One of my favourite things about summer is long, mild evenings sitting outdoors with food, friends and wine. A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to spend the weekend amongst the finest company in one of the most beautiful spots in the world, eating some insanely good food.
A few years back, some good friends of mine bought an old disused barn in the hills outside Bologna, Italy, and over the years they have gutted and lovingly renovated it into a stunning holiday home. The most wonderful thing about the barn is its position; it stands on the edge of a hilltop, overlooking the valley and surrounding hillside.
Over the weekend we endeavoured to eat and drink as much as possible whilst soaking up the glorious Italian sunshine. We all got far too excited in the lovely little gastronomic shops and bought our weight in meat, cheese and wine. Every meal was consumed outside, from golden-yolked, buttery scrambled eggs and sweet roasted cherry vine tomatoes at breakfast, to slow-cooked pork rib and sausage ragu with thick, ridged rigatoni, washed down with plenty of barbera d’asti.
The most memorable al fresco experience of the weekend was one particularly lengthy evening where we picked up our dining table and placed it on the highest point of our hilltop so we had an epic 360 degree view. We began with an aperitif of Aperol spritz (recipe included below), accompanied by local salami, roasted artichokes and a burrata, so soft that, when prodded, burst and spilled out with lashings of thick delicious cream. Next we cooked two Fiorentina (Florentine-style) steaks and a huge locally made sausage on the stone BBQ that my friends built.
We ate the steaks rare, and the sausage crisp on the outside with a juicy middle. Sweet flame-grilled peppers and aubergines and a crisp rocket salad made the perfect accompaniment, as did lots of good red wine! We stayed up late watching the darkness descend upon the hills and fireflies dance. It was a truly unforgettable experience.
All the food eaten over the weekend was simple and honest but of incredible quality. All I can suggest when eating alfresco is to try to keep things as easy as possible focusing instead on high quality ingredients, good company and a beautiful setting. The more time you have sitting outside with your friends in the summer, the better.
Aperol spritz recipe
25ml aperol, slice of orange and top up with prosecco – serve in a large wine glass