It was a good day in Tuscany

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Sunset Val d' Orcia

Sunset falls over Val d’ Orcia from Antica Tenuta Le Casacce

You think you have time, and then you don’t. There is so much to say, and your voice is silent. When you don’t have your best day, and moments slip away. And then, you lose a friend and  their vibrance shines even in the vacuum of their earthly presence, because they lived life fully.

Today, while the blossoms still cling to the vine
I’ll taste your strawberries, I’ll drink your sweet wine
A million tomorrows shall all pass away
Ere I forget all the joy that is mine, Today – Randy Sparks

What was to be a light hearted recap of my adventures at Le Casacce has become bittersweet with the news that our host, Enrico Casini has died this last weekend. It is reported that that night the restaurant and patio were brimming with patrons, alive with energy; Enrico in his element as he headed off to sleep, a smile on his lips. It was a good day in Tuscany.

Enrico Casini

Enrico Casini at Le Casacce after a long and happy day.

Tall, with a wild shock of curly hair, a bit bohemian with the flair of that artistic type, when daily dressing decisions included which brightly colored glass frames would suit his mood. He was a man with a generous smile as he presided over the kitchen and dining rooms, full of life. Equally passionate and humble, he was somewhat of a contradiction in terms. With an amazing culinary pedigree, Enrico was not only accomplished as a chef — owning several wine bars and restaurants in Rome before settling in Tuscany, he was equally talented  as  a writer.

“In 1985, Enrico was awarded as one of the seven “Best Chefs of Italy under 35“. For six years Enrico authored Guide to the Restaurants of Italy and Guide to the Wines of Italy.” – Tuscan Muse

“Casini in Rome was one of the innovators of the kitchen that came from the long sleep of the ’50s and ’60s… ” – Stefano Bonilli

As a mover and shaker, with rock star like status in the eighties he brought new life to the Roman food scene. Knowing this made it all the more rich when the strains of Barry White or Sade greeted us on the way to dinner, perhaps he was waxing a bit nostalgic about those wild times.  Oh the stories that could be told.

Le Casacce

For ten days, Le Casacce was my home as I participated in a writing and photography workshop offered by Linda Bass, my Tuscan Muse — Plated Stories with Jamie Schler and Ilva Beretta.

Le Casacce

Antica Tenuta Le Casacce

For ten days we were wined and dined, enjoying the fresh local bounty, estate wines, olive oils, and the magic that came from Enrico’s kitchen.

Italian MealsOur morning ritual on the patio, with dark coffee, fluffy ricotta drizzled with honey or other delights laid out on a long table; an apple for Socrates, the resident donkey. His braying, like a sad alarm, “I’m lonely, sigh, shudder… I’m lonely.” Much like Eeyore, missing his friend. He melted the hearts of my companions, each of us in turn trying to capture his image or song and possibly brighten his demeanor with a quick jog or pat on the head.

Breakfast

Donkey

Cooking with  Enrico

Enrico Casiini in the kitchen

A highlight of my stay was spent cooking with Enrico and Lucia (our pasta and pastry chef) as we we made spinach pasta for tortellone stuffed with four cheeses, ricotta gnocchi, a crostata, bruschetta, and two sauces. No strangers to the kitchen; we are food bloggers. Between chopping tomatoes, mashing garlic, and kneading there were photos to be taken. This is the best possible tribute I can make, this slice of life, forever captured.

Bruschetta Collage

Making bruschetta with Enrico

Mixing sweet cherry tomatoes with large varieties gives a balance flavor, add garlic, basil, and drizzle with olive oil “From this land.” and let sit for 30 minutes or so. Do not add salt until just before serving. — Enrico

Ricotta Gnocchi with Spinach and Chard

Sheep’s milk ricotta gnocchi with green chard/spinach sauce.

Change up your soffritto (like a mireproix) ingredients to compliment your sauce. — Enrico. We used garlic, onion, and peppers in this chard and spinach sauce. Bright, earthy green to cushion the lighter than air, tender gnocchi.

Gnocchi with Spinach Sauce

Ricotta Gnocchi with Spinach/Chard sauces, dusted with Parmesan Reggiano and toasted hazelnuts.

Enrico harvested summer basil and covered it with his olive oil (did the same for peppers) which he then used the rest of the year. He was also enamored with the emersion blender for quick blending. The tomatoes were barely sweated and retained an extraordinary fresh, just picked flavor.

Fresh tomato sauceThese are happy memories, shared by my dear companions, each of us holding our experiences deep in our hearts. And, that is as it should be. While saddened and shocked, I am buffered by the joy Enrico and Linda brought to Le Casacce. The richness of their generosity of spirit, friendship and hospitality. I will light a candle for you Enrico. Is okay.

Church Candles

 Links

Enrico Casini, Cook, Journalist and Much More – Stefano Bonilli

Tuscan Landscapes and a Small Goodbye – Paola Thomas

Farewell  Enrico, You will be missed – Cathy Warner

L’ Expresso – info from Wikipedia

Tuscan Muse – Linda Bass

Plated Stories – The Blog

 

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12 Responses to It was a good day in Tuscany

  1. Jamie says:

    So many thoughts and emotions run through me and keep bumping into each other: the smiles and laughter of an amazing trip and time spent at Le Casacce with the whole group; Enrico standing in the doorway between the two diningrooms and yelling out above the Barry White what we were eating, each time ending with “my own olive oil”. Socrates. Enrico sitting in the lawn chair and reading the newspaper as we all worked on the porch. And the sessions, working with you all. And Linda. It was such an amazing time. Fun, inspiring. And then I think “how lucky we were to have had those days, that time with Enrico who, I know, inspired each of us.” Thanks for sharing, Robin.

    • Robin E. H. Ove says:

      Our days at Plated Stores were so chocked full of moments– large and small that indeed the mere memory of them do bump into each other. Gifts to be unwrapped again and treasured. So glad to have made the journey again to Tuscany with you and Ilva. Each time I return all the richer.

  2. David says:

    You had me at ‘it was a good day.’ Beautifully told and beautifully photographed, a touching tribute for a man who will be missed. A man who will be remembered. Thank you for sharing.

  3. Wendy Read says:

    Beautiful tribute and photos Robin, how wonderful that you were able to know him before he left this world. What a gift really 🙂

  4. Paola says:

    A beautiful tribute and exquisite photos. Didn’t realise you had such an incredible view from your room! As Jamie says, I find incredibly blessed to be able to do that trip anyway, and I’m still processing the inspiration I got from it, but knowing now that we were the last people to learn how to make some of Enrico’s dishes gives it an even richer perspective. So very, very lucky…

  5. Detlef Hebbel says:

    Thank you for sharing your story. Mr Enrico Casini will always be remembered.

  6. Kevin Hardisty says:

    Unfortunately Enrico passed away four days after our previous visit to Le Casacce but we only learnt of his passing some four months after the fact.

    I wanted to leave my tribute to a man, who in today’s world stood apart from the rest, inexorably different, a culinary renaissance, and strangely for the times without device. Following dinner our conversations would often meander, undulating between music and politics and putting the world to rights until the early hours whilst listening to a mixture of sometimes forgotten bands.

    as a chef his skill in combining different ingredients from known and trusted sources who shared his passion for unadulterated excellence and simplicity. All combined with an unmitigating sense of hospitality, made visits to Le Casacce seem like returning home, warm, comforting, reassuring, immersed in the surroundings of L’Orcia valley.

    Enrico, it was truly a pleasure to have known you and the memory of you will live on in all of us who were so fortunate to have shared the experience.

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