Tag Archives: Tuscany

Fusilli alla Toscana

This is a summer dish, plain and simple. Why am I making this during the Thanksgiving holidays?

Because it’s there. And because I didn’t want to bust out the grill simply to make some bistecca alla florentine (T-Bone on the grill for those who are too disinterested to look that kind of stuff up yourself). Yup, I make food choices based on how lazy I wish to be. And this recipe is for those who don’t really want to think too much about how to cook.

It’s quite good however, and the leftovers heat up nicely the next day.

  • 1 lb of Fusilli pasta (That’s the squiggly sort)
  • 2 Tblspns of butter
  • 2 Tblspns of Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 6 oz of fresh basil, chopped
  • 6 oz pecorino cheese, diced
  • 1 28oz can of chopped tomatoes
  • Salt (to taste)
  • Ground Black Pepper (to taste)
  • 8 oz Ricotta Salata, grated (Ricotta Salata is solid Ricotta, very dry)

In a large stock pot, bring water to a boil. Place fusilli in boiling water and cook as per directions on the pasta box.

In a 12″ skillet, over medium heat, melt butter with olive oil. When butter has completly melted, add garlic and 3/4 of the basil and combine together with a spatula. Cook for 4 minutes.

Add tomatoes, juice and all into skillet. Salt and pepper to taste. Cook for an additional 5 minutes. Turn off heat.

When pasta is complete (al dente), drain and add to the skillet. Toss the pasta with tongs, coating pasta with sauce. Top with diced pecorino and continue to toss.

Plate, an top with grated ricotta and garnish with remaining basil.

Serves 6-8

Chianti – The Tuscan Wine

When you talk about wines in the Tuscan region, one varietal dominates: Chianti.

For me, everytime I hear “Chianti”, I think of Hannibal Lector and his penchant for red wine with beans. Those of us who may be a bit older, may think of Chianti as the wine that is bottled with wicker adorning the bottom of the bottle. It’s due to this image that some folks think that Chianti is on the lower end of wines.

But Chianti is far more complicated and esteemed than that. It has a history that goes back to before 1000 AD. The territoy of Chianti starts just south of Florence
and ends just north of Siena. This is the Chianti Region, and many wines come out of here claiming (rightfully or wrongly) as Chiantis. But as with most wines, it’s not that simple.

To be qualified as a true Chianti, a wine has to be more than made from the grapes within the Chianti region. The wine has to be comprised from at least 80% of the Sangiovese grape, and the rest of the composition has to meet with the production standards set by the Consorzio del Marchio Storico-Chianti Classico. Once these standards are met, the wine can be called Chianti Classico, and wear the seal of the Consortium (pictured above). If you don’t see that seal, you’re probably taking a leap of faith.

Chianti, as with most Italian wines, is best when paired with food. That’s its raison d’etre (or should I say “motivo essere”). Below are some some basic tips when dealing with this most Tuscan of Tuscan wines.

Colour: bright, ruby red.
Bouquet: good grapey with a perfume of violets.
Flavour: dry, smooth and velvety.
Temperature: serve at 64°F.
Suitable with: almost all foods and meats.

Chianti Riserva(Riserva indicates a wine which has been aged in the barrel at least three years.)
Colour: deep red.
Bouquet: full bodied and subtle, with a hintof violets.
Temperature: serve at 68-72°F. The bottle should be opened an hour before serving.
Suitable with: roast meats, duck game and hard, mature cheeses.

Risotto alla Finocchiona

My first “official” Tuscan dish (Actually the Fritatta con Cipolle was the first, but I didn’t note it in the post), this came out quite nice.

  • 1/2 lb baby spinach
  • 6 cups of water
  • 2 Tblspoons kosher salt
  • 2 Tblspoons butter
  • 1 sweet onion, diced
  • 1/2 lb finocchiona(or other Italian sausage)
  • 3 cups Arborio rice
  • 1 wine glass dry white wine
  • 2 cups of whole hazelnuts, shelled and skinned
  • 1 Tblspoon ground pepper

Place spinach in a large bowl. Cover with water and stir in salt. Remove the Spinach, and set aside the water for later. Dry the spinach with paper towels and also set aside.

In a large cast iron skillet , over medium-high heat (or stock pot, if you are lacking said skillet), melt the butter, and add the onion. Cook for 5 minutes, until close to translucent.

Add the finocchiona to the pot and allow to brown, 2-3 minutes. Add the rice, and toast in the sausage oil for 2-3 minutes, and then add the spinach. Cook until spinach begins to wilt. Lower the heat to a simmer and add the glass of white wine. Cook until the wine evaporates. Add Pepper and stir in.

Add a ladleful of set aside water and begin to stir. The water is added 1 or 2 ladlefuls at a time while the rice cooks, and you must stir frequently to obtain the right creamy texture for this dish. Feel free to taste test in order to get correct texture. When rice becomes al dente in texture remove from heat. Plate and serve.

Serves 4-6

Finocchiona: A Tuscan Salame

I sorta kinda cajoled Tara into having the Frittata con Cipolle yesterday morning, which was somewhat unkind of me, as she’s not fond of the texture of cooked eggs. In shopping for ingredients, I thought it would be best to offer something more than simply the onion frittata.

We agreed upon a demi-baguette, an easy enough choice. Some fontinella cheese was also agreed upon. And as we walked to the Deli counter, I saw the perfect choice: Salame.

Now before you get all bent out of shape, “salami” is the plural of “salame”, so I believe I am using the word correctly.

There were all sorts of Italian meats in the deli counter, and lo and behold, right in front was a Finocchiona. I had no idea what that meant.

What I do know is that cured meats are a big deal in Italy. Each region has a cured meat which is particular to that region. Prosciutto is the pride of Parma. Mortodella (from which we get our boloney) comes from Bologna. And finocchiona?

Tuscany…specifically the town of Prato! I had ignorantly stumbled upon the Tuscan Salame.Legend has it that finocchiona owes its origins to a thief at a fair near the town of Prato, who stole a fresh salami and hid it in a stand of wild fennel. When he returned for it, he found it had absorbed the aromas of its hiding place. There are two varieties of finocchiona, sbriciolona, which is very fresh, and something of an acquired taste, akin to fresh sausage, and finocchiona proper, which is firmer, and is what you’re more than likely to find in your local deli.

What comprises finocchiona? Well, fennel we’ve already mentioned (finocchio means ‘fennel’), but it also has been made with peppercorns, garlic, and 4 year-old Chianti (which ensures that it’s a Tuscan Salame).

Finocchiona is a wonderfully full spiced meat. The Chianti within it is apparent, and the fennel gives it that little zing that I like in all of my cured meats. It would make a great antipasti and it’s best sliced not too thinly, served with saltless Tuscan bread.

Italian Cuisine: Tuscany (foods)

Before going into great detail, I should let you know that I have never been to italy. All writing on Italy has come from reading a variety of books, websites and magazines, too numerous to mention, but if you would like a reading list, I’d be more than willing to provide one. That being said, there is one book which I am finding to be a treasure, Waverly Root’s The Food of Italy. The book is out of print by many years, but if you find it in your used book store (that’s where I found mine), absolutely pick it up.

Now.. onto Tuscany.

The region of Tuscany is dominated by the city which gave birth to THE Renaissance, Florence. The everyday cuisine of Tuscany (or Toscana if you want to be official) reflects the renaissance ideal well. When you think of a renaissance man, you think of a person who thinks progressively, has interests in many things, and yet doesn’t indulge in any one specifically. Many recipes from the region reflect this mindset.

One of the things that suprised me was how much of a meat Tuscany eats. With the improper mindset that Italian food consisted over pasta dishes, I was pleasantly surprised to find out how much meat the Tuscans grill. Bistecca alla Fiorentina (Beef of Florence) is probably one of the more popular dishes in Florence, if not Tuscany itself, and it’s simply a T-bone steak, brushed with olive oil, salt, pepper and rosemary; marinaded for one hour, and broiled over an aromatic wood, often olive tree wood. How simple is that? Yet the idea of it grilling over olive tree wood makes my mouth water and brain shudder with bliss.

It’s no surprise that beef features prominately in Tuscany, considering that it’s home to the Chiana Valley (near the center of Italy), home of the Chianina steer. This steer is known world wide as being one of the premium breeds of cattle, primarily because the beef is grass raised and has a very lean meat. Yes Italy is known more for the pork and seafood, but their beef should *not* be discounted.

Tuscany is also a “game” region, with many dishes containing animals found in the woods of the area. Boars,venison and hares often are used in dishes, especially in winter , but pheasant and pigeons are also found in dishes throughout the region.

The region also carries a big seafood influence (as do most of the regions in Italy), with Tuna and sardines from Elba (yes, Napoleon’s Elba), Crab and Lobster from Giglio, Red Mullet from Ansedonia, and eel from Orbetello all combine to provide Tuscany with a wealth of food from the seas.

In Tuscany, beans are nearly ubiquitous and are easily found in many dishes including riso e fagioli(rice and beans),fagioli con tonno(beans and fish) and lenticchie e fagioli (beans and beans.. okay, lentils and beans, but come on!). Other Tuscan veggies include chard, zucchini, and artichokes.

My point here is not to ignore traditional Italian foods that we may recognize (pasta, salami, pecorino cheese, etc), but to show the varieties available to the Tuscans. They eat simply, but they eat well. If I had to compare it to another cuisine, it would be the simplicity of Japanese cuisines, where the ingredients are uncomplicated by excessive herbs and spices. They are certainly there, but they don’t dominate the food.

I’ll cover desserts and wines in seperate posts. Meanwhile, I’ll go ahead and start looking for Tuscan specific recipes. I know, I know; it’s a tough job, but I think I am up for the task.