I have always loved Italy. As you may have read in my meme, I lived in Rome, mere steps from the Coliseum. My travels, work and studies have taken me to Italy multiple times. I still have friends living in Florence, Rome, Puglia, Calabria, Sicily and Milan. My memories of my time there are simple treasures I can turn to when chaos comes. However, all of my experience with food was pre-gluten-free: cornetti caldi at 4am in Ragusa, pizza eaten outside in Campo dei Fiori, the best bread in Sicily, homemade pasta and panzanella salad in Florence. But my research told me that Italy is much more advanced in its awareness of Celiac disease and development of gluten-free products (they do make my favorite gluten-free pasta after all – BiAglut). When my friend Zuleika came to visit me in NY last year she brought a bag of gluten-free goodies for me to enjoy. So armed with that knowledge and a link to the Italian Celiac Association I felt comfortable embarking on my ten day tour of Tuscany.
My vacation was divided into three “mini-trips.” First stop: Lucca. My dear friend Katie agreed to fly down from Paris to meet me for a whirlwind tour of one of our favorite cities. It is truly one of the most charming and beautiful towns in Tuscany (not to mention our hot Italian professor at college was from Lucca). After catching up over coffee in the Piazza dell’Anfiteatro we went to check out our dinner options. When we arrived at Buca Di San Antonio we saw a dreaded sign: “completo.” They were booked for the night. Since it is in the Italian tradition to savor and linger over a meal, there is no hope to be “squeezed in” once all of the tables are full. Since they are part of the Italian Celiac Association, we decided to go in and see if they had any other suggestions for dinner. We met the kindest couple who were eager to help me find a place where I could eat safely. They called two other restaurants before sending us to Gli Orti di Via Elisa - a trattoria and pizzeria that understands how to cook gluten-free. Before heading out they even offered to GIVE me gluten-free pasta to take with me for Gli Orti to prepare. I declined but remain in awe of their kindness.
We wandered a bit longer through the streets of Lucca before making our early dinner reservation at Gli Orti. Our food was delicious, we split our sides but Katie had to try the pizza. While I was a bit wistful looking at the perfect thin crust pizza, I can’t really blame her. It came highly recommended, and Katie is one of my best gluten-free adventurers. When she lived in NY we took many trips to Peter’s Gourmet diner, Candle 79, Rice, Asia de Cuba and Bistango.
After getting over the shock of the wine list prices (10 euros for a whole bottle not just a glass) I settled on Braciola di maiale alla griglia con patate (Grilled Pork chop with potatoes). I opted for spinach rather than potoates; it was so flavorful it could have converted my Mom, a devoted vegetable hater.
We split verdure stufate (stewed vegetables) and Fagioli al forno con salvia e rosmarino (Roasted beans with olive oil, sage and rosemary).
The vegetables were delicious, but the memory of the fresh herb flavors combined with the beans is still dancing in my mind.
We finished our meal by splitting a cheese plate. Four types of pecorino toscano served with ricotta, honey, fig and apple preserves. It was the perfect end to our evening.
Next stop on Ms. Guide's Tour of Tuscany 2007: lunch at Buca di San Antonio – luckily for us they had a table available the next day.
Buca Di San Antonio
Via della Cervia 1/3
Phone: 39-0583-55881 Closed Sunday Evenings and Mondays
Gli Orti di Via Elisa
Via Elisa 17
Phone: 39-0583-491241 Closed Tuesdays