Italy's charms ― its people, its art, and especially its food ― tend to cast a spell on visitors, and San Franciscans Donald Frediani and Renata Gasperi are no exception. They've been captivated by this seductive land, which they've visited 14 times in the past 25 years. They go to spend time with family and tend a small inherited house, but most of all for the cuisine of their Italian heritage.
Frediani, the cook of the pair, records each meal in his travel diary. Back in California, he recreates dishes for enthusiastic guests. This Tuscan menu draws inspiration from a meal Frediani and Gasperi had at La Grotta in Montepulciano. It shows off fresh ingredients naturally and simply.
This summer supper for 6 to 8 comes together easily ― each course can be made ahead (see "Time Plan," below) or finished while guests relax around the table. Offer breadsticks wrapped with thinly sliced prosciutto as an hors d'oeuvre, then unmold zucchini timbales and grill a big steak, rare and juicy, the way the Tuscans like it. Harvest vegetables, roasted until sweet, go alongside. The meal comes to a leisurely close with wedges of custard-filled torta or purchased almond biscotti served with vin santo, a sweet golden dessert wine, or espresso. From start to finish, this simple menu brings the enchanting flavors of the Tuscan countryside into your own home: Mangia bene!
Zucchini Timbales (Timballi di Zucchini)
Grilled Steak on Arugula (Tagliata di Manzo)
Roasted Vegetables (Verdure al Forno)
Grandmother's Custard Torte (Torta della Nonna)
Crusty Bread with Olive Oil
Seghesio Sangiovese or Zinfandel
Vin Santo and Espresso
Tuscan Summer Supper Plan
Since the zucchini timbales and roasted vegetables can be served at room temperature, the timing on this meal is relaxed.
Up to 1 day ahead: Make custard torte and zucchini timbales.
About 1 1/2 hours ahead: Roast vegetables and let zucchini timbales warm to room temperature.
About 1 hour ahead: Prepare artichokes. Wrap thinly sliced prosciutto around breadsticks; wrap airtight.
About 45 minutes ahead: If using a charcoal barbecue, ignite briquets. Unmold timbales and arrange on tomatoes.
About 30 minutes ahead: If using a gas barbecue, preheat grill.
About 20 minutes ahead: Grill steak.
About 5 minutes ahead: Dress arugula and artichokes; slice steak.
Shortly before dessert: Dust torte with powdered sugar; prepare fruit.