Some of my warmest memories of Italy are of weekends spent with friends in the Tuscan countryside, just outside the tiny town of Rendola. On Fridays, 10 or 12 of us would leave Rome at about 5:00, take the autostrada to Arezzo, drive to nearby Montevarchi, then veer off onto the narrow winding road that led to Rendola. Once there, a set of tall iron gates ushered us onto the grounds of the Nuccis' country home.
Gino, the farmer in charge of the family's land and vineyards, would quickly pull food from the ground, vines and trees: tomatoes, onions, herbs, grapes...adding, perhaps, a local sheep's cheese called caciotta and the crusty peasant bread known as pane casareccio.
The kitchen was a huge place, with beamed ceilings, marble sinks, two stoves (one wood- burning) for cooking, and a table that could easily accommodate 16. As we gathered there, Piero would start a fire, then descend to the cellar and return with several bottles of his own wine, which he warmed to one side of the enormous fireplace. The Nucci vintage was actually a Chianti, but couldn't be labelled as such because the vineyard was located just a tad outside official Chianti territory.
By this time we would all be ravenous, and Grazia might make us a simple Tuscan salad called panzanella. She started by breaking off chunks of last week's now bone-dry pane casareccio, soaking them in water and squeezing them dry. Atop this she placed juicy diced tomatoes, thinly-sliced sweet onion, fresh basil leaves, minced garlic, salt, pepper, vinegar and olive oil. This comforting, filling salad, served with wine, caciotta and grapes, was our Friday night dinner. Later, we'd sip espresso and sit around that mammoth table until late into the night, telling stories, reciting poetry, singing songs and laughing merrily.
Want to enjoy your own Tuscan dream? Spend a few days at Palazzo Bandino.