We were heading to Orvieto to meet a California friend, Laurie.

David met her at a winery in Santa Barbara, on one of his boys’ day out excursions with BFF Bill. Laurie’s day job is as a homeopathic doctor … but she is such an dedicated oenophile that she pours (moonlights?) at a local winery on the weekends. She had visited us a few Septembers ago … and when she said she’d be back this year, we were excited to see her again.

She said that she, Michael (her beau), and a group of friends were renting a villa near Orvieto … and asked if we wanted meet there for a wine tasting or dinner. Absolutely … it’s a town we’ve long wanted to see (but haven’t visited, since we usually head to southeastern Umbria to see friends at SPORTOLETTI WINERY near Spello).

Duchessa was traveling with us, so we found a cat-friendly B&B in Orvieto … ATMOSFERA D’ARTE, a charming place in a perfect centro location, with a big, orange tabby who greets guests at the gate.

Our FB friend, Charles, posted about wines in Umbria, and David commented that we’d be there a few months hence … and another person, Paolo, joined the conversation to say he had a winery 20 minutes from Orvieto, and would love to meet us. Cool … we found our wine tasting. As the posts continued, Charles’ wife, Michele, wrote that we while we were there, we had to eat at DA CARLO, a trattoria in centro. Cool … our found our dinner.

Paolo is the owner and winemaker at CASTELLO DELLE REGINE. According to the website, the winery is associated with a restaurant and hotel. David wrote back and forth with Paolo … but it seemed like a good idea to call and make some arrangements. I phoned the number on the website … (in Italian)

ME: Hello, may I speak to Paolo?
THEM: Who’s Paolo?
ME: Can I speak to Paolo?
THEM: Who’s Paolo?
ME: Thank you, good-bye.

David sent another message, and now Paolo said to talk with his wife, Livia. I called her number … Livia answered. She asked if we wanted a wine tasting followed by lunch or a lunch where we could taste the wines. I said lunch with wines sounded great. Ok, good, said Livia … please send an email to confirm. I did, she confirmed.

It was a perfect sunny day as we drove south. The winery is in San Liberato di Narni … which is actually 30 minutes south of Orvieto, plus the time you drive once you exit the autostrada. Typical Italian directions.

Laurie and Michael arrived a few minutes after we did … along with their California friends, John and Maggie, Chrissy and George. (It turns out that George is an attorney … and he offered me a job if we ever decide to move to Santa Barbara.)

I walked inside … and a woman greeted me. We found out later her name is Monica. I began … (in Italian)

ME: We’re here for a lunch and wine tasting with Paolo.
MONICA: Who’s Paolo?
ME: I made a reservation for lunch with a wine tasting with Livia. Can I talk with her?
MONICA: Who’s Livia?
ME: [thought bubble … Oioi.]

Monica must have seen the surprise on my face. Un momento … and she walked toward the kitchen to talk with someone else. A moment later, she came back without an answer, but offered us wine. Yes, that would be lovely.

We sat outside on the grassy patio … talking with the resident cat! … enjoying a day under the Umbrian sun, and a waitress brought eight glasses of white wine. And bowls of peanuts.

A few sips later, another woman came outside with her cell phone … she was talking with Livia.

Livia was very apologetic. She had a cold today, and could not be with us … but she’d tell her husband to meet us at there right away. (Only now she was telling her husband that she had arranged a tasting?)

We sat outside, chatting and sipping, waiting for Paolo.

Monica reappeared, and presented David with the bill. 45 euros. We sat some more, sipping and chatting.

I went inside to find the loo … and Monica was there. Poor thing. I had not planned, prepared to say anything. The moment presented itself, and I took it. I began … (in Italian) We came for a lunch with wine tasting. We thought that meant wine is included in the price. The arrangements were made a couple of weeks ago … and it’s not my fault that Livia didn’t tell you. She and I discussed lunch with a tasting. We thought the wine you offered was part of the tasting … start with white, segue to red. We don’t think we should have to pay …

I walked outside triumphant. I am The Linda. All hail The Linda.

After maybe half an hour, Paolo appeared. Ciao, ciao, ciao and double kisses all around … (in Italian)

PAOLO: I hadn’t realized you were here. I was waiting at the winery. Do you want to come for a tasting?
ME: Yes, I made those arrangements with Livia. Absolutely!
PAOLO: Good, follow me in your cars.
ME: [thought bubble … Oioi.]

And two kilometers uphill on a bad gravel road later, we arrived at the winery … with an amazing view overlooking the valley.

I’m glad I grabbed the peanuts, hastily wrapping in the cocktail napkins … in fact, everyone was glad … as Paolo opened bottle after bottle of his various wines. A Grechetto … a grape that grows well in the this region. A “Brunello” … in quotes, since it’s made outside of the official zone. A SuperUmbrian … Paolo’s clever name for a SuperTuscan made outside of the official zone. And a delightfully peppery olive oil.

But we were hungry and we wanted lunch.

And back at the restaurant … sitting at an elegant, white table cloth covered table, it’s lunch we got. We brought the opened bottles from the tasting to sip and savor with the meal … plus a full one. Just because.

Without menu, without asking, without further ado … the antipasto arrived. Presented on a platter was fried mozzarella in a crispy, crunchy crust. At room temperature, it was a tasty way to stop our hunger pangs.

The next offering was a lovely cylinder of steak tartare. Unfortunately, George and Chrissy don’t eat red meat … and until that moment, we didn’t realize that each course of the meal would feature Chianina beef, the Tuscan breed of cattle. Monica was gracious, and quickly adjusted what they would eat. I apologized across the table … because I had asked everyone at the wine tasting if they had food allergies or aversions (but never had a chance to tell the chef).

The steak tartare was tender and delicious. I was happy to share it with Duchessa … sitting on a chair at the head of the table … she ate as enthusiastically as the rest of us, as I unzipped and re-zipped her carrier. It was presented with thin slices of green apple, pineapple, and cantaloupe drizzled with a balsamic glaze, plus a decorative wedge of crispy piadina. The uneaten tartare went onto a piece of bread to absorb the juicy goodness. And put into a Take-Away container.

So why wasn’t I eating? We had a reservation that evening at DA CARLO … and I wanted to make sure I could eat, experience, enjoy that meal, too.

The primo was tortello filled with ground meat. Just ground beef … no cheese, no herbs, no egg to bind, no bread to tenderize … just delicately sauteed ground beef, draped in butter and chopped parsley. I ate one … and put the other three in the takeaway container.

Our new friends hadn’t realized that lunch would mean l.u.n.c.h. … they thought food at a winery meant olives and maybe breadsticks, so had eaten a big American breakfast. Laurie knew … two years ago, we had a memorable meal at TENUTA SETTE PONTI, in Castiglion Fibocchi, with the owner, Giovanna, as our hostess.

The secondo was tagliata … the bistecca cousin. A steak is grilled rare, then sliced (and traditionally served on a bed of arugula with big shreds of parmigiano on top). Here it shared the plate with mashed potatoes and delicate slices of grilled zucchini and grilled eggplant. I ate one of the juicy, flavorful, fork-tender slices and one bite of the yummy, creamy potatoes. And put the rest in the container.

And to finish … three desserts. A platter of cookies, dusted with powdered sugar, were crispy and good with the subtle flavor of corn meal. One was called tiramisu, but we all agreed it was mis-named. It was very good lemon pudding, bright in flavor with a chunk of chocolate cake, and finished with a dusting of cocoa and a sliver of dark chocolate on top. And panna cotta … nicely soft and appropriately creamy, I had asked for the musto … rich, thick, and assertive simmered grape must … on the side so I could taste each element separately first, then together. I had a tiny bit of each dessert … no take away [wink] …

Each element was so good, combining traditional recipes with updated versions. The robust wines and all beef dishes made for a memorable meal with our old and new friends.

I was successful, and wasn’t over full.

To be continued …

NUTELLA NUGGETS

You can use any hazelnut-cocoa spread. I like the organic brand Rigoni di Asiago, which uses raw sugar. It comes in two versions … one is more chocolately.

1 cup nutella
4 oz. butter, at room temperature
1 egg
2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking powder
Shredded coconut … for rolling

- Preheat oven to 375° F (190° C).
- Cream butter and nutella, then add egg, and finally stir in flour and baking powder until it is a well-blended dough. (You can refrigerate it at this point to shape and bake later.)
- Shape/roll dough into walnut-size balls. Roll each in the coconut.
- Place on silpat-lined or parchment-lined cookie sheet.
- Bake for 8–10 minutes until lightly set … do NOT overbake … they should remain soft.
- Makes approximately 48 cookies.
Enjoy!

Life … and cooking … in the Tuscan countryside.