It was like a top secret mission –
we were told to be at Sant’Agnese, the 14th century church located
outside the ancient walls of Montepulciano at 5:30 pm and a driver would meet
us.

When we arrived at the church a man was standing there.  He glanced furtively at us and after a few
minutes he quietly asked us if we were waiting for a ride.  I nodded yes and as I turned away, I noticed
a couple walking slowly down the hill toward us.  As they reached the parking lot our eyes met
and we gave each other a surreptitious nod assuming we were all part of the same
assignment. Over the next few minutes several more people quietly arrived until
there were 8 of us nervously waiting for our next instructions.

A white van pulled up and a dark
haired man with a cap pulled down over his eyes got out.  His glanced over the group of us and told us
in Italian to get in and he would drive us to our destination.  Apprehensively we got in, the van doors were
slammed shut and locked and then…he smiled at us, told us his name was Giovanni
and to enjoy the beautiful ride to Diva’s house.

Diva?  Really?
That’s someone’s name?  In hills
of Tuscany? Is she a pop star? And what’s up with meeting at the church?

When we arrived at the house, a petite
older woman with funky Italian eyeglasses greeted us warmly, introduced herself
as Diva, and said she was ready to cook with us. Diva led us to her patio
overlooking her olive trees and poured us glasses of a lovely red wine, which
she told us was from her neighbor’s vineyard.
As Diva was chatting away in Italian, I took a deep breath and gazed out
over the beautiful landscape.  An older
man and a younger man emerged from the olive trees carrying several plastic
cartons of olives. It was Diva’s husband Maceo and their nephew bringing in the
day’s harvest.

As the sun started to set and a
chill began to set in, Diva led us into her kitchen, where she had already started
on the evening’s meal. We were all ready to get to work – with a glass of wine
in hand of course.  Diva first asked us to
help with the cinghale (wild boar) stew, wild boar being very common in
Tuscany.  The meat had already been
marinating for 12 hours in garlic, olive oil (from Diva’s olive trees), fresh
rosemary  (from Diva’s garden) and white
wine (from the Diva’s neighbor’s). Oh yeah, Diva’s nephew hunted the wild boar.

From her extensive pantry, she pulled several jars of tomatoes canned from her garden
that were opened and went into the pot, along   with more red neighborly wine.

As the stew was stewing, we started
on the pasta called pici that is a hand rolled pasta common in Tuscany.  Not only did Diva not use a bowl for the
pasta dough that was made on her special wooden board, she didn’t measure
anything…at all.

The eggs were from her chickens of course, and I’d never seen
a bag of flour that large in anyone’s kitchen.
The group of us gathered round and for every 9 pici that Diva rolled, we
each did 1.  But 8 slow people rolling
pasta actually went fairly quickly and we were ready for our next
instructions.

Zucchini Sformata was next with
zucchinis – of course silly, they were from Diva’s garden! Cream, eggs and
Parmigiano cheese. And into the oven it all went.  

Dessert was to be tiramisu – I thought Diva
was a bit of a slacker when she opened the package of ladyfingers from the
grocery store, but I took another swig of the neighbor’s wine and forgave her
misstep. She makes her tiramisu with raw eggs, which made some of the Americans
in the group a little nervous about, but when in Rome…technically Montepulciano,
but Rome was only a few hours away.

And lastly but which was really the first
thing on the menu was the bruschetta with tomatoes from guess where and drizzled
with the most divine olive oil, pressed two days prior.

When all of this glorious food made
with such skill and dedication was ready, we sat down to an amazing dinner
served by charming Diva and Maceo, unforgettable in taste, experience and fun.

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