It’s an unseasonably warm day at Laura Brunelli’s home, south of Montalcino in Podernovone. Monte Amiata is majestic in the sunshine, Labradors are lazing on the lawn in front of the green and gold-flecked vineyards; there is not another soul in sight. Montalcino’s “first lady” Laura Brunelli is taking a rare moment out of her busy life to chat to The Florentine. Sardinian-born Laura and her late husband Gianni Brunelli established Siena’s Osteria Le Logge restaurant, off piazza del Campo in the late 1970s, quickly becoming famous for its carefully sourced local cuisine and warm welcome, a place where customers are treated like friends and friends like kings. The hard-working couple restored Gianni’s family vineyards in Montalcino and devoted themselves to the land and to producing elegant, complex Sangiovese. “Without additives, without anti-parasite sprays, having the courage to trust in what nature offers us. I want to bring the land of Montalcino to the table” was Gianni’s motto. Since his untimely death in 2008, Laura has been unwavering in her pursuit of their shared philosophy, caring as much for her beloved vineyards as for her kitchen garden.
All photos by Edwina Watson
Edwina Watson: You have a wonderful vegetable garden. What do you like to cook at home?
Laura Brunelli: For me, ingredients are the most important thing. I like to have what I call a “Kilometre Zero” dinner, where I eat what I grow from around my property. I have my garden for vegetables, my olive oil and my wine and I go to a young girl who makes fantastic bread in San Quirico. Likewise for meat, I only use special local butchers. I also spend a lot of time researching little artisan producers.
EW: Do you have a favourite meal you like to cook?
LB: Yes, I love chicken very simply cooked in the oven, but only when it’s good quality. I prefer organic. I would usually cook it, but right now I have so much work and no time to cook for myself, so I prefer to go to eat at Le Logge in the evenings. When my mother is here, she usually cooks special food from Sardinia.
EW: Your family is from Sardinia, so do you blend styles and influences in the food you enjoy at home?
LB: Yes, it is totally different. In Sardinia, the food is very simple, whereas there is more choice in Tuscany. We have different uses for herbs, for example, but I like to combine them all.
EW: What about at your restaurant in Siena?
LB: I think our chef is one of the best in the world. He has magic hands and he knows the produce so well. He’s able to transform the simplest thing into something incredible and he only uses seasonal products from around Siena. On the menu at the moment there’s this special pasta with seasonal vegetables and a ravioli with zucca gialla; he makes a fantastic version.
EW: Does Montalcino have a particular speciality?
LB: I say “pici”, but some people in Montalcino call them “pinci”. It’s a typical pasta from this area, similar to spaghetti but made by hand and it has a different consistency. Some people use an egg but many make it with just flour, water, olive oil and a little salt. When it’s made well, it’s very good indeed. You need good flour though; it is a completely different taste when you use good ingredients. Here in Montalcino we have lots of game. Pappardelle with wild boar or rabbit is very traditional. As I get older, I’m becoming more vegetarian for health reasons but also because I don’t like to eat animals. Sometimes when I think of animals, I think about looking into the eyes of my dogs, so it’s very difficult! But wild boar and my Brunello is a fantastic combination. At the moment, I have a big problem with cinghiali: I’ve fenced in the entire property and vineyards, except for the one gap where the road is. But the cinghiali know where it is and they come down the road. They are very intelligent. Very naughty but very intelligent!
EW: In Sardinia do you enjoy fish?
LB: Yes, usually when I spend time in Sardinia I only eat fish, vegetables and pasta. My mother makes fantastic ravioli with fresh ricotta, lemon peel and saffron. In Sardinia, we use plenty of saffron. The balance of acidity and soft cheese in this dish is superb.
EW: Is the saffron you have in your kitchen from your garden here?
LB: I have some plants down near the artichokes. You have to dry it; it has a strong but delicate flavour. It’s the gold of the earth. Mine is very intense. It’s different to what you would find in the supermarket of course. It’s a question of quality.
EW: If you were to cook for me this evening, what would we have with your Brunello Riserva 2004
LB: Bistecca alla fiorentina of course! La fiorentina has different ageing, so it’s very important to source a well-hung steak from a good butcher. When it’s been specially aged, it has a completely different taste. The succulence is incredible with Brunello. I use a butcher in Castelnuovo Berardenga who sells fantastic Chianina beef. I always think about my 2004 Brunello Riserva for this kind of bistecca because of the succulence of the vintage. It’s very special, long and elegant; I love it.
EW: So, you’d make an exception to eat meat for this particular bistecca alla fiorentina?
LB: Yes, but only because I know the butcher. If I go to restaurants elsewhere, I wouldn’t eat it. It’s very important for me to know where my food has come from. It’s my philosophy for life. I like to know the story of the product.