Depending on the weather, August and September bring the wine harvest. And, what would a harvest be without a festival? Italy is the only country in the world where every single region makes wine. So the whole country will be celebrating. I BRAKE FOR SAGRE! The local food festivals called Sagre, are held on weekends, and often feature meals. The final weekend of September is Italy’s oldest wine festival in Impruneta. The young people of Impruneta have floats decorated with grapes!
Fall festivals seem to bring out the best foods too, wild boar, ribollita, porcini mushrooms, and polenta!
October 18 is the Festival of San Luca, the patron saint of Impruneta, Tuscany’s main manufacturer of terracotta. This festival goes back more than a thousand years and is connected to the seasonal moving of livestock. I love to attend the lunch the townspeople have under the church. Reservations are a must!
Montalcino, home to Brunello wine, celebrates its festival, the Tordo (a small bird which is hunted there), on the last weekend of October. The weekend is filled with pageantry, history, processions, rivalry, and excitement. A hotly-contested archery tournament takes place on Sunday afternoon.
For food and eating, Autumn is one of the best times to visit Italy. Porcini mushrooms grow on a hot day, after the rain, under chestnut and oak trees. Lately, it has been warm here during the days and damp at night; that is perfect for porcini. Try them grilled with nepitella, a wild mint, and garlic, or fried. If you cannot be in Italy, do your best with dried porcini and my recipe for porcini pasta sauce.
Porcini Pasta Sauce
The Tuscans have a simple way to cook vegetables that doubles as a light pasta sauce. The cooking technique is called trifolato–sliced thinly and cooked with olive oil, parsley, and garlic. Simply Tuscan! Simply wonderful!
Here’s my version. Place garlic slices in oil and then heat; this prevents the garlic from burning. Add chopped mushrooms, stir, and salt to taste. The salt draws out the moisture from the vegetables and they stew in their own juices instead of just frying. Cover and let cook until tender.
I like to purée half of the vegetables to form a creamy sauce. Add a ladle of the cooking water from the pasta to the sauce. Drain the pasta and then heat the pasta in the sauce. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and stir. This way all the pasta is covered with sauce and the sauce clings to the pasta instead of sliding off!
This technique also works with zucchini and eggplant. I do the same with dried porcini, soaking them first in cold water, and then using them like fresh. To stretch the dried porcini, use button mushrooms too; they will absorb the porcini flavour.