When we first started talking with the actor Adrian Grenier about selling his wine, SHFT House Wine, we asked him where he’d most want to open a few bottles, and what he’d want to eat with it. He took us to his home away from home: Locanda Vini & Olii, an unflashy neighborhood Brooklyn restaurant, a choice that turned out to be more telling than I’d realized.
Named for the most fundamental joys of Tuscan living – wine and oil – the restaurant specializes in unusual Italian wines and very rustic Florentine food. Every night, three of the six people you’ll see on the floor or through the kitchen’s window are owners. They’ve come to know their regulars well, and in so doing, they’ve won their trust. It’s the kind of place where chardonnay won’t move, but people will try the skin-macerated wines that no one’s ever heard of.
Chef Michele Baldacci came up through the ranks at two of the most important kitchens in Florence, the two-star Michelin-rated La Tenda Rossa and Buca Lapi, the oldest restaurant in the region, and keeps rigorously true to the ethos of the region’s roots. That means you’re not getting cheese shaved willy nilly on your pasta or butter for your bread, but you can select from three varieties of house-cured olives.
Because Tuscan cooking is so minimalist – even using stocks is verboten – the quality of the ingredients that go into each dish are paramount. So Baldacci doesn’t even use distributors; all of his produce comes directly from small farmers he knows personally. All of the meats they use are humanely raised and slaughtered; their American-raised Piedmontese-style beef comes from grass fed and finished Montana cattle. “We’re not doing it for a trend,” says Baldacci, “but because that’s the value system we were raised with.” Their most prized dish is ribollita: vegetable stew with beans and stale bread as the star. It’s a dish that couldn’t be more humble, couldn’t be more about the reusing and making do and living simply, but deliciously.
As we talked with Grenier, learning about how he was raised as a vegetarian by a mom who cared about health and the environment, it became clear why this was his favorite restaurant, why he wanted us to meet here. The humility and generosity of the food, the warmth of welcome, the sense of gathering and community: Grenier learned from a young age that “at the root of the sustainability movement is the idea of caring for others, about finding better ways to live together.”
When Grenier met the film producer Peter Glatzer six years ago, they realized they had a powerful platform to make the world a better place. They founded SHFT.com, a website that curates cool things that happen to be good for the earth – nifty design objects like magnetic blocks from sustainably harvested wood, and a clock that runs on lemon power (really!).
They share news about shark fishing bans and airport beekeeping initiatives. Their popular Gardens NYC video series profiles city dwellers reimagining the urban landscape through sustainable growing practices.
“Peter and I realized we need more people engaged in thinking about solutions to sustainability problems,” says Grenier. So, when we asked him why he wanted to start making a sustainable wine, he connected the dots: “Wine is steeped in heritage and tradition. It’s been a part of human culture forever. It’s a tool for cultivating discussion and ideas. And it’s important for people to realize that you don’t have to make sacrifices in your lifestyle or level of happiness to make an impact.”
As the site grew in popularity, Grenier and Glatzer decided they wanted to get into the wine game with an organic, biodynamic wine. Teamed up with Saxum Vineyard's Assistant Wine Maker, Mark Adams, they produced SHFT's House Red, a robust blend bursting with ruby fruits from the sun-drenched Paso Robles. "We set out to make a wine that is decadent, rich, sexy, affordable, and happens to be sustainable," says Glatzer. The minimal-material bottles have no sleeves over the necks, and the recycled labels use all-natural vegetable dies. On the wine’s label, you’ll see a big pack of black deer and one little red guy running in the opposite direction. “It represents all of us who defy convention,” says Grenier. “And it’s really not that hard to do the right thing.”
As we drank and ate our rich ribollita, sweet with vegetables and lingering olive oil, it was clear: No, this is not hard to do.
Adapted from Michele Baldacci, Locanda Vini & Olii
The restaurant’s specialty is a classic ribollita – a thick, aromatic, vegetable stew made only with seasonal vegetables, beans and olive oil, “reboiled” with day-old Tuscan bread. The traditionally unsalted loaf is said to have been the result of thrifty Florentine bakers rebelling against the 12th century salt tax. Baldacci makes his with flour, olive oil, water, and natural yeasts from a piece of the dough from the bread of the day prior. When the thick porridge arrives tableside, it gets a hearty splash of extra virgin olive oil made every spring at Baldacci’s parents’ home in Florence. You might not have parents with olive trees, but use the best olive oil and vegetables you can find.
For the beans
1 cup dried cannellini beans
1 large onion, peeled and quartered
2 whole garlic cloves
1 cup tomato purée
1 teaspoon salt
5 sprigs fresh thyme
5 sprigs fresh sage
1 sprig fresh rosemary
For the soup
Up to ½ cup of the very best quality extra virgin olive oil you can find
5 sprigs fresh thyme
5 sprigs fresh sage
1 sprig fresh rosemary
1 large onion, small dice
1 cup carrots, small dice
1 cup celery, small dice
1 cup butternut squash, small dice (or zucchini in the summer)
1 large bunch Tuscan kale, ribbed and chopped
½ head Savoy cabbage, very thinly sliced
2 whole cloves garlic
2 cups tomato
1/3 loaf of very stale Tuscan bread or unsalted rustic Italian bread
1. Rinse the beans, discard any dirty bits, and cover with 4-5 inches of cool water and soak overnight. The following day, put the beans in a large pot and cover with 2-3 inches of water. Add onion, garlic, tomato purée, salt and a bouquet of the herbs tied together with kitchen twine. Bring to a boil over high heat, then turn down to a simmer. Cover and cook for 1½-2 hours until the beans are mostly tender but still have a little bit of resistance to the bite. Drain the beans and discard the vegetables and herbs. Purée half of the beans until smooth, and reserve the whole beans.
2. To cook the base of the soup, coat the bottom of a large pot with about ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil (the remainder will be used to finish the dish). Over low-medium heat, slowly cook the onion, carrots, celery, and garlic with a second bundle of herbs until fully softened, about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent too much browning. Add the butternut squash or zucchini and sweat, stirring occasionally, until cooked through, about 15 minutes more. Add the cabbage and kale, mix thoroughly, and cover to cook until fully softened, about 30 minutes more. Add enough water to just cover the vegetables by an inch. (Never add stock!) Fold in the puréed and whole beans, and bring up to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for another 15 minutes. In total, you will have cooked the soup for 1 ½ - 2 hours up to this point.
3. Now it’s time for the reboiling. Very thinly slice the bread – slice as thin as you can go. Add the sliced bread to the soup, and crank up the heat up to bring it all to a boil. The bread with soften and fully incorporate into the very thick soup.
4. To serve, finish each portion with a liberal drizzle of olive oil.
With all this talk of traditional Italian cooking, it seems only fair to introduce you to the gorgeous Italian goods brought to us by Gustiamo. Thanks to two Italian women frustrated with the low quality of antipasti in North America, we now have state-side access to smoky grilled nocerino onions, olive oil-preserved broccoli rabe, classic Sant’Eustachio coffee, and the sweetest jarred tomatoes you’ll ever taste. If you’ve never had real bronze cut Maccheroni, trust me, it ain’t just for easy-cheesy. To redeem your 40% discount, enter “italianpantry” at check-out until 2 pm ET on Saturday, February 17. The price will reduce from $202.95 to $121.77, plus reduced shipping of $5.95.