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Saturday, August 24, 2013

Senza Glutine-- Eating Gluten-Free In Tuscany Is Easier Than In The U.S.

Da Delfina terrace with the 1596 Medici pad in the background

I just got back from about a month in Tuscany. Some old friends and I rented a beautiful old villa outside a small town in the Chianti region of northern Tuscany, just southwest of Florence. I ate every day-- and that included a lot of pasta and some pizza-- and never had to worry about gluten, which my doctor told me to avoid.

I have four favorite Italian restaurants here in L.A.-- BellaRiva, Angelini Osteria, Osteria Mozza, all in the Hollywood area, and Piccolo in Venice-- and I wouldn't even think to ask them for gluten-free anything. Although... I'm about to start. It's perfectly natural in Italy, where, apparently, Celiac is a well-understood disease. Health food stores, like the well-stocked NaturaSi in Florence (4 outlets), normal run-of-the-mill grocery stores (like the Coops everywhere) and pharmacies, all carry gluten-free food-- and lots of it. So cooking back at the villa was no problem.

But it's Tuscany. I was there to eat the most refined and deicious cuisine in the world. And I never had a problem with that it. Montespertoli is a tiny town you won't find on many maps. You don't even find the roads that go to it on any maps. But the one of the pizzeria's just off the main square Garby's, with dozens of different kinds of pizza on their menu, was always happy to make a pizza senza glutine. Down the road from the villa in the other direction, there was a big restaurant, Lo Spigo in Montelupo Fiorentino has a page on their menu with gluten-free dishes, but basically they'll make you anything you want in a gluten-free way, including every kind of pasta (except ravioli and lasagne) and every kind of pizza.

When I first got to town I called on a friend of mine who's been living in Tuscany for 8 years, American-born film-maker Frank LaLoggia (Lady In White, Fear No Evil). He suggested we go to a place owned by a friend of his, Paolo, in Lucardo, 10 minutes from Montespertoli and halfway between our villa and his house down a dirt road in San Casiano-- Ristorante C'era Una Volta in Lucardo. Not only did Paolo offer to make me any pasta I wanted senza glutine, he even served me gluten free bread while my friends ate the house bread. I might mention that the food is amazing and the view from the terrace is spectacular and that I ate there half a dozen times afterwards. Just down the road a piece is a turn-off on via Lucignano which leads to a not easy to find farm house that doubles-- if you make a reservation-- as a vegan restaurant, La Fonte. It's not specifically gluten-free-- more organic and macrobiotic-- but they know how to do it and do it well.

And that brings us to the world renowned Tuscan destination restaurants-- and, yes, they take care of their gluten-free guests as well. The first day I arrived in Italy I didn't go to the villa but stayed to see some friends honeymooning in Florence. We had dinner at one of the best restaurants in town, Ristorante Cibrèo. It was my first meal of the trip and I was taken aback when I asked the waiter if he could serve gluten-free pasta. He got all huffy-- but, as it turned out, not over the gluten-free part. In all their long history (Etruscan times?) they have never ever served pasta. OK, once we got over that, I sat back and had a superb meal. The menu, which changes constantly, is scrawled in Italian by hand but the waiter sits down and explains every dish on it to you. There were a dozen things I wanted to order and I barely remember what I wound up picking but everything was delicious and had I ever worked up the courage to brave Florence's bizarre traffic again, I would have certainly gone back again.

The only other restaurant in a city I ate in was Siena's wonderful Osteria le Logge, just off the Campo, the city's famed main square. Everything was delicious and although gluten-free wasn't their thing, they were able to easily accommodate my request. I went with a bunch of friends and we ordered tons of food, all of it delicious, well-prepared and shockingly inexpensive. All the other restaurants were in the countryside and-- warning-- they all require reservations. They also require a car and a lot of directional savvy to locate and get to.

In the small cluster of buildings in the middle of nowhere called Artimino, near a small town called Carmignano just west of Florence is a Tuscan classic, Da Delfina. The terrace overlooks a gorgeous bucolic scene that happens to include an amazing Medici villa built in 1596. As one reviewer put it, "Comfort is the keyword: you come here for an elegant take on mamma's home cooking, served on crisply laid tables by impeccable, bow-tied waiters." I had called ahead and told them I didn't eat gluten and they were prepared. One of the reasons-- there are several-- that I keep going back to RivaBella in L.A. is because of their unqiue take on eggplant parmigiana, which the L.A. Times described as "a luscious eggplant timbale in a light Parmesan cream" and I'm hooked. But wasn't I shocked to find the identical preparation at Delfina, only twice the portion size and a little more... let's say relaxed. I wouldn't call the restaurant inexpensive but it's far from expensive. They don't accept credit cards.

Another restaurant that stands out as especially delicious and also pretty much in the middle of nowhere was La Locanda di Pietracupa on the side of the "main road" into San Donato in Poggio. That's where we had our goodbye dinner when my friends from Amsterdam and Arizona were leaving for home. All send-offs should be that delicious! Again, I called ahead with the senza glutine request and they were solicitous and ready to serve! I had the amazing pasta dish with a light sauce made of beets and gorgonzola. It doesn't sound that good but, man, would I like to be eating there again tonight! They even had gluten-free bread for me!

I should also add that all the restaurants are especially proud of their olive oils and balsamics, and they should be. In fact the only souvenirs I brought home were bottles of local olive oil!

1 comment:

France Forever 24/7 said...

France Finesse: Good to know there are so many options there - thanks for sharing!