Thursday, May 19, 2016

Osteria dell'Acquacheta in Montepulciano

Nestled in the heart of Montepulciano on a narrow street just steps from Piazza Grande is Osteria dell'Acquacheta, a cozy and bustling osteria known for it's Bistecca alla Fiorentina, the revered chargrilled Tuscan steak prized for its tenderness and flavour, that comes from the region's celebrated Chianina cows that graze in the nearby Val di Chiana. The heart and soul of Aquacheta is the wildly charismatic knife wielding chef-owner Giulio Ciolfi, who hacks his way through enormous sides of beef and presents the bounty table side to show each customer their desired cut before it's cooked in a traditional wood burning oven. In typical Italian style, simplicity rules the day; little more than olive oil, salt and pepper are needed to highlight the rich flavour of the grilled meat, which is served lightly seared and very rare — don't even think of asking for it to be served otherwise! The menu changes every week with all of the dishes prepared according to traditional recipes such as the excellent Pici al Ragù di Cinghiale, handmade pasta with wild boar sauce, and Tagliatelle al Tartufo Bianco delle Crete Senesi, and of course Giulio's renowned Fiorentina steak cooked in oak embers, which is hormone free and humanely raised. All of the pasta is 'fatto a mano' by Anna, and all the ingredients are from local farmers that cultivate and breed in the traditional manner (without chemicals) and follow the season, including the olive oil and wine. Aquacheta is tiny and very informal. During the high season, reservations are often be made up to a month in advance, so be prepared to share your table with others and bring an appetite.

Wielding an enormous clever, Giulio Ciolfi is known for his Fiorentina steak, which is hormone free and humanely raised and comes from the Chianina cows that graze in nearby Val di Chiana

The tiny cozy interior of Acquacheta in Montepulciano

The short but devilishly delicious menu

A handwritten menu of specials dishes of the day 

Housemade Tagliatelle with garlic and olive oil - aglio e olio

Housemade Gnocchi with Wild Fennel Pesto

A litre of Nobile di Montepulciano, the famous wine of the area

The epitome of simple Tuscan cuisine, Bistecca alla Fiorentina is the specialty of Acquacheta, 
and is cooked in the open wood fired oven in the back of the restaurant

Enigmatic chef-owner Giulio Ciolfi arrives at our table with the raw bistecca for approval and admiration, then disappears and returns later with our perfectly grilled and carved 3-inch thick marvel

Garnished with a little olive oil and sprinkle of salt, the Bistecca alls Fiorentina was delicious 

A side dish of Stewed Chicoria

A simple espresso is the perfect finish to our meal

Gnocchi with Duck Ragout
Serves 4
Recipe courtesy of Osteria dell’Acquacheta, Montepulciano 

Wheat flour, to taste
1 lb potatoes, peeled
Salt, to taste
1 large egg

1 clove garlic
1 carrots
1 onions
1 tbsp Cognac
4 oz duck or chicken liver
Extra virgin olive oil, to taste
Pepper, to taste
3/4 lb duck meat
3/4 lb tomatoes
Salt, to taste
1 bunch sage
1 stalk celery
1 glass of red wine

Finely chop the meat and duck liver with a knife and prepare the chopped celery, garlic, carrot, onion and sage leaves. In a saucepan, brown the chopped vegetables in oil and, once ready, add the meat colouring it on a medium flame. Pour in the cognac and allow it to evaporate, then pour in the wine, and wait until it is absorbed and salt to taste. Peel the tomatoes and strain them, then add them to the pan and cook until the sauce has thickened. Taste and, if necessary, season with salt and a pinch of pepper.

Make the gnocchi by boiling the potatoes in lightly salted boiling water, then mash them while they're still hot, until they are silky smooth. Place the mashed potatoes on a clean work surface and add the flour — the amount depends on the capacity of absorption of the potatoes. Add a pinch of salt and an egg and using your hands, massage until the mixture is well combined. Using your hands, take a handful of dough at a time and and shape it into long rolls about an inch thick then cut them into 1/2-inch pieces. Cook the dumplings in plenty of salted boiling water, and drain them as soon as they surface; serve with the sauce.

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