My husband and I love to travel and one of our favorite places is Italy. One year we had the good fortune to stay with a friend of my mother in law in Volterra, famous for its alabaster. Ido graciously lent us his home and moved in with his daughter for the week.
Ido’s home was set in the Tuscan hill side amid peach and olive trees, grape vines and an assortment of vegetables. The house was rustic with terra-cotta colored plaster walls and tile floors. I distinctly remember chasing spiders out of the shower. All the beds in the house were cast iron with metal springs. The dining room table was composed of several planks of wood pegged and doweled together and it was surrounded by tippy little chairs with rush seats. However, we rarely ate in the dining room. There was a little patio on the East side of the house where we took our breakfast and in the evening we went to the patio on the West side of the house and had dinner, watching the sun set and eating Edo’s fresh peaches, soaked in his home made Chianti with a little sugar and lemon juice.
Every day Ido would drop buy bearing a small gift: some potatoes he’d just dug up, those amazing peaches with skin so thin and crisp and flesh so sweet and juicy that it was like biting into a Creme Brûlée with the crack of the sugar and then the unctuous silky cream. Ido made his own wine, olive oil and peach preserves. The peach preserves were lovely and had a distinctive flavor I had not tasted before. I sat him down one day and asked him to reveal the secret of the preserves. “Well”, he said. “I macerate the peaches in sugar and lemon juice overnight. Then I put everything in a big pot and boil it until it thickens. Unfortunately, I’m usually doing several things at the same time and it usually burns. But, I just scrape it up and put it in jars”. So, what was the secret of Ido’s peach preserves? He burnt it and what I was tasting was caramelized sugar.
Ido spoke a bit of French but often mixed it with Italian, creating new words and phrases. For example, he would often say” Va bien” in response to our query, “ How are you”. In Italian one would respond “ Va bene ” and in French one would respond “ Ca va bien”, thus Ido created the new phrase “ Va bien” which we still use with great affection when we speak of him and the enchanted week we spent in his home.
The recipe I’m going to give you is not from Ido, but it is from Lucca, not to far from Volterra and certainly in the style of Ido: excellent ingredients prepared simply. Dinner was served in the garden of a farmhouse which was up a winding rode in the hills of Tuscany. I remember two items from the meal. One was an appetizer of thinly sliced pieces of Lardo. The other a lovely carpaccio of beef. I had never seen carpaccio of beef done with anything other than raw meat so I was happy to see that this was cooked, rare but not mooing.
- 1 lb Eye of round roasted rare and sliced paper thin
- One 5 oz bag arugula
- 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1-2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
- Hunk of Parmesan Reggiano
- Coarse sea salt
- I buy my eye of round at Whole Foods in the deli department. They usually have a nice rare piece and are very happy to slice it. Ask them to slice overlapping pieces onto wax paper and when they have filled up one sheet, put another piece on top and repeat, filling that sheet with overlapping slices. This way, the slices of meat don’t all stick together.
- Dress the arugula with 2 tablespoons of olive oil, the vinegar and a pinch of sea salt.
- Arrange 1/4 of the slices around the edge of the plate, leaving the inside empty. Place a handful of arugula in the center of the plate. With a vegetable peeler, peel large pieces of cheese over the arugula. Sprinkle the meat with some grindings of pepper and drizzle with the rest of the olive oil.