Long before you actually reach San Gimignano, you will see its famous towers silhouetted against the sky. A world UNESCO heritage site, this charming little walled town set high up on a mountain, once boasted a total of 72 towers, although only 14 remain standing now. A ban on spending and construction around 1500 AD by Cosimo I de' Medici inadvertently froze this town in time, thus perfectly preserving its architecture and medieval feel to this day.
Strolling through the old city with it's Gothic churches, tall towers, beautiful Piazzas and narrow alleyways, you feel transported back to the middle ages when knights on horses rode through these cobbled streets and wealthy merchants and nobility lived in these majestic buildings.
We spent a lovely day exploring San Gimignano, enjoying a superb Caprese salad in one of the local restaurants, cooling off with a coffee gelato in Piazza della Cisterna, poking our head into charming shops and art galleries and admiring breathtaking views from the ancient town walls.
Our drive to San Gimignano took us through a small, idyllic medieval village called Montefoscoli, which has stunning views of the surrounding Tuscan countryside. The main attraction for us here was a visit with our friend Lisa Santarnecchi.
Her ancestral childhood home, overlooking a gorgeous view, is in this village. She graciously invited us over and gave us a true taste of warm Italian hospitality!
One of the highlights was an inside look at her beautiful century old home. The lovely architecture, mosaic tiles and gardens gave us a delightful glimpse of Italian home life.
Another highlight was to view first hand how olive oil is processed. Lisa's father Massimiliano Santarnecchi, is a well known olive oil merchant in this area and he gave us a tour of his workshop where he processes and bottles locally harvested olive oil.
We came home armed with a bottle of olive oil that he gifted us. To taste this is to taste Tuscany! The fruity, rich flavours of sun ripened olives come through in every drop.
At first I used it very sparingly so as not to finish it off too quickly but it was so good that I just couldn't resist using it in every salad that I made. Thank you for this treat Lisa, but now no other olive oil will ever taste this good again, or bring back such warm memories!
One of the dishes I used copious amounts of Lisa's olive oil was in this salad where good olive oil is key. I sometimes add strips of roasted red peppers, capers, fresh mint and a drizzle of balsamic reduction or basil oil to round off my salad. In peak summer season, I make this salad practically every day, so a bit of variety now and then by straying from the classic recipe, is welcome!
For another summer tomato recipe, try my Bruschetta!
1 lb (about 3-4) sun ripened tomatoes of assorted colours and sizes
1/2 cup halved cherry tomatoes of assorted colours
250 g (about 8 oz) fresh mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar, optional
Flaky sea salt to taste
Fresh ground black pepper to taste
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves
Slice tomatoes into rounds.
Arrange slices on a platter, letting them overlap slightly. Scatter halved cherry tomatoes over top.
Slice fresh mozzarella cheese and intersperse with tomatoes, leaving some on top.
Drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar (if using).
Sprinkle salt and pepper evenly over top.
Tear basil leaves roughly and scatter all over salad.
Serve right away.