There are a lot of ingredients that go into a marvelous meal: good friends, warm atmosphere, excellent service, truffles… I had all of this and more at Locanda nel Cassero in Civitella Marittima last week.

MY gnocchi

My positive experience started a few days before the meal itself. We had guests joining us in Sticciano and we wanted to offer them a great weekend in Maremma which of course would include much food… despite my not being much of a foodie. And the reason for this sad revelation is that I have a number of food “intolerances” that are any chef’s nightmare. Although I’ve met a few Tuscan chefs who refused to accommodate my inability to digest garlic (“All Tuscan food has garlic in it,” has been proclaimed to me on two occasions, one of which was at Cibreo), we’ve often had success with Slow Food locales throughout Italy due to their particular attention to quality and ingredients.

To the rescue comes Alessandro Prosperi, chef and owner of the Locanda that happens also to be Slow Food, though we actually went upon recommendation of our local friend Gloria (Casina di Rosa). I emailed him in advance to ask for the menu, and having identified two potential primi that I might be able to eat, I asked about specific ingredients. The pumpkin gnocchi in the cream of tartufo sauce sounded like a bit of a bomb but that’s what attracted me the most, although I worried that the sauce might include some hidden ingredients. I was reassured by email: Alessandro was customizing “my gnocchi”.

One of the marvels of the Italian language is the use of possessive pronouns. While in English a plural object, say “pants”, is just “your pants”, Italian doubles that pronoun: “i tuoi pantaloni”. And maybe it’s just me but “i tuoi” seems doubly possessive.

And so I received this beautiful phrase from Alessandro the chef himself:

Sono riuscito a “estorcere” a mio padre (cercatore di tartufi) un piccolo tartufo bianco per utilizzarlo per i suoi gnocchi. Gli altri ingredienti oltre al tartufo che utilizzerò per la salsa dei suoi gnocchi sono solo panna e grana padano.

Which translates as: “I managed to extract from my father, finder of tartufi, a small white tartufo that I will use for your gnocchi. The other ingredients other than tartufo that i will use for the sauce of your your gnocchi are only cream and grana padano (cheese).”

Feeling already highly possessive of my gnocchi, it felt strange to walk into the restaurant saturday night and know already what I had ordered, what was being prepared just for me. The much awaited personalized gnocchi were light and lovely – two fall flavours that you’d think might overpower each other were in fact in happy cohabitation on my plate.

Lasagnette ai funghi porcini

My partners in this eating adventure were also greatly satisfied. I didn’t get a shot of Terry’s cabbage risotto, but I can show you the very pretty “lasagnette” with porcini mushrooms and nipitella (a small wild mint) that Tommaso and Roy enjoyed. These individual portions of round pasta are really something special and delicate.

cinghiale e polenta

For secondi, being vegetarian, I opted for a cheese plate and salad but was overcome by the beauty of the cinghiale in umido on polenta on Tommaso’s plate. Despite the Italian saying “anche l’occhio vuole la sua parte” – said of the importance of presentation in food – it’s not easy to make stewed meat look like anything but what it is: brown chunks of meat. Here, colour is played up and savvily balanced with shape and texture as the reddish meat perches carefully on roundels of polenta, accompanied by a mini sformatino of spinach.

The steak ordered by our friends – rigorously brought raw to the table for our approval – was served cut into two pieces between which were nestled squares of potatoes; a side salad also came with this. Talking with Alessandro later he said that Italians were often surprised that the contorni (side dishes) were included – they tend to look for these on the menu and are used to ordering meat separate from sides. This little bit of anglosaxonism might stem from the chef’s training at the Hotel Savoy in London in the early 90s. A welcome change in Italy.

Blackberry tart

Sated, we still made room for a little dessert. This blackberry tart (the homemade jam inside was warm) was just perfect. I opted against trying the semifreddo on my husband’s plate because I didn’t want to mix the flavours.

Throughout the meal our friends could not curb their enthusiasm. Roy kept saying he loved this place because everything was perfect. Indeed, the atmosphere is calculated (darker striations in the ceiling paint had us mystified – was it intentional?) yet welcoming (the open fire helps – too bad we were seated a distance from it). The food was traditional, local and seasonal yet with a special touch (I want to avoid the platitude “international flair”). And let’s face it, the sum on the bill was also a bonus (125 euros for 4, including a good bottle of local wine). Watch out Alessandro, we’ll be back.

PS: Summer lunches are served in the locale’s three rooms – front, fancy, and garden – with a slightly reduced “fast” menu and more cold options. Prices are even lower so this might be the best deal in the Maremma.

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