Editor’s note: This is the second of three parts about chef Jasper Mirabile Jr.’s journey through Italy with the Slow Food Kansas City convivium.
When I left you last time, our Slow Food Kansas City tour group was just getting ready to sit down for our first dinner in Chianti at Villa la Palagina.
To be honest with you, this is the first time I really didn’t do much research on the chef or the villa that we were staying at in Chianti. Federico Cardi is the chef de cuisine.
We started off our dinner with a modern ribollita containing zolfini beans (the most precious Arc of Taste Tuscan legume, typically from Pratomagno, a hill area between Arezzo and Florence), along with black kale, beans and potatoes with a drizzle of oil. These words only describe the ingredients but the flavor was unbelievable.
Our next course consisted of an expertly prepared Risotto alle Barbabietole e mousse di Gorgonzola. This was the first time I have ever experienced a beet risotto, and the Italian blue cheese melted on top was the perfect accompaniment.
It takes a lot to impress me, but the next course absolutely blew my mind. Chef Federico prepared mozzarella balls stuffed with Gorgonzola and radicchio that were like eating the air. Unbelievable.
This was followed by a very simple and flavorful ravioli gnudi, which consisted of a spinach and ricotta filling with a pea purée and crispy pancetta. The dish is called gnudi because there is no pasta; it’s actually just a feeling and is served “nude.”
A tender roasted venison and wild fruit of the woods was our next course, very simply prepared. Our final dessert for our first evening in Chianti was a white chocolate baci (kiss), the perfect ending to a memorable dinner. The wines served were all from grapes grown on the estate, which is very typical of the Chianti region.
The next morning consisted of a unique visit to one of the most famous gelato producers in Italy, Parco Carabe. In my humble opinion, this may have been the finest gelato this chef has ever tasted.
Antonio and Loredana Lisciandro are from Patti, on the northern coast of Sicily, but they moved to Tuscany 25 years ago. They opened their gelato laboratory on the farm to our Slow Food convivium. Very few people have ever experienced a lesson at the private laboratory.
During a quick lesson in granita and gelato, we learned some of the secrets of their great gelato and ingredients, which included egg white, egg yolk, sugar, milk and cream. Only pure ingredients, such as Bronte pistachios from Sicily, China floral tea, almond, chocolate, Sicilian olive oil, Piedmont hazelnuts and fresh ricotta were used.
I was kind of sorry our day started with gelato because I don’t think anything could top this experience.
Our next visit on the Chianti Trail was at my favorite winery, Badia a Coltibuono in Ratta, owned by the Medici family. We were greeted at the beautiful castle and given a tour of the gardens before a one-hour wine-tasting and tour through the ancient wine caves.
A visit in Chianti would not be a true visit for me without stopping to say hello to my friends at Badia a Coltibuono, where organic farming is practiced and some of Italy’s finest olive oil is produced.
One of the highlights of our trip to Chianti was spent in the city of Panzano, where we visited the famous butcher shop Dario Cecchini. Dario is known around the world, and his butcher shop is a mecca for chefs and foodies.
We were greeted with wine the minute we arrived, then had a quick tour before we were taken to Dario’s restaurant, Solociccia, which means “only meat.” Our lunch consisted of olive oil and Tuscan salt, fresh fennel, celery and carrots sliced around beef, a beef salad with braised carrots and fennel, a braised beef in Chianti wine and one of the lightest olive oil cakes ever baked.
After some great wine and after-dinner liqueur, our group was ready for excursion back to the Villa la Palagina, but we had to make a quick stop in Greve for some sightseeing and, of course, another small little tasting.
I had to experience the fig gelato with guanciale at Antica Macelleria Falorni di Greve in Chianti. The fig gelato was creamy and so full of flavor and what an unique experience with the guanciale on top. This had been on my bucket list for years and now I finally enjoyed it.
Dinner that evening, at Villa la Palagina started with homemade cappelletti filled with pumpkin and a petal of foie gras and pea purée, a simple guinea hen filled with sausage and bread crumbs, an outrageous five-hour roasted pork wrapped in pancetta with a cheese sformato and a sweet finish of bavarese of berries and warm chocolate sauce.
A wonderful time at Mondo X, the monastery near Cetona, was had by all. Mondo X is part of La Frateria di Padre Eligio, which is a Franciscan order mostly for former drug addicts and “lost souls” who fix up ruined sites and live off the land.
The chef is from Milan and uses more than 30 ingredients grown at monasteries in Italy. The luncheon took four hours, starting with bread fried with rosemary and whole garlic red peppers and drenched in oil. It was accompanied by cups with Gorgonzola purée, olive purée, artichoke purée and a ham and lardo purée.
Fried vegetables and arancini were next, and then a poached turkey breast with mostarda. A saffron risotto was so full of local saffron, I was overwhelmed. Ravioli Norma, an eggplant purée with pasta, was next followed by one of the most extraordinary pieces of roasted veal I have ever had anywhere. A grand piece di Vitellone verdure di Stagione braised in milk brought tears to my eyes it was so good — seriously.
We finished with a very light budino di panna cotta at the abbey Le Delizie del Convento. I have traveled the world and had many lunches but this is now at the top of my list. If you ever have a day in the Chianti region, and you want to spend it eating, here is the place to experience it.
Our final day consisted of a visit to Certaldo, the hometown of our tour guide, Judy Francini. Certaldo is one of the best small towns in Italy, according to Touring Club Italiano. Colle di Val d’Elsa is currently the center for the production of lead crystal and pottery. We visited the local market and went to the old town on top of the mountain, where we all enjoyed cappuccino and some light shopping.
Our luncheon this day would be prepared by the famous Latini family from Florence. This is their new restaurant and hotel in Certaldo named Il Latini. It is run by the beautiful Chiara Latini, and she greeted us with open arms. She started our luncheon with some homemade whipped lardo and fried dough balls. A beautiful salad of figs and pecorino with wild greens and walnuts was followed by a ravioli with brown butter and sage and then perfectly prepared tagliatta — sliced Tuscan beef.
A heavy whipped zabaglione, homemade biscotti and vin santo ended this memorable luncheon.
As you can see, our Slow Food trip through Chianti consisted of some of the finest food available at the most famous non-tourist restaurants. Our hosts treated us like family at each restaurant, winery, butcher shop and restaurant.
Chef Jasper J. Mirabile Jr. of Jasper’s runs his family’s 59-year-old restaurant, consistently rated one of Kansas City’s best Italian restaurants. In addition to running the restaurant with his brother, Mirabile is a culinary instructor, founding member of Slow Food Kansas City and a national board member of the American Institute of Wine and Food. He is host to many famous chefs on his weekly radio show “Live! From Jasper’s Kitchen” on KCMO 710 AM and 103.7 FM. He also sells dressings and sauces.