Hankering for authentic Tuscan food, even learning the proper way to cook it?
The 500-hectare La Badiola Estate, home to two fine restaurants – Michelin-starred Trattoria Toscana and La Villa, with the former hosting regular culinary lessons – may be just the place.
Close to the coastline of Castiglione della Pescaia near the Tyrrhenian Sea and reached along a driveway flanked by cypress and maritime pines, this Maremma region resort – a member of ‘The Leading Hotels of the World’ – is the result of a joint effort by its owner, the Moretti family, and international chef, Alain Ducasse.
It also houses the L’Andana hotel and Casa Badiola Golf House, an ESPA spa, tennis courts, indoor and open-air swimming pools and a driving range.
After indulging in 90-minute stone massages in the capable hands of Catiuscia Iachini – whose style is best described as ‘slow, methodical and precise’ – my companion and I wandered past the property’s extensive vineyard, home to red, rosé and whites, for a cookery class in the trattoria’s cozy kitchen, the former granary of Grand Duke Leopold II of Lorraine.
Dishes selected by chef Alessandro Battisti as the basis for our lesson were traditional ones handed down through generations – crostino di fegatini – rabbit pate served on warm, unsalted Tuscan bread and pappa al pomodoro, a thick Tuscan soup typically prepared with fresh tomatoes, bread, olive oil, garlic, basil, and other ingredients. It is commonly known as a farmer’s meal and is often prepared by housewives using leftover bread.
That culinary Italy offers much more than simply pasta and pizza was amply confirmed by chef Battisti during our enjoyable two hours in his company. Honing his skill from a young age beside his grandmother in a small town restaurant, the Rome-born chef showed us how to select the best pancetta and how to create a tasty meal out of lesser-used animal parts, in this case, rabbit liver.
Being in Tuscany, wine played a pleasing role in our culinary experience, both as a fine accompaniment (sipping made chopping much less monotonous a task) and as an important ingredient, with vino santo a key element in the pate, together with the pancetta, fresh fennel, onion and celery.
A most enjoyable gastronomic day was capped off with dinner at ‘La Villa,’ a restaurant emanating a country-house atmosphere with the estate vineyard stretched out before us in the twilight just outside the window. The wines, categorized as Maremma Toscana appellation and promoted to DOC status four years ago, reflected diverse personalities. We chose an Aquadoro white made from the Viognier grape, with a floral and herbal bouquet, as a pairing with delicious homemade nettles and sage ravioli and the Aquagiusta 2012 red for our tagliata of Maremma beef, cut from the long-horned breed indigenous to the region. Served with arugula leaves and parmesan cheese, the steak, sliced and tender, came bursting with flavor, having been grilled slowly outdoor-barbeque style.
My favorite wine of the evening, however, was a sparkling, rusty-colored Alicante Bousquet ‘Andane,’ somewhat akin to sherry, which we enjoyed with the rabbit liver pate bruschetta we had prepared earlier.
In need of some exercise after such a satiating meal, we took a leisurely moonlit stroll along pathways that weaved around passion flower, roses and olive and cypress trees on La Badiola Estate, the sounds of crickets and the scents from summer flowers enhancing an atmosphere of romance and tranquility.
If you value a truly Tuscan experience complete with a range of locally-produced wines and traditional foods and aren’t averse to putting on an apron and rolling up your sleeves, La Badiola Estate may well satisfy your needs. And that’s not to mention its quiet rural walks, spa treatments and diverse sports.