CHIUSDINO, Italy – Mint perfumes the air as you walk through one of Tenuta di Spannocchia’s three gardens. The hard-boiled eggs at breakfast came from the hens, the salad lettuce for lunch was just picked this morning and the rosé wine served at dinner was vinted and bottled here just last year.
As you pass the four lemon trees and step into the garden below, the endless slope of vegetables and herbs can become overwhelming. What don’t they have? I thought to myself as we gingerly tried not to crush rows of potatoes, carrots and basil.
Carmen Zandarin is the mastermind behind all this and has been for the past 12 years. She runs and maintains the gardens with the help of eight farm interns a year. On Mondays, she walks through the gardens then discusses the following week’s meals with the kitchen staff, depending on what’s available for harvest. During our tour, she plucked pods of peas off the stalk and passed them along to my group. The peas were fresh, crunchy and sweet –the best peas I’ve ever tasted.
For our cooking class, we were able to use peas, zucchini, onions and asparagus straight out of the garden to use as a sauce to go with our freshly made tagliatelle pasta. Here’s a recipe to try, and, as I learned from Loredana Betti in the Spannocchia kitchen, feel free to change out any of the ingredients to whatever you have at hand.
Salsa Ortolana: Gardener’s Sauce
Courtesy of Spannocchia, Carmen and Loredana
1 zucchini, cubed
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1 bell pepper, sliced
½ onion, chopped
1 cup fresh peas
1 cup sliced mushrooms
3/4 pound fresh tomatoes, chopped
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Wash all the vegetables well. Combine the zucchini, garlic, bell pepper, and onion in a food processor (all raw) and blend until very fine. Place the mixture in a frying pan with olive oil, peas, mushrooms, salt and pepper and simmer for around 10 minutes, or until the onion is translucent. Add the chopped tomatoes to the rest of the sauce and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes over low heat.
This sauce goes great with tagliatelle or penne pasta.