July 23, 2018
June is probably my favourite month in Tuscany. I used to think it was May, which is when nature is at its greenest, interspersed with those vibrant pops of bright red; the poppy flower. But in June ‘the fields of Gold’ appear, the beautiful golden grain, which make the landscape even more breathtaking. A drive through the Val d’Orcia in June is definitely one for your bucket list, if you haven’t experienced it yet.
This June I got to play around with a few of our ‘Arte di Vita’ natural fabrics as it was time for another photoshoot. Capturing fabrics isn’t an easy task, nor how to style them differently every time. Living in the Tuscan countryside in June, it wasn’t long until ‘frantoio’ sprang to mind; Italian for ‘olive press’ or mill. Some frantoio’s also sell seasonal fruit and vegetables, fresh from the ‘orto’ (vegetable garden). So, off we went to our local frantoio, straw tote in hand, to pick out some delicious but more importantly, photogenic, fruit and veg. In June a lot of fruits are in season, such as cherries, figs, apricots, peaches, plums. To my delight, they also had beautiful big lemons with the leaves still attached! At a local bakery we found some really stunning rustic Tuscan breads. With the straw tote filled to the brim, we went back home to get everything ready for the shoot.
There is always so much going on behind the scenes at a photo shoot! My idea was to pair the beautiful natural fabrics (mostly linen) with the local seasonal produce, a ‘slow’ Summer in the Tuscan countryside, so like a picnic of course, (imagine biting into the sun-ripened fruit al fresco surrounded by olive trees!), styling the fabrics like napkins or table cloths and using a wooden plate and cutting board. I only have the finished result, the images, to show you but oh what went into the making of them! (it’s not hard to imagine if you realise that it was at least 30 degrees that day…and all of the shoot took place outside..)
In our concept store in the Netherlands we have actual table cloths and napkins made by hand from our fabrics! Of course at one point during the shoot, our little Shi Zu called ‘Bailey’ must’ve smelled that we were working with food and so she was curious. I couldn’t resist taking a shot of her on the bench we had used to style everything on. Of course every image you see here was shot on film.
The beautiful ‘Arte di Vita’ fabrics in the images:
Antique Rose (linen)
Garda Natural (linen)
Summerbreeze Ivory (linen)
Summerbreeze Natural (linen)
If you’d like to know more about the fabrics (and the paint and interior design, and the B&B for that matter), visit artedivita.eu.
On another gorgeous sunny day at the end of June we couldn’t resist going for a drive to Pienza, in the Val d’Orcia, only 40 minutes away by car from our B&B. I always really enjoy that drive, past Montepulciano, into the Val d’Orcia, the winding lanes going uphill until you see Pienza in the distance, towering over the valley. We were on a mission to buy the typical ‘Pecorino stagionato di Pienza’ (matured Pecorino from Pienza) in order to cook the famous recipe ‘Cacio e Pepe’ which I love to eat with gnocchetti, a smaller version of gnocchi, and which I love sharing with you. ‘Pecorino’ cheese is a cheese made from sheep’s milk. It is found in the following regions in Italy: Tuscany, Lazio, Sardinia but also Umbria and Sicily. Pienza is renowned for its production of Pecorino, though. Throughout this stunning UNESCO World Heritage town, which is one of my favourite towns in Tuscany, there are little shops that sell all kinds of Pecorino (different stages of maturation and flavours), but all of it is the Pecorino produced in the Val d’Orcia.
In the restaurants you see a lot of dishes called ‘Cacio e Pepe’. The original ‘Cacio e Pepe’ recipe is actually Roman, using Pecorino Romano (from the region Lazio). In Pienza they use their own Pecorino of course! ‘Cacio e pepe’ means ‘Cheese and Pepper’. Great cheese fan that I am, of course I fell in love when I first tasted this dish. There is also a wonderful pizzeria; if you enter through the old town gate with the lovely flowers on top, it’s right on your left, called ‘Pizzeria Pommaro’. Here you can eat the most scrumptious pizza with fresh local Pecorino you have ever tasted.
But as far as home cooking with Pecorino goes, this ‘Cacio e Pepe’ dish comes close to being just as delicious. At home, while we were cooking the recipe, we cheated a little and didn’t grate the Pecorino. Because it was very fresh and soft, we crumbled it with our fingers. In Holland we have an expression ‘om je vingers erbij op te eten’ which roughly translates as ‘to eat your fingers along with it’, meaning that a dish is really really tasty. If you try it, let me know what you think of it!
GNOCCHETTI CACIO E PEPE
This is the traditional recipe. The secret of this recipe is the creamy sauce, created simply by the combination of the starch in the pasta and the cooking water. I use shop-bought fresh gnocchetti, because it is excellent and saves a lot of time and effort.
a large chunk of Pecorino di Pienza
Fresh gnocchetti (about 600 gr)
Black pepper corns
Grate the Pecorino finely. Using a pestle and mortar, grind the black pepper corns, then sieve them. Heat the black pepper in a pan on the stove for a short while.
Bring 1 litre of water to the boil in a large pan. When the water is boiling, add the gnocchetti. Have a bowl ready, put the grated Pecorino in with a little bit of the pepper.
The gnocchetti only need 1 min to cook. When they’re cooked they float to the surface. Spoon them into a different bowl, set aside.
Pour a few spoonfuls of cooking water into the bowl with Pecorino and pepper and stir until you get a creamy sauce. Add more cooking water if needed. There should be no lumps.
Transfer the gnocchetti into the bowl with the creamy sauce and stir carefully. Spoon onto a plate and sprinkle over the pepper and grate over a little extra Pecorino. Enjoy!