Like nothing you have tasted before: Tuscany’s New Oil!

Before we moved to Italy, I had never heard of olio nuovo. Literally translated it means “new oil” – from the first press of picked olives. But liberally translated – otherwise known as according to me – it means “get ready for the most amazing taste sensation ever!”

???????????????????????????????
This photo does not do justice to the vibrancy of the green!

Yesterday, Lulu and company could be seen climbing the olive trees at Il Pozzo, our friend Carla Veneri’s congenial country inn just outside of Arezzo.

???????????????????????????????
The silvery boughs are heavy with abundance. That’s fancy for “Man, that’s a lot of olives!”

???????????????????????????????

While the kids pick up in the branches..

Lulu takes a rest up in the tree
Lulu takes a rest up in the tree

..I reach out from my place firmly on the ground.

I'm working up an appetite. Wonder if there will be any food? ;)
I’m working up an appetite. Wonder if there will be any food? 😉

The nets and baskets below are quickly filled and refilled.

??????????????????????????????? ???????????????????????????????

Down the hillside, a cast of terrific cooks and helpers adds logs to the fire and drizzle grilled bruschetta with the freshest, greenest olive oil.

???????????????????????????????

A harvest feast is being prepared.

Carla's mom shows off the biggest porcini I have ever seen. Found in woods nearby.
Carla’s mom shows off the biggest porcini I have ever seen. Found in woods nearby.

It’s kicked off with an appetizer made from the biggest porcini mushroom I, and many of the other gathered guests, have ever seen. Carla’s mom, who is the head chef here at Il Pozzo, transformed it into fried slices of savory goodness.

Carla hands out the porcini appetizers. Che buona!
Carla hands out the porcini appetizers.
Che buona!
Che buona!

We’re next met by four plates of lasagne. Pumpkin and sage, vegetarian and a ragu of carne. But they’re only the primi or first course.

???????????????????????????????

Those of us gathered around Il Pozzo’s expansive garden table are also served mounds of grilled ribs and salsicce – the Tuscan-style flavorful sausage that my new German friends sitting to my right say are better than any bratwurst. There’s roasted potatoes, cauliflower and a garlic spinach.

Buon appetito!
Buon appetito!

Of course just look at those corks, there’s also plenty of Italian red wine.

???????????????????????????????

And after such a banquet, you might forget why you came here in the first place, but before we go home, each guest is handed a bottle of Il Pozzo olio nuovo.
You know it’s fresh, not just from the flavor, but because you can watch Carla’s dad press the olives right before your eyes.

??????????????????????????????? ???????????????????????????????

The olive press machinery is on the same grounds as all the trees.

And I looked at the phosphorescent liquid streaming out from the pressing machine, I thought back to our first autumn in Tuscany. This excerpt is from my book, Because I’m Small Now and You Love Me:

It was October and Fabrizio and his wife Guisy had just bottled the first-press. He handed us a bottle of the brightest colored green liquid I had ever seen that wasn’t some kind of artificially mint-flavored alcohol. It was practically neon. If I hadn’t seen it myself, I wouldn’t have believed this color could exist in nature.

I poured a little onto a white plate. It gleamed and glowed. ..The flavor was so pungently crisp and sharp; raw and original, that I was taken aback.

So was Lulu. “Blech. This tastes like grass,” she said.

Now, a year older, Lulu’s palate is more mature and she happily tried a slice of olive oiled bruschetta.

“Hmm.. It’s too forte (strong), I still don’t care for it. ” she says this time.  A little more refined language perhaps, but she’s not a convert. Yet.

Lulu still didn't like the sharp taste of olio nuovo. We'll have to try again next year!
Lulu still didn’t like the sharp taste of olio nuovo. We’ll have to try again next year!

“Maybe next year,” I say. I’m more than happy to think that perhaps we’ll still be in Italy next October. And Il Pozzo’s olive picking event is definitely something I would mark on the calendar.

Since you can’t lick this essay, you’ll have to fly here for your own taste!

Til then,

Baci, Gina

P.S.  How many of you have picked olives?  Tasted nuovo olio?  Been to Il Pozzo yet?  Let me know!

Advertisements

Agretti! It’s what’s for dinner…in Tuscany!

Agretti.  Also known as “Monk’s Beard.” It’s not well-known outside of Tuscany.  But, today, I’m sharing a spring-time secret that Lulu and I enjoy here in Arezzo – with you – wherever you are!

??????????????????????

Don’t imagine that if you’re in Tuscany during the spring you’ll readily come across Agretti. In fact, some quite smart American expat friends of mine who have lived here for many years and are fluent in the language and most of the customs, had never heard of it before.  But, I was fortunate enough to be taught about this springtime delicacy from the terrific sorelle, or sisters, who run the small bottega known as “Frutta a Go-Go.”  Love that name.

100_7153

Marianna and Gioanna encouraged me to buy Agretti for the first time last spring.  The Mediterranean plant looks like a blend of chives and Kentucky bluegrass to me. You can buy it fresh, loose and in handfuls from the market or pre-packaged in grocery stores like I did yesterday.

DSCN2054

It’s easy to prepare.  Here are all the ingredients I used from my kitchen as le sorelle told me to simply boil it in salted water just like pasta, then drain and drizzle with olive oil – extra virgin, ma certo!

 DSCN2187

In just about three or four minutes, drain it, place it on a platter, sprinkle it with a little extra sale grosso and olio oliva and ecco!  You have a fresh-spring tasting accompaniment to any April or May meal.

DSCN2190

Look around in Italian or specialty grocers near you.  Agretti is worth the search.

DSCN2194

Buon appetito! (…piatto pulito as Lulu would add!)

Ciao!

Gina

 P.S. Have you ever cooked Agretti?  Ever heard of it? What recipe did you use? Would love to hear from you!

 And, of course, for more stories of the wonderful food of Tuscany, you’re invited to buy my new book, “Because I’m Small Now and You Love Me” – adventures between me and Lulu here in Arezzo!  A must for any one who loves traveling and children – but not necessarily traveling with children. 😉

Olive Garden – The real one!

It’s harvest time in Tuscany so, of course, that means it’s time to pile preschoolers into a caravan of parents’ cars and drive them to the countryside for a morning of olive picking!

Okay, that may not be what springs immediately to your mind, but that is exactly what we did today.   The family of one of Lulu’s classmates at Maria Bianca Bianchini school has a home set atop a rolling hill surrounded by cypress, chestnuts – and hundreds of olive trees.   Lulu, her best friend Allegra, and about 50 other screaming, er, enthusiastic kids descended upon the beautiful place.

It was sunny and only slightly brisk as the children gathered to hear from Helena’s Babbo, or daddy, about how the picking would be done.  It was our first time, so I paid close attention.  That, and my Italian is still really bad.

Large, rectangular nets are first spread under the trees.

Then the men, and later some of the more adventurous kids, stretched long-handled plastic rakes high into the trees, to scrape the olives loose.

As olives fell down upon their heads, children scrambled under the trees grabbing them up, careful not to step on them and smash them, and then tossed them in their cestini, or baskets.

The fun and confusion reminded me of an Easter egg hunt – only with tiny black and green eggs that rained down on the hunters.

In spite of all the chaos, the kids actually managed to successfully harvest half a dozen large plastic bin-fulls.

And had a lot of fun at the same time.

 

And afterward, the school’s cook treated the small hunters to a snack of pane con olio¸or bread with – what else – olive oil?

Under the bright blue skies and the warm Tuscan sun, it was truly wonderful.  And as I looked at Lulu and Allegra running near the small chapel that was attached to the family’s ancient stone home, I imagined what it must be like  to have to spend hours of serious bending under trees, tip-toeing on nets, getting pelted with falling olives and reaching high up into the branches to harvest olives for a living.

I was thankful that this morning was one of those lovely, “once in a lifetime” experiences.

Ciao tutti!

Love, Gina

P.S.  Ever picked olives?  How about strawberries?  What was it like and how happy are you that you did it because you wanted to, not because you had to!?!