Coast of Tuscany and local products. A combination rich in gastronomic possibilities, whose roots date far back in the past. No better place than the large and well-equipped kitchen of Villa Zen, to devote oneself to the most typical tastes of both land and sea. Yes, because the Maremma bordering between Lazio and Tuscany is a land of breeders and fishermen. And surely the right ingredients are not lacking.
Sea bass, sea bream, mullet and eel, for example, are the harvest born by the generous waters of the Orbetello Lagoon, fenced off from the sea by the Tomboli della Giannella and della Feniglia, two 6 km long sandy strips, and to the west by the promontory of Argentario. The fishermen, joined in a cooperative which takes good care of preserving the ancient customs of lagoon fishing, are also the heirs of a long tradition in the art of fish processing.
Highly prized is the bottarga produced from mullet roe, a treat for gourmets, protected by the Slow Food Presidium. When between August and September the mullets migrate from the sea to the lagoon, the fishermen catch them with methods respectful of a sensitive and frail habitat. The eggs are just perfectly ripe, ready to be treated with sea salt, pressed, dried and then either vacuum packed or, ground, packaged in jars. Preparation and seasoning require approximately two weeks.
Bottarga can be served as an appetizer, in thin slices, seasoned with extra virgin olive oil and lemon juice and preferably paired with the white wine Ansonica Costa dell’Argentario Doc. Otherwise it can be grated and used as a condiment for first courses and croutons, combined with seasonal vegetables. A sprinkle of bottarga is enough to give taste and character to a simple dish of spaghetti or to add even more zest to a good fish sauce. Want a tip? Lay a poached egg on toast rubbed with garlic and top it with thin slices of bottarga, seasoned with marjoram, salt and pepper. Also mullet fillets – salted, flavoured with spices, dried and smoked – have a distinctive taste. The texture is tender and the colour ranges from amber pink to red. A real delicacy.
Another “treasure” of the Orbetello Lagoon is eel, a “poor” fish with a surprisingly delicate flavour. It seems that the recipe of the “smoked” eel dates back to the Spanish domination on the Argentario, in the 16th century. Once marinated in vinegar and salt, eels are dried and then seasoned with a spicy sauce of red peppers, chili pepper, crushed garlic, pepper and rosemary. Then the smoking phase follows, performed with aromatic wood from the Macchia Mediterranea. Smoked eel is delicious simply browned in extra virgin olive oil, but it is also used to prepare a savoury sauce for spaghetti, risotto and croutons.
Moving from fish to meat, we like to point out the twenty farms dedicated to the Maremmanas, a breed which has been grazing on these plains and in these woods since time immemorial. Known for its frugality, it lives in the wild – with the butteri on horseback watching over it, in its wanderings – using what food is provided by the Mediterranean habitat, from shrubs to salicornia, a pioneer plant typical of salty soils. This lean and tasty meat is mainly used boiled and for stews. Not to be missed.
Let’s now talk about the Cinta Senese, a Tuscan swine breed which in 2012, after risking extinction, obtained the Dop (Protected Designation of Origin) brand. It is a very rustic breed, which does not require much tending; it is therefore bred in the wild or semi-wild in the woods or on the grazing lands, feeding on tubers, roots, acorns, olives and other food offered by the ground. Top-notch cold cuts and sausages, such as ham, sausage, buristo, soppressata, capocollo, finocchiona, shoulder, lard, pancetta and rigatino.The fresh meat, with a unique and distinctive taste, very different from classic pork meat, is delicious on the grill, on a spit or in the oven, paired with the excellent red wines of the area.
Have these products of the most genuine Maremma tradition inspired your culinary imagination? In the bright kitchen in Villa Zen you will no longer have alibis: plenty of room at your disposal to unleash your talent, pots, pans, dishes, trays, cutlery and tools close at hand, 5 burners, an oven, a grill, a microwave oven, a large fridge and… a sturdy wooden table for 14 people. The kitchen opens onto a comfortable outdoor area equipped with a large barbecue and a table that can sit up to 12 people, where you can have breakfast, lunch and dinner, enjoying the relaxing landscape of the surrounding hills.
Book your stay at Villa Zen. You will discover a luxurious country house equipped with every comfort and in a strategic position to discover the Coast of Tuscany and the hinterland rich in landscape, naturalistic, historical and gastronomic suggestions.