Tuscany


Simplicity is the main word to the cuisine in Tuscany. Though, if we think about the past, Florentines like to remind, that it was their Caterina de' Medici, on marrying King Henry II in 1533, who introduced to the world the cooking, which we know nowadays as French cuisine. It's true that in Renaissance Florence gastronomy reached heights of refinement among the aristocracy, yet what has distinguished Tuscan food since the time of the Etruscans, has been its noble simplicity.

The other important factor is freshness: Legumes, crisp vegetables, mushrooms and fresh fruit are bought from local market places and producers, when it is their season: fava beans, artichokes and asparagus in the spring; tomatoes, cucumbers and zucchini in the summer; all sorts of greens and mushrooms (especially plump porcini) in the fall; cabbages and chard in the winter. Herbs, above all rosemary and sage, are good year-round, as are the fresh or dried white beans toscanelli, cannellini, zolfini, which have been giving the nickname of mangiafagioli (bean eaters) to the Tuscans.

Also bread needs to be fresh baked: big loaves of pane toscano can be surprising - it is salt-free, like in old times, when salt was too expensive to be used cause of the extra taxes. Thick slices of bread are grilled, rubbed with garlic and doused with oil as panunto. Old bread is useful as dampened and crumbled into a salad with tomatoes, onion and basil as panzanella or spread with chicken liver paté or chopped tomatoes as crostini. It is used to thicken the soups called ribollita or pappa al pomodoro. Due to common soups pasta is less used, but an excellent portion of 'pappardelle con ragu' can be found.

The ancient grain farro, called spelt, which is protected as DOP in the Garfagnana, is the base of a strong and delicious soup, zuppa di farro. Chestnuts, especially the prized marrone type, also protected as DOP in the Mugello, are eaten roasted or used in soups and desserts.

Fish and seafood belong mainly to the coastline for very simple reason: the inner area of Tuscany produces red wine, which will be combined with meat. Though delicious fish meals can be found: like Cacciucco, which is a piquant fish soup.

The roast meats are found all over the region: it might be rabbit, pigeon, duck, free-range chicken, pheasant and guinea hen. Beef of the highest quality come from the Chiana Valley, specifically a breed known as Maremma used for the famous t-bone steaks known as bistecca alla Fiorentina, which will be ordered by weight 'ettos', 100 g. It is also DOP product. Pork-based products, such as Prosciutto Toscano are also common. Try 'porchetta' roast suckling pork inside 'panino' or roasted loin 'arista'. Special race of pork 'Cinta Senese' is produced cause of its high quality meat, which is used to prepare delicious sausages and salamis. Also wild boar 'cinghiale' will be found on the menu list as a ragu' with pasta or as a delicious stew served with fagioli all'uccelleto.

Colonnata's lard, cured and aged in marble tubs carved from the same quarries, is a unique delicacy as old as the village Colonnata itself. The local lard curing technique, improved throughout the centuries, eventually became the village specialty. To this day, Colonnata lard is prepared only during the cooler months of the year, from September to May. The traditional curing method calls for the use of the freshest ingredients, without any artificial preservative or coloring. Within 72 hours of butchering, the pork lard is trimmed, rubbed with salt, and placed in the traditional marble tubs in alternating layers with sea salt, ground black pepper, fresh rosemary and roughly minced garlic, called conca in the local dialect. The tubs, which also have been thoroughly rubbed with garlic, are then covered with marble lids. Before it is put on the market, lardo di Colonnata DOP is aged for at least six months.

Cheeses are appreciated, specially Pecorino Toscano DOP from sheep milk, which is produced around the town of Pienza near Siena. Mild young, when it may be called marzolino, fresh pecorino is eaten in the spring with raw fava beans. When aged in small wheels coated with olive oil, ash or tomato, it becomes firm with a distinctly elegant tang.

The highest quality saffron, the expensive aromatic yellow spice derived from the dried stigma of the flower of the saffron crocus, is coming from area of San Gimignano. The saffron was used in cooking and also for dyeing cloth, as a medicine, as a pigment in paint, even a form of currency from the period of the Middle Ages.

Bakers, beyond their daily loaves, also make flatbread called schiacciata, sometimes with rosemary or in a sweet version with grapes. Many desserts and sweets are baked. Almonds flavor cookies are coming from Prato, known as cantuccini and the soft ricciarelli is from Siena, a town more renowned for its chewy fruit and nut cake called panforte. Fresh fruit marmelade is used in tart called crostata. Florence's pride is zuccotto, a dome-shaped sponge cake flavored with chocolate, nuts and liqueurs.

An excellent olive oil is made from the Moraiolo, Leccino, Frantoio, and Pendolino olives, and Lucca enjoys the reputation to be one of the best olive oil areas in Italy.

Rare white truffles from San Miniato are a precious specialty that appear in October and November.
  • Pinzimonio - fresh seasonal raw or slightly blanched vegetables served with seasoned olive oil for dipping.
  • Ribollita - reheated vegetable soup
  • Zuppa di farro - strong spelt soup
  • Bistecca alla fiorentina - grilled Florentine T-bone steak. In past it was also called bistecca alla florentina
Tuscan bread specialties:
  • Ciaccia - from the Maremma made from maize
  • Donzelle - round loaf fried in olive oil
  • Fiandolone - made with sweet chestnut flour and strewn with rosemary leaves
  • Panina gialla aretina - an Easter bread with a high fat content, containing raisins, saffron, and spices. It is consecrated in a church before being served with eggs
  • Schiacciata - dough rolled out onto baking sheet and can have pork cracklings, herbs, potatoes and/or tomatoes added to the top along with a salt and olive oil
  • Schiacciatina - made with a fine flour, salt dough with yeast and olive oil
  • Pane con l'uva - in other areas this bread often takes the form of small loaves or rolls, but in Tuscany it is a rolled-out dough with red grapes incorporated into it and sprinkled with sugar. It is bread served often in the autumn in place of dessert and often served with figs
  • Pan di granturco - made from maize flour
  • Pane classico integrale - unsalted bread made with semolina with a crisp crust
  • Filone - classic Tuscan unsalted bread
  • Pan di ramerino - a rosemary bread seasoned with sugar and salt. The bread was originally served during Holy Week decorated with a cross on top and sold at the Church by semellai.
ZUPPA DI FARRO
Ingredients:'
  • 200 gr farro, in whole grains
  • 300 gr pound ripe plum tomatoes (or canned tomatoes), chopped and seeded
  • 100 gr pancetta (smoked if possible)
  • Grated pecorino toscano cheese, or Parmigiano
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 onion, finely sliced
  • A small bunch parsley
  • Some fresh basil
  • A few sprigs thyme
  • Olive oil
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • 1 l of hot broth
Preparations:
Begin by preparing the farro: Wash it well, picking out impurities such as bits of chaff, pebbles, or bad grains, and soak it for at least 8 hours.
When it's ready, mince the pancetta and sauté it in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil, together with the thyme, finely sliced onion, and garlic cloves. When the mixture has browned, remove and discard the garlic, and stir in the chopped tomatoes, parsley and basil. Cook for a few minutes, then stir in the hot broth, and once the pot comes to a boil, the farro. Cook over a low flame for about 2 hours or until the farro is done (taste a grain), stirring often, and checking the seasoning towards the end. Let the soup sit for an hour and serve it warm, with olive oil and grated cheese.


CINGHIALE UBRIACO ALLA TOSCANA
Ingredients:
  • 1,5 kg wild boar fillet
  • 1/2 dl wine vinegar
  • 1 carrot, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon peperoncino
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 sprig thyme
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 1 onion chopped
  • 1 celery stalk chopped
  • 1 bottle red wine
  • 1 onion chopped
  • 50 gr butter
  • 1 tablespoon pine nuts
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 50 gr dried prunes chopped
  • 2 tablespoon bitter cocoa powder softened and chopped
  • 2 tablespoon candied orange peel
  • 1 tablespoon raisins
  • Salt
Preparations:
The marinade: boil the vinegar and wine with the bay leaf, thyme, peperoncino, cloves, 1 onion, carrot and celery. Pour into a large pot and let cool. Place the boar fillet into the marinade for 48 hours.
Chop the remaining onion and brown in butter. Add the cocoa, sugar, prunes, candied orange peel, raisins and pine nuts. Stir for a few minutes, then add the boar meat and cook slowly for an hour. Add the filtered marinade, and salt. Continue cooking until the meat is very tender and the sauce thick. Serve with polenta, potatoes or potato gnocchi.

FAGIOLI ALL'UCCELLETTO
Ingredients:
  • 500 gr dried white beans (cannellini)
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 dl olive oil
  • 400 gr whole peeled tomatoes including juice
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage or 2 teaspoons dried, crumbled
Preparations:
In a large saucepan soak beans in enough cold water to cover by 2 inches at least 8 hours or overnight. Drain beans and return to saucepan with cold water to cover by 4 cm. Simmer beans, covered, until tender, about 45 minutes to 1 hour. Reserve 1 cup cooking liquid and drain beans in sieve. In a heavy kettle cook garlic in oil over moderate heat, stirring until softened. Add reserved cooking liquid, beans, tomatoes with juice, sage, and salt and pepper to taste and simmer mixture, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 25 minutes.

ZUCCOTTO - semifreddo cake
Ingredients:
  • 250 gr pan di spagna - sponge cake
  • 1 dl whipping cream
  • 1/2 dl sugar
  • 3 sheets of unflavored gelatin
  • 100 gr chocolate
  • About 10 candied cherries
  • 1/4 dl maraschino cherry liqueur
  • 1/2 dl candied citron
  • 1/4 dl milk
  • A high-sided bowl about 1,5 l
  • For the chocolate sauce:
  • 1 tablespoon cocoa powder
  • 1/2 dl sugar
  • 3 tablespoons water
  • 1 tablespoon butter
Preparation:
Put the sheets of gelatin in a bowl and cover them with warm water to soften. Set aside the best looking cherry and dice the rest with the citron. Shred the baking chocolate.
Make the chocolate sauce: Melt the butter over low heat and stir in the cocoa and water. Slowly stir in the sugar and continue cooking over a low flame for five minutes, stirring gently, then remove it from the fire. Squeeze the sheets of gelatin dry, and melt them in a pot over a low flame with three tablespoons of water, then let the mixture cool (if you are using powdered gelatin mix it up).
Cover the bowl with a plastic sheet. Cut the pan di spagna into 1-2 cm thick slices and line the bowl with them. Sprinkle them with the liqueur, and, if need be, a little milk. Whip the cream to soft peaks, then beat in the sugar and the gelatin, which should still be warm. Carefully divide the whipped cream mixture, and fold into one half the chocolate sauce. Pour it into the bowl and sprinkle it with half the candied fruit. Fold the remaining diced candied fruit and the shredded chocolate into the other half of the whipped cream, and use it to fill the mold. Cover the top of the zuccotto with the remaining slices of pan di spagna, sprinkle them with a little milk, and chill for 5 hours.
Just before serving the zuccotto dip the mold in hot water. Unmold it onto a serving platter, decorate it with the perfect cherry you set aside, and serve.