Thursday, 16 August 2007
Meanwhile, Up in Brancoli......
Two splendidly bucolic days up in the hills above Lucca! Tempo Italia - online Italian weather forecast - got it completely wrong, as it does 50% of the time, and there was no need for the gum boots and sou-westers that had been gloomily predicted......
On the first evening, we sat under the Persimmon Tree and generally put the World to rights over a glass or two of pre-prandial Prosecco, as the swifts gathered, and the sun went down over the valley. Brancoli is steep and heavily wooded, and taking in the view down towards the plain and Lucca in the distance gives the impression of being high, high up in some alpine fastness.
Dinner that evening was at La Mora, down in Ponte a Moriano, at the foot of the hill. Despite the Brancoli pre-publicity that the restaurant was quite simple in style, it turned out to be an environment of damask tablecloths, candle-light, and discreetly deferential waiters. So, sitting in the restaurant garden, under the densely-leafed pergola, in an atmosphere of elegant calm, it came as something of a shock when the 20.56 from Ponte a Moriano to Castelnuovo di Garfagnana came thundering past, literally five feet away from my left ear, and only the other side of a chain-link fence. Since the restaurant has been in place since 1867 - and presumably pre-dates the railway line - then the unruffled countenances of the staff was largely understandable. And by the time the 21.29 from Castelnuovo di Garfagnana to Ponte a Moriano did the return journey it came as less of a surprise - but, for all that, was still a little like dining on Platform Nine at Euston Station!
The food was - for the most part - extremely good. We had the menu de degustazione - eight courses, in all - from which there were some definite highlights: ravioli in marjoram sauce were very good, indeed; as were zucchini flowers stuffed with force-meat, and served in a light white sauce; confit of pigeon was delicious, and roast pork was good without being spectacular. The Brancolis liked the red pepper mousse (actually more like a bavarois), which I found slightly bland - and we all gave the thumbs down to a rabbit mousse, which seemed intended for people with neither teeth nor taste-buds. The first few courses were accompanied by a Sanct Valentin Gewürztraminer - which was a welcome discovery on the wine-list; Sanct Valentin output is splendid, but there isn't a great deal of it around, sadly - and then we moved onto a couple of bottles of Avvolture 2004 (Moris Farms). Grappa was left until after the return journey up the hill had been negotiated - very wise! - but consisted of a comparison of grappas flavoured with either cherry stones, or cherry flesh (the latter surprisingly - and deliciously - unfruity).
All-in-all, an excellent evening. And not a hangover in sight over breakfast, the next morning!
Lunch that day was idyllic. Vitello Tonnato, accompanied by a cornucopia of salads, and washed down by ice-cold beer. Consumed in the shade on the terrace, looking down over the olive groves beyond the end of the garden. The timetable demanded that we finish all too soon - when I could happily have sat there all afternoon ! - and we went off to visit gardens for the next few hours (Villas Reale and Oliva ), not least as a means of working up an appetite for supper. ....
......which served as the backdrop to a vertical tasting of the Chateau Brancoli output for the past three years: 2005, followed by 2004 ( the so-called 'jug' wine) and then the cream of the crop, 2006. To sop it up, we ate a Risotto di Gorgonzola, followed by Boned Chicken roast with Sage, and braised Celery, and finished off with lavender-poached nectarines and Fig Ice-Cream. We worked our way through the 2005, and the 2004 (which had definitely improved over time, and actually might have been worth bottling after all, we decided).....and then we broached the 2006. Ah! Now that is Wine! was the universal cry around the table. It had been good when first sampled on the night of the luminara, several months ago - but had clearly get better during the period in between. We didn't stop at the first bottle either, and dinner was punctuated by a visit to the Cantina in order to inspect the barrels!
R&R doesn't get much better than that.......
When we left, the following morning, weighed down with plants, and jam, and two more carbuoys of wine - intended for the next grappa distillation - it was with a sense of much pleasure. Only slightly dimmed by the dawning realistion as we unpacked the car back in Pisa that we'd actually forgotten to include our luggage, which was still patiently waiting back in the guest-room up at Brancoli! Maybe the alcohol consumption over the past two days had had a deleterious effect on the brain cells, after all! (Fortunately, yesterday was Ferragosto, the biggest holiday in Italy all year, and so the roads were empty, and it only took forty minutes to drive back and - rather shamefacedly - leave once more, this time with our bags...)
Enough of this! We leave for London for two weeks, this afternoon, and I have a million things yet to do before then......
.......is as yet in the lap of the Gods. The Technical Department is muttering plaintively in favour of sausages........
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Loved the story of forgetting your luggage - I always forget too much when we're on our travels ... last time we were in the next village before I realised I had forgotten the picnic I had taken so much trouble over.
Last night I cooked duck in a lavender sauce and, taking advice from someone or another (luckily I don't remember who), was quite light on the lavender so that the result wouldn't be bitter - but the result was that you really couldn't taste the lavender. The boys were very pleased, as they said it was "disgusting" even to think of using lavender in the cooking. It seems to me that you should use it in roughly similar amounts to thyme or rosemary - would you agree?
Thank you for the lovely post on Brancoli. I inhaled every scent, heard every bird (and train), tasted every morsel and sip of wine, and saw every beautiful site you described. It was a mini-vacation in a post for me! And there was that lavender popping up again with nectarines! Like Joanna, I used a very small amount in a plum galette I made and the flavor was undectable. I, too, am curious what you think about amounts to use.
Frankly, I'm intrigued by the lavender-with-meat thing. I haven't done it, but was struck when introducing lavender into the kitchen the other week by its (all too obvious) similarity to Rosemary. If roasting a joint of Pork with Lavender, for instance, I would certainly start off using the same sort of quantity as I would with Rosemary, and proceed thereafter (on future occasions) on an empirical basis....I would think a comparison with Rosemary is more valid than with Thyme - the latter has a much tighter and more intense kind of flavour than Lavender, I think.
NB.Re.poaching Nectarines with Lavender, I've concluded that the choice of Lemons is very important in the overall mix. In Italy I use Mayer Lemons, which have a very strongly accented scent, which combines particularly well with Lavender. The recipe might not work so well with more subtly scented fruit.
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