Monday, October 14, 2019

Panicale Teatro Cesare Caporali: Opera & Arancini

Built in 1858 in the historic centre of Panicale, Teatro Cesare Caporali holds the honour for being Italy’s second smallest theatre, originally built with twelve box seats built for the twelve most influential families of Panicale. With an elegant and richly decorated interior, the Teatro Cesare Caporali now hosts many events during the year, including the annual Pan Opera Festival for which we had tickets to 'Disasters at the Opera 2.0', a one-act lyric opera that narrates the 'memorable disasters' in the history of opera. The show peeks behind the scenes where two 'conductors', tenors Antonio Feltracco and Filippo Pina Castiglioni, discuss their long careers in the most prestigious theatres of the world and share an endless list of disasters that occurred, in between which famous arias were performed by soprano Tullia Maria Mancinelli, mezzo-soprano Veronica Filippi, and baritone Cuneyt Unsal. With music by Mozart, Rossini, Verdi, Bizet and Puccini, the production was enormously entertaining, but performed in rapid fire Italian, it was a real challenge to follow! Being opening night, the audience was invited to join the artists for a glass of prosecco and homemade biscotti after the show outside the theatre. Being a glorious warm evening, it was very nice indeed.

Enjoying an apertivo before the opera on Piazza Umberto in Panicale

Negroni made of one part gin, one part vermouth rosso, and one part Campari, 
garnished with orange peel

Glass of acqua frizzante over ice with lemon

One enormous arancine al ragù

Teatro Caporali is just through the arch from Piazza Umberto on via Cesare Caporali

The Teatro Cesare Caporali was built in 1858

Arriving for opening night of the 'Disasters at the Opera 2.0',
a one-act lyric opera narrating the 'memorable disasters' in the history of opera

Teatro Caporali holds the honour for being Italy’s second smallest theatre

The theatre was originally built with twelve box seats built for the twelve 
most influential families of Panicale

Sitting in one of the boxes, we had great seats for the opera

The illustrious cast of 'I Disastri all'Opera 2.0'

Founder of the Pan Opera Festival in Panicale, Virgilio Bianconi

Arancine al ragù
Makes 24

3 tbsp olive oil
1⁄2 small yellow onion, minced
1⁄2 small carrot, minced
1⁄2 stalk celery, minced
3 oz ground beef
3 oz ground pork
1 cup passata or tomato sauce
2 tsp tomato paste
1 small red onion, minced
1 1⁄2 cups arborio rice
1⁄4 tsp crushed saffron
2 tbsp grated parmesan
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1⁄4 cup flour
2 large eggs
2 cups bread crumbs
Canola oil, for frying

Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions, carrots, and celery and cook, stirring often, until soft, about 10 minutes. Add beef and pork and cook, stirring often, until browned, 10–12 minutes. Stir in the passata and tomato paste, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook, stirring occasionally, until thickened, 45–50 minutes. Transfer the meat filling to a bowl and let cool. Refrigerate until chilled.

Heat the remaining oil in a 2-quart saucepan over medium-high heat. Add red onion and cook, stirring, until soft, about 10 minutes. Add the rice and stir to coat. Stir in the saffron and 1 1⁄2 cups water. Bring to a boil, cover, and remove from the heat, then let sit for 20 minutes. Remove the lid and stir in Parmesan, salt, and pepper. Spread the rice out on a plate and let cool. Meanwhile, whisk together the flour, eggs, and 1⁄2 cup water in a shallow bowl until smooth. Place bread crumbs in another bowl and set both aside.

To assemble, place 1 heaping tablespoon of rice in the palm of your hand and flatten into a disk. Place 1 teaspoon of chilled meat filling in centre of the rice disk and form the rice around the filling to encase it completely, pressing gently to form an elongated ball. Roll the arancini in batter and then in bread crumbs until evenly coated. Transfer to a parchment paper lined baking sheet, and repeat with the remaining rice, meat mixture, batter, and bread crumbs. Refrigerate for 20 minutes to firm up.

Pour oil into a 6-quart Dutch oven to a depth of 2-inches and heat over medium-high heat until a deep-fry thermometer reads 360°F. Working in batches, add rice balls to the oil and fry until they are golden and heated through, about 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the rice balls to paper towels. Allow to cool for 5 minutes before serving.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Villa La Foce Italian Gardens: A Labour of Love

An historic Italian house with world-famous gardens, Villa La Foce was originally built at the end of the 15th-century as a wayside tavern, but soon became the centre of a vast estate owned by the great Sienese Hospital and Monastery of Santa Maria della Scala. When the Marquises Antonio and Iris Origo bought the estate of La Foce in 1924, they engaged British society architect and family friend Cecil Pinsent to restructure the main buildings and create a large garden, which was conceived to enhance the Renaissance house and expand the spectacular view of the Val d’Orcia and Mount Amiata in southern Tuscany near Pienza. The harmony between buildings, garden and nature makes La Foce a beautiful example of Tuscany's architectural and cultural evolution in the 20th century, and is one of the most beautiful gardens in Italy. The house is surrounded by a formal Italian garden, which is divided into geometrical ‘rooms’ by box hedges with lemon trees in terracotta pots. Travertine stairs lead to the rose garden and a winding wisteria-covered pergola bordered by lavender hedge. Gentle informal terraces climb up the hill, where cherry trees, pines and cypress grow among wild broom, thyme and rosemary, and a long cypress avenue leads to a 17th-century stone statue, considered to be one of Pinsent's best creations.

Parts of the garden are open to the public on certain days on strictly guided tours, however the garden by the house and the pool remain private. La Foce has a garden shop, including Iris Origo’s classics or literature about the region’s history and Tuscan gardens, as well as local pottery, lavender perfumes, linens, magnets, postcards, hats, and of course the famous La Foce olive oil. The two rooms that are now the shop used to be part of the ‘Fattoria’, which was the centre of the estate from which all the outlying farms depended, and includes the old kitchen, with an enormous fireplace and behind it, and the oven where bread used to be made for the whole community. Today the estate is run by the Origo daughters, Benedetta and Donata.

Just down the road is Ristorante Dopolavoro La Foce, which was built in 1939 as a meeting place for the workers on the La Foce estate, but is now a rather nice restaurant offering traditional Tuscan dishes flavoured with the delicious La Foce extra-virgin olive oil, and boasts its own vegetable garden across the road, guaranteeing a genuine farm-to-table process.

Iris Origo bought the estate of La Foce in 1924

Pomegranate trees in the courtyard of Villa La Foce

The tour started in the courtyard of the original Fattoria

Villa La Foce portico

Sibylla Holtz, a local painter who doubles as a garden guide and led our tour for the afternoon

Private box hedge path to the outdoor swimming pool 

Beautiful swimming pool with poolside limonaia, 
a winter citrus house which was once de rigueur at fashionable villas

Sculpture symbolizing the search for water at La Foce was created by 
Antonio Origo's father Clemente Origo

The Lemon Garden with clipped box hedges

Lush lemon trees

Villa La Foce 

Looking from the garden into Villa La Foce summer breakfast room with gurgling fountain

A cascade of roses envelop a garden urn

The fountain is supported by a sculpture of three fish

Pickets of cypress and walls of boxwood clipped into oblongs capped with half-globes lead the eye down a series of “rooms” into the untamed expanse of field and mountain

Bright red geraniums beautifully contrast with the lush green background

Terraced slopes rise gently up the hill, where cherry trees and pines grow among wild broom, thyme and rosemary, and a long avenue of cypresses leads to a 17th-century stone statue

Villa La Foce Italian Gardens — il Parco più bello d'Italia

Handsome 17th-century stone statue nestled in the garden

Water lily in the pond 

Travertine stairs lead to the rose garden and a winding wisteria-covered pergola 
bordered by lavender hedge

The Wisteria Arbour Walk

Pears are just one of the fruits grown on the estate

As she shepherded us from terrace to parterre, urn to fountain, travertine steps to herbaceous border, Sibylla sprinkled her talk with equal parts history, botany, garden design and family gossip

Flowers were in bloom throughout the gardens

A hidden walkway at La Foce and one of the most beautiful gardens in Italy — Il Parco più bello d'Italia

Iris's rose garden has been modernised with plantings from all over the world, and these days two full-time gardeners care for the garden

Ristorante Dopolavoro La Foce was built in 1939 as a meeting place for the workers on the La Foce estate, but is now a lovely restaurant offering a traditional Tuscan menu

Staff of Dopolavoro in the outdoor garden restaurant

La Foce Tagliatelle with wild boar ragu and blackberries

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Arezzo: Piero della Francesca & Trattoria Logge Vasari

With its origins dating back to the Paleolithic era, Etruscan Arretium was founded around the 9th-century BC, and quickly became one of the most important cities in Tuscany, playing an important role over the centuries due to its strategic position along the Via Cassia. Arezzo's most powerful period came during the Middle Ages, before the town was taken over by Florence, and even though much of the centre was destroyed during World War II, Arezzo is today a vibrant wealthy city with many exquisite monuments, churches and museums remaining, allowing visitors a unique opportunity to step back into the city's rich and colourful history. 

The city's greatest artistic treasure however, is Piero della Francesca's fresco cycle The Legend of the True Cross, located in the Basilica of San Francesco. Started in 1452, this early Renaissance masterpiece tells the story of the 'True Cross', considered to be Piero della Francesca’s greatest masterpiece and narrates a medieval story about the cross on which Jesus was crucified. The work on a fresco cycle in the Cappella Maggiore had just begun in 1452 by the Florentine painter Bicci di Lorenzo, until his untimely death, leaving the chapel unfinished. Piero della Francesca then took over the project, and began covering the walls of the Gothic chapel with the most advanced frescoes of the 15th century. 

When it's time for lunch, one of the more picturesque places to eat in Arezzo, is under the beautiful sun bathed Loggia designed by Giorgio Vasari. One of the prettier restaurants nestled under the vaulted colonnade is Trattoria Logge Vasari, which serves traditional Tuscan and Arezzo cuisine and homemade pasta that's made outside on the Loggia by Signora Gina Mugnai. Run by the Fazzuoli family since 1984, Logge Vasari is perfect on a beautiful sunny day and where we sat overlooking Piazza Grande, sipping Prosecco, and enjoyed a wonderful long leisurely lunch and Gina's handmade Tortelli stuffed with Buffalo Mozzarella.

The beautiful barrel-vaulted arched Loggia designed by Giorgio Vasari

Trattoria Logge Vasari, which serves traditional Tuscan and Arezzo cuisine

Fresh pasta is made every day outside Logge Vasari by Signora Gina Mugnai

Each time we arrive for lunch at this lovely restaurant, Gina is always busy making pasta that is one of the highlights of the menu

Gina's handmade Tortelli stuffed with Buffalo Mozzarella

Embroidered menu cover 

A glass of bubbley and crisp homemade grissini

Focaccia and Tuscan bread

Butter with pink peppercorns

An amuse bouche of Zucchini Soup

Trilogia di Arancini

Selection of tomato, basil and saffron arancini with fresh pea purée

Antonio Camillo Fermentino from the Maremma region of Tuscany

A bright, lively and pure-fruited Vermentino with notes of Mediterranean herbs, sage and rosemary

Tagliata di Manzo con rosmarino, pepe rosa e patate croccanti


Tortello di pomodoro e basilico su bufala affumicata liquida con asparago

Gina's perfect little pillows of deliciousness

A plate of homemade sweets arrive with our caffe macchiato

Santa Maria della Pieve is the main Romanesque church of Arezzo's central square, Piazza Grande, dates back to 1140 and was built on top of an earlier temple dating back to 1000 BC 

A late Medieval church, the Basilica di San Francesco safeguards the legendary fresco cycle 'Legend of the True Cross' by Piero della Francesca which was completed in 1466

An early Italian Renaissance masterpiece, The Legend of the True Cross narrates a Medieval story about the cross on which Jesus was crucified

The frescoes occupy three levels on the side walls and the eastern wall surrounding a large window of the Cappella Maggiore, and depicts eleven episodes of the legend

Fresco detail - Burial of the Wood

When designing the layout of the frescos, Piero della Francesca painted scenes located in the open air at the top, court scenes in the middle and battle scenes at the bottom

The Dream of Constantine describes the moment in history when the aspiring emperor had a vision of the cross, which then became the victorious battle flag of later Christian sovereigns

Detail of the Battle between Heraclius and Chosroes

The vaulted ceiling painted by Florentine painter Bicci di Lorenzo in 1447