We got yelled at for about 5 minutes when we arrived at our next accomodation. We couldn’t find a local taxi, and Sam’s car had been broken into earlier on in the day so we couldn’t get a lift. We arrive to check in just as the hostess is serving dinner, and we cop an earful. It’s 100% Italian, but I’m familiar enough with being in trouble to get the gist of it.
After a couple of minutes, the hostess says to us in Italian; ‘Anyway, you want dinner? You’re not allergic to anything are you? Okay hurry up.’
We head downstairs to a terracotta room where a few other couple are eating from enormous platters at a communal table. We are seated and brought 2 jugs of local red and white wine, and a huge platter of freshly made parpadelle pasta and ragu. It’s incredible. Rich, silky, perfect. When we finish and push away our plates, we are presented with yet another platter piled with slowly roasted beef, mushrooms and green beans. Our bread and wine are refilled. Once again, it’s soft, tender, and surprisingly light for a slow cooked dish. After we beg for no more food, out comes dessert…sweet, homegrown strawberries on vanilla gelato, and 2 kinds of homemade liqueur.
Welcome to Fattoria d’Antonella.
We’re in the depths of Chianti, not far from the famous historical town of San Gimignano, staying at an ‘agritourismo’ – essentially a bed and breakfast in a farmhouse. Antonella (remember the lady who told me off last night?) owns the joint and runs it with her partner Piero. It’s a complex of old-school houses and vegetable gardens overlooking endless vineyards and olive groves. There’s also an epic, surprisingly modern, swimming pool.
Antonella grows all her veg here. She has 3 gardens filled with tomatoes, pumpkins, zucchinis, melons, herbs, eggplants, beans, chillies, fruit trees and so much more. She also plays host to a bunch of animals – Leo the shetland pony, a big wooly sheep, an enormously fat and dirty pig, plus a whole lot of rabbits, pigeons, chickens and geese. When I ask if she uses the animals for anything, she replies ‘just company’.
We spend 3 days in absolute heaven. Breakfast is cured meats, cheeses, homemade bread, cake and coffee. Then we hit the pool for the day, I do a bit of work and Ally does some reading. Pretty much, until dinner time, we don’t do a whole lot. That’s because dinner is the reason we’re here – 3 or 4 courses every night, just like we had on the first. A simple pasta (2nd night tomato and basil, 3rd night pecorino, garlic and black pepper), followed by a slow cooked meat (wild boar or beef). The highlight of the meal is often Antonella’s homegrown veg. Thinly sliced zucchini fried with garlic and oil, or green beans tossed with a rustic pesto. For dessert, we get tiramisu, profiteroles and much more of that homemade rocket fuel.
One day, I sheepishly ask to head into the kitchen to watch Antonella cook, and she warmly welcomes us in to see her simple preparations for our dinner – this lady has no formal training but she could run circles around my 10-or-so professional years in Sydney’s top restaurants. Everything is so simple, but with more robust flavour than you could possibly imagine coming out of 3 or 4 ingredients. This is the Italian food I came here for.
Our last night is Sunday, and the restaurant is closed, so our hosts invite us to dinner with them. We couldn’t be more excited, so we pile into a car with 6 Italians 30 years our senior, and head to a tiny town that has escaped my memory. A local pizzeria with paper tablecloths and no air conditioning puts out some of the best pizza we have on our trip, and we eat it alongside the best tasting mussels, prawns and clams I can remember tasting. In true Tuscan fashion, the wine keeps coming.
My Italian is getting a lot better by this point, so we hold our way through a few simple conversations and nod our way through the rest of it, but we can definitely tell that everybody is having a good time.
On our final day, I get told off again (this time for going for a run in the morning while I’m on holiday), but we hug Antonella and Piero like old friends, and head off on our journey down south.