This Sunday we took a drive to Civitella in Val di Chiana. We had planned to go to Arezzo
for the monthly antiques fair in the Piazza Grande, but instead we had a problem to deal
with that morning. We had awakened during the night before to the sound of our chlorine
pump click, click, clicking away. We knew right away that something was amiss. Steve got
out of bed and went outside (brrrrrrr) to check the pump. Oh, did I forget to mention that
we have a mini water treatment plant here at our house? Yep. Our well water has an
unusually high concentration of iron. To avoid rusty sinks and pipes, we had to install a
chlorine water treatment system to remove the iron before the water enters the house.
Oh, and a water softener to remove the chlorine. Oh my.
So, it turns out that there was a short in the switch that operates the well pump. That
caused the well to stop filling the cistern before the water level reached the sensor that
tells the chlorine pump to shut off. No sensor, no word to the chlorine pump, click, cick,
click. End result: we had to turn the whole system off, which meant no water. Luckily, I
got in a shower before we realized the nature of the problem, but not poor Steve.
Since we’d spent the morning checking switches and filling the cistern from Claudio’s well,
using a hose, there wasn’t enough time left to go to the Arezzo fair and also have lunch.
Keeping our priorities straight, we decided to head directly to lunch. For Valentine’s Day I
gave Steve Osterie d’Italia 2005, (Italian osterias) published by Slow Food. It’s become
our bible for choosing where to go for Sunday lunch, which is a habit we’re rapidly turning
into a tradition. We pick a town we’ve never been to that also has a restaurant reviewed
in the Slow Food bible, and off we go. This week, it was L’antico Borgo in Civitella in Val
di Chiana, about 11 km south of Arezzo. The town is a restored medieval village that was
burned to the ground by the Germans on June 29, 1944. On that day, the men in the
town were marched into the public square and executed in groups of five. Pretty grisly.
There are numerous monuments to the martyrs around town, as well as quite a few pieces
of evocative public sculpture. Civitella is perched on the top of a hill overlooking the Val
di Chiana, the valley between Florence and Siena, just west of Castiglion Fiorentino. The
view is commanding, and the town charming—despite its tragic recent past.
The osteria is about halfway up the hill, in a building that once housed an olive oil press
and then a cantina (wine depot). The interior is all brick and stone, with a brick vaulted
ceiling at least 30 feet high supported on semicircular brick arches. Quite dramatic. But
no more so than the menu and the wine list.
We started with the antipasto degustazione, a brilliant selection of warm appetizers—a
sformata (custard) of goat cheese in a puddle of pureed peas, a fried zucchini blossom, a
crostino of artichoke with house-made lardo di colonata (unsmoked bacon), and a
crostino di tartuffo, all washed down with a complimentary glass of crisp prosecco. For a
first course I had the gnudi (a type of gnocchi made from ricotta and spinach, without
flour) sauced in sweet gorgonzola and pears. Steve had the zuppa di ceci (ceci bean
soup) with crostini topped with ground sausage. Yumbo! As a secondo, I had the lamb
and artichokes al forno, and Steve had the duck breast in balsamic vinegar. For a
contorno (side dish) we had spinach sautéed with white raisins and pine nuts. Delish!
The first and second courses were accompanied by a red wine from Campagnia (the area
just south of Rome): a 1997 Taurasi from Feudi di San Gregorio. The grape is aglianico,
recently written up in Frank Prial’s “Wine Talk” in The New York Times, and the Taurasi is
100% aglianico. I highly recommend it.
For dessert we shared a vanilla semifreddo made with honey and pine nuts, topped with
strawberry puree. Pretty incredible. Then we had espresso and a lively conversation with
the owner. We swapped anecdotes about what it’s like to live on a steep dirt road in the
winter when it snows, what it’s like to run out of firewood, and how none of us would
change a thing in spite of it all. The owners also run a B&B connected (literally) to the
osteria. The website is www.antborgo.it. Check it out.
After lunch we strolled through the town, took in the panorama, read the historical
markers (helpfully set out in both Italian and English), and then meandered back home
through the fertile Val di Chiana, oohing and aahing over the green fields shimmering
golden in the late afternoon sun. Nothing like a Sunday drive in the countryside to sort
out a morning’s stress and prepare one for a restful evening. Buon viaggio and buon