After four days of spectacular gluten-free dining experiences in Italy, Gareth and I didn’t have grandiose expectations for our last big meal of the trip. When we arrived at La Chiusa in the small town of Montefollonico we were stunned by the beauty of the surroundings and the graciousness of our hosts. Dania and Umberto opened La Chiusa the restaurant 33 years ago and for the last 12 years have also run a small hotel. Tucked away between Pienza and Montepulciano, La Chiusa offers breathtaking views and deceptively simple cuisine. Dania and Umberto show an incredible love for cooking and food; their warmth envelops you the moment they greet you.
The first person we met upon our arrival was Dania. Not realizing at the time that this was THE Dania, the heart and soul behind La Chiusa, we perfunctorily gave her our name and told her we had a reservation. She smiled back and said “ah, si, Caterina, la signorina che non puo’ mangiare glutine” (Yes, Catherine, the young woman who can’t eat gluten). Here we were at a Michelin starred restaurant and the Chef knew my name and that I couldn’t have gluten. She then suggested that we walk around the property and look at the grounds. The beauty and peace were so striking it seemed enchanted.
When we were seated for lunch, I was again presented with a stool for my handbag. After our dinner at Antica Trattoria Botteganova, I at least understood what the miniature furniture was for, though the price of our lunch was not quite as affordable as dinner had been.
As incredible as it sounds, our meal at La Chiusa satisfied us more than those of our other culinary escapades.
The amuse bouche consisted of Finocchiona on a gluten-free cracker for me and pizzette for Gareth.
The first course of our tasting menu was a Fiori di Zucca alla Ricotta. The fried zucchini flowers I enjoyed when living in Rome seemed exiled to my memory. Dania prepares the flowers with fresh ricotta and a red sauce without using any breading. Her naturally gluten-free version surpassed, in all respects, the ones I enjoyed pre-Celiac.
The second course was a crepe stuffed with porcini mushrooms in a béchamel sauce. While the crepe is only made with eggs, the béchamel sauce included flour. As a gluten-free alternative I was served a porcini mushroom sautéed with garlic and mint. I love sautéed mushrooms, but this porcini preparation served as an introduction to flavors and textures I didn’t know were possible.
The third course was a fagioli soup. To keep it gluten-free, barley was not included as the standard recipe requires.
The chickpea was my favorite, a little bit sharper than the fagioli. Since Gareth preferred the fagioli, we gladly swapped. The absence of gluten did not betoken an absence of flavor. Quite the opposite!
The pasta course included handmade paparadelle with a meat ragu for Gareth and gluten-free shells with a simple red sauce for me. Our host suggested we first taste the sauce without adding cheese. Oh how right he was! The extra cheese merely served as a distraction from the flavor of the sauce. It is perfectly seasoned by Dania’s expert hands, with just a hint of spice (pepperoncino).With a choice of sorbets for our palate cleanser, we selected the pear and white grape.
The pear sorbet was smooth and creamy with tiny flecks of pear.
La Chiusa’s own vineyard supplies the fresh grapes for their grape sorbet. The flavors were so rich we waited before indulging in our wine. This was much more than a mere “palate cleanser.”
The main course was, again, naturally gluten-free: grilled veal with salad and fresh herbs. Theoretically it wasn’t anything special, but it rivaled or even exceeded any single dish we ate on our trip. The sage, rosemary and roasted tomatoes were picked that day from Dania’s garden.
The garlic, white pepper and olive oil married all of the flavors together so well, I am happy to relive it through photos which retrieve my memories of each bite.
To finish our meal, we selected from a number of choices for dessert. Gareth ordered the caramel ice cream with flambéed figs from the garden. The cialde cookie (a typical gelato accompaniment) made this dish verboten for me. However, I was perfectly happy to have one of my favorite desserts all to myself. Dania’s panna cotta (a cooked vanilla cream) takes a potentially heavy dish and makes every bite a delight. The spun sugar added a hint of crunch to the creamy texture producing an incredible result. As you can see, I didn’t let a morsel go to waste.
Umberto presented us with a bag of white grapes from their vineyard as a parting gift. We thanked Dania and Umberto for our unparalled dining experience and got a tour of the kitchen. I purchased Dania’s cookbook and learned that with two or three days notice you can arrange to do a cooking class with her at La Chiusa.
This meal didn’t include any fancy ingredients, like the pate we enjoyed at Poggio Antico or unusual flavor combinations, like the basil ice cream we had at Antica Trattoria Botteganova, but the food was more pleasant and fully satisfying than any meal in recent memory.
The geniality of our hosts and the beauty of our surroundings truly lifted our spirits.
Via della Madonnina, 88
53040 Montefollonico (Si) Italy
Tel. 0577 669 668
Fax 0577 669.593
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