Imagine what it would be like if your father bought a castle in Tuscany, and its little borgo next door, on impulse while looking for a country home not far from Rome. Not just your average castle, but one built for an eccentric patron at the turn of the 20th century by the architect Gino Coppedè, whose style is best described as flamboyant gothic revival, and covered in wall paintings by Galileo Chini, the most famous Tuscan art nouveau artist. Not only, but imagine if, when you’re 25 years old, your father decides that he will move the whole family to live in this somewhat isolated Tuscan borgo.

This is what happened to Antonella, who runs Tenuta Lupinari, and her sister – their dad had bought the place in 1969, but only more recently thought it would be a good idea to turn it into an agriturismo and business for his daughters.

It now has 11 very private apartments and 4 rooms in the B&B, and a huge piece of land on which are cultivated grapes for wine and olives for oil, as well as fruits and vegetables used in the restaurant and by the family, who resides in the castle. If you’re lucky, you’ll met Antonella’s mom, who might invite you in for a cup of tea.

It’s amazing how a weekend in the Tuscan countryside can regenerate you. I was lucky to be invited to a group event at Tenuta Lupinari this past weekend, where we were kept so busy cooking, eating and riding horses that we barely had time to enjoy the sun (finally!) by the gorgeous pool. But if you were to book a week or weekend there, I’m sure you’d set a more relaxing schedule.

Our group was privvy to a “show cooking” event held in the castle’s kitchen by Camilla Monteduro, a tv personality and chef with programs on the Gambero Rosso channel. Her specialty is conserves of every sort, from jams to chutneys to vegetables preserved in oil. She also has a show in which she reproduces junk-food with real ingredients that she used to fool her children, including putting her own hazelnut chocolate spread in a Nutella jar, and they haven’t figured it out yet. Camilla is friendly and fantastic. I kept forgetting to pay attention to what she was teaching us because she tells a steady flow of stories that have you believe that good food is the solution to any ailment or bad social situation (which is probably true). Camilla is a friend of the owners, and a show cooking lesson like this can be booked for guests of the agriturismo.

We gathered in the kitchen to make a sweet onion conserve with the red Cipolle di Tropea that are in season right now. The result, eaten with a sharp cheese, is citrus-laden and complex, but the cooking is simple as long as you have a few hours to spare.

I used my conserve at home, placed cold on crostoni with melted feta cheese.

After lunch and a tasting of Chianti wines in a nearby town, we moved on to Masterchef-inspired cooking challenge in which our groups divided up into the kitchens of the various apartments and prepared an antipasto and primo in two hours. This is not a service generally offered by i Lupinari, but it was a great idea that worked very well. You could do it anywhere with access to multiple kitchens. We found the kitchens to be very well equipped – we even had a service of 16 dishes so were able to plate our aperitivo in a very contemporary manner that I think was instrumental in our team (composed of me, Elena, Tommaso and Francesca, in the photo below) bringing home the prize!

The ambience at i Lupinari is very special, and the range of activities offered here adds new options even for the most seasoned visitor to Tuscany, who nonetheless may still find new things to discover in the area of the Valdambra, near the town of Bucine (AR). Arezzo, Florence and Siena are all within an hour’s drive – a car is required, since the agriturismo is reached by a small, and partially unpaved, road.

Sweet onion conserve recipe

  • 3kg fresh red onions
  • 1.8 kg brown and white sugar (half and half)
  • 4 tablespoons of raisins, softened in warm water
  • 1 glass of brandy
  • 1 glass of apple vinegar
  • 2 or more cups of water
  • Zest and juice of 2 lemons
  • Zest and juice of 1 orange
  • 1 stick fresh vanilla (put in warm water briefly, then slice down the middle and extract the inside)
  • small amount fresh hot pepper (optional)
  • Some twigs of marjoram (to add at the end)

Finely chop the onions and mix with sugar; leave overnight and they will produce liquid. If you can’t do this the night before, you can mix the onions with home-made glucose syrup (mix water and sugar over flame, then add to onions). In a large pot, bring to boil, stirring often. Add vinegar, lemon and orange juice and half of the zests, vanilla, cover and let boil for a while. Bring down the flame a bit, add brandy, raisins, peperoncino, rest of the zest and marjoram, and stir for an hour or so until it reduces sufficiently. If it seems too liquid, remove the liquid to another pan, and then add it back as the conserve reduces.

Prepare sterile jars, add the liquid while hot, and boil the jars for 20 minutes.

Serve with sharp cheese of any sort, or with boiled meat.

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