October Half-Term at Villa Lena

Published: September 10, 2019

Autumn is just around the corner and the change of the season brings much to be excited about. Whilst the sun continues to shine in Tuscany throughout the season, the fall brings fresh bounty, milder temperatures and less crowds. What more could you ask for?

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Foraging the Villa Garden – Greens and Joy Straight to the Table

Published: September 5, 2019

Entering the beautiful Saint Michele Terrace, I admire the view over the Tuscan countryside valleys. The Chef in Residence, Katzie Guy-Hamilton, is happily greeting me and welcoming me to the workshop. We enjoy a glass of Villa Lena sparkling before strolling to the orto gardens of the villa. Katzie gives us a tour of the vegetable garden, which is rich in colours with various types of tomatoes, zucchini flowers and watermelons ripening.

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Interview with Kristopher Edelen | Chef in Residence 2018

Published: March 19, 2019

Q: Kris, what brought you to Villa Lena?

A: I was doing some looking into residencies in the U.S. to start I have always wanted to work on a farm and be able to cook with the ingredients in a locavore kind of way. I was accepted into one residency in upstate New York but as I came to think I continued to do more research on chef-in-residency programs around the world. As I surfed the web Villa Lena show up in my search, I did what anyone would do and I clicked the link: it was “Amore a prima vista”! I was captured immediately I just knew I had to continue to read what this 19th-century Italian villa located in Palaia, Italy was about. Through this research, I put in some work (literally)  and actually got in contact with the owner Lena Evstafieva we had a Skype interview and next thing you know I was set for 2018 Aug-October chef-in-residence. The ortos, the pigs, the agriculture, the ethos, land, community, farmers, butchers, hunters, cuisine, artist are what all brought me to the Villa.

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Margherita Cake with Vernaccia Sabayon

Published: July 9, 2018

Amaze your friends with this sweet recipe from former chef-in-residence Aaron Tomczak. This cake is the ultimate dessert for al-fresco dinners with your loved ones.

Villa Lena to me is simplicity, made extraordinary through natural beauty augmented by creativity. To draw a parallel to food for me would be ripe strawberries and Margherita cake, topped with a sabayon made from local wine and garnished with herbs from the garden. Very simple ingredients, made memorable by the airy texture of the sabayon and floral aroma of nasturtium and lavender.

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Strawberry Tree Syrup by Natalie Zervou

Published: December 14, 2017

Discovering the Arbutus Unedo plant (or strawberry tree as it is affectionately known) growing abundantly at Villa Lena was a revelation!

This small tree belongs  to the Ericaceae family, native to the Mediterranean region. The species name, ‘unedo’, is said to mean “I only eat one” in Latin as they are said to leave a slightly bitter aftertaste. I did not find this to be the case, though the texture for me was somewhat challenging (think flouring apple!) however,  when transformed into shrubs, syrups and jams this fruit really is utterly delightful. The flavour is layered, complex and sweet and when married with thymus mint, also bountiful at the villa, the heavenly aroma and sticky sweet taste kept us going back for more. In folk medicine, the plant has been used for antiseptic, astringent, intoxicant, rheumatism, and tonic purposes. I enjoyed the shub best, the acidity of the vinegar gave a tangy twist and had that addictive quality that contrasting flavours often possess (think salty and sweet).

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MUSEEUM LOVES VILLA LENA | Pick up their new travel guide for Tuscany

Published: October 13, 2017

Bored of flipping through Tuscany tourist guides? Overwhelmed by the endless options? Pick up the brand new Museeum guide of Tuscany! In this short guide based on the senses you can find information for anyone.

In this guide you will find the top suggestions for an exploration of the main cities around Villa Lena: Florence, San Gimignano, Lucca, Siena!

From a connoisseur to food lovers, there are amazing tips for restaurants. Dine with a beautiful view at the café in Museo degli Innocenti, or try Italian comfort food with a twist at Michelin star gourmet restaurant ”L’imbuto” (The Funnel) in Lucca Centre of Contemporary Art. This is a great place for a change from traditional Italian cuisine and for a break from medieval art.

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RECIPE | TRUFFLE PASTA

Published: October 10, 2017

Now that the evenings are getting colder, we have the perfect excuse for comfort food…Warm up with this rich truffle pasta from Rebecca Eichenbaum, our Villa Lena. resident chef this Autumn.

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Sweet dreams are made of cheese | Butternutten AG

Published: October 3, 2017

illa Lena, Tuscany

Stimulated by a common passion for food and cooking, Butternutten’s Luki + Oli hosted a four-course cheese dinner at Villa Lena.

Every course featured ceramics made in Butternutten workshop by hotel guests, staff people and artists in residence at Villa Lena; the ceramics are inspired by human body parts.

The individual and unusual tableware invited the guests to interact as well as to enter in dialogue with each other. The “cheese dreams” dinner is a way of questioning what eating can be more than food intake and how our being can be shaped.

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Elderflower

Published: March 12, 2017

by Alexis Delaney, chef-in-resident of the years past

The first year that I came to Villa Lena, I was picked up at the train station in Pontedera. After a brief stop at the local coop supermarket to pick up a few spring-in-Tuscany essentials (raw fava beans, pecorino, bread and salami) our tiny car made its way along the curving and bumpy road between Palaia and the villa. Despite my jetlag and lack of sleep that previous night, I was struck by not only the incredible views and terrifying blind turns, but also that the road was lined with elderflower trees and they were in full bloom.

I couldn’t wait to get back on that road, this time on foot to collect the crowns of fragrant and tiny blossoms, which bloom prolifically between April and June. I headed out with my husband and visiting photographer Ellie Tsatsou to collect the clusters and transform them into a delicious and unique elixir for our aperitivo the next evening. We snipped a basket full of the branches and made sure to keep them upright lest any of the magical pollen and flavor fall to the road.

Once back in the kitchen, I trimmed the heads of their leaves and stems, which lack the same delightful aroma, and made a light simple syrup with sugar, water and a bit of lemon peel. After the syrup had cooled a bit, the washed flowers went in, and stayed there for 24 hours for the flavor to steep. The next day, I strained my concoction and made my self an elderflower lemonade with some lemon juice, the syrup and sparkling water of ice. Then that evening, we substituted the sparkling water for prosecco and enjoyed our drinks by the pool at sunset!

I brought some of the non-alcoholic version down to Anna, who works in the Villa Lena office, the next day. She informed me of an ancient Italian recipe in which the blossoms are dipped in batter, fried and sprinkled with sugar. Known as fiori di sambuco fritti in Italian they are a delicious and unique dessert, especially when served with a bowl of sweetened and whipped ricotta.

Elderflower syrup

This syrup will store for months. Dilute it with soda water or prosecco for a refreshing spring drink. For an inventive take on a French 75 cocktail, add a shot of gin or cognac ½ a shot of the syrup, top with prosecco and garnish with a strip of lemon zest.

500 grams sugar

1 liter water

1 lemon, zested with a vegetable peeler

15 elderflower crown

In a saucepan, heat the sugar, the water and the lemon zest until the sugar has completely dissolved. Remove from the heat and allow to cool until warm to the touch. Add the elderflower blossoms. Once the mixture is at room temperature cover and leave for 24 hours. The next day, strain through cheese cloth. Pack into sterilized containers and refrigerate.

Elderflower Fritters

These fritters use a basic tempura batter with prosecco instead of soda water to add flavor and color. Make sure the prosecco is cold for a light and crispy batter.

75 grams flour

75 grams corn starch

325 ml cold prosecco

2 dozen bite-sized clusters of elderflowers

1 cup granulated sugar

1 lemon, finely zested

flavorless oil for frying

Mix the sugar and lemon zest until well combined.

Gently wash blossoms in a bowl of water and remove to a towel to dry. Fill a pot with vegetable oil no higher than halfway, or you run the risk of boiling over. Heat the oil until a deep fry thermometer reads 350 degrees F or 180 degrees C. Prepare batter by whisking both flours and prosecco until just barely combined. Do not over mix. Working in batches of four or five, dip blossoms in batter until evenly coated and lay them in the oil. Avoid over crowding the pan. After a minute, flip the blossoms once with a slotted spoon, fry another minute, and remove to a paper towel. They should take no more than 2-3 minutes, and should be a golden brown.

Toss while still hot in the lemon sugar and serve immediately with honey whipped ricotta.

ELDERFLOWER_syrup

Honey whipped ricotta

1 cup ricotta

1 tablespoon mild flavored honey, or to taste

Small pinch of salt if necessary

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and beat until smooth and light, about 2 minutes.

Wild asparagus

Published: February 17, 2017

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by Alexis Delaney, chef-in-resident of the years past

Last year on a cool, cloudy evening in late March, I set out towards Toiano Vecchio to stretch my legs and watch the sun set over the craggy Tuscan hills. As I approached the abandoned town, a kilometer from the Villa, I saw a guy along the hillside, next to the tiny, ancient cemetery, bending down in the grass. When he came up, he had fistfuls of wild asparagus.

Italians really are an incredibly generous and kind people. I chatted with him for a while, and before I knew it half of his vegetal bounty was in my hands, as well as information on where to search for wild asparagus. Of course, no Italian conversation about food would be complete without strong opinions about how to prepare the tender and flavorful stalks.

The man recommended looking along slopes as the plant likes well-drained soil. He also suggested looking in the shade of olive trees. Once I had identified the “mamma”, a silvery-green, feathery and spiny plant. I began seeing them everywhere on the Villa Lena estate.

As the week went on I also saw families strolling on the road to Villa Lena, scanning the sides for culinary treasure, and then bounding up and snapping off the elusive spears. As with any foraging it is important to not take everything so that the plant can continue to thrive and produce in years to come.

I’m not sure which is better: romping around woods and olive groves hunting for this fleeting, seasonal treat, or bringing them to the kitchen and preparing a delicious meal. Wild asparagus are more flavorful than their conventional cousins, and are best featured in simple pastas, risottos, frittatas or crostini, where they can be the star of the show. I love smearing some garlic-rubbed bread with fresh ricotta and topping it with quickly blanched asparagus tips, lots of freshly ground black pepper and a good drizzle of spicy Villa Lena olive oil. It is equally delicious with lemon and parmesan in this risotto, which always makes an appearance in the Villa Lena restaurant.

Wild aspargus Villa Lena tuscany

Wild Asparagus Risotto

Serves 4

Risotto is a comforting one pot dinner. Originally from Northern Italy, it can serve as a base for any number of vegetables and flavorings. The best known rice for risotto is Arborio, but Carnaroli, Vialone Nano and Baldo are other options.

400 grams wild asparagus, trimmed and cut into ¼ inch pieces
1 lemon, zested and juiced
3 tablespoons butter
1 small onion, diced
300 grams risotto rice
1.5 liters chicken or vegetable stock
250 ml white wine
40 gras grated parmesan cheese

In a saucepan bring the stock to a boil and set aside, in close range of where you will be cooking the risotto. In a large, heavy bottomed pot melt 2 tablespoons of butter and add the diced onion with a pinch of salt. Cook on low until onion is completely translucent. Add the rice and coat with the onion and butter. Cook stirring frequently until rice is translucent. Add the lemon zest to the rice and cook for 30 seconds. Then add the white wine and turn up the heat to medium. Cook stirring often until all the white wine is absorbed.

Add 1 cup of stock and a pinch of salt and cook until absorbed. Continue this process, stirring occasionally to make sure rice doesn’t stick. After ten minutes add the asparagus. Continue cooking the rice with stock until the rice is tender but still has a “bite”. You will have to stir more frequently towards the end to prevent sticking. When the rice is done, turn off the heat, add the lemon juice, a tablespoon of butter and the cheese. Stir vigorously to develop the creamyness. Taste for salt and add a splash more broth if needed. Serve on warm plates.