I've been to Tuscany a million times and know those roads backwards and forwards. I love the place. I've been known to screech on the brakes for a special Montalcino tasting or a sign that says "hot schiacciata," a flatbread studded with Chianti grapes made during harvest.
I love the towns of Strada, Radda, Greve and Castellina. I love the famous "Mall" where I buy Gucci, Pucci, Armani, Zegna (for Joe) and Sergio Rossi. I have fun visiting Beatrice at the Giovanni Cappelli Villa where she makes the most delicious lunches for me and my students. And I always top by to visit Romano and Cinzia, my friends at Rampini pottery and love eating picci, the equivalent of gummy bear pasta, in Pienza.
One of my favorite towns is Panzano. Maybe because it's so small, manageable and I know everyone there. I used to visit my friend Giovanni who owned the restaurant Montagliari just below the village. I used to enjoy eating lunch with him. He's since passed away but the memories of him prevail dressed in his Hugo Boss shirts and dapper vest. We'd sit for hours talking and tasting the "balsamic" or salsa di mosto he made or his Grappa.
I'd visit my butcher pal, the now famous Dario, and stop by and see custom shoemaker, Carlo Fagiani.
One time I stayed in a farmhouse in the middle of the vineyards just below Panzano owned by Tetta and her husband. What a cook! She loved sweets so much that every morning she'd make some kind of dessert for breakfast. Not having such a sweet tooth myself, it was a challenge to wake up to a pie, cake or tart. That being said, one morning she made a caramelized coconut budino, or coconut flan, that was so out of this world I absolutely HAD to have the recipe.
I didn't even think I like coconut until that morning. What so cool about this "breakfast dessert" is that this particular budino or custard separates miraculously into three distinct layers,- rich caramel on top, creamy custard in the middle and a coconut crust on the bottom.
Have you made a budino before? Easy and the flavor will transport you to Tetta's farmhouse in the middle of the vineyards in Panzano.
CARAMELIZED COCONUT BUDINO
2 cups sugar
3 cups milk
2 1/2 cups finely grated coconut, toasted
3 tablespoons all purpose flour
In a large heavy stainless steel frying pan over medium heat, melt 1 cup sugar. Do not use a spoon, instead swirl the pan to melt the sugar uniformly. Cook until the sugar starts to turn golden brown or caramel color. Immediately remove from the heat and pour the mixture into a 8-inch cake pan, 2-inches deep. Turn the mold to coat the bottom and sides. Set aside.
Whisk the eggs together in a bowl. Add the remaining 1 cup sugar and milk, In a separate bowl, combine the coconut and flour and stir into the milk mixture until well mixed.
Preheat an oven to 375F. Pour the coconut mixture into the caramel-lined pan and place in a larger pan. Pour boiling water up one-inch along the sides and bake in the oven until set, about 55 to 65 minutes.
Remove from the oven and let sit 10 minutes. Invert the coconut budino onto a serving plate.