Words by Tracy Nicholson
Photography by Dan Francis Photography

On Laneil Skaff’s last day in Italy, she was tasked with finding the perfect restaurant to round out their adventure. A quick online search had their crew navigating an intense path of twisting roads into the hills of an old vineyard named Borgo La Casetta. According to the reviews, the bed and breakfast promised an unforgettable, Tuscan dining experience. Greeting them at the door amidst a picturesque, hill-top setting were chefs Renzo and Laura Morosi, delightfully friendly hosts that were thrilled to introduce them to authentic Tuscan cuisine. With no menu, no prices and countless courses, the vineyard turned Agriturismo café and inn, spent hours wining and dining the group with their fresh and seasonal fare, grown in their own backyard. Returning home with a glowing review of her own, Skaff’s daughter Julie Stoe was right behind her, planning her own trip to meet the now-infamous chefs. After a total of three trips to visit the inn between the two, Skaff and Stoe decided it was time to recreate their Tuscan experience, this time in Skaff Apartment’s beautiful Stone West kitchen and community room.

Agriturismo Inn-spiration
Nestled amidst the rolling hills, olive trees and vineyards of San Baronto, Italy, Borgo La Casetta would inspire Skaff and Stoe to gather as many of the Morosi’s recipes as they could, planning to translate them into their own style of cooking, then recreate them back home. With the inn located on a working farm, the chefs relied on seasonal ingredients, the finest meats and cheeses, as well as their own pressed olive oil for the base of their dishes.

Dining-In: Borgo La Casetta
Inside the property’s bed and breakfast, which was once a winery owned by Renzo Morosi’s family, the café offers guests a charming and intimate dining experience with just 10 small tables. “The chefs prefer reservations but seem happy to cook for anyone who arrives,” said Skaff. “It’s usually packed full of locals coming in for special occasions. Their son Marcello also works there and serves, while Renzo’s mom comes in to wash dishes some nights.

Worth Every Euro…
“On my first visit to Tuscany, I found the inn on Yelp – it was rated number one,” said Skaff. “We walked in and asked for an English menu and he said, ‘Oh, you’re here. Now I cook for you!’ The whole time we sat there, we wondered how much this was going to cost since we didn’t know what he would be serving us. After a few courses, we didn’t care because it was worth every penny for the experience. It was Chianti wine and Lemoncello made by Renzo, port wine, grappa and espresso. Grappa is just a liquor that is known to help break down food for better digestion. We had all of these drinks and about seven courses to go with them, bringing them out one at a time. It ended perfectly with the apple cake that you’ll find in this month’s recipes. The entire experience ended up costing 25 Euros each, which equates to about $30 a person.”

While Skaff visited Tuscany in 2013 and again last May, Stoe embarked on her own Italian adventure, last October. “We visited Renzo’s home because we really wanted that Tuscan experience that my mom had told me about,” said Stoe. “We looked him up and found out that we could stay at the inn, so we ended up in a cute little apartment and ate at the café every night. When we went deeper into the Chianti Classico region of Tuscany, we actually drove an hour and a half back just to eat there on our last night because it was so good. Renzo and Laura made something different every night – it was an amazing trip.”

“In Tuscan culture, they really value their family and their food; taking pride in the way they cook and serve each meal, savoring and appreciating the food they’ve grown.”
Julie Stoe

Americans versus Italians
If you’re planning a dinner in Italy, Stoe suggests carving out two to three hours devoted entirely to food. “In Italy, they always do multiple courses, starting with a charcuterie or antipasto selection, then a bruschetta, soup, pasta, meat, potato and different vegetables, a salad, then finish with a dessert,” said Stoe. “It’s just so different from how Americans dine. There are typically about five or more courses and the pasta is brought out separately from the meat with everything served family-style with smaller tasting plates.”

“They are also really proud of their meats and their process for making salami and sausage,” said Stoe. “When Renzo cooked for us, he’d always come out and tell us where the meats were from. He also gave us a new appreciation for good quality, fresh olive oil. Renzo taught us to cook with the cheap oil and save the best for the table. In Tuscan culture, they really value their family and their food; taking pride in the way they cook and serve each meal, savoring and appreciating the food they’ve grown.”

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Bruschetta Basics
“Bruschetta in Italy is a little different than what we’d see in the U.S. They serve it with just straight olive oil and rub a whole garlic on the bread, that’s their classic bruschetta,” said Stoe. “They also serve it with egg and truffle oil, liver paté and the more recognizable tomato and basil – they really utilize their lands. Renzo makes his own olive oil, sometimes pressing it that day, so we were able to bring that back with us.”

“For their bruschetta, they tend to use what’s in season and find ways to cook with every part of it,” said Skaff. “Their bread is really a vehicle for anything they want to serve. They also use unsalted bread, which was really different than what we’re used to. In the middle ages, salt was heavily taxed. The bakers in Florence decided it was just too expensive and chose to live without it.”

Casio E Pepe
“We had this dish in Rome. Each area of Tuscany seemed to have a specialty pasta and this is the one Rome is famous for,” said Skaff.  “It uses that very thick spaghetti called bucatini. This is a very simplistic dish, but the key is high-quality ingredients. When we tried to bring this recipe back to the U.S., we found their pasta technique to be a little too difficult for the average cook. They use hot water and mash it all onto the sides of the bowl and keep mixing until it comes onto the spaghetti. This process is so foreign to us, so we were able to modify the recipe by adding a bit of butter to the cheeses, yet still using some of their easier techniques to get that same flavor.”

Renzo’s Chicken
“We love Renzo’s chicken and it’s become a family favorite for us,” said Stoe. “We couldn’t believe that he shared the recipe with us.”

Before you head to the store to stock-up, we asked Skaff to give us a few quick tips and tricks for the prep work:
– When the recipe calls for white wine, although most recipes call for a dry wine like Chardonnay, I prefer a little sweeter wine like a Pino Grigio.

–  When buying the cheeses, use the highest quality cheese your budget allows and ALWAYS buy a block and grate it yourself.

– When using herbs, take the time to heat or saute them with garlic to extract more flavor.
– If you often cook with tomato paste, try swapping out your cans for a tube of tomato paste. Most recipes only call for a tablespoon, so you’ll have a lot less waste.

Italian” as Apple Pie?
When Stoe and Skaff visited Italy, they both found out quickly that Italian apple pie is not actually pie at all. “To Americans, this would be considered more of an apple cake or tart,” said Stoe. “This was one of Laura’s favorite family recipes. I use very thin slices of apples and arrange them like Laura did, but once it’s in the oven, the dough will actually cook over them. It’s absolutely delicious.” Setting the perfect backdrop for the perfect finish, Skaff included the hand-dyed, yellow table runner she found on her last trip to Italy.

[Course 1]

Charcuterie

Cheese(from left)
Pecorino Pepato, Italian – sheep’s milk
Boschetto Al Tartufo, Italian – semi-soft with white truffle shavings, cow and sheep’s milk

Teleggio- Lombardi, Italian – wash-rind cow’s milk
*These cheeses can be found at Luna in Fargo

Meats
Genoa Salami, Capicola ham, Pancetta, Prosciutto, Hard SalamiNote: “The balsamic and olive oil is from a small winery in Italy that we visited in Tuscany,” said Stoe. “Both of the wines are from The Casa Emma vineyard in the Chianti region.”
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[Course 2]

Bruschettas and Garlic Toast

Garlic toast

Rustic Italian bread

Good, Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Garlic cloves – cut the short way

Slice bread thin, drizzle with EVOO and grill or toast

When toasted – rub with cut side of garlic

Scrambled Eggs w/Truffle Oil Bruschetta

2 – eggs

2 – Tbsp. cream or Half and Half

– Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

– A couple of drops truffle oil or grated parmesan

Whisk eggs and cream together. Melt 1 Tbsp. butter in small skillet over medium heat. Pour in eggs using a rubber spatula – continue to scrape pan until eggs are almost scrambled. Drizzle in truffle drops or grated parmesan. Place on top of garlic toast and sprinkle pepper on top.

Tomato Bruschetta

6-7 plum tomatoes (I use many different kinds – whatever looks ripe and flavorful)

2 – garlic cloves – minced small

1 – Tbsp. EVOO

1 – tsp. balsamic vinegar

6-8 fresh basil leaves – chopped fine

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Slice tomatoes in half and remove the seeds and stem. Dice small. Stir in garlic, EVOO, balsamic and basil. Add salt and pepper to taste. Place on top of garlic toast.

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[Course 3]

Casio E Pepe

Makes 2 servings

Ingredients

6 – Oz. Pasta (bucatini-thick spaghetti or spaghetti)

3 – Tbsp. butter, cubed, divided

1 – Tsp. freshly cracked black pepper

¾ – C. Finely grated Grana Padano or Parmesan

1/3 – C. finely grated Pecorino Romano

Kosher salt

Instructions:

Bring water to boil. Season with salt. Add pasta and cook until al dente. Drain, reserving one cup of the pasta water. While pasta is cooking, melt 2 Tbsp. of the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add pepper and stir until toasted, one minute. Add ½ cup of the reserved pasta water to the skillet and bring to a simmer. Add pasta and remaining butter.

Reduce heat to low and add Grana Padano (or parmesan), stirring and tossing with tongs until melted.

Remove pan from heat. Add Pecorino Romano, again stirring and tossing until cheese melts, sauce coats the pasta, and pasta is cooked to your desired tenderness. Add more pasta water if the sauce seems dry.

Serve immediately.

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[Course 4]

Renzo’s Chicken

Ingredients:
15 – chicken legs- skinned and the top half of the bone cut off

2-3 Tbsp. Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1 – Tbsp. Fresh rosemary – chopped
1 1/2 – Tsp. – Fresh sage – chopped
3 – Cloves garlic – minced
1 1/2 – Tsp. kosher salt
1 – Tsp. Pepper
1 – glass white wine
3 – Tbsp. tomato paste
1 –  C. hot water
A handful of small black olives (optional)

Instructions:
Skin and cut the bone off of the drumstick; in cutting the bone – if you lay the drumstick so the bone is NOT flat on the cutting board, then come down with a good-sized knife, it should break quite easily.

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium to med-high heat. Brown drumsticks – turning until all sides are brown – about 15 minutes total. Remove from pan and saute garlic and spices two to three minutes. Add wine and deglaze the pan. When the wine has cooked down most of the way, add tomato paste and water. Stir until combined and add chicken back in. Cover and turn down to simmer (low, slow boil) and simmer until the oil comes to the top of the sauce (approx. 30-45 minutes). Optional olives can be added at this time.
Serve and enjoy!

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[Course 5]

Italian Apple Pie

Ingredients

7 – Tbsp. butter – room temperature

1 ¼  – C. sugar

3 – eggs

½ – C. milk

1 – C. white flour

2 – Tsp. baking powder

2 – Tsp. vanilla

Zest of one lemon

3-4 apples – very thinly sliced

Instructions:

Cream butter and sugar

Add eggs  – one at a time until incorporated

Pour in milk, flour, baking powder and lemon zest

Mix just until combined

Pour into at least a 9” pie plate

Scatter apples on top

Bake at 375 degrees for 40-45 minutes until center is done.

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Renzo’s Recommendation:
“Before we left, Renzo highly-recommended we get our hands on this cookbook; Tuscan Cookery by Elisabetta Piazzesi, to help us create true Tuscan cuisine,” said Stoe. “There is everything from garlic toast to bruschetta variations and really all of the different courses. We often use this cookbook at home and have found some amazing recipes in there.”

Find the Food:
Cheese selection – Luna, Fargo
Wine selection – Casa Emma Winery, Florence, Italy
Via della Casetta – Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Borgo La Casetta InnPlan your trip!
Agriturismo Borgo La Casetta
Renzo and Laura Morosi
San Baronto, Italyinfo@borgolacasetta.it
borgolacasetta.itFor more information, contact:
JulieStoe@gmail.com