Tuscan Food and Drink



Who’s been to the grocery store lately and seen those distinctively orange looking tomatoes in the fruit section? Please allow me to offer some advice: it’s time to get out from under the rock you’re hibernating under and try a persimmon. For some unknown reason they’re suddenly very hip all across America lately. Meanwhile I feel very ahead of the time because I was dining on luscious fuyu persimmons more than a year ago out in ultra-fruit-fashionable Napa. When they’re ripe, they border on insanely good. Having recently arrived back in Lucca for a week between team meetings up in San Pellegrino in late November and next week’s Sardinian actual-riding-a-bicycle camp, I’m absolutely astounded how many persimmon trees there are. Here’s one of about 1,000 that I’ve seen this week.

Leading teammate and co-Captain-America, Timmy Duggan, during this week all throughout Lucca, we’ve have many discussions and decided that these gems are better than a money tree. While everyone knows what money is, it’s amazing how few people know the incredible value of a ripe, fresh, and juicy persimmon. I would say priceless, but Whole Foods says $3 a pop, which make this tree above worth a few grand.

 

Yessir – or yes’m – we’ve arrived back to Lucca. I think in an attempt to make us more integrated as telltale Italians and therefore care very little for our personal space, the team has crammed us three Anglo’s into the back of the car not once, but twice in recent days. Furthermore, it has occurred in progressively decreasing sized vehicles. If we look cozy in the photo below, it’s because Timmy, Dominik, and I are growing accustomed to sitting on each other’s laps while hitting the autostrada for hours upon hours at a time. It’s also because we’re crammed like sardines in a space built for two small children and one doll – not three grown adults. Thumbs up!

As I’m slowly alluding to here, I’ve been able to play host to my two good friends and teammates, Timmy and Dominik, this week. One of the early nights here I took them into the heart of the walled city that is Lucca, along with a good buddy of mine Rob, and we dined at Osteria Manzo. Don’t mess with this trio (plus photographer, me) on the sparsely populated mean streets of Lucca late at night.

Indulging on an amazing fixed price menu at Manzo, dinner was absolutely breathtaking, but I only had time to snap a photo of the petite panna cotta along with a stabbed series of fruit for dessert. Thankfully if anyone among us was still peckish after dinner, the restaurant was adorned in festive Christmas decorations and the wait staff didn’t mind when one of us – I won’t say who, but I can promise that it was not the author – grabbed for a gingerbread ornament on the way out the door.

It was twice as delicious as it was festive!

Another dank, early winter night in Italy was spent warmly surrounding a fireplace. A generously helpful friend of mine and his lovely wife introduced me to their local butcher, who will soon be my local butcher, then we saddled up to their homestead for a wholesome night of food, drink, and merriment. Namely, bohemouth slabs of meat roasted in that fireplace you see below; tasty, local Tuscan wine as Dominik so naturally demonstrates; and excellent conversation throughout the night.

Properly fueled by this hearty meal, a day or two afterwards (heck, come to think of it, it was three days afterwards – like I said, we were well fueled with the 3kg steak that night), I introduced the guys to an institution when it comes to crossing cycling with coffee in Tuscany. Namely in the town of Monsummano there’s the aptly named King of Cappuccino – Il Re del Cappuccino. The first serving of this tasty Italian capp’ is spot on, but the real catch is when the elderly owner comes from around the counter to refill your mug with an equally generous, serving of coffee and billowing portion of frothy milk as exhibited below. I’ve only seen him do this to the spandex clad cyclist clientele, so I reckon he’s a fan. Pretty soon a handsome Liquigas-Cannondale jersey signed by yours truly will adorn the wall as a thank you for all the second servings.

That smile and my curious eyes are authentic – three hours round trip for a cup of coffee was entirely worth it. My companions completely agreed.

Coming back into Lucca this time of year is a lesson in foot traffic navigation. I mentioned before in the car episode that personal space is not something that many folks take into consideration here. I swear that observation is not a knock, it’s simply a dose of reality. The holidays epitomize this invasion of space during downtown, Friday evening shopping sessions where it’s a bit like observing an ant farm at feeding – people piling into the streets, crawling over each other, shoulder to shoulder, intermingling and walking in virtually every direction, all the while baby strollers and commuter cyclists futilely trying to take up twice the space among the blissfully happy throngs of people. This poor photo doesn’t do it justice, but I’m trying to capture the entire scene: from the hours of about 4pm through 7pm, if walking at 1/10 of a mph amid 50,000 of your best Italian friends sounds like a lot of fun, then by all means make your way to Lucca the weeks leading up to Christmas! Ho ho ho. Oh, plus EVERYONE wears black – except that obvious foreigner in red in front of the camera.

So with these highlights of my time now having been aptly highlighted, I’d like to take this opportunity to welcome myself back to Lucca. Sardinian riding camp, coming right up tomorrow.

(And how do I get there, you ask?! I’ll let you guess.)



Comments

  1. Rica Mendes

    Ah, I love the persimmon, and I have for years. However, you forgot to warn people to make sure to get a properly RIPENED one. If you get an under ripe persimmon, you risk a terrible case of cotton mouth, as you can with an over ripe one. Fuyus seem to have a better lifespan, so the window in between dire oral reactions is greater than other varieties. But one cotton mouth experience, and you will be scarred for life!

    Reply

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