An abundance of art, music and architecture, not to mention endless offerings of sumptuous food, can make Florence a difficult city to leave. But beyond it, in the olive tree-studded Tuscan Hills, even more adventure awaits.
It is no secret that Tuscany has good food. And when we say good food, we mean eye-wateringly, devastatingly good food. Mealtimes demand hours of attention from locals, who file into their kitchens to prepare family feasts and rejoice in feeding their loved ones. And themselves. Cooking is never a strain but a pleasure seared into the Italian psyche.
Just a short train journey out of Florence, perched on a hill overlooking the tumbling hills of Tuscan farmland is Canto Del Maggio. It is a farm and slow food oasis, located in a little borgo south of Florence. It is run by father and daughter team Mauro and Simona, who serve their celebrated home cooked food inside their kitchen. Their home, which plays host to guests all year round, is accessed down a sloping path of cobblestones. At the front door, Mauro’s little dog greets you before trotting off into the house to lie beside the fireplace. Our friends in Florence had told us about Mauro and Simona’s home cooked feasts, their bold flavour combinations stacked upon classic Tuscan recipes, and, most temptingly their handmade pasta. So we had to pay them a visit.
The one downside of visiting Italy is that you go away with an understanding of what true pasta should be. And it is a world away from the kind we are used to eating at home. Visiting Mauro, who greeted us from the kitchen table with his hands covered in flour, we had a chance to observe the process of the pasta dishes we had enjoyed every day on our trip. Naturally, lunch at Canto Del Maggio meant two courses of pasta. First, Mauro taught us the ways of strozzapreti, or gnocchi verdi - hand rolled pasta dumplings made with spinach. With the cheery encouragement of Mauro and Simona, our confidence rolling the long lines of dough into small balls grew, and soon we were tossing them into the pan in between conversations about home, the sun and family life. Simona’s son came through to help us with the second pasta course. Pici is a hand rolled pasta that originated in Tuscany, adored for its thickness and simplicity. Using just flour, water and a little salt, we mirrored Mauro in rolling the dough into long, hefty threads. The dough felt supple and stretchy beneath our hands, but fragile. Each time we pressed the precious mixture too hard, Mauro would cry “Leggera!” - “Gentle!” with a smile.
The cooking time was minimal, such is the way with homemade pasta. It takes no time to cook and lends itself perfectly to simple, rich sauces. We gathered around the table whilst Mauro proudly spooned the strozzapreti onto our plates, stirred through with ricotta and sprinkled with tangy pecorino. We ate it with soft chestnut bread, made by Simona, and a bottle of frosty white wine. Lunchtime drinking is another thing you are destined to take home with you. Next, Mauro served the pici with buttery cabbage and anchovies, stacked over a smooth sauce of blended cauliflower. Around that table, with three generations of a family sharing their stories over food that had been raw in our hands just moments before, we came to understand the joy so many Italians find in the preparation of food. In Italy, cooking is a luxury. And pasta is the simplest luxury of all.
Book yours now: Cantodelmaggio.com
Other pasta making lessons around the area:
Words by Meg Abbot
Images by Issy Croker