A taste of Tuscany visited Buffalo last week in the form of chefs Carlo (right) and Romeo Innocenti (below). The father and son team were here to promote a AAA travel program which allows small, intimate groups of guests to visit Casa Innocenti, their family inn. The inn, a modest and quaint destination, sits in Arcidosso, Italy, surrounded by the beautiful Tuscan countryside. Visitors to Casa Innocenti learn to appreciate and replicate the flavors and lifestyle of this region through private tours of local vineyards, shopping at the markets and preparing meals at the inn alongside the Innocenti family.
Carlo and Romeo’s venture through Western New York included a lovely lunch on the outstanding wraparound porch of The Roycroft, known as The Peristyle. Our host, The Roycroft’s Food and Beverage Manager Dan Garvey, arranged for a nice meal and gracious service.
At lunch, Carlo and Romeo entertained our small table with stories about the cooking and preparation of the Innocenti family’s cuisine. Romeo shared their rich traditions, local agriculture, and how Tuscan food, in his words, “the cuisine of the peasants”, was simple and humble, unfettered by unnecessary ingredients. Carlo discussed the Slow Food movement, which began in Italy. Although he agrees with the theories of the organization, he feels that the organization itself is geared towards the wealthy and is therefore not of practical use to most people in Italy. We also spent a lot of time talking about bread, which their host, Brian, had arranged to have baked to their specifications at a local bakery for the cooking demonstration the father and son would host later in the evening. School lunches, family pride and American eating habits were also up for discussion. It was an extremely pleasant meeting. Carlo and Romeo are warm, talkative and very passionate gentlemen. It is easy to see why I later heard that many of their guests feel like family and don’t want to leave when their visit to Arcidosso has come to an end.
Later that evening we visited Artisan Kitchens & Baths for the Innocenti cooking demonstration, dubbed The Tuscan Way. At night, the polished wood floors and beamed ceilings of Artisan’s loft showroom cast a warm glow and the audience of a hundred or so attendees eagerly listened to Romeo and Carlo tell stories of their inn and prepare some delicious foods. Tastings catering was on-hand to whet our appetite with hors d’oeuvres and a nice selection of Italian wines. A slideshow played on the overhead flat screen monitors, showing us the inn, the Tuscan countryside and the region’s famous fields of sunflowers.
It was a lovely evening and all of the food was well-made and satisfying. A favorite preparation was a simple and very seasonal dish of zucchini and pasta, which we’ve since made at home. The flavors are fantastic, the toasted nuts imparting a savoriness usually obtained only through the incorporation of bacon or pancetta. The recipe is noted below for anyone who wishes to bring a taste of Carlo and Romeo’s Casa Innocenti into their own home. The AAA did a lovely job with this event. If you are interested in booking a trip to Arcidosso, you can find more information here, but hurry, because the limited seats are selling quickly.
Extra virgin olive oil
1 lb of penne
1 lb of zucchini, sliced wafer thin
1 large cooking onion, thinly sliced
2 crushed garlic cloves
3 tbsp raw sunflower seeds
3 tbsp raw pignoli (pine nuts)
3 tbsp grated parmesan
fresh basil, to taste
sea salt and fresh black pepper, to taste
Boil heavily salted water for the pasta.
In a large skillet gently cook the chopped garlic in olive oil. After a minute, add the sliced onions. Increase the heat to high. Add salt, the sunflower seeds and the zucchini. Cook until soft.
Add the pasta to the boiling water. And cook until al dente.
Meanwhile, add chopped basil and the pignoli to the zucchini and onion mixture.
Add the hot pasta and toss, liberally sprinkling with olive oil, cheese and pepper.