Breaking Down the “Ten Days in Tuscany” Menu

Here we go, the last prix-fixe event of the year as 2016 begins to circle the drain.  This dinner is a nod to my third international wine tour. . .this one in  early October when 28 of us spent 10 days exploring the wine and food of Tuscany. . .from Chianti at the top to just across the border in Umbria’s Oriveto.

Tuscany was a joy on every level. . .the antiquities, the incredible vistas, mountaintop citadels and wonderful people.  As with my previous tours to Spain and Provence, it’s very much a blur of excess, of over-consumption of life’s greatest gifts.  I consider myself fortunate and privileged to journey to these Meccas of standard-setting cuisine and to taste some of the most profoundly impressive wines made anywhere.

It was Chef Alexander’s task to create a menu representative of the region, based on cues from Drew and me.  My son’s separate Italian journey overlapped with my tour, and we managed to hook up briefly in Florence.

I hope you’ll be able to join us over the next two weeks (November 15 to 27, starting at 5 p.m.) for “Ten Days in Tuscany.”  The cost is $59.95 per person, plus tax and tip.  Please call 530-823-0320 for reservations or go online to

Here’s some more good news:  We’ll have seven wines available for purchase, six of which were sourced from wineries we visited on the trip.

The full menu is described below.  Mangia tutti!

Pressing on, members of Carpe Vino's Tuscany tour  prepare for yet another tasting in Italy.

Pressing on, members of Carpe Vino’s Tuscany tour
prepare for yet another tasting in Italy.

First Course 

(choice of one):

Grilled Endive Salad (shaved lardo, persimmon, hazelnuts, pecorino toscano)

This highly composed, seasonal salad is inspired by produce and products typically used in Tuscany.  Chef Alexander starts by grilling California endive and then dresses it with aged balsamic vinegar.  For a bit of crunch, the salad is topped with local persimmons and toasted hazelnuts.  The show stoppers are shaved, imported pecorino Toscano and paper-thin slices of lardo made in Iowa by La Quercia.  Lardo is fatback cured in salt, herbs and spices and is so decadent, it melts in your mouth.


Carnaroli Risotto Nero (Dungeness crab, nduja pangrattato, saffron

Drew was in Italy this fall, and he petitioned the Chef to create this dish.  “Carnaroli” is a variety of short-grain rice that is the base of the risotto. . .cooked in white wine, shellfish broth and squid ink.  The dish is finished with Dungeness crab and “nduja pangrattato,” a combination of rustic bread crumbs and a spicy, spreadable salami.  Plated with a saffron emulsion.

Second Course:

Farro e Fagioli Soup (lacinato kale, root vegetables, porcini broth)

Our group had a wonderful pasta e fagioli on our tour of Tuscany, but chef is changing it up by incorporating farro instead of pasta.  Chef has sourced “borlotti” beans, more commonly called cranberry beans in our part of the world.  As a nod to the fall season, the broth is flavored with porcini mushrooms and is comprised of a host of diced vegetables:  carrots, rutabaga, turnips and celery as well as Tuscan kale.  Finished with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

Third Course:

Porchetta Toscana (pumpkin, Brussels sprouts, turnip, cranberry-quince mostarda

Chef creates a roll of pork ribs (seasoned with fennel, rosemary and herbs)wrapped in bacon and roasted.  Slices are placed on a bed of pumpkin purée and served with Brussels sprout leaves and baby turnips.  A complicated condiment called “mostarda” is used to dress the pork.  It is made by cooking down quince and cranberries in white wine, sugar, spices, mustard seeds and oil until it is thick and syrupy, kind of like an Italian chutney.


Pappardelle Pasta (venison Bolognese, pear, rosemary)

This dish starts with a slow-cooked and simmered Bolognese made with farm-raised venison, ground pork, red wine, veal stock, carrot, celery and onions.  Chef’s secret is a touch of cocoa powder to add complexity that stands up to the boldness of the venison.  The Bolognese is tossed with pappardelle, a wide, broad and flat pasta.  Finished with caramelized peas, rosemary and shaved Parmesan cheese.


Chestnut-Chocolate Torta (chestnut honey, espresso crema)

Chef McDonald has created a moist, dense chocolate cake enriched with chestnut purée.  Drizzled with chestnut honey imported from Italy; topped with a dollop of espresso crema–whipped cream blended with mascarpone cheese, sugar and espresso.  Finished with a dusting of grated chestnut.

Just a reminder:  We’ve recast the prix-fixe program so that it runs for two weeks instead of just one. The total number of dishes on the menu is now six:  two appetizers, soup, two entrées and dessert.