I spied this tiny wine bar last year when I was in Lucca. On my own before my tour group got to town, I decided to stop in for a glass of red wine. I was drawn in by the charming entrance and was immediately welcomed by Walter, who is one of the owners (what is the Italian name for Walter?). I was the only patron and so after taking my order he came over to chat and while he does speak some English, I thought this was the perfect opportunity for me to practice my Italian.
The wines here are local and are vino sfuso (What is vino sfuso? Translated word for word: “loose wine”. More properly defined: bulk wine, wine on tap, wine from the cask.) So to clarify, you are getting wine from the tap, rather than a bottle. As in other local spots that have vino sfuso, you can bring your own empty bottle and have them fill it up.
Walter asked if I was hungry and as I’m always hungry when I’m in Italy I said “yes” and he brought me a platter of bruschette which he didn’t charge me for. I enjoyed my snack, the wine and of course the conversation and was happy to have found a nearby spot where I felt welcomed.
Via S.Andrea 14
As much as I love hanging out in Lucca, I was thrilled when Heather from Sapori e Saperi invited me to tag along with her friends on an afternoon excursion to Il Vecchio Mulino for lunch. Located in the town of Castelnuovo di Garfagnana this eatery has been on my “must visit” list for some time.
The osteria is a showcase for the food of the Garfagnana area of Tuscany. Your host, Andrea Bertucci, is passionate about introducing you to the food of the region and you will be treated to samplings of his choice. There’s no need to worry about the fact that you won’t be handed a menu-everything he sends out is delectable.
One word of advice-pace yourself. I barely made it to the end and had no room for dessert. We started with two cold dishes to share-a farro salad with mushrooms and a panzanella. There was a basket filled with bread and focaccia which I found hard to resist. Next up were slices of vegetable tarts and I think my favorite was on that was filled with potato. This was followed with a platter of sliced bread topped with smoked trout and another with “Garfagnana pesto” (a tomato and anchovy spread, I think). If you take a look a the first photo you will see a sign in the window for funghi porcini freschi (fresh porcini mushrooms) and simply roasted they were prefect.
Then came a board with an assortment of local cured meats followed by a variety of cheeses. Oh-I missed a course and I’ll have to rely on Heather to describe it for me. I believe it was a type of “farinata”-this one being a baked vegetable dish. My head was spinning trying to catch what was being said (in Italian) and it’s no secret that there was a fair amount of the conversation that escaped me!
A big thank you to Andrea for doing what you do, to Heather for including me in your day and especially to Nada and Romeo (the talented weavers) for treating me to my experience at Il Vecchio Mulino. Grazie!
By the way, that’s Andrea and Romeo next to the huge mortadella and Heather and Nada seated at the table.
I look forward to the change of seasons and can’t wait to go the weekend farmers’ market to stock up on fall fruits and vegetables. As much as I am a huge fan of those glorious summer tomatoes, I am more than ready to move on to soups and stews and anything with apples.
Since my return form Lucca I’ve been thinking a lot about the Italian way with baked goods. You can certainly can find a cake with frosting and creamy fillings, but for the most part their desserts tend to be more understated and less sweet. I’ve been craving a cappuccino with slice of apple cake and so I turned to Jul’s Kitchen where I knew I’d find just what I was looking for.
I’m giving you the recipe as it was on Jul’s blog. Rather than convert the measurements from metric I used a food scale which I find a lot more reliable. This cake is exactly what I had hoped-not too sweet, but moist and full of apple flavor. I particularly like the addition of chopped apples in the batter.
Italian Apple Cake
1 lemon, zested
170 g of sugar
150 g of butter (5 oz., melted)
200 g of flour
1 packet of baking powder (17 g)
Preheat oven to 180°C. (400 F)
Peel and core the apples. Dice two of them and slice the rest of the apples. Put the diced and sliced apple into two different bowls and season them with a tablespoon of sugar, the juice and the grated peel of one lemon.
Whip the egg yolks with the sugar until creamy, then stir in the melted butter and gradually mix in the flour sifted with the baking powder. Stir in the diced apples.
Beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form and gently fold them into the batter.
If the batter is too thick, you can add a dash of warm milk. (I needed to add about 2 tablesloons milk)
Pour into a 24 cm (9″) greased and floured cake tin and arrange the sliced apples on the surface, in concentric circles.
Bake in preheated oven for 45 minutes, until it is golden brown on the surface. Serve: 8
There’s a restaurant directly below my apartment which has tables outside facing the piazza. On nights when I’ve been feeling tired it’s been tempting to run down there for dinner, but thanks to a review by a local I’ve avoided this spot. I’m happy that I did because my new friend I. confirmed the review (thanks Vico Girl!) and said the food was pretty mediocre and it was more of a “tourist trap”.
I have my own favorite Lucca eateries, but I also trust the recommendations from my rental agent who happens to have the best properties in town. When I saw her listing for Ammondonostro I thought it was worth giving it a try. It was an easy walk from the apartment and somewhat off the beaten path from the streets I usually traverse. We entered into a lovely dining room but the real appeal was the lovely garden out back.
The patio was charming and the woman who led us back there was delightful. I have to say right up front that I had a serious craving for roasted potatoes so I knew that I wouldn’t be ordering pasta. I was more than happy with my potatoes and roasted chicken thighs, but I really should have ordered the roast pork which I spied at a neighboring table. It looked amazing! Well, there’s always next time…
Via della Fratta 20/22
There’s something special about being up and out of the house before everyone else, especially in a town like Lucca where the mid-day streets are filled with locals and a fair amount of tourists.
The church of San Michele is an impressive sight regardless of the amount of people that are milling around. Imagine my delight when I walked into the square and found myself all alone. There were a few police standing in front of the entrance to the church, but that was it. Even the cafes surrounding the piazza were deserted. Good morning to me!
Upon my arrival in Lucca there was still a hint of summer in the air. When I walked the wall in the early morning it was a little cool when I started out, but within minutes I was all warmed up. A few days later and all that had changed. There were leaves on the ground and chestnuts littered the walkway. Most walkers were wearing jackets and there was that certain scent that screamed “it’s fall”. Coming from southern California where autumn really isn’t a season, I was thrilled to experience a little bit of what was always my favorite time of year when I grew up in the northeast.
The cooler weather immediately got me thinking about cooking with autumn vegetables. When I saw this wall lined with squash I couldn’t help but dream about all the dishes I could create once I was back in my own kitchen. Maybe I’ll start with risotto with butternut squash…
There are little shops selling pastries all over town and truth be told they mostly sell the same pastries, but I do have a favorite-Pastcerria Buralli. I discovered this shop, located in Piazza Carmine, on my first trip to Lucca. It’s in my neighborhood just a few minutes from my apartment. It makes me smile to walk in and see the same women working there year after year. They greet every person who comes in with a “buon giorno” and after a few days they know exactly what you want.
The shop is quite small with only three tables and a very small counter. There’s no extra charge to sit and I can’t think of a better way to start the day than right here with a cappuccino and a pastry. I enjoy watching the regulars who they are in and are out of there in a flash after downing their caffe.
I will definitely think of this place when I’m at home in my kitchen trying to make that perfect cappuccino. Ha!