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Under the Tuscan Los Gatos

Under the Tuscan sky in Los Gatos

Tuscan terraces
Susanna Gaertner
Guardian devil
Susanna Gaertner

You have to see it to believe it: a perfect slice of Tuscany right in Los Gatos! This is La Rusticana d'Orsa, brainchild of Marilyn and Frank Dorsa, who bought the property in 1988 and proceeded to landscape it with all the charm and grace, not to mention botanical features, of the Tuscan countryside.

To make the experience even more authentic, you can learn to cook Tuscan delicacies under the expert care of chef Franca Coletta, whose cooking classes allow you to dive into the preparation of complex dishes with all the ingredients already measured, ready to be turned into a delicious end product.

Before we begin cooking, there's a lively conversational exchange among the guests, many of whom have been attending Franca's cooking classes for years. “We love coming here,” says Peter Sandman, a four-year veteran, “the food is wonderful and the setting is lovely.”

The setting is indeed stellar. I am given a tour of the property by vineyard manager Henry Arciga, who has been here since the beginning. I get into the motorized cart...but not before Woody the bulldog takes his position at (on, actually) my feet. More dogs join our merry brigade as we sail into a landscape right out of a medieval painting. Cypress trees, stone fountains, hand-cast iron balustrades, a dove cote....all of it nestled into the terraces typical of Tuscany. It's been years since my last trip to Italy, more even, since my months as an au pair in Florence, but I am transported straight back.

Back at Casa Subasio, we man our stations in two-man teams and begin assembling (prep already done, of course) the eight courses in what can only be described as jovial chaos. Space is tight and everyone is vying for Franca's attention...but somehow it all gets done and we enjoy the fruits of the collective labor at a festively set farm table.

Impossible to give recipes for every dish, so I've selected several favorites, beginning with the crostata ai pomodori, aka tomato tart. And yes, you should use packaged puff pastry!

Crostata ai Pomodori

1 package puff pastry, thawed

½ cup unseasoned bread crumbs, divided

4 tbsp finely chopped walnuts

2 tbsp olive oil

2 tbsp chopped basil

2 tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley

1 tsp dried oregano

½ tsp anchovy paste

½ tsp salt

¼ tsp nutmeg

25 cherry tomatoes, a little more or less is fine

½ cup heavy cream

¾ cup shredded Asiago or Fontina cheese

preheat oven to 375 degrees

Brush or spray the bottom of a 9” tart pan with removable bottom and sprinkle on 2 tbsp of the breadcrumbs. Unfold puff pastry, cut a 10” circle, and transfer into tart pan on top of the breadcrumbs.

Bring dough up the sides of the pan and cut off any excess dough.

In a small skillet, toast the remaining bread crumbs and walnuts in the olive oil until golden, then sprinkle over the puff pastry; arrange the cherry tomatoes in concentric circles over this mixture.

In a small bowl, whisk the cream with the herbs, anchovy paste and salt, blend in cheese and nutmeg. Pour over the tomatoes and bake for 30-35 minutes or until the pastry is golden. Delicious hot or at room temperature.

More recipes to follow in future segments...for information on how to join the Amici della Rusticana wine club and thereby get access to the cooking classes, please consult

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