A Feast from Wood-fired Ovens

Why does food taste better when it’s been baked in a wood-fired oven?

Just one of many wood-fired ovens at Cascio

Just one of many wood-fired ovens at Cascio

Maybe because of the wood smoke. Maybe because it’s infused with the toil of cutting the firewood, carting it to the oven, lighting the oven early in the morning and tending it for five hours until it’s hot. Whatever the reason, you taste the difference when you go to Cascio in the Garfagnana for lunch at their wood-fired oven sagra in May.

It’s a street party, and the gate of the village is open to all.

Behind the open door is a wonderland of friendly people and good food.

Through the tunnel and around the corner is a wonderland of friendly people and good food.

Never to young to enjoy a meal with family and friends

Never too young to enjoy a meal with family and friends…

Nor to old

…nor too old

First you buy your lunch ticket which is a map showing where each course is being served.

Paying for lunch is positively enjoyable when the ticket sellers are cheerful and welcoming

You can’t resent paying when it only costs €15 and you’re buying from the smiling youth of the village.

Next year will Cascio be selling the app for the map to lunch?

As soon as Cascio starts selling the app for the map to lunch, I won’t have to rummage in the archives because of losing this year’s ticket!

You set off to the apertivi which includes the mouth-watering crisciolette, a speciality of Cascio. This is the only course not cooked in a wood-fired oven.

Crisciolette are flatbreads made from a batter of wheat flour and maize meal...

Crisciolette are flatbreads made from a batter of wheat flour and maize meal…

... and cooked between two iron plates. The best include pancetta.

… and cooked between two iron plates. The best include pancetta.

On to the antipasti. ‘Pasto’ means meal (nothing to do with ‘pasta’), and ‘antipasti’ are the little things you nibble before you begin the meal. This is where culinary fantasy reigns. The salumi, cheese and crostini are often so abundant that many foreigners mistake them for the meal.

Crostino with Tropea onion, potato tart and stuffed tomato

Crostino with Tropea onion, potato and herb tart and stuffed tomato

Onward to the next wood-fired oven where lasagna and baked polenta pair to make a filling primo (first course). They never hear you when you say, ‘Just a little please’.

Lasagne and polenta

Three servers are required to keep up with demand.

Whenever your cup is empty someone is there to refill it with local wine.

Wine with a view

Wine with a view

At the oven in the base of the tower, there’s chicken with olives and baked potatoes.

The oil drizzler

The oil drizzler

You can sit on the steps in the sun or find a table next to the tower with a view of a rosy garden.

My guests opt for the steps so they can watch the food coming out of the oven.

My guests opt for the steps so they can watch the food coming out of the oven.

Well-fortified

Well-fortified

May is the month of roses

May is the month of roses

If you happen to have a tiny corner left for the dolce, there are jam tarts, buccellato (a sort of raisin bread typical of Lucca) and baked apples.

By now you need a digestivo!

A grappino anyone?

A grappino, anyone?

As you drift back to your car, the Serchio Valley is spread out below with Barga on the far side of the river and the Apennines rising behind.

The Serchio Valley and the Apennines beyond

Dramatic as the clouds begin to gather

Looking forward to the Sagra delle Crisciolette (29, 30, 31 July and 5, 6, 7 August) and the Castagnata in Piazza (chestnut festival) on 9 October.

Erica Jarman invites you on inspiring culinary tours of life behind the scenes that you won't find in any guidebook — get to know the food artisans and craftspeople of Tuscany, Emilia-Romagna, Piedmont and Liguria. Come join me and my Italian friends and dip into a lifestyle where lunch is more important than business. Find out more at Sapori e Saperi Adventures and follow Erica’s own adventures on her blog.

Slow Travel Tours is an affiliation of small-group tour operators who offer personalized trips in Italy, France and other European countries.
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