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The Buccaneer of the Etruscan coast – Our experience on board and at dinner

I just realized that although I had promised you this long ago, I still haven’t told anything about our weekend among friends in Cecina, San Vincenzo and Livorno, travelling the length and breadth of the beautiful Etruscan Coast, in Tuscany. Yet three weeks have passed already, the tan and the salty tang of the sea are slowly fading away, and I am already missing it badly.

Our story begins at noon, while we were driving along the seafront of Livorno, in my tiny white car in one of the hottest days I remember, I’m sure it was at least 40 ° C under the sun. We were looking for the central market of Livorno, a tiny spot where to leave the car and the perfect place to have lunch.

A combination of heat, sea smell, sun and holidays made us very euphoric, we were talking about cookbooks – what a surprise. The fact is, we were not talking about those cookbooks you might need during a seaside holiday in Tuscany – like 101 ways to cook the oily fish – no, were talking about those cookbooks you would plunge into in front of a fireplace with a cup of Earl Gray, wrapped in a wool tartan blanket. The book was Nose to Tail Eating – A kind of British Cooking, by Fergus Henderson.

Fergus Henderson is the British chef who opened, in 1994, the St. John Restaurant in Spitalfields, London: located in an old smokehouse, the restaurant looks spartan, with bare walls painted in white and black details in contrast. The menu left everyone in awe just from the beginning: bold yet simple. It’s a nose to tail menu celebrating  all the less noble parts of the animals, enhanced in tasty unpretentious dishes, created with wit and patience.

Emiko met him in Melbourne and was fascinated by his direct and ironic manners. She recommended the book to Regula and me, both England lovers, saying we would have loved his writing, as well as the recipes. She was right.

I haven’t eaten at the St. John (yet) and at the moment I’ve just read the introduction of the book and a few pages, but it was enough. I mentioned the introduction… well, the introduction to the new edition of the book was written by none other than Anthony Bourdain, another writer who knows exactly how to use his words. Tremendously charming. Bourdain had already praised Ferguson with enthusiasm and fondness (I don’t know if I can use the word fondness with Anthony Bourdain, well, sort of…)  in his book, A Cook’s Tour. After only five pages of introduction, I began to save money for a future dinner at St. John. But here’s what struck me:

Ask any chef of any three-star Michelin restaurant what their favorite single dish to eat is and you will often get an answer like ‘confit of duck’ or ‘my mother’s pied cochon’ or ‘a well braised shank of lamb or veal’. These were the dishes that first taught many of us to cook, the absolute foundation of haute cuisine. Nearly anyone – after a few tries – can grill a filet mignon or a sirloin steak. A trained chimp can steam a lobster. But it takes love, and time and respect for one’s ingredients to deal with a pig’s ear or a kidney properly. And the rewards are enormous.

And now you finally can understand what this digression was for. Those words brought back to my mind Fulvietto Pierangelini, dirty hands from cleaning the fish and eyes as bright as those of a child, telling us his ideas about fish into the kitchen of Il Bucaniere (The Buccaneer of the title), his restaurant. He was dealing with a skate, a fish considered poor and typical of the fishermen cooking tradition. He was skillfully cleaning it and telling us – or rather showing us –  how you need passion, time and care to cook a poor fish.

Fulvietto used the very same words with which Bourdain praised Ferguson’s cuisine: it is easy to steam a lobster or to impress with an oyster, but it takes time and you need to know how to do it  to bring out the best from the traditional poor fish, the staple of the fishermen’ diet. When you respect the ingredients you have and cook them with patience, then the results are incomparable, you get real food, wholesome, full of flavor, unusual. The pasta with skate was just like that, as was the fillet of bonito wrapped in pork net, which won the Tutti pazzi per la palamita competition.

I got to know Fulvietto and his restaurant when in May I visited San Vincenzo for the Etruscan Coast fish food festival. He made a bonito fillet wrapped in pork net and served it with wild mushrooms from the coast pine forest and the most delicate mashed potatoes to go with: inventive, tasty and deeply rooted into the Tuscan tradition. He had me at the first bite, and I promised to come back, and not alone.

So I did: since we were committed to spend the weekend trying the most amazing food of the coast, I phoned Fulvietto and booked a special lesson on the poor fish of the local tradition. Chance had it that the lesson happened on the very same day when the final match of the European Football Championship took place. Italy was playing, so every Italian in town was sitting in front of the tv, alone or with friends… we arrived in San Vincenzo on a Sunday afternoon in a silent and unreal calm. That made the experience even more amazing: just imagine, a restaurant on beach all for us, at sunset.

Zizi and Ivan explored the town, found a nice place to enjoy a vegetarian dinner and the sight of Italians supporting their team (alas!), while Emiko, Marco, Karin, Regula, Bruno and I reached the Bucaniere in the sultry afternoon, with a remote thought about the temperature we would have faced in the kitchen. Fulvietto caught us off guard: we’re ready for the lesson. Would you like to be in the kitchen or on the boat? We looked at each other… where? the boat? really?

After 5 minutes we were leaving our shoes unattended on the dock. I stepped staggering into the boat, and as soon as my bare feet touched the floor, dry and salty, warmed by the sun, I reminded those few early mornings I spent as little child fishing with my father and my uncle. Blissfulness, happiness.

 

I could have pretended to be a diva, lying on a boat with sunglasses, enjoying the splashes of water that every so often were refreshing me, one hand resting gently to touch the sea…

But my true nature came out every moment, at every jolt of the fishing rod I dived (so to speak) to take pictures, to capture the reflections of the scales of the fish, eager to sample that freshly caught oily fish, horse mackerels.

I remember that my father and my uncle used to catch horse mackerels during summer, but I had never eaten them this way. They are so simple, they are cooked without even being opened or cleaned, with some fresh herbs to soften their taste, just a few minutes in a pan with a dash of olive oil.

Fulvietto served them as an appetizer, to open a dinner on the beach with the soft sound of the waves and the music of Bruce Springsteen and Sting (it seemed made on purpose…). Deliciously made, they kept the salty flavour of the sea, light and fresh: they were amazingly good because you could taste  the respect of the ingredients, the simplicity and the sustainability.


Ristorante Il Bucaniere
www.ristoranteilbucaniere.com
Viale Guglielmo Marconi- 57027 San Vincenzo (Livorno)
Tel. 335 8001695

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This Post Has 17 Comments
  1. Giulia – thank you – a lovely post – I never thought I’d see a reference to Fergus Henderson in one of your pieces!. His book is one of my favourites 🙂

    1. As you love and appreciate Tuscan food and culture, I do appreciate English food and culture! 🙂 It’s a win win situation!

  2. I love your new blog layout – so simple and elegant – and of course your photos are gorgeous as usual.

    (Also, I’ve eaten at St. John each time I visit London, and each time the food has been absolutely amazing. I definitely recommend it!)

  3. Beautiful new design. It’s very professional! This post is amazing! It took me back to our wonderful summer weekend getaway in Tuscany! Nice memories…

  4. St. John is the only restaurant I ate in London so far –besides Franco Manca pizzeria. It is a truly enchanting experience and the menu, although a bit encrypted at times, is intriguing at an intellectual level, but when the food finally sits on your table, the mouthwatering process starts, and the first bit is revealing of a true genius.
    I wish I was there with you ladies. I sorry I missed that –living with no possible plans sometimes isn’t the best option, but oh well. Your stories and images make it a bit for the loss.

    1. ok, so we should schedule not only a visit to Wimbledon, but also a special dinner at St. John. We will have another chance to gather and enjoy out time, London!

  5. Oh Giulia, you took me back to that day! What an experience… I will always keep this evening close to my heart! We should go to St-John in september! x

  6. Guilia – Thank you for bringing me right back to the incredible food and time we had at Il Bucaniere last September! It was THE best seafood we have ever had! He is innovative, his presentation fabulous and the taste was incredible, a truly memorable experience!

    The time we spent at your place, and all the side jaunts we did – to Anna at Casamonti, Il Bucaniere and the truffle hunting, I treasure, thank you for organizing it on our behalf.

    I think about Tuscany and the region you showed us a lot! I would like to come back to your area! I find myself wanting to find out everything I can about Italy!

    I hope you are enjoying the apartment, I feel very privileged that we were one of the last to be able to enjoy your family’s lovely house. The view from your bathroom is incredible! It is so different from Canada, the history, the countryside, the food, the people! THANK YOU!

    You are a treasure, and I so appreciate that your family opened your home to us. Thank you again for the cooking lessons, I learned so much, including being able to relax in cooking, also an appreciation for Italian wine!

    Keep doing what you are doing, you are special! I love your blog posts, and, if you ever make it over to Canada – you are so welcome to come and stay!

    You don’t need to post any or all of this – I didn’t get a chance to write in your guest book, and wish I had. I wish I had had a chance to tell you how much I enjoyed my visit to your lovely country – I will be back.

    Thanks Guilia,

    Greta

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