Our hostess at Cretaiole, Isabella, has planned a lesson in making pici (pasta) which will become our dinner. I did not take an official count, but I estimate Cretaiole had about fifteen guests for the pici lesson and dinner. We all gathered early in the evening on Wednesday and the lesson began. Isabella used about 4 to 5 kilos of flour ( 9 to 11 pounds) with which she made a dam into which she broke about two dozen eggs. I know that olive oil was involved and certainly water, but I don't have her recipe so I won't even try to recite the process from memory and my illegible notes. (There was also an olive oil tasting that lasted for two to three hours the next day).
After mixing the ingredients, the dough was divided into a number of pizza dough sized rounds and the class took over the kneading. Our hostess carefully demonstrated the kneading process and over saw our progress. I have a few short videos and will attempt to post two or three of the most representative. Suffice it to say that the demonstration by Isabella was much more successful than our attempts to duplicate the process.
Rolling out the pici by hand is surely an art! Isabella created pici six to eight feet long and with the diameter of a pencil as effortlessly as was our applause in response to her skills. The class did quite well and soon there was a "ton" of pici ready to serve with the Ragu that had been cooking in the kitchen since the evening before. Now we might think that cooking a Ragu for perhaps 24 hours is overkill, but however long it was actually cooked was the right amount of time because the Ragu was delicious! Isabella's husband, Carlo, had made a wood fire in a outdoor grille (we might compare it to a barbecue grille) and reduced the fire to red hot coals over which he grilled sausages and some sort of chops. The pici ragu and the chops and sausages were the hearty dinner we all wanted and with a salad, as much bread and wine as we could reasonably consume, dinner was brilliant, to say the least. The simple foods we have enjoyed in Italy are the best. In fact, I cannot recall a fancy dinner that was as good as the pici ragu dinner at Cretaiole!
Back to Thursday morning...We headed out early to visit Santa Anna in Camprena, a Benedictine monastery dating from the fifteenth century.
(an aerial view of Santa Anna in Camprena)
(Scenes from the movie "The English Patient" were filmed here). The drive to the monastery, like every rural drive in Tuscany and much of Italy, was almost as good as the monastery itself! More vineyards and olive groves. The edges of the vineyards of largely Sangiovese grape are planted with rose bushes...red roses...for miles...
The roads wind through hills and valleys, some recently tilled and others growing the grapes and olives that will be harvested in September and October. We pass through a few small towns and villages and and by fields of wilting sunflowers. It seems the drive is over before we have seen enough of this beautiful area (Val d'Orcia) of Tuscany.
We drove for at least 45 minutes and finally found the monastery. Actually, if we had not taken a somewhat (unplanned) circuitous route we would have arrived in 15 or 20 minutes...Santa Anna in Camprena is only about 6 or 7 km from Cretaiole. I goofed off with the picture taking and somewhat intentinally because the guests at the monastery were painting in the courtyard
(the courtyard on the top and the refectory on the bottom)
We wandered around the grounds and throughor a half hour and headed out to Montalcino...and lunch...