Marco had straightened up, leaned in to the conversation the night before when he heard the bits and pieces of table conversation that revealed my passion for country side and its wild boarders. So plans were made to eat at Fontanile Dei Caprai, a rustic eatery in this remote pastoral landscape of the lower Maremma, and four of us were headed there now, the back way: Marco, Paolo, Jacopo and me. Bouncing along, Marco and I laughed when we discovered that I’m five days older than he is. From the back seat, I rested my hands on his shoulders, feeling close to him.
We drove along a small herd of Maremmana, the dapple-grey long-horn beeves native here in the marshy coastal region of lower Tuscany. They watched us as we passed out of that back country and came in sight of a paved road and the osteria. Low slung roof, hand-cut and hewn post and beam, it looked like a loafing shed from long ago that had been cleaned out and straightened up, its walls framed mostly with glass to look out at the green swells of pasture, the wood framed doorway varnished dark, warm yellow light coming from inside. The proprietress was a heavy-shouldered older woman, handsome in country ways, with her slim young daughter and a stout older girl in an apron watching from the kitchen. Vera, Marco’s wife, met us there.
The specialty of the house is cingale, wild boar, slow cooked with tomatoes and wine in a dutch oven near wood flame, with boiled potatoes and rosemary. We ordered it, and roasted pork and roasted rosemary chicken.
Before the cingale, we picked from a platter of sliced salami, capocola and a smoked sausage, and olives. Sitting outside under the low shed roof, we drank wine and ate meat and olives and last fall’s olive oil with crusty bread, and watched night pour over the contours of field and forest’s edge. A strange bird whoooed; Vera thought it the assiolo, a small owl of pine forests. There were islands of easy conversation, surrounded by the quiet of sitting together and watching the night come to us.
We tasted two versions of morellino, the west-country name for sangiovese: one, bottled and labeled by a new winery next door to the restaurant, it’s buildings so freshly planted and awkward on the landscape that the locals regarded it as a poor intrusion. The other wine came to table in a small glass carafe, the product of much less elaborate efforts down the road. The more rustic wine, lighter in color and perfume, had the delicate touch of bruised rose petals on my tongue, and tasted more of open air fermentation, the dark juice lightened by airborne yeasts and the soft atmosphere of wild herbs. The bottled wine offered a more conventional expression of sangiovese, closed and confined, with the familiar roundness of wood. I prefered the homemade, the difference between a florist’s expensive arrangement and a bouquet of wild flowers.
Before the cingale arrived at table on this night in early spring, we ate a soup of farro, lentils, carrots and celery. Thick, creamy with the starch of long-cooked grain — molto saporoso — rich-flavored. We drizzled it with a thin stream of green olive oil and thickened it with bread scraps. Nobody spoke, just the spoons tapping against the dark ceramic bowls.
The boar was delicious: the result of long slow cooking of wild meat, the strings of sinew softened and saturated with tomatoes, wild herbs and wine. More bread to clean our plates before tasting the fat-rich pork roast and glistening chicken.
Dinner ended with vin santo, the lighter northern Italian version of amber dessert wine (at Tappi we serve malvasia, a heavier golden raisin wine native to Sicily) and cannucci, the low-profile almond biscotti that’s been married to vin santo for centuries. Dip the cookie in the wine, stir it up, and enjoy the infusion crunching between your teeth.
|my dear friends Paolo, Vera and Marco|
|Maremmana, the long horns of Tuscany|
|Osteria Fontanile Dei Caprai|
|roast pork & spuds|