Focus in on the delights of the kitchen and the table with ...

Autumn nudges me toward reflection, and tonight I’m remembering a recent evening full of delights. The time was sunset, two weeks ago today; the setting, the lovely Fearrington House Restaurant, an extraordinary restaurant, inn, and residential community located just a few miles south of Chapel Hill. The occasion was irresistible for me: A dinner with Francis and Edward Mayes, authors of  The Tuscan Sun Cookbook: Recipes from Our Italian Kitchen, published this spring by Clarkson Potter. Executive Chef Colin Bedford‘s cooking is brilliant, unique, and satisfying; I adore Frances Mayes’s books and blog; Fearrington House is incredibly beautiful and comfortable; with all that in mind, my expectations were high. As you can see from my smile in this photograph of me with Frances, Edward, and my friend Keebe Fitch, (proprietor of McIntyre’s Books in Fearrington Village), the evening exceeded them, by many a country mile. We’re still in that luscious seasonal window where the sunlight and temperature make eating outdoors a pleasure, and that is what we did, from a welcoming flute of prosecco on the patio to a farewell glass of Badia Coltibuono Vin Santo at our table in the Garden Terrace, as twilight dwindled to darkness.

Fearrington House Wine Director Max Kast’s pairings enhanced this memorable meal. Here is my glass of Antinori Orvieto (2010), poured to accompany the exquisite first course:

Potato Ravioli with Zucchini, Speck, and Pecorino (page 86)

Our main course, Braised Short Rib (page 129) with Garlic Flan (page 158), Green Beans with Black Olives and Gremolata (page 159), with Mormoria Chianti Colli Senesi (2006)

Dessert was Lemon Hazelnut Gelato (page 182) with Panna Cotta (page 187), and Massimo and Daniela’s Wine Cake (page 204), made with pine nuts and vin santo. That wine was paired with the dessert course: Badia Coltibuono Vin Santo.

Early in the meal, Frances spoke about food and cooking in Tuscany. She remembers their early days in the kitchen of Bramasole, their home in Cortona, Italy, when a door placed over two saw horses served as their table. Twenty three years later, they have a sturdy and permanent table, but not a fussy, laborious approach to cooking. Like their Tuscan friends and neighbors, they focus not on length or complexity in cooking, but rather on improvisation and on primo ingredients. No measuring cups or spoons in a traditional Italian kitchen; but if you are like me, you will gratefully note that the cookbook provides those pesky measurements for those of us who might need an assist on the way to intuitive cuisine. For the short ribs, she noted that she and Edward like to cook ‘too much’ when they make this, doubling the recipe so that they will have plenty left for the following day. When we raved about the garlic flan, she noted that the book includes a wonderful garlic soup (page 94); the recipe sounds simply delicious, and is also simple to prepare.

The book’s dedication warms your heart — a two-page salute to the friends and neighbors who have made the Mayes’s life in Tuscany such a feast. Photographs and stories throughout the book season the recipes, making you eager to cook Fiorella’s Red Pepper Tart, Ivan’s Pear Agnolotti with Gorgonzola and Walnuts, Placido’s Steak, and Slivia’s Ricotta Tart. Here is the butcher handing you a taste of proscuitto. A beaming woman in apron and kerchief is proffering a basket of eggs, and then two people with a rabbit; this one, you must see for yourself. Marvelous. Add a sprinkling of ingredients (shallots, asparagus, mushrooms, figs) and images of the recipes, both in progress (pesto) and ready for the feast (Fritto Misto, and Rich Polenta Parmigiana with Funghi Porcnini). I predict you, too will feel compelled retire to your reading chair to savor the book, or the kitchen counter to cook up the food.

My first endeavor was the fig and walnut tart. You’ll find the recipe in The Tuscan Sun Cookbook on page 201. From the crust, pasta frolla (page 192) to the finished tart, which was lovely to look at and a deep pleasure to eat, I loved making this dessert. For a sampler of four recipes (Fried Artichokes, Guisi’s Ragu, Chicken with Olives, and Strawberry Semifreddo) available on the web and sauced with luminous photographs from the book, visit publisher Clarkson Potter’s “Recipe Club” by clicking HERE.

To visit Frances Mayes’s website, click HERE.

To read her blog, Frances Mayes’s Journalclick HERE.

To read an interview with Frances Mayes in the Washington Post, click HERE. (It’s written by my friend Domenica Marchetti.)

To find out more about this glorious book, click HERE.

To order The Tuscan Sun Cookbook: Recipes from Our Italian Kitchen from Indiebound, click HERE.

About the Author
Nancie McDermott is a food writer and cooking teacher, and the author of ten cookbooks. Her passion is researching and celebrating traditional food in its cultural context, and her beloved subjects are two seemingly different places with much in common: the cuisines of Asia and of the American South. Nancie gained her Southern kitchen wisdom as a Piedmont North Carolina native,and her Asian culinary research commenced soon after college, when she was sent to northeastern Thailand as a Peace Corps volunteer.

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