Pinoli in Petroio with PinoPine nuts are the leitmotif of this dinner, “architect Nicola affirmed as he served us his tasty first course: tagliolini (small tagliatelle) seasoned delicately with a tidbit of garlic, a fistful of wild fennel (“picked just a few hours ago”) and a handful of pine nuts.
After a private visit to the Etruscan collection of tiny Petroio with Nicola (he’d designed the museum interior), we had followed him and engineer, Claudio, through the windy backstreets of this tiny southern Tuscany town to Nicola’s home, passing the towering chimney of the town kiln enroute. Known for its terra-cotta craftsmanship, terra-cotta works adorned the Petroio fountain, many a home – and Nicola’s garden.
Here, wife Franca, welcomed us with glasses of spumante, sipped as we gazed out at daytime giving up to night over the Tuscan landscape (Pienza off in the distance). Franca showed us a curious collection of terra-cotta objects long in the family as Nicola headed to the kitchen. “Nicola’s the chef,” Franca smiled, “after all, architects often make great cooks.”
My husband Pino’s crew had been restoring the medieval walls of nearby Trequanda and Nicola and Claudio were in technical charge of the project.Nicola had deliberately celebrated Sicily (in honor of Pino) in the pasta dish: a bit reminiscent of the pasta con le sarde pasta Pino’s mother used to make – with pine nuts, currants, wild fennel.
Nicola had never tried, though, another Sicilian specialty: a pasta sauce of cauliflower, pine nuts and currants.
But at this dinner, the “pine nut leit motif” highlighted his main course, too: a tonno (tuna) carpaccio topped with juniper berries and a delicate wild arugula/lemon/pine nut sauce. No pine nuts in the summer vegetables which followed but capers off the vines in their garden enhanced the roasted peppers while wild fennel highlighted the stuffed cherry tomatoes.
In the fruit macedonia of peaches, pears,and banana, pine nuts took the stage once again. Savory cheeses followed and Nicola gave us careful instructions on the tasting order.
La fine? Not quite. Nicola’s chocolate cake was gran finale – with almonds, not pine nuts,
As we drove home, the Mediterranean pine trees – umbrella pines – serpentined along many a country road, their stately elegance such an Italian landmark.Their pine cones shelter the pinoli, one of Italy’s treasured “culinary landmarks,” and a memorable ingredient in everything from ice-creams to seafood sauces to cheeses.
And Nicola, we’ll long remember the pine nut goodness in your “leif motif-pinoli” dinner.
Read about neighboring Trequanda
Read about nearby Montisi, too
Read about another favorite Tuscan spot
Read about more good eating in Tuscany