vineyards and rows of silvery-green olive trees. Tall, thin cypress trees and sea pines stand guard over the majestic, pristine landscape, dotted with historic terra-cotta-roofed farmhouses.

MontepulcianoThrough a partnership with AAA of Western & Central New York, such was the dream that I and a group of WNED members were able to experience on our WNED “Tuscan Cooking Adventure” this past October.

If you’ve been a fan of the popular film “Under the Tuscan Sun,” you can imagine what it felt like to actually be here...to encounter for yourself the sights, the smells, the vistas and the TASTES of Tuscany.

Romeo_cookingOur host on this culinary adventure was Romeo Innocenti, chef and Tuscan native son --- a man with an infectious and captivating passion for food, wine and the Tuscan way of life.

We began each day with excursions into the historic medieval towns that top the hillsides all across Tuscany. Perhaps you’d like a little sip of freshly brewed java en route? Leave it to the Italians to have an espresso-maker built right onto the mini-bus!

Siena_DuomoOne of the most beautiful towns we visited was Siena, a UNESCO World Heritage site famous for its cuisine, art, museums and architecture. Siena's cathedral (Duomo), begun in the 12th century, is one of the great examples of Italian Romanesque-Gothic architecture. The cafe-lined Piazza del Campo, the town square, is another architectural treasure and is famous for hosting the Palio horse race every year.

Angela_pasta_1Another captivating hillside town, Montepulciano, afforded us breathtaking views of the surrounding Tuscan countryside. At times, we were even able to “chat” (in broken Italian!) with some of the extremely gracious town residents. “Angela”, a very sweet elderly lady that we met while taking photos, even invited us into her home to admire her freshly made pasta!

Our tour included visits to many exclusive wineries, producers of some of the most famous Italian wines in the world. The wines were unlike any that most of us had ever tasted, low in sulfites and fresh from the surrounding vineyards where they were grown in the richest of soils. And the food? Delizioso!

CookingClassLunch was often spent relaxing at a local restaurant where we sampled a variety of local delicacies. The late afternoon brought cooking classes with Romeo, where we were all schooled in the fine art of making classic Tuscan specialties. Romeo is an advocate of simple, strictly fresh ingredients, and often joked: “You Americans use too many ingredients! Three or four are ideal to really savor each distinct flavor.” We all donned our cooking school aprons and enjoyed the unique hands-on experience of making traditional Tuscan dishes right alongside our Italian host, often assisted by his beautiful wife, Federica.

WNED TOUR groupThe famous Tuscan sun cooperated this October, and every day was filled with warm, golden sunshine and clear, sparkling air. Looking out the windows of our private villa (left) overlooking the vineyard below, we all fell in love with this truly magical place. Our Tuscan adventure passed quickly, but in our hearts, these special memories will last a lifetime. Then again...we are wondering...when can we go back!?

Related: O Tuscany, Tuscany!

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