I flew to Pisa airport with a view to driving around and exploring some of the Tuscan countryside but my first stop was at a little town on the coast called Rosignano, where my friend Paul kept his boat, an old character of a trawler yacht, called India November. He took me out to lunch in style at the Railway Station Café. It was a small cosy tavern attached to the platform with walls covered with art work, all of which was for sale. There was no menu just the day’s catch from the sea. Paul asked for the antipasti and what followed was a feast for the senses and set the tone for my whole trip.
Firstly, delicate artichoke hearts sautéed in olive oil and garlic arrived, quickly followed by a thin buttery slice of baked turbot sprinkled with fresh herbs, together with a couple of jugs of red and white local wine from a barrel on the bar. The wine was good; a young fruity house white and smooth Chianti red. The food was artistically served nouveau cuisine style on white plates, each portion just a taster to be savoured slowly; a couple of spoonfuls of saffron and asparagus risotto with a creamy goats cheese, followed by soft green nettle leaves, which not only taste good but are full of vitamins and minerals (the sting disappears when leaves are washed), fried with butter and egg to make frittata, which is then sliced. Finally as we are leaving we are handed a couple of fried rice balls, specially made for the St Joseph Day’s celebrations.
Back on the road eventually, I headed inland and the kind of countryside that appears in all the brochures and postcards of Tuscany; rolling green hills, interspersed with stone farmhouses sometimes with restaurants tacked onto the side like an afterthought and tall cypress trees in pinstripe rows next to deserted winding roads. I stopped at several eateries over the next few days and my meals varied little from that first adventure at the station. Menus rarely appeared and a dish or choice of dishes would be offered, vegetables in season from the adjacent fields, Spring lamb, chicken, Mama’s pasta or risotto, in fact whatever the family were having for lunch and washed down with still or sparkling bottled water and a glass of the wine from their own homebrewed barrel – always good as most farms had serious vineyards.
Not only that but I paid a fraction of the price the restaurants in the larger towns, especially the tourist ones were charging.