When I first visited Italy back in 2010, I had no way of knowing just how enchanted I would become with the entire country. And Tuscany, known as Toscana in Italian, has almost mythic methods of this enchantment! There is truly something nearly fairytale-like about the scenery there—rolling hills, vineyards, cypress trees—everywhere you turn, a postcard perfect view. But for me, the very most enchanting part is Tuscan food and wine (stay tuned for our next post about the delicious wines of Tuscany!) As is the case with much Italian cuisine, the cuisine of Tuscany has its roots in peasant food, often including items like stale bread, foods that are easily accessible, hearty and filling. Some of the staples include grains like farro (see the fantastic recipe for farro, also known in English as spelt, salad below), fresh vegetables in season, and wild game like boar and hare, prosciutto and of course, cheese.
We previously discussed what IGP and DOP are in our Umbria Food post. And Tuscan food has many wonderful IGP and DOP options that guarantee the quality and regional specificity of the products. I’ve listed many for you here:
The Lunigiana honey is produced from of acacia, flowers and chestnut. The acacia has smooth texture and bright straw yellow color; the smell is delicate and floral and very sweet flavor, vanilla, fresh, not bitter. The wildflower is the honey that may face higher organoleptic changes from year to year. It tends to crystallize and is typically intense, aromatic, with hints of molasses and licorice. Chestnut honey, instead, is liquid, or slightly crystallized, and amber color; the scent is intense and persistent, and taste in the mouth can be perceived a typical generally pronounced bitter aftertaste. Once extracted from the hive, the honey must be clarified by centrifugation, decanting and filtration; Finally we proceed to packaging. It lasts a long time, if you take care to keep it away from sources of light and heat.
Lard, in the Apuan Alps, is derived from the fat layer of the back of the pigs, from Tuscany and other Italian regions. Reduced to rectangular pieces, it is first flavored with pepper, cinnamon, cloves, sage, rosemary and garlic, and then matured in large marble containers, non-porous, so-called “basins”, often internally rubbed with garlic to make the walls less permeable. Once the pieces of lard were arranged in layers, interspersed with the other ingredients, the tanks are closed with a marble slab and the bacon is left to mature for at least six months.Slightly pinkish white, the lard has delicate, slightly sweet, with hints of herbs and spices; the texture is soft, even dark. It is preserved in a cool place or in the refrigerator, in the vegetable drawer, wrapped in a damp cloth.
The Garfagnana Spelt has been rediscovered today for its excellent dietetic properties and because its fibers have a beneficial action for the digestive system. This grain is rich in starch and therefore particularly suitable for preparing pies, but in the kitchen is used mainly as an ingredient in soups: combined with beans and vegetables is presented as simple dish but with very particular tastes and aromas. Great for cold salads, farrotti (risotto) with porcini mushrooms. It goes extremely well with red wines. The shined spelled grain can be ground for other uses (pasta, bread, biscuits etc.).
Mortadella is a cooked sausage in fine paste. It differs from the products of other countries that may resemble (in the white body type salami sausages), as the fine paste is obtained by grinding meat in special grinders and not, as is done for similar meats, in chippers or cutter. This procedure does not give rise to emulsions that hold water or fat added to better mix the mass. In mortadella, in fact, it is not mixed with water and the fat is incorporated in the form of cubes, ensuring a generally thin dough. The whole is then stuffed into natural or synthetic casings and cooked at a low temperature for hours. It has a rounded shape and is available commercially with variable weight of between 500 grams and 100 kilograms. The paste of the sausage must be compact and pink, punctuated by the white cubes of fat. Mortadella has a delicate, fruity and spicy. It should be kept in cool, never wet, or in the refrigerator until serving.
Tuscan ham is notoriously salty, so much to that the famous “unsalted bread” is the ideal accompaniment. The intense flavor is given by the salting, more intensely than the one administered to the Emilian hams, Venetian or Friulian. The Tuscan climate, in fact, knows hotter summers than the hilly areas in the north, and the salt is used to ensure better preservation of meat. It is a raw ham, obtained from fresh leg of pork, trimmed of excess fat and then salted. Salting is dry, repeatedly massaging the thigh with sea salt, and adding pepper, garlic and herbs. The most exposed parts, ie without the rind, are protected with a paste made of lard and flour, with a process called “smearing”. It follows the maturing stage which lasts for at least one year, after which the ham is ready for commercialization. When sliced, the ham has a more or less intense red color and little fat; the scent is pleasantly aromatic, with excellent persistence, and the palate is fruity and spicy.
The name of these sausages, originally produced in the Lombard hilly belts and then spread to the rest of Italy, comes from the habit of hunters to take them in a knapsack, and because it is easily transportable for the convenience of single-portion. The cacciatore salami are pure pork and come from lean muscle and hard fat parts. Once ground, the meats are seasoned with salt, pepper, garlic and sometimes wine, then stuffed into natural or artificial casings. The sausages are small in size and bright red color, interspersed by white fat parts. The scent is delicate and sweet and aromatic flavor. The consistency is soft and compact.
Pecorino Romano is a hard cheese made from whole milk processing Sardinian breed sheep. The milk, once heated, is added with lamb rennet and selected lactic bacteria. The curd is broken into small grains, is cooked, drained and then distributed into molds. Salting lasts at least 70 days and at its end starts maturing, which is extended from five to eight months depending on whether you want to get a table cheese or grated. Pecorino Romano is sold in cylindrical shapes with a diameter of 25-30 cm, height of about 30 centimeters and weighing between 20 and 35 kilograms. The surface is ivory or gold, sometimes covered with black protective cover; the paste is white in color which can turn to straw; the scent is intense, sometimes penetrating; the taste is full, savory, spicy when aged for several months.
Tuscan pecorino is made with whole pasteurized sheep’s milk, curdled with the addition of calf rennet. The obtained curd is broken into lumps of different sizes, depending on whether one wishes to produce a soft or semi-hard cheese. The mass, once collected in the molds, the whey is drained and then dried. After being released from the forms, the pecorino is subjected to the salting of the crust, and finally the seasoning: the fresh cheese matures for about 20 days, while the aged cheese continues to mature for at least four months. When marketing this cheese, it has a cylindrical shape with a diameter of 15-22 cm, 7-11 cm high and slightly convex. The rind is hard and yellowish, but sometimes brown or reddish color, depending on the treatments that have been submitted during the maturing (oil, ash, etc.). The paste is white tending to straw; the nose is intense, while in the mouth it is sweet when young, spicy if long aged. It is preserved in a cool, dry place, sometimes in oil, with the addition of black peppercorns.
Produced mainly with the varieties Frantoio, Correggiolo, Moraiolo and Leccino. It has intense green color and fruity and vegetal smell; the flavor is rather spicy and slightly bitter, with notes of artichoke.
Produced from olives of the Frantoio variety supplemented by those Leccino and has yellow color with green hues of changeable intensity; the scent is fruity, more or less delicate; the flavor is basically sweet, though having also spicy and bitter notes of artichoke.
It is produced from olives of the Frantoio, Moraiolo, and Leccino Correggiolo. It has yellowish-green; the nose is grassy and vegetal and is evocative of the scent of fresh olives; the taste is fruity with an artichoke finish.
The olives that contribute to the production of this oil are numerous varieties and give life to a green oil, sometimes tending to yellowish.Good fluidity, the nose is fruity mingled with herbaceous and vegetal aromas, especially artichoke. In the mouth the Tuscan oil is fruity, with a sometimes slightly spicy and bitter aftertaste.
Of Persian origin, saffron finds on these hills the ideal place for growth. The saffron of San Gimignano DOP is obtained from the stigmas of the Crocus sativus plant. The working cycle is completely manual: flowers, picked in the early morning when it is still closed, then cleansed and checked. Then they are roasted at a temperature which must not exceed 50 ° C, during which the stigmas filiform go from red to orange or violet. It is a very delicate moment because excessive or inappropriate duration or temperature could affect the quality of the saffron. Saffron is kept preferably in glass jars and sheltered from light and humidity. Although spoilage is difficult, it is advisable to consume it not too far from the purchase date. The most valuable saffron is a whole stigmas, which must be soaked before use.
Ricciarelli di Siena are an expression of the wisdom of Sienese confectionery traditions that have characterized the craft since ancient times, confirming the legacy of the important role of custodian played for centuries by the local apothecaries that arose in the Middle Ages. The sector’s importance is demonstrated not only by the number of companies and workers involved in confectionery production but also the major part of the entire sector exports. This success rests largely on traditional production evidenced by the existence of a considerable specialization and skill of employed workers. Born as typical and irreplaceable sweets of the Christmas celebrations, Ricciarelli di Siena have extended their use to other months of the year mainly due to the strong turnout in the territory of visitors and tourists from all over the world, a factor that has contributed to strengthening the same exports and increase the reputation of the product.
This recipe is a twist on the classic recipe which is usually served cold with lemon and capers. I’ve made some changes to better accompany the rich flavors of our Brunnello di Montalcino, adding rich Marscapone to give it body and omitting the lemon.