Dr. Dawg

Tuscan notes (2): Caciucco

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Italy now has a government—after more than two months—and for some reason I thought of this delicious Tuscan dish, seen here directly in front of me in beautiful downtown Poggibonsi.*

It wasn’t perfect—not enough peperoncino, unlike the scrumptious precursor I enjoyed in Populonia, on the Etruscan Coast, in the form of a bruschetta. When the latter came, it wasn’t the usual stuff spread on a crostino. Instead, it was a mini-caciucco with two lacy, wafer-thin slices of toast planted decoratively in the stew.

But my metaphor already wears thin. True, the new government is an artful mix of left and right, men and women, the anti-austerity Prime Minister Enrico Letta bumping elbows with the governor of the Bank of Italy, now Finance Minister (with the apt name of Saccomani), but there is no guarantee whatsoever that the dish will prove harmonious, despite its fresh ingredients and a lengthy simmering.

Perhaps the image best sums up Italy herself. The unique personalities of the regions, including dialects, cuisine, customs, seasonal landscapes and history, do hold together in an often peppery blend. At least in my experience, the country is a treat for all of the senses, and is best enjoyed slowly.

Spring-lush Tuscany continues to enchant, even as we are preparing to leave for Bologna today for a little May Day celebrating in that reddest of Italian cities, and try some classic spaghetti tagliatelle alla bolognese. We have seen more former-day gated communities than I can easily name, with their walls, fortresses, churches and piazzas, revelled in the rich bel paese, and eaten our way from one end of the province to the other.

Two evenings ago it was tender pork smothered in plums and apples, enjoyed outside in the fresh air as the Tuscan night was falling. Yet another bottle of local Chianti and two limoncelli later we were ready to call it a day. This evening, our last at the excellent residence Il Borghetto, we had a rich mixture of antipasti, including small hot croissants stuffed with onion, a flavourful bean paste with crostini, and salami flavoured with fennel; followed by pasta with artichokes; then turkey breast in a marvellous sauce—and more limoncello. (Neither of us had room for the tiramisu.)


Tuscany is an Arcadian dream, but et in Arcadia ego. Most of the places we visited do well from the tourism trade, selling their prodotti tipici and tickets for just about everything. This is, unsurprisingly, a key industry nowadays in the little hilltop towns. But get off the beaten track a little—say to Montecastelli—and a more sombre picture emerges.



The place is nearly a ghost town. Having nothing to offer the tourists (we asked an old woman where the castelli were: “No castles here,” she laughed) people have drifted away. There isn’t even a grocery store, much less a bar or a restaurant: provisions are brought in by truck once a week. Only seventy or so inhabitants are left, mostly old people, slowly dying like the town itself. How on earth does one pass the time in Montecastelli?

To complete my Tuscany report, in any case, I thought I’d share a few photos from Ms. Mew and myself to give a bit more of the flavour. I’m going to miss this place.

Here’s the mediaeval castello of Populonia, far above the Gulf of Baratti on the Etruscan Coast.


In Boccaccio’s birthplace, in Certaldo, a “secret garden”:


The Tuscan countryside seen down a long passageway in Mensano:


A Roman-style church in the small central piazza in Monteriggioni:


This part of the above photo, magnified, caused us mild concern for some reason:

Inset Monteriggioni.jpg

A display Ms. Mew enjoyed—eye-popping decor in a small restaurant by Lake Trasimeno, on the Umbrian border:


The main street of San Gimigniano. The street boasts not one, but two “Museums of Torture.”


The Machiavelli family hunting lodge, near Bargino:


And, from us— “a tutti!


* A place where the Lady in the Sky becomes hopelessly confused. It may as well be the cave of the minotaur: “tremendo per perdersi,” as our hostess put it. But we found the restaurant after a bit of a walk.

[Photo credits: Ms. Mew (3rd and 7th, above) and Sandra (last photo)]

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This page contains a single entry by Dr. Dawg published on May 1, 2013 1:26 AM.

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