There’s nothing more gag-inducing to me than Diane Lane in Under the Tuscan Sun, yet there is nothing that made me feel more like Diane Lane than actually being "under the Tuscan sun". Ok, I admit. I did fantasize about buying a rundown villa, driving to the beach in my vintage Karmann Ghia, making embarrassing linguistic mistakes while smiling them off with my beguiling beauty but... not really. Nonetheless, Tuscany was totally amazing and by far my favorite. The oft-made comparison to Napa Valley is a gross misrepresentation. Napa Valley is a microcosm at best.
We only had two nights in Tuscany, and our first dinner didn't exactly work out as planned. The villa we were staying at had a communal kitchen and I had been fantasizing for months before the trip about all the awesome things I would make. Unfortunately for us, that day was a national worker's holiday in Italy and every single market was closed. We were left completely empty-handed. I gathered junk products from the tourist shops in San Gimignano: some shitty dried pasta, two ounces vials of truffle oil and balsamic, and six tomatoes I BEGGED a sandwich shop to sell me after the entire family yelled at each other for five minutes while I stood there in desperation.
Back at the villa, the innkeeper sold me some vegetables she had grown and I took some herbs and a lemon from their garden. The kitchen had a really cool old oven but it also left much to be desired and we had nothing to help our meal along beyond table salt and pepper. So even though it was totally depressing and we washed down the sadness with a bottle of Vernaccia, we made do because at least we had each other.
Sad first Tuscan dinner.
But we woke up early the next day, looking forward to new adventures under the Tuscan sun (cringe). The profoundly picturesque photo above was taken from our lunch table in a teenie-weenie town called Panzano-en-Chianti. We had been wine tasting through the Chianti region and this was one of the very small towns we drove through. At the top of hill, next to a church, with nary a soul nearby, we ventured into this extremely small and nondescript façade of an enoteca only to find an outdoor patio that opened up to just about all of Tuscany. This is where I was finally able to taste the traditional Tuscan bread soup called Ribollita. A tomato-based broth with kale, cannellini, onions and garlic sopped up with chunks of bread in the bowl; it was phenomenal.
Ribolitta, Ravioli, and an ice cold Birra Moretti on a beautiful Tuscan day, overlooking the valleys of Chianti, was definitely my Under the Tuscan Sun moment.
The ravioli with brown butter and sage were like 3 big, light, fluffy, pillow pockets.
One of the other spots we visited during our drive through Tuscany was the medieval hilltop town of San Gimignano. Albeit touristy, we found a great little meat and cheese shop called Il Vinaoio Enoteca, whose menu was small and handwritten. It was the handwritten part that really sold me considering the majority of other restaurants had laminated photos of their food stapled to easels.
The bruschetta (pron. broo-SKET-uh) in Italy makes ours look like crostini. In fact, if this is bruschetta to Italians, restaurants really have been serving me crostini all along. The bruschetta in Italy is always on big fat hunks of rustic Italian bread, the kind that jams between your teeth and chafes your gums if you don’t bite quite right.
Drizzed with oil and covered with rich melted cheeses, it really doesn’t matter what’s in between. (IL VINAOIO ENOTECA: Via Santa Maria 22, Panzano, Greve en Chianti, Firenze; T: +39 055 852603)
Another hilltop town nearby is Certaldo. There’s a more modern town at the base but, if you have a euro handy, you can ride a gondola up to the medieval castle part to have dinner and enjoy the view. There are several restaurants to choose from but we chose L'Antica Fonte for their outdoor seating overlooking the valley.
This is actually where I discovered a new favorite: Vernaccia, a crisp white grape local to San Gimignano.
Note the view from our dinner table in the background.
This is also where we discovered a new favorite dessert, Vin Santo e Biscotti:
Vin Santo is an awesome dessert wine local to Tuscany, specifically the Chianti region. It’s closer to rum or brandy than sweet wine. Soaking your biscotti for just a few seconds in the Vin Santo is like having a semi-crisp bite of a rum baba.
The amount of time spent in Tuscany definitely wasn't enough. Simple and unadorned yet beautiful without constraint, it's no wonder the region is held in such high esteem.
Next stop: Florence!
*Jerkey is based in LA and enjoys playing XBOX, making pizza, and playing XBOX while eating pizza.