There is a very large hill leading up to the town of Cortona in the province of Arezzo, in Tuscany, Italy. Seemingly endless switchbacks give light to the infinite beauty below the town, rolling hills of vineyards and hay slowly falling back as you continue to climb up. The ambiance is enhanced by the setting sun on my last ascent up to the breathtaking town.
I have a hand-drawn map, given to me by a friend who has spent many years exploring Italy. I have never been to Cortona before, but I know exactly where I want to go, even if I can not pronounce the name of the venue properly.
Tucked into one of the tiny winding streets that spiral the city center, my restaurant awaits me. I walk in and point to a table outside. Sitting down, the aromas of fresh bread and rosemary assault my nostrils in the most pleasing way. I decide then and there to indulge in ½ liter of house red wine, linguine all’arrabbiata as my primi piatto (first course), and the pollo al marsala as my secondo piatto (second or main course). Now that the hard part of deciding what to order is over, I peacefully wait to savor my meal.
First comes the fresh bread, still warm. I drizzle olive oil on the plate with a few sporadic drops of balsamic vinegar and sprinkle it with salt and pepper. The wine is dark and robust, perhaps too strong, but it tastes good. I tell myself it has antioxidants in it and drink up.
About 10 minutes later the arrabbiata arrives, al dente, of course. I am always amazed at how such a simple dish of fettuccine, olive oil, garlic and chili pepper in a simple tomato sauce can taste of utter perfection. I love spice and this heat gives balance to the often astringent garlic. All is made smooth and subtle by a homemade tomato sauce that tastes nothing like anything I have been served in the states.
Next my beloved chicken marsala, a dish so savory I can’t help but close my eyes while I enjoy the first few bites. Essentially, it is a butter and wine sauce finished with mushrooms and fresh herbs. There is something about it that makes it seem like these ingredients were destined for each other since the dawn of time. Chicken dredged in flour and sometimes lemon, then pan fried and topped with marsala. At this point in my meal, I am very happy that I ordered as much wine as I did, for it has opened nicely and balance has been achieved.
I finish my meal with a panna cotta topped with fresh raspberries, and a macchiato, because I still have to ride my bike home. The panna cotta was clean, pure, and simple. The raspberries were small and wild, full of flavor and giving of nutrients. I was in a complete state of bliss. The family who kept the restaurant has continuously checked in on me, as though I am starved for conversation (it seems they forgot I don’t speak Italian) or perhaps they too enjoyed the ambiance, the aroma, and the incessant smirk on my face for being in the right place at the right time.
Post written by Kerry Dopler, Taste Vacations’ Customer Care Coordinator.
You too can enjoy the simple pleasures of an extraordinary Tuscan meal.
Join us on the Tuscany Food & Wine Tour this June.