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Taste of Tuscany

Taste of Tuscany
June 2010
Traveling by table to central Italy with chef Massimiliano Sarrocchi and his wife, Natasha

Traveling by table to central Italy with chef Massimiliano Sarrocchi and his wife, Natasha

The sun dips across the Sant’ Antimo valley, spilling warm light across vineyards and olive groves. Having returned to their farmhouse villa from a tour of Florence, the Montalcino marketplace, or another delicious day trip, the jovial diners congregate around an alfresco table, sharing wine and accounts of afternoon adventures. Glasses are raised in a toast to their newfound camaraderie and to the aromatic meal that their chef and guide has just delivered. “Salute e cent’anni! Health and 100 years!” Tradition holds an honorary seat at tonight’s supper table.

Since 2001, Charleston restaurateur Massimiliano Sarrocchi and his wife, Natasha, have escorted small groups on culinary tours of his native Italy. Limiting the eight-day trips to 10 to 12 travelers, this cordial couple serves up intimate journeys into the flavors, sights, history, and true personality of the Tuscan region, from unique encounters with artisan bakers and cheesemakers to impromptu wine tastings in underground cellars. This spring, Massi, as most call him, sold his Warren Street trattoria, Pane e Vino, in order to expand the offerings at their tour company, Italy Discovered. For a taste of their travels, we asked the Sarrocchis to prepare a typical Tuscan summer meal using simple, in-season ingredients.

<p> </p> <p>Massi begins with a carpaccio of zucchini accompanied by cherry tomatoes and black truffle pecorino. Named for Venetian painter Vittore Carpaccio, this delicate dish typically features raw meat or veggies thinly sliced and served in a sauce, in this case, extra-virgin olive oil. “It’s only a small portion, but it’s one you remember,” says the chef, who was born into the restaurant business. He drizzles the plate in an organic, cold-pressed olive oil, which retains a concentrated flavor that’s distinct against the crisp, salt-cured zucchini.
<p>"In Italy, you always try to impress guests with your homemade pasta,” says Massi, who usually reserves the from-scratch staple for special occasions. “Making it gives you a moment to be together with people before the meal.” Kneading flour and eggs, he creates a paste, from which the word pasta originated, that he flattens and cuts with a machine.
<p>While the word scottadito, meaning “burned finger” may not sound so appetizing, the thin, flash-fried lamb chops to which the Italian term refers are, in fact savory and juicy offerings. Massi plates the petite treats with roasted and puréed spring veggies, fresh sautéed spinach, and hearty garbanzo beans. To minimize the need for added salt in the sides, he sautés the boiled beans in the same skillet and olive oil used for searing the chops and tops the spinach with a sharp, aged pecorino.
<p>"This is the easiest treat in the world,” says Natasha, who made a classic panna cotta. “I’ve never seen a complicated dessert menu in Italy,” adds Massi. The cool and decadent dolce displays a smooth texture similar to flan or crème caramel. And Natasha likes that the basic dish of cooked and set cream, sugar, and vanilla can be adjusted to suit any tastes. “Try adding espresso to the cream, sprinkling it with cocoa, or topping it with rhubarb compote,” she suggests, though the Sarrocchis typically keep it simple with an assortment of fresh berries.