Not only I know the food of Tuscany well, but I love its simplicity so I wanted to try the recipes asap. Tuscany is the region I know best outside of the Veneto, having spent a week in Siena at the end of each summer for years, visiting my mom's middle sister and my cousin Manuela. My sister lived near Siena for years, and another cousin went to medical school in Siena and is now an emergency medicine resident there. Should I mention a boyfriend who used to take me around on his Vespa? I was lucky to later spend many other times there, more recently this summer, traveling with friends from the States.
|Detail near the columns in |
Piazza Del Campo, Siena
The Tuscan country side is one of the most beautiful places in the world, rolling hills, ancient farm houses and tiny medieval town perched on the hill tops make this region unique and enchanted. The rich and simple food contributes to its fame and draws many people to visit this region. Many well known Italian dishes heel from Tuscany, Ribollita soup, Panzanella, Sciacciata all'uva, and Cantucci (otherwise known as Biscotti in the States).
The book is beautiful, small but well designed, the pages are thick, with rough edges. The book is filled with photos of the dishes and of the people cooking them, which is something I loved. The instructions are clear, the ingredients all easy to find. There are few dishes that I know most Americans won't try since they are not part of this country culinary tradition and are still considered weird, like tripe, rabbit, or liver (I am speaking in general terms here, I know plenty of people who would eat them). There are few recipes I wouldn't try either, like Piccione Farcito allo Spiedo, or squab simply because in Venice we don't have a good relationship with pigeons, but Pamela suggests to use Cornish Hens instead.
Carlo insists it must be made on top of the stove, not in the oven, a version often seen in restaurants. Oil is used sparingly for this is a peasant dish. The ingredients vary according to what is available, but Carlo explains, “There must be a balance between the dolce (sweet), aromatica (aromatic), and amaro (bitter).” The sweet is found in herbs, such as parsley, celery, and purslane; the aromatic is in thyme, borage, and fennel; and the bitter essences come from mustard greens and chicory. A leafy green is always present; in the winter, cavolo nero, and in the summer, cabbage.
Carlo admonishes cooks to handle the beans tenderly and cook them slowly, and “dolcemente,” gently, so they are not broken or crushed. He soaks them overnight with aromatics: whole cloves of garlic, a bay leaf, and a sprig of sage. Use any seasonal vegetables in this soup, and cook them in the order of hardness; start with vegetables such as potatoes that take longer to cook, and finish with the tender herbs.
Classic Tuscan Vegetable-Bread Soup
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 onion, finely chopped, plus 1/2 cup more chopped onion for Day 3
2 carrots, peeled and finely chopped
1 stalk celery, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
10 cups vegetable stock
1 or 2 boiling potatoes, peeled and cubed
3 zucchini, coarsely chopped
4 cups shredded cavolo nero (dinosaur or lacinato kale) or regular kale
1 cup shredded assorted leafy greens (such as Swiss chard, nettles, and spinach)
1 cup coarsely chopped aromatic greens (such as borage, fennel, and mustard)
2 cups cooked cannellini beans
1/4 cup minced mixed aromatic herbs (such as fresh flat-leaf parsley, rosemary, and sage)
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 pound day-old country bread, thinly sliced
Day 1: Minestra di Verdura (Vegetable Soup)
In a large soup pot, heat the oil over medium heat and sauté the onion, carrots, and celery for 4 to 5 minutes, or until the onion is golden. Add the garlic and stock, stirring to scrape up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Increase the heat to medium-high and add the potatoes and zucchini. Cook for 10 minutes, then add the cavolo nero and leafy greens. Decrease the temperature to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes. Add the beans and aromatic herbs. Simmer for 10 minutes to heat the beans through. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve in warmed soup bowls.
Day 2: Minestra di Pane (Bread Soup)
In a saucepan, warm the leftover soup over medium-low heat. Place very thin slices of country-style bread in the bottom of a lightly oiled baking dish. Spoon one-third of the hot soup over the bread, and repeat with two more layers of bread and soup. Cover and let stand or 15 minutes to 1 hour in a warm place before serving.
Day 3: Minestra di Pane al Forno (Baked Bread Soup)
In a preheated 375°F oven, heat the leftover Bread Soup in its baking dish. Sprinkle with chopped onion and drizzle with olive oil. Return to the oven and bake for 20 minutes, or until the onions are lightly browned.
Day 4: Ribollita (Recooked Vegetable Stew)
Lightly brush a medium skillet with olive oil. Spoon the remaining Baked Bread Soup into the pan and brown over medium heat for 4 to 5 minutes, or until crisp on the bottom. Turn and cook for about 4 to 5 minutes to crisp the second side. Drizzle lightly with olive oil and sprinkle with freshly ground black
pepper. The ribollita should be firm enough to eat with a fork. Serve at once.