Eating with pleasure is one of the few joys left in a world that each day is compelling us to work harder, longer and more competitive hours – I thought computers were going to liberate me from the grindstone? At least that’s what we were told in the ‘80’s! Eating in Italy has become an obsession with so many visitors to this country, seduced by 1,000 books on Italian cuisine and just as many television shows on the same subject. The mythical Italian table groaning with delectable, seasonable produce grown literally outside the front door of grandma’s house is for the most part in Italy today, just a myth. After twenty years of continued growth in the numbers of tourists to Italy combined with the introduction of the euro in 1999 (that doubled the price of everything in Italy overnight!), it has become increasingly difficult to find a trattoria your grandfather would have enjoyed and practically impossible to get good value for your money. Italy has gone from being a relatively ‘cheap’ holiday for northern Europeans and foreigners alike to an expensive holiday for all concerned and Tuscany is one of the more expensive regions to holiday in.
The very worn out rule of thumb, “if the Italians eat there it must be good” might be the case in far flung corners of the Marche or long forgotten corners of Umbria but generally speaking the Italians are eating as ordinarily as most visitors to this country and that aren’t good! Living in Tuscany as I do and avoiding ex-pats as successfully as I have, my lead is always taken by two things? My good Italian friends because they still know where the best places are to eat and my nose? Yes, my nose which has over the years led me to many wonderful places where I’ve enjoyed excellent meals and many memorable occasions – oh yes, my nose and a healthy serve of plain good luck. I’ve already shared with you the joys of eating at Café Sant’Angelo behind Montalcino and now it’s time to present to those that are followers of my stories on the Perfect Traveller website, “La Botte Piena” in the little village of Montefollonico. Close to Pienza and Montepulciano which are both groaning under the weight of far too many tourists in my opinion.
I have known about this place for some time, through the comments of a number of Italian friends who suggested I might enjoy eating there. I did. Taking my good friend Leonetta, who is simply a fantastic cook (you know the type, can whip something up in five minutes that you eat with unadulterated pleasure and gratitude!) who can be equally hard on her fellow Italians for serving up a lot of rubbish in the local restaurants. She also reminds me that we foreigners place unrealistic expectations on the culinary traditions of a country that is embracing, through its younger generation’s, fast-food and a lack of patience to actually learn the recipes of their grandmothers. But she also enjoyed eating at La Botte Piena and when I asked her why she said without hesitation, “All the ingredients are not only fresh but are of an excellent quality” going on to say that, “only a fool could serve up rubbish with such quality.” That’s Leonetta in a nutshell, never one to mince words (I’m working on a book with her that will be titled ‘Leonetta’s Kitchen’ and when it’s done it will be well worth a read!) and fierce in her criticism of not taking the time and effort to find the best ingredients to make what are essentially very simple dishes.
La Botte Piena is delightfully located in the center of the very small village of Montefollonico with outside eating in the summer and cozy indoor eating in an ancient structure in the winter. The wine list in this part of the world is good, as it should be with some excellent local wines available, and not excessive in range or price. I think Leonetta’s choice of a zucchini sformato (a kind of an Italian quiche) sprinkled with truffles and served with thin slices of pancetta was inspired as you can see in the photo. As simple as a dish might get but with the quality of ingredients used and the combination of flavor and textures enjoyed, we both knew immediately that this place was worth the visit. Coming from Leonetta that was a compliment indeed! I enjoyed a tagliatelle that was perfectly cooked and infused with fresh tomatoes that had been mixed and heated with broken pieces of boiled chicken garnished with black pepper. Again very simple and perfect for a hot summers evening as was my chilled prosecco rustico – and why it’s called that is the makings of another story! The prices are very much in the range of most restaurants in this area so why spend your money on rubbish, as Leonetta would say.
La Botte Piena – Montefollonico – Closed on Wednesday – http://www.labottepiena.com/