A mere 9 km away from Pisa lies Calci, a charming little village that will instantly transport you to the Tuscany of your dreams! Here lie sprawling farmlands, olive groves, chestnut forests, tiny villages nestled among green hills and a sense of peace and relaxation you are unlikely to find anywhere else on your trip to Italy.
The highlight here is the famed Certosa di Calci, a former Carthusian monastery built in the 12th century, these days also housing the Natural History Museum of the University of Pisa. This Certosa is also a hub of local social activity and hosts many community events, many of them centered around food!
The grounds are spacious, the buildings majestic and the view breathtaking, making a visit to the Certosa an essential part of your itinerary. It is fascinating to stroll through the rooms and living areas of monks from centuries gone by and glimpse how their lives were lived behind these walls.
The chapels, dining halls, prayer rooms and even the apothecary of the Certosa are beautifully preserved, with murals, paintings and art work depicting scenes from daily life in the days when this Certosa was the heart of the community and nobility came to visit from far and near.
Calci and it's neighboring little villages are also home to some of the finest restaurants in this region. Their proximity to Pisa ensures that they are always full! We had a delicious, authentic meal in a lovely trattoria in the village of Montemagno. The Testaroli col pesto - seared chestnut flour pasta with fresh pesto, was like nothing I've had before. I wish I spoke Italian well enough to get the chef's recipe!
Then there was the experience of dining at Agriturismo Il Colibri. This charming little vegetarian restaurant also in Montemagno, specializes in chef's tasting menus, showcasing the creativity of the chef in many delicious courses. My favourite was an unusual eggplant dish, batter fried in chickpea flour and layered with tomato sauce. Reminded me of a pakora!
The best place to stay in Calci is a B&B called Il Molendino. Run very capably by Fabiola and her husband Stefano, it is charming, serene and very comfortable. The breakfasts here are legendary with Fabiola serving fresh home made croissants, cakes and pastries each morning. We had an amazing apple cinnamon cake and a soft, moist raspberry cake that made me completely forget all about my diet!
Here is Fabiola's fantastic and easy recipe for raspberry cake, handed down by her grandmother. The final touch of the brown sugar cardamom crust is mine, giving this cake an Indian flavour, somewhat reminiscent of suji halwa (Indian semolina dessert)!
Raspberry Cake With Semolina,Yogurt And Cardamom
1 1/2 stick (180g) unsalted butter, melted
1 cup (250g) plain, full fat Greek yogurt
1 tsp vanilla essence
1 cup (185g) fine semolina or semolina flour
1 cup (185g) granulated white sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cardamom, divided
Pinch of salt
1 cup (170g) fresh raspberries
1/3 cup thinly sliced almonds
2 tbsp brown or cane sugar
Preheat oven to 350F. Grease an 8 inch round springform cake pan.
Combine butter, yogurt and vanilla together in large mixing bowl. Whisk well until smooth.
In another bowl, combine semolina, granulated sugar, baking powder, 1/2 tsp of the ground cardamom and pinch of salt. Mix well.
Gently fold semolina mixture into the yogurt mixture until just combined.
Spread half the batter in bottom of prepared cake pan.
Scatter raspberries evenly over top.
Cover with remaining batter.
Sprinkle sliced almonds evenly over top of cake.
Combine brown or cane sugar and remaining 1/2 tsp cardamom in small bowl. Sprinkle evenly over top of almonds.
Bake for 45 - 50 min, testing with a toothpick or skewer to make sure cake is cooked through.
Cool 30 min, remove carefully from pan, then slice and serve.