We sat on top of a hill in Tuscany, with the view of vineyards sprawling over the horizon as the feeling of serenity washes over me. Tuscany is everything I hoped it would be. The smell of red wine filled my nostrils as we drove through the winding roads, passing determined cyclists and trees speckled with green olives. The tops of the hills were dotted with old Tuscan villas and the valleys provided shade as we venture through the Chianti region and into Panzano for lunch. I learned a few very important things on our Tuscan tour:
1. To my disappointment, eating an olive right off the branch does not taste good
2. The “Angry Butcher” has great taste in music
3. I will follow Renzo (owner of Renzo Marinai winery) to the ends of the earth
4. Mozart makes wine taste delicious
Our first stop was a little B&B/winery, surrounded by little yellow and purple flowers,bright red picnic benches and old VW cars. Samples of soft cheese, hard pecorino cheese, a smelly delicious one they called “Toad cheese” and a pungent blue cheese were waiting to be paired up with a wine. What I didn’t expect though, was the sweet and tart fig jam that took centre stage of my plate. I ate it with bread, pecorino cheese and finally, just a spoon! We swirled and sniffed wine, finding hints of lemon or dark cherry (or at least trying to!) in the deep chianti red wines. We sampled the grassy and earthy flavours of olive oil, coughing as it hit the back of our throats (apparently a sign of quality olive oil…who knew!). We were off to a good start.
We then headed to Panzano, a little village that smelled of cured meats and garlic. The cobblestone streets jostled us around as we drove through, searching for our next stop. Dario Cecchini, the “Angry Butcher” as some may refer to him, greeted us at his butcher shop and restaurant. His showmanship is something to remember and defined his passionate love and respect for meat. As we ate soppressata and prosciutto, slurped pappa al pomodoro and dipped warm bread into the fagioli all’olio (cannellini beans with olive oil), we noticed the music in the background and the familiar lyrics of AC/DC. We ate, rocked out to AC/DC and filled our bellies with more Chianti wine.
We ended at Renzo Marinai winery, where a shaggy dog, with red wine-stained hair on his underbelly, jumped with excitement at our arrival. Renzo had a charming smile and an ensemble of chinos and slippers made him appear more charismatic and relaxed. I would follow him to the ends of the earth. His vineyard boasted of organic production, fruit and olive trees lined the winery and plucking a peach off the trees was not out of the question. As we entered the cellar, my chin dripping with peach juice, speakers playing Mozart were serenading the oak barrels. Renzo’s theory was that the slight vibrations produced by the music helped the wine to continually move through the barrels, enhancing the flavours and aromas. I don’t know if it was the Mozart, or my new found love of Renzo, but I couldn’t get enough of his wine.
I’m wishing that I could be back in Tuscany. I searched through my kitchen for some memory of delicious Tuscan food when I recognized the Italian writing sprawled over a jar sitting in the back of my fridge. It was the fig jam! As if it was meant to be, this jam deserved a simple but luxurious food to pair it with, and the prosciutto in my bottom fridge drawer and the ripe black figs on my kitchen counter would do just fine.
These crostini are a perfect appetizer for a classy dinner party – everyone will think it took ages to create this dish, but you and I will know the truth. Toast the crostini in the oven with olive oil then top with goat cheese, fruit preserves (I, of course, used the fig jam), prosciutto, figs, arugula and then drizzle a rich balsamic glaze over the plate. I admit that I debated on buying a balsamic glaze from my grocery store, but I had no idea how easy it was to simmer balsamic vinegar over the stove until it turned formed a syrup. The smell of balsamic vinegar simmering in your kitchen is indescribable; add vanilla extract or a dash of red wine while it’s simmering for an incredible aroma when people enter your kitchen. Those guests have no idea what they’re in for!
- 8-10 slices of crusty bread
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 4 oz goat cheese
- 3 tbsp fig jam
- 1 cup balsamic vinegar
- 8-10 slices prosciutto
- 1 bunch arugula
- 2-3 figs, quartered
- Preheat the oven to 350F.
- Lay out the bread on a baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil.
- Bake until bread turns crispy. Remove from oven and let the crostini cool down.
- While the bread is cooling, heat the balsamic vinegar in a small sauce pan over medium high heat. Let is simmer until it turns into a syrup. Remove from heat and allow the glaze to cool.
- Crumble goat cheese onto the crostini then top with fig jam, prosciutto and a few pieces of arugula.
- Drizze the balsamic glaze on top of the arugula and then top with quartered figs.