Valdirose, Lastra a Signa, Tuscany
It’s hard to believe now, but I still remember going to friends and family’s homes to see “the vacation pictures”. Magnified on what to me was the big screen, it was one of those things people moaned about (when it wasn’t their own slides in the carousel) but I always loved it – both the scale and the ritual. I hadn’t thought about how obsolete that had become until I came back from a family trip to Italy. Between instagram and facebook, everyone comments on what you’re doing and seeing in real time so there’s not much left to tell and every repeated story feels smaller somehow. Still it’s impossible to travel through Italy without thoughts of futures posts running through my head. Rather than go through it all in one go, I’ve decided to take it city by city and share some favorites places and the recipes that came from them – starting where we did in Florence.
Preparing for the trip, I’d gone through my typical pre-flight checklist which ranges from the entirely doable (download Lonely Planet guide to ipad) to the highly unlikely (learn Italian). The week before coincided with last looks on my manuscript so I tried a more balanced approach -checking bookmarked links and noting a handful of things I absolutely wanted to see and more importantly – eat. There weren’t many hotels in the mix because I’m pretty much happy to stay anywhere. Valdirose was the exception. I first read about the bed and breakfast in Lastra A Signa just outside of Florence on Nicole Franzen’s La Buena Vida via Giulia Scarpaleggia of Juls’ Kitchen. It was on a cold, gray day in January so I was especially susceptible to sun drenched shots of olive groves, white washed farm tables, herb gardens, and quail eggs. In the weeks leading up to our departure, I’d find myself visiting their blog and checking their instagram feed when I was stressed, borrowing against easier days to come. When we did finally get there after serial delays and a rush to make our train connection (we didn’t), the extra 20 minutes to reach the hotel seemed eternal. I started to worry that it couldn’t possibly be all I had imagined. The doubts went away the moment we worked our way up the steep hill that takes you to Valdirose. I could say it was meeting Irene and her husband Paolo who were warm and welcoming, or the dusky light that filled every corner of the their beautiful home, or the surrounding cypress trees that inexplicably grew golden Christmas ornaments, or the chocolate almond cake and cappuccino they offered us – but it was most likely a heady combination of all four.
After settling in and meeting our neighbors who were visiting from Austin and inspired my food envy when they described visiting a nearby goat farm, we worked our way downstairs to chat up Irene’s father Giovanni – drawn by the the fire he was building on the grill with olive branches. In a mixture of Spanish, English, and Italian (not mine) we started talking and laughing – setting a pattern for the rest of our stay.
Far from regretting being outside of Florence, we looked forward to seeing the family at the end of each day and asking their advice when we made plans in their sun-filled patio over whatever cake Irene had made the next morning. The lemon became my favorite and she generously shared the recipe with me. On our last morning, I worked up the courage to show them my manuscript which still only existed on my ipad. Irene’s book Quello Che Piace a Irene. Recette, Consigle e Regali came out just after we left and has become my new Italian grammar guide- so I may finally learn Italian after all. More to come from Venice.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Lightly butter and flour a 9-inch cake pan and set aside.
Sift together the flour, cornstarch, and baking powder in a medium mixing bowl and set aside.
Using a balloon whisk or hand mixer, beat the egg yolks in a separate bowl and add 4 tablespoons of boiling water. Slowly add 100 grams of sugar followed by the lemon juice and salt. Continue to beat until the mixture is pale and creamy. Set aside.
Fold in the dry ingredients in three additions, alternating with the melted butter and ending with the flour, mixture.
In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites on medium speed until frothy. Gradually add the remaining sugar and continue to beat until stiff peaks form. Fold the egg whites into the egg yolk mixture.
Pour into the prepared pan and bake in the oven until a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean, about 40 to 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the plan. Unomld then sprinkle with powdered sugar.
As much as I Iove to plan, the best moments happen unexpectedly. The restaurant you drag your family and hour and a half out of their way to find (guilty) doesn’t compare to the random market you didn’t know you were looking for and soon becomes the favorite you pass on to friends. I’ve included a few link below to some of the places I might have missed but am so happy I didn’t…