We’ve been a little housebound for the past few weeks due to various issues and situations. We had expected to take many day trips while we’re here and we’ve really been itching to get out. We finally got out recently and took two trips. One to Deruta and one to Lucignano.
Deruta. Deruta is a charming little town in its own right, but it is world famous for majolica, the colorful, handmade and hand-painted ceramics. Deruta is located near the Tiber river and uses the clay from there to make their pottery. Some speculate that it dates back to the Middle Ages, but really began to flourish during the Renaissance. Deruta ulitmately became known for its high-quality, innovative design, and unique glazes. When we first started going to Deruta about 20 years ago, it was filled with shops. During the recession of 2008, many of them closed. Today there are still a good many shops and it seems that it is starting to come back. Competition from cheap Chinese knock-offs have really hurt this craft. Mass produced and sold all over the world, they look like the real thing for a fraction of the cost.
We bought a few things and oh, how I wish I had more (some) storage space. It’s probably just as well that I have to be mindful of where I can put things when I buy them. It keeps the budget in check.
I found a place in Bettona for lunch, which is only about 10 miles from Deruta. I use my Italian Slow Food app to help find places when we’re out and about. It has never let me down. It was a little agriturismo out in the country. It had the most beautiful outdoor dining area and looked just perfect. We pulled in the gravel lot and started for the door. A man came out to meet us asking us, basically, what we wanted. We said lunch and he said no. They only take reservations and were full for lunch. I tried a very pitiful, disappointed American face but he was not to be swayed. Back in the car to find another place. I found one in Bevagna, which was another 10 or so miles away.
This one was in the historic center of town and had outdoor seating lining the main street. Most of the tables were full and the ones that weren’t had reservation cards on them. We took a deep breath and asked and snagged the last open table for two. Places here close up after lunch so if you miss it, you’ve missed lunch. Sometimes the lunch window is pretty tight – maybe two hours. So it’s critical that you find a place and get in. We were pushing up against the outer edge of lunch time, so we were very grateful we got seated.
Antiche Sere is just inside one of the gates to the historic center of Bevagna. They had about three choices of appetizer, primi, and secondi. The only dessert listed was the Dolce della Casa. We were fairly well stuffed by then so we declined. Although I was curious about what it was. We shared a panzanella salad. This is one of the things that is different everywhere you go. This one had celery, olives, tomato, and basil. Some have onion and cucumber. All different, but all good. I love the stale bread that soaks up all the flavors of the salad so that you not only taste the dressing, you also taste the essence of the ingredients. And those fabulous, juicy tomatoes that explode in your mouth. It’s such a great summertime salad. Just throw together whatever you have with some old, crusty bread and douse it with oil, vinegar, and seasoning.
Steve had the stringozzi (means shoestring-like) pasta with a maiale nero ragu. Maiale nero is a black pig. I’m not entirely sure what’s supposed to be special about it, but the sauce was fantastic. I had gnocchi with onions and sausage cooked in Sagrantino wine. If you don’t know Sagrantino, I would advise you to make an introduction. It’s very hard to find in the US and is from the area we were having lunch. This dish, I will admit, did not look very good. Anything cooked in red wine, especially things like pasta and gnocchi, take on a washed out burgundy appearance that really doesn’t look that appetizing. But it was incredible. The gnocchi were fluffy and light, not the heavy at all, and the flavor from the Sagrantino sauce was a concentrated slice of heaven.
After lunch we strolled around town for a few minutes. Bevagna is well worth a visit, whether it’s for lunch or not. It’s a beautiful town with killer views and interesting architecture. According to legend (there’s always a legend in Italy) the countryside near Bevagna is where St. Francis preached to the birds. Remind of you of someone from Atlanta who recently died? Put it on your list.
Lucignano. We’ve never been here. I have been saving up places that I read about or see on Instagram and this was one of them. It’s less than an hour from here and a relative easy drive (easy for me, anyway, as I’m sitting in the passenger seat). This town is laid out in a circular pattern and the streets go up until you reach the center at the top. It makes it very easy to navigate. It’s a beautiful medieval hill town and its claim to fame is the Tree of Gold. It’s a reliquary, which holds saints’ bones fragments and supposedly pieces of Christ’s cross. It’s a might fancy thing and was made by goldsmiths in the 14th century. It’s a very intricate design of gold and coral with all these little bone holders shaped like leaves. It’s about six feet tall and is housed in a glass case. Very hard to get a good picture of, so this is the best I could manage. For some reason which remains a mystery to me, the tree is supposed to bring good luck and eternal love to couples who visit it. Well, Steve, Millie, and I stood before it so we’ll see what happens.
I had no leads on lunch here, so we stopped into a little trattoria with a gorgeous terrace. We had a wonderful Sunday lunch under the canopy, shading us from the warm sun. I had pici pasta alla gricia and it was very good. Pici is a typical pasta from around this area. It’s fat, round, and long. Alla gricia is prepared with guanciale (pork check), cheese, and pepper. Steve had gnudi with spinach, ricotta and sage. Gnudi is pasta without the pasta. It’s replaced by the light, fluffy ricotta and is one of the most flavorful things you can imagine. It (almost) makes you wonder why we bother with pasta in the first place. Then we shared a serving of tagliata, sliced steak.
Lovely days in magical places traveling through Tuscany. Hoping for many, many more just like this.