– Story by Trisha Isabey Photography by Melissa Carl
I remember seeing the movie Under the Tuscan Sun and imagining how amazing it would be to live in Italy’s Tuscany, enjoying its thriving lifestyle and beautiful landscape.
But to be honest, the beauty of British Columbia isn’t too bad either! And with wine country regions like the Okanagan, where I am fortunate to live, maybe we can bring some Tuscan flare here.
The Tuscan colour theme is well known — those great warm oranges, reds, olive greens and golden yellows. These pull from the palette of harvest vegetables, hand-thrown dishes and platters and bold-coloured tablecloths. It’s all very lovely and romantic.
So even though we don’t live there, I’d like to show you how to experience a Tuscan farm-to-table dinner party.
First off, you need a great location. The backdrop should inspire you — choose a really beautiful backyard or patio deck landscaped with hints of lavender.
We chose a beautiful lakeshore home owned by a couple who have a European flare. Hanging grape vines on the trellis above the outdoor dining table made for a great beginning. Then, factor in the view of the lake and all you need is a good Chianti and some artisan cheese to be practically there.
Setting the stage: table and decor
This is where your imagination can kick in — think flowers, candles, dishware and linens. Remember to keep the Tuscan palette in mind — those warm harvest tones are what really brings this home.
Dress the table with either a tablecloth, place mats or tea towels underneath the table settings. If you have a beautiful wood table, opt for the last two. If not — find a great tablecloth. If you go neutral on the tablecloth, you can really play up the dishware and other accessories. For dishware, look for colourful, hand-thrown pieces.
Since Tuscany is all about simplicity, think simple for glassware and cutlery. Be creative with place cards. You can tuck a sprig of lavender into a napkin held together with burlap, or use a ripe red apple with simple name tags attached by string. Make it interesting and fun.
For lighting, we hung an amazing chandelier from the vine-covered trellis. Flowers were interlaced throughout the hanging light to create a floral rhapsody. Baskets of rustic breads, lanterns and chunky candleholders filled the space. For added colour, we used bright napkins, pillows and throws. Nothing too complicated.
There are very few things that make a place feel more special than flowers.
Being early fall, we chose to do a bit of an unexpected medley, mixing our florals with harvest vegetables. Kale, zucchini and garlic bulbs take on a very different look when combined artistically with beautiful flowers and greenery. This also drives home the farm-to-table theme.
We worked with a local supplier, Don-O-Ray Farms, to source our beautiful bright produce. For the flowers, we used our favourite floral artist, Cindy Switzer of Wild Valentine Designs.
Farm to table to taste bud: the menu
When I think of Tuscany, I think of simplicity and quality. Bean dishes flourish. Butter is replaced with olive oils. Tuscan food is based on the concept cucina povera or “poor cooking.” Historically, many people in the region needed to stretch meals to feed their families, and menus have stayed largely the same — now by choice rather than financial necessity.
We approached my favourite Italian market, Valoroso Foods, to put our Tuscan menu together. The concept was colourful and flavourful and all things amazing. It included a charcuterie board — with Italian and Spanish meats and cheese — and a Tuscan pasta and bean dish with homemade sausage, served with bread imported from Altamura, Italy.
Here is where we departed from the Tuscan style and added our own Okanagan twist. There is a deep history of winemaking in the Okanagan, and over 75 varieties of wine grapes flourish here. Pinot Gris and Merlot are the most popular, but you’ll find fantastic Chardonnays and Viogniers, as well as red varietals from further south towards Osoyoos.
We approached a local favourite, Quail’s Gate Winery, and paired the wonderful flavours of Tuscan fare with a selection of wines from the winemaker. This is an essential step for your dinner, and good wine shops welcome the chance to consult. Take your menu — they’ll know which wines will bring out the flavours of the food you’re serving.
Above all, invite your favourite people to participate in the magic you’ve created. Maybe the sequel could be Under the Okanagan Sun.