It started innocently enough, an excited voice from below, “Martha! Martha!”
Martha rushed to the balcony.
“Martha, ti piace cingiale?”
Wild boar isn’t served every day, not even here in Tuscany. So Martha said yes.
There was going to be an informal get together next door. A little wild boar, nothing too extravagant. Or at least that’s how we interpreted the invitation.
When I arrived I was called upstairs to Alcides’ kitchen, where Alcides and the women were busily stirring pots and toasting bread. Surfaces were covered with mounds of fresh paparadelle. Martha was witnessing the confusion. Nobody seemed to know what the bread was for, but there was lots of it.
“Go down and sit! We’ll eat the coppa first.”
Downstairs in the cool, night air maybe 40 gregarious Tuscans await the antipasto. Copious trays of thinly sliced coppa and plenty of dense bread are at the ready. The tables groan under bottles of red wine decanted from a huge bottle it took two men to carry.
There are also 5 liter bottles of cloudy liquid the color of chicken broth. I ask what that might be. “It’s my white wine,” comes the answer, along with a quizzical look that seems to say, “why in heavens name would you ask?”
Some people call the meat “coppa,” others “filetto.” All eat like there is no tomorrow. There is, after all, only the cingiale…
Then the women lug pots of paparadelle with the cingiale sauce to the tables. The wild boar has been cooked for a long time in a wine sauce until it falls apart into chunks and is ready to be gingerly stirred into the tangle of cooked paparadelle.
Yum. I can’t resist three servings. Small servings, you understand.
Then, the typical/impossible happens. More paparadelle comes. It’s different though, and we have to try it.
Paparadelle con lepre. Paparadelle with wild hare.
It’s good too. How could it not be? The hunters are at the table, eating alongside us.
Right on the heels of the paparadelle encore comes the solution to the toasted bread secret. Plates arrive, each layered with two overlapping slices of thin toast covered with a huge mound of fresh porcini mushrooms in a thick wine sauce.
Lordy. And we’re not done yet. No, not by a long shot. Brace yourself…
The Uccellini arrive—an enormous pot of them.
Now, the squeamish may wish to read no further. Bird lovers will also likely abstain. Uccellini translates to “little birds.”
The birds have no buckshot, so maybe they’re “farmed” or trapped or something. I glean that the cook has browned them with some lardo and garlic, added wine and water, then covered and cooked until the flavors melded and the birds were done. Like everything in Tuscany, the cooking is simple and straightforward.
All of this requires something light to finish the meal. Plates of cookies arrive, brutti ma buoni, ugly but good, among them.
Then the real desert comes—along with champagne.
No, I don’t mean Italian sparkling wine. I mean French champagne. There is a bottle of Veuve Clicquot among them. There is also the homebrew walnut liquor and centherbe, an herbed liquor.
Corks pop and fly into the night. And then, before you know it, it’s a new day.