A Perfect Day in Chianti


Last year, I won a writing competition where the prize was a week-long stay at Villa Cigano, in the heart of the Chianti region. I can’t think of a lovelier place to spend a week in the summer. Perched high up above the small town of Vagliagli, the villa looked out over the rolling Tuscan hillside. The crest of the ridges fell away from us, until at dusk, the faraway hills merged into the inky blue sky…. 

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Italian supper

The near-mythical ‘Indian summer’ has suddenly become a reality.

Londoners are shedding their macs and leaving their brollies at home, flowers have been tricked into blooming all over again and Edgware Road has sold out of ice cream.

Britain has gone bezeerk.

So, I thought it would be a good time to tempt you with this Mediterranean supper. I cooked it the other night while trying to conjure up a balmy, Italian evening in the midst of a rainstorm.

Cook it tonight, and it’ll be the real deal. Put on something linen, crack open a bottle of chianti and take supper outside.

Ingredients (for 2)
1 onion
4 garlic cloves
3 sausages
Tin of chopped tomatoes
Tin of berlotti beans
(about) 200ml stock
Greens (we used a mixed pack which contained mange touts, French beans and broccoli)
Flavourings (I put in some oregano, then when I wasn’t looking Tom put in about three chillis)

Start by squeezing the sausage out of their skin and rolling them into little balls – you should get around three from each sausage. Fry them in extra virgin olive oil until the outsides are nicely browned. Use a slotted spoon to take them out of the pan and put them to one side.

Next, fry the chopped onion and garlic in the sausagey oil in the pan. Now is a good stage to season. If you’re being sensible, maybe a little oregano and fennel. If you’re being Tom, then a handful of dried chillis.

Add the stock and then the tinned tomatoes. As you can see, I was using homemade stock I’d frozen in a muffin tin, so I awarded myself extra brownie points for coming over all domestic.

Get everything really hot and bubbly, and keep it like that for about five minutes, so the tomatoes and stock start to reduce. (Incidentally, I threw in some cherry tomatoes at this point, because they were in the fridge – it was quite nice).

Turn down the temperature a little, and then pop the berlotti beans and sausage balls back in the pan. Cook gently for about 10-15 minutes.

Three minutes before serving, tip your greens into the pan, and stir, so they all start to cook from the heat of the sauce. The last thing you want is green, wilty beans though, so do leave it right until the end. Open a bottle of some sort of Italian wine and enjoy.

Castello del Trebbio

For somebody who did an Oxford history degree, I’m really not very good at it. I have next to no memory retention, and not the biggest attention span. Dreadful, I know. Years of my Grandad quizzing me with basic history questions to try and find ‘my period of expertise’ has left me feeling quite defeatist about it all, and resigned to the fact that maybe I don’t have ‘a historical period’…. 

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