I was skeptical when Robin suggested we try this little place for lunch. I should have known better — she has the same ability to pick a winner that Jeff has. This lunch was easily one of the best I’ve had here.
Three of us — Robin, our friend Jude, and I — were in the middle of a day of serious house renovation-related work. We had spent the morning in Piancastagnaio looking at tile and flooring. Piancastagnaio is, by the way, one of the many small Tuscan towns that hasn’t been included in travel guide books but is just as picturesque as many of its well-known neighbors. Paul and I were up there (like so many of these towns, it began as a walled city high up on a hill) on a previous trip to cruise an antiques and art market. But I digress …
We three weary shoppers entered this small restaurant to find it about a third-full of mostly men, most seated at separate tables. Based on what they were wearing and their tanned faces, we guessed them to be workers on jobs too far away from home to eat there. The TV was on and I noticed the sportscaster, a very attractive young woman, seemed unusually scantily clad for the job. Then I remembered: I’m in Italy.
Between the three of us, we had two kinds of pasta, including the delicious pappardelle al cinghiale (broad noodles with wild boar sauce) this region is known for, trout (also delicious), and cooked greens. The greens came from the contorni (side dishes) section on the menu. I almost always find verdure cotta, or cooked vegetables here, and I started ordering them only because they’re good for me. In other words, eating my vegetables helps me justify my next gelato stop. But I’m getting hooked on the verdure cotta — usually spinach, chicory, or, in this case, rape (turnip greens) — because they’re delicious. And also because one never knows where gelato will turn up next.
As we were leaving the restaurant, an 8 or 9-year old girl who was probably the daughter or granddaughter of the proprietors shyly showed off her English, saying “thank you” with a big smile to each of us.
For anyone keeping score at home, the name of the trattoria seems to be Vecchio Forno (“Old Oven”). It was on the Cassia (the highway known in Roman times as the Via Cassia – identified on maps as SS 2), right on the border between Lazio and Tuscany, after the turnoff Proceno (a hill town with a lovely restaurant and another great restaurant) but before the turnoff to Piancastagnaio.