At Ethnos, foreigners have a place to make friends and work and eat the foods from their childhood. Everyone is welcome. They have special events periodically … and we had been there a few years ago with our friend, Sandra. When we heard about a dinner where a cook from Argentina would grill meat, we knew we wanted to go. The bonus was that, after dinner, we could sit on the terrace and watch fireworks for the onomastic festival in town. Ok, that’s a word I never knew in English … it’s a day to celebrate a namesake saint. Saint Valentine or Saint Nicholas … Saint Diego or San Francisco. There is no Saint Linda … no Saint David, so we were unaware. But every town celebrates, often with street food and vendors and music and fireworks.

It’s a restaurant and hotel/youth hostel in a former convent … gated entry through stone walls, expansive yards with old trees, and a courtyard with a pair of curved stone stairways leading to the main doors on the first floor.

The evening began on the grassy area, facing west and overlooking the town. The early evening was still very warm in the setting sun, and the food … antipasto … was arriving slowly at the serving tables.

Instead of bottles of wine, they served sangria. Box wine, blended with various fruits, was served from a big tankard, ladled into plastic cups. Also on the tables were two different cups of food. One had an Italian favorite … pappa pomodoro, the tomato and bread soup/stew. There are as many versions as there are types of tomatoes … some so thick that a spoon can stand up in it, others more liquidy … ones that are too hot, some too cold, most are just right … all drizzled with olive oil. The other antipasto was a puzzlement to the Italians … but instantly recognizable to us. Guacamole. I listened, amused, as the guests discussed what this green, chunky mixture could be. I heard avocado (I knew they didn’t mean attorney), with lots of chopped onions and a few chopped tomatoes. But only David and I missed the cilantro … as we used the little grissino to scoop up the yummy, familiar flavors. We each indulged in a couple of cups.

It was then time to go into the courtyard, arranged with many long tables, plates and glasses ready for the diners. But first we had to pay, and a line quickly formed … a truly inefficient system. Really? No one thought that people should pay when they arrived at the main gate, slowly over a period of 30, 45 minutes and before they ate … rather than having everyone, all at once, queuing and waiting and complaining to hand over non-exact changes to the one person (friendly … and spending time to talk with friends) sitting at the one small card table. Finally, we paid, and were handed a slip with our table number.

There was one man … overwhelmed … trying to guide everyone their designated tables. But the tables themselves were not numbered. And there seemed to be only one copy of the floorplan, at the card table rather than the man’s hand … so when a guest said Table 3 or Table F or Table whatever, he had to go back and check the floorplan, then look around the courtyard, confused and perplexed. Really? No one thought of a photocopy? Or labeling the tables?

The chef, the star of the event, had set up a big, beautiful barbeque station … large grids, angled into inverted Vs, sat over beds of glowing embers. Large pieces of wood with flames in the middle of the tray were pushed up, down, over by the chef and his assistant, adjusting the heat to keep everything grilling, sizzling slowly. Fragrantly.

Finally … we paid, were shown to our table, and sat down. David picked an end so he’d have some elbow room … and a group of seven friends sat at the other side, leaving three chairs empty. We were ready to smile and introduce ourselves, but they were deep into their own conversation.

There was a bottle of wine on the table. Not a generic, label-less bottle …. a 2015 D.O.C.G. Chianti from Tenuta Parentini. Non c’e male (not too shabby).

Soon we saw the young waitstaff bring out platters of food. People started eating, passing plates, taking one or two pieces of whatever it was, nodding jovially, pouring water and wine. The young waitstaff started clearing empty platters. We tried to catch a server’s attention, with a long look or wave, but no one noticed. Our tablemates tried, too … to no avail.

David had been watching a man who kept getting up from his table to greet people at other tables … and thinking he was in charge, walked over to him. Good eye … the man was, in fact, one of the organizers. Where’s the beef?, David asked, we’re the only table without food.

We nibbled at the bread … square bites of whole grain with miglio seeds.

When platters continued to be delivered to tables that already had platters, it was my turn to talk to the man. We know how to work the good spouse/bad spouse routine. Now he got up … and within a few minutes, we had three platters. (In moments like this, I call myself The Linda.)

The dish in question was a cup-shaped pastry shell filled with a blend of potatoes and lentils. The crust was thick, golden brown, and crunchy … the filling, soft in texture and mild in flavor.

The next offering can best be described as a tamale, cutely tied in a corn husk pouch. Sadly, the filling was nondescript … I couldn’t even tell what was inside. My guess is cabbage. I even asked the woman sitting closest to us what she thought. Maybe cabbage, she said, or possibly leeks. (But it didn’t have enough flavor to be from the allium family.)

By now we were talking with our table mates. We’re always pleasantly surprised when someone says they saw us do zumba at some event or another. Being 6’ 2” and one of the only men dancing, David definitively stands out onstage.

Happily, the next dish was much better. Couscous with vegetables … onion, carrot, zucchini, all diced and cooked, among the little wheat nuggets … served at room temperature.

On to the star attraction. Grilled meat. On a modest platter, steak and ribs … chunks of sweet potato … baked potatoes sliced in half … and a jar of peppers and onions in oil, probably more of a sauce/salsa than a vegetable. The meat perfectly cooked and juicy, potato wedges with crispy skins, tender sweet potato (a rather hard-to-find item, and one we always enjoy), not too spicy salsa. The chef then walked around offering more … and we happily accepted, thanking him for his work.

In anticipation, I had saved a couple of the pastry cups … perfect to take home leftover beef for the kitties. And for felines who love bread products, the shells were enjoyed, too.

Dessert arrived on plastic plates. Pairs of water biscuits (well, that’s what they looked like and tasted like to me … color and size, minimal sugar) … one filled with apricot jam, with a drizzle of chocolate … the other filled with dolce de leche, with a topping of orange marmalade. In a cup was warm cinnamon-clove tea that was surprisingly good.

Despite an unorganized start, it was a nice meal … only one blop in the food chain.

Once the plates were cleared, we walked around to the back of the property. There is a stone patio, and it was set up with chairs facing the valley below. Soon the fireworks began. Some colorful, some twickly, some shimmering, this one twisting, that one flickering. Golds and silvers … red, white and green (of course) … brilliant blue … pale pink … vibrant violet (maybe I should say raspberry red, lemon yellow and orange orange … this is a food blog, after all [wink]). Everyone watched, enjoying the show with child-like glee, and the universal response filled the air … Ooooo! Aaahhhhh!

CINNAMON RICOTTA CAKE

An Italian would make this with lemon peel … and it would be delicious. The cinnamon makes it more Calitalian fusion. If you’ve never baked with oil, it gives cakes a very tender and moist crumb.

1 cup ricotta
⅓ cup olive oil
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1-½ cup flour
2 tsp. cinnamon
1-½ tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. baking soda
Pinch salt

- Preheat oven to 350° F (170° C). Grease a 9 inch round cake pan.
- Whisk ricotta, oil and sugar … then add eggs until well blended.
- Stir in dry ingredients.
- Pour into prepared pan.
- Bake for 30–35 minutes, until lightly browned.
- Serve at any temperature.
Enjoy!

Life … and cooking … in the Tuscan countryside.