Cooking Like a Tuscan

Ciao Readers!

Now that my urge to cook foreign food has subsided, I have taken up trying to make quintessential Tuscan dishes!  I knew each region of Italy had its own food history and specialties, but I didn’t realize what an art form eating here really is.  I kinda had a general sense of “Italian food” but hadn’t realized the countless variations (and which ones are and are not native to our new home).  Take for instance basil and tomatoes – NOT Tuscan (found further South, like in Sicily). Risotto?  Nope, go North to Milan.  (Before I ran out of school time, I attended an afternoon class on Tuscan food traditions).

Tuscan food is based on bread.  And not just any bread – thick, unsalted bread (which no one else in Italy likes).  The cuisine is based on bread because that’s what the poor folks back in the middle ages could afford that would fill them up (they used to actually make the plates for the rich people out of bread, then eat the plates with the yummy tastey-bits afterwards – if I understood my teacher correctly….).  The bread is unsalted because…well, it depends who you ask.  According to common wisdom, the bread is unsalted because Tuscan food was heavily seasoned (back in the day before refrigeration it would cover the funky smell of old rabbit and boar, which the rich could afford to eat), and you don’t want salt in your bread to compete with salt in your food.  According to my former teacher (who does seem to know everything about Florentine culture pre-1600), that is a myth and the truth is that there was a high tax on salt back in the 1200’s, so everyone stopped using it in protest and it became a tradition which never died.  You can find both explanations on the internet, so take your pick.

Pretty much all of the food culture in Tuscany (like the art), was solidified by the end of the 16th century (gelato being the exception, soon followed).  The newest “traditional” addition was white beans, brought back by Columbus.  On a related note, one of the Medicis, Catherine, married a French dude (King Henry II) in the mid 1500’s and moved to Paris.  According to my teacher, much of what we consider traditional French cuisine was actually adapted from the Italian specialties Catherine’s cook (who she brought with her) made, such as crepes, bechamel and duck a l’orange.  (When I asked my teacher if Catherine brought any French foods back to Italy he unhesitatingly said “Non!”).

One of the many uses of Tuscan bread includes “fettunta,” – simple grilled bread rubbed with garlic and then covered by another Tuscan staple – olive oil.  But not any olive oil – fresh, newly pressed, unfiltered green olive oil.  Since we are in the middle of olive oil pressing season, this is THE time of the year to enjoy this simple tasty treat.  We bought some of this lovely green oil and made our own fettunta:

Another Tuscan bread staple is “ribollita” (literally “reboiled”) – a soup made with leftover veggies (but almost always carrots and either kale or cabbage), beans, and stale bread.  I had my first ribollita at a lovely lunch with a couple from Boston (who attended my school), so I know the one I made here was pretty darn close to the real deal (bread not pre-soaked for display purposes only):

Since we had all that great bread and olive oil, I figured I’d make a few more-or-less Tuscan (at least Italian) delights.  I made my own riff on caponata (on the plate with the fettunta and some yummy pork-based antipasti) as well as a variety of crostini (green = pesto, less green = artichoke, off white = garlic/bean spread, white speckled = “truffled” cream cheese spread).  YUM, YUM, YUM!!!

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20 Comments

  1. I really miss the Florentine food! There is so much to learn about italian food. The different traditions, tastes, the polenta in the north (with “coniglio” or mushrooms) or the fabulous fish-dishes in the South. That could be a great culinary-journey, right? About the “pomodori” (=pomo d’oro), have a look at this site: http://www.pacsnc.it/storia-di-un-gusto-italiano.php. Most people think that the tomatoes were used in Italy since the Romans, but they came much later… Same thing for the pizza as we know it now (see: http://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Storia_della_pizza). I’m looking forward to your next post about food ;-) Buon appetito intanto!

    Reply
  2. eh brava ! complimenti. Vera di Torino, (agnolotti, frittata Valdostana, pane all’olio (e fatto col sale!), lepre affogata (nel barolo), bagna cauda, zabaglione, gianduiotti…).

    Reply
    • Oh Vera: adoro gli agnolotti, la lepre affogata. Bagna cauda… zabaglione e gianduiotti… Sono cresciuta in Lombardia con i brüscitti, la polenta con i brüscitti e la lüganiga o l’urgiada (zuppa d’orzo), la polenta accomodata, polenta maritata. I vari risotti… E in quanto dolci: gli amaretti di Saronno (e Gallarate) e i brutti e buoni di Gavirate (sono letteralmente cresciuta con il loro sapore in bocca ;-)). O i pizzoccheri valtellinesi, la polenta taragna… polenta e osei… varrebbe davvero la pena creare un blog con tutti i piatti tipici regionali, no? ;-)

      Reply
      • Thanks for reading and for those great links – I though about mentioning that tomatoes were relatively “new,” so I am glad you did!

      • ahi ahi che nostalgia. Che bei ricordi susciti ! Grazie del tuo commento. Anche io son cresciuta in Italia, a Torino. Come te ho sempre mangiato cosi’, come si mangiava allora in famiglia. Da re ! magari da reginette, no?
        Son venuta qui nel ’60 quando ho sposato un Americano. Ma l’Italia non mi e’ mai uscita da dentro. E ne sono fiera.
        Vedi l’email mio nel gravatar e fatti viva se vuoi.
        Si’ si’, sarebbe bello fare un blog autentico di cibi italiani. Per esempio chi conosce qui le palline in agro-dolce di mia nonna, il budino della signora Adele di mia mamma (una specie di quiche glorificata) ? i semplici piselli in umido ? le carote fritte al burro e condite col sugo di limone? le coste prima cotte al burro e poi accomodate con lo zabaglione fatto col vino rosso, (meglio se barbera) ? parliamone !
        Grazie, Vera

      • Vera, è un’ottima idea. Ti contatterò senz’altro. I piselli in umido, si. Faccio tanti piatti semplici, il gusto dell’infanzia… Ma riesci a trovare gli ingredienti da voi? Qui in Olanda trovo sì qualcosina, ma non tutto. Ma devo anche dire che ho rinunciato a riempire il bagagliaio di leccornie italiane. Ogni paese ha i suoi gusti e cerco di assaporarli quando sono li… nel frattempo mi accontento di quel che trovo qui e adatto le ricette. Tu come fai?

      • …. eh cara, alla mia eta’ la resistenza davanti al fornello manca; ho 75 anni e l’artrite galoppante. Stare in piedi a cucinare come si faceva o si fa in in Italia ed in altri paesi non mi riesce piu’. Pero’ essenso Italiana sono inventiva ed ho sviluppato certe tecniche di cucina-in-10-minuti, o senza- gurdare, che mi vanno bene ma non cucino piu’ proprio tutti i giorni. Consumo molte cose crude e semplici. GIi ingredienti veri nostri sono adesso piu’ reperibili di un tempo, sapendo dove trovarli beniteso. Spostandomi dalla California all’Idaho per stare con mia figlia piu’ giovane, ho perso tutte le cose autentiche che trovavo la’. C’erano i limoni di Sorrento la’ !! Ma e’ anche vero che c’e’ del buono dove ci si trova. Pero’ non si vive di sole patate ! Per ora ho il caffe’ Illy; il cioccolato Lindt (ma mi preoccupo : comprati dalla Nestle’ ??? oddio); frutta e verdura fresca di stagiono dall’orticello, (finito adesso); formaggio Gruyere se pago il prezzo; dello yogurt “greco” che’ e’ meraviglioso… molti tipi di pane buonissimi ma nemmeno uno italiano (dico io); ed altre cose che ti devo poi far vedere in foto. Me la cavo sai. Quel che mangio mi va bene.
        Far le cose come si fanno/facevano da noi ancora le so. Dovremmo pensare ad un blog un po’ diverso, legato magari ai ricordi di infanzia, e magari a volte e con la mia tecnica veloce per gli anziani o per i pigri, e la tua per famiglie con bambini. … Una ricettina alla volta. Insomma pensiamoci !
        Qui ho un mio alloggio grande, col fornello e col frigo; sono libera di trafficare come voglio qui nel mio. Ci risentiamo ?
        Ho letto il tuo blog sulle lingue, interessante e tanto vero.

      • Forse ti piacerebbe parlare con ”
        expatsincebirth” direttamente? Posso darti tue e-mail (c’e lo)?

      • Si’ certo per favore, le avevo chiesto di mandarmi i commenti sul mio mail – che e’ Rugantina e si trova su gmail. Grazie.

      • No problem – it’s done!

      • Hi, you can edit out that long comment you know. It is easy to do in WordPress. By now she must expat have read it.

    • Grazie! Sono felice che ti piace!

      Reply
  3. looks delicious, can I be one of your best virtual neighbour so I can invite myself at your table? ;)

    Reply
  4. Allora bella fiorentina nuova di zecca, che brava! anche l’italiano sai! you unleashed a Niagara of food memories in at least two people. I thank you, we thank you. I know little of true Tuscan food (due to “campanilismo”, about that later) so I read you with real interest! Ask your teacher about STIACCIATA please, a kind of pizza made with garbanzos (ceci). At home they did not make it so I only ever ate it in a little restaurant in Via Verdi, Torino, behind the opera house. You went up a flight of darkish stairs, and voila’, a hole-in-the wall place with delicious food.

    Reply
  5. Ako

     /  November 12, 2012

    Everything looks so delicious!

    Reply
  6. The oil! We had half of a suitcase when we returned from Provence. Isn’t it interesting that a bowl of root vegatables in a sauce is the basic poor people food around the world? France, Japan, Italy, Ireland.

    Reply
  7. The fettunta and all the bread with your toppings look sooo yummy! Now that’s all I’m craving. Thanks for the delicious post:)

    Reply

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