Tuscany

 

“I Toschi” or Tuscans are the direct descendants of the Etruscan. Tuscany is the heartland of Italy and it has contributed in a great measure to the Italic civilization. The Romans acquired from the Etruscans their traditions, their scientific, artistic and literary notions. In more recent times, during the Renaissance, this region was the birthplace of Botticelli, Cimabue, Giotto, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinciand Dante Alighieri, who by synthesizing the language used by the Sicilian poets and the Poets of “theDolce Stil Nuovo” became the “Father of the Italian language”. Other giants in the field of literature are Petrarca and Boccaccio. Machiavelli was a political philosopher who with Hobbes is considered one of the greatest analyzer of political power and whose principles are at the base of all political science study. He was an adviser to the Florence’s Medici family who ruled not only Florence but influenced the political landscape of that era using money, force or thru marriages.
By means of Catherine dei Medici who married Henry II, the future king of France, Italian cooking was introduced to France. The onion  soup, the duck  a l’orange, to only name two “very French” dishes, the sauces, desserts, food preparation, good table manners, elegant table settings and a new set of rules on how and when to serve certain foods, were brought into fashion and introduced by Catherina dei Medici and it became the French art of cooking.
In the Etruscan tradition, Tuscans consume two meals daily of first quality ingredients.
In Tuscany either in the large cities or in the country side, the vegetables, salads and fruits have a different taste because they are freshly harvested and consumed.


Tuscany is known for the numerous variety of beans cooked in many ways, for the Ribollita, bread and vegetable soup, for the Pappa al Pomodoro, a delicious mush that combines bread, tomato, fresh olive oil and spices: dishes with remaining traces of the Etruscan pulmentum,  porridge and the other well-known dishes like tripe, arista, the loin of pork, rigatoni, minestrone, sausages and salami.

 


The assortment of bread produced in Tuscany is made with flour, maize flour, chestnuts, potatoes or the combination of those ingredients, it can be fragrant with rosemary, saffron or other spices, kneaded with olive oil, pork fat, or eggs, sweetened with sugar, honey and can contain raisins, pine nuts, pork cracklings or tomato.

 

In the Island of Corsica, cooking trends are similar to the cooking of Tuscany apart from a large use of the abundant chestnuts and game.

 

The Appenino Tosco-Emiliano divide Tuscany from the confining regions and as the land rolls down towards the Tyrrhenian Sea, it creates a countryside with gently sloping green hills, orchards, vineyards and olive groves: a serene landscape made famous by Tuscan painters.
The ancient ruins, monasteries, farmhouses, villages, towns and cities placed amidst this green scenery, are evidence to the history of the people of this laborious region, rich of tradition and culture.

 

 

 

 

 

Florence

 

Florence is the capital of the region; because of its extraordinary artistic heritage, tourist from all over the world, visit this city that was the cradle of the Italian Renaissance. 
Since the tenth century, generations of artists have adorned Florence with churches, buildings, towers, great monuments, paintings, mosaics, and sculptures. The legacy of this glorious past can be perceived when strolling throughout the old streets or walking Ponte Vecchio, the old bridge on The Arno River.
The many museums are always crowded by the numerous visitors; in the banks of the Arno River, the countless boutiques are busy selling the local artisan goods, the trattorie and restaurants are temples where religiously following the simple and severe rules of the traditional peasant cooking of Tuscany, the best food is offered to the locals and travelers.
Florence is a lively commercial center active in the textile industry and with many artesian shops. Gucci, Salvatore Ferragamo, Cavalli and other fashion houses were founded in Florence. Small plants making leather goods and garments produce merchandise that continues a tradition of high quality products. Chianti wine is produced and exported in large quantities and it is an important component of the local economy.
Florentine food dispensed in restaurants or cooked at home is excellent.
Antipasti include crostini, a liver and spleen toasts, the finocchiona, salami with fennels, prosciutto, is a dry cured ham and is served with melon; popular pasta dishes are ceci e strisce, a soup of chickpeas and strips of handmade pasta, noodles with hare sauce, Minestra alla Fiorentina, a soup of Savoy cabbage, celery and white haricot beans, risotti, minestrone, and a delicious Zuppa di Verdure containing as many vegetables as possible…and beans.
Anguilla alla Fiorentina is eel coated with breadcrumbs and baked with abundant olive oil aromatized with garlic and sage; however meat is the main ingredient of many entrees. The grilled Florentine T-bone steak, called Bistecca alla Fiorentina, is a fare you won’t find anywhere in the world. The beef is made from the Chianina  bulls.
Pork chop with fennels, pot roast, stewed veal and chicken Florentine are fragrant with red or white wine; spinach is present in the Uova alla Fiorentina, pasty encases shells filled with sautéed spinach, butter and cheese, topped with a poached egg, sprinkled with cheese and baked a few minutes. Fagioli, beans are cooked in many ways: what makes them delectable is the good Tuscan olive oil. Cardoons Florentine are boiled than cooked with sautéed onions and butter. 
A large assortment of the tastiest and freshest vegetables and fruits in the world are offered daily in stores and in the open markets.
When in Florence, go to any market and in one of the kiosks you can sample the lampredotto  sandwich, a roll stuffed with a special tripe cooked with tomato, carrots, onions and spread with salsa verde, a sauce made with lot of parsley and olive oil, lemon or vinegar, capers, salted anchovy fillets, a little garlic and ground mustard seeds. 
Florentine popular  desserts: the crostate, sort of a tart, are stuffed with fruits, custard cream or ricotta, the buccellato, sweet bread stuffed with candied orange skins, and raisins, similar to theCavallucci di Siena; brigidini  are anisette flavored biscuits, cooked in a special griddle, similar to a waffle iron. 
The cantucci are baked all over Tuscany; they are crunchy biscotti cookies containing hazelnuts or almonds. The origin of the cantucci is claimed by every town in the region and every town claims the original version of it by adding a different flavor or spice like ginger, cinnamon, anise or peppercorns. The best companion to the cantucci is the Vin Santo a sweet dessert Tuscan wine to dunk the cantucci in to soften them and enhance their taste. 
The Cenci fritti are fritters made for Carnival, the apple and rice fritters are made for Saint Joseph; theZuccotto,  molded in a hemispheric bowl, is sponge cake, whipped cream, chocolate, nuts and liquor, similar to the Bomba  made with zabaglione in Emilia-Romagna. 
The abundance of chestnut trees in the area supports the making of desserts like castagnaccio which are chestnut flour pancakes aromatized with rosemary, also in a rich version with raisins, walnuts and pine nuts, and the Torta di Marroni a puff pastry tart filled with chestnut marmalade.
Local wines, served by the carafe are good accessories to conclude a Florentine meal.
The most popular varietals of grapes grown – Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot- produce the famous Chianti  and other types of local wines; the white wine produced with the Trebbiano  grapes is blended with other area’s wines to make the Bianco  Toscana  and Vernaccia.  
The cantucci are baked in Florence and all over Tuscany; they are crunchy biscotti cookies containing hazelnuts or almonds. The origin of the cantucci is claimed by every town in the region and every town claims the original version of it by adding a different flavor or spice like ginger, cinnamon, anise or peppercorns. The best companion to the cantucci is the Vin Santo a sweet dessert Tuscan wine to dunk the cantucci in to soften them and enhance their taste. 

 

 

 

 

Massa, Carrara, Prato and Pistoia

 

Massa and Carrara are destinations of discerning tourists; they are located in the northern part of the region, in a fertile valley with white mountains in the background where the white Carrara marble is extracted; on the shoreline are some of the best Italian seaside resorts. 
The costal area is famous for la zuppa di pesce, fish soup and seafood specialties, inland the following are a few of the specialties prepared: ravioli filled with cardoons called tordelli, polenta ficca, mixed with beans and cabbage, the torta di erbe, a pie made with a light pastry dough stuffed with leeks, spinach and onions and the Panigacci,  unleavened bread cooked in pans on embers to make sandwiches stuffed with salami and cheese or dunked in an aromatic and tasty porcini mushroom soup. High quality honey is produced in large quantities and for Christmas the Spongata  made with honey, chocolate and hazelnuts is the local preferred specialty.
Prato is noteworthy for the textile industry, Pistoia for the furniture industry, for the engineering industry in the production of means of transportation, for household goods, paper production and for the food industry. In these cities the stewed pork made with a special breed of wild pigs called Cinta Senese, it is simply made with onion and tomato, nevertheless those three simple elements combine to produce one of the worlds best pork dish. Other popular Tuscan dishes are well made as they are in the entire region.


 Mrs. Nancy Erdelyi wrote about her visit:

 

“We continued to the town of Carrara. Now I never really gave it much thought before that there was a town named Carrara. I guess I always thought that it was a type of marble or style of marble, not the name of a town. I was partly right. The town of Carrara is located in mountains which are made of marble and granite, but the marble is of the most luminous (bright) white coloring. This is where Michelangelo came personally to pick out the pieces of white marble that he would later carve into the beautiful Pieta sculpture (now in the Vatican) and the outstanding figure of David sculpture (now in Florence Italy). Up into the mountain we went by bus then they unloaded us into a small jitney-type bus to go 600 ft deep into the mountain to see how they excavate the granite and marble.  … It was interesting to watch and amazing to behold, the huge construction trucks driving away with the stone. It was almost every 15 minutes when one truck with smaller pieces of stone and another truck with large blocks of stone would leave and go down the mountain. Again and again. The (huge) volume of stone going out....I could not comprehend it…”

 

 

 

 

 

Lucca

 

Giacomo Puccini, one of the most famous Italian composers was born in Lucca in 1858 and from the year 1891, he lived in Torre del Lago, a small community outside Lucca where he composed Manon Lescaut, La Boheme, Tosca and Madam Butterfly.
Lucca is also well-known for the olive oil produced with  Frantoio  olives; the local olive oil is of a superior quality for its sweet taste and delicate flavor and the main reason for the delightful gastronomic specialties cooked in this area: the best dishes are the traditional cooking mostly rustic and with country origins. 
The zuppa frantoiana made with stale bread, Borlotti  beans, yellow squash, Tuscan kale and pancetta(salt cured bacon), can be sampled in many local trattorie, along with grilled hams and sausages or lamb simmered with herbs and olives or an antipasto with crostini,  prociutto, salami, pecorino cheese, sheep’s ricotta and grilled vegetables. From the nearby seaside resorts fresh fish are brought to Luccaand expertly cooked. Good wines from the Colline Lucchesi, the hills around Lucca, or from Monte Carlogo well with the local cooking. The Vin Santo is sampled with cantucci, almond cookies, castagnaccio  (a cake made with chestnut flour), or with a  crostata  (a fruit tart).

 

 

 

 

Pisa  and  Livorno

 

Pisa is famous for the leaning tower, also because it was the birthplace of Galileo Galilei, the astronomer and scientist who invented the thermometer, discovered the pendulum, experimented with magnets and the telescope among his many other findings. 
On the table, Pisa offers exceptional gastronomic specialties like the pappardelle with hare-tomato sauce, fish soups, beans and farro, the original grain where all wheat come from, and a delicate pecorino cheese that goes so well with the local sourdough bread made without salt. Another specialty is the Acqua Cotta, literally cooked water, a traditional soup made from fresh vine-ripened vegetables, poured over thick slices of bread and sprinkled with grated pecorino cheese.
The fish made “Leghorn” style and in the coastal areas are imitated all over Italy. The pasta and risotto with fish sauce are superb; the cacciucco  is a dish made with five different fish; in Leghorn they say one type of fish for every C in the word cacciucco,  the fish are cooked in a spicy sauce and served with toasted crusty bread.

 

 

Siena

 

Siena is the birthplace of Saint Catherina named Doctor of the Church; she dedicated her life to the poor and the sick and with her kindness, aspirations and ideas expressed in her Letters she was influential in the politics of the Church. Siena is an ancient and refined city; the University of Siena was founded in 1240, and the oldest banking institution in the word, Bank Monti dei Paschi di Siena was established in 1472. 
The Palio di Siena is a horse race among the seventeen contrade  which are the districts in which the city is parted; it is the most celebrated festival, and very competitive among the city’s inhabitants with bets, fights and dinner celebrations.
In Siena the cooking is elegant, at times simple, at times embellished with fresh herbs and spices to develop and balance taste and aroma. The pappardelle con la lepre, wide strips of pasta with hare sauce, zuppa di cavoli, a white cabbage soup, la panzanella, a salad made with day old bread, olive oil, fresh tomatoes, onions and basil, i fagioli  all’uccelletto, beans with olive oil, garlic, sage and tomato, or il cinghiale in umido, wild boar stew: to name some successful dishes. Local wines and cheeses are the best in the region and the Panforte di Siena, a cross between a honey-nougat cake and a fruit tart will conclude an enjoyable dinner.

 

 

 

 

Grosseto

 

Grosseto, the most southern Tuscan’s city is surrounded by the Maremma, a large marshland area rich of natural resource and game. Most of the marshes were reclaimed under the fascist regime and is now an attractive tourist destination.  Grosseto is about eight miles inland: the Maremma’s abundant game and the richness of the nearby sea have made this city a paradise for hunters and fishermen.
The Maremma  offers wild boars, deer, rabbits, hares, birds, snails, and a variety of vegetables; from the nearby shores and from  Orbetello  a mixture of seafood including mussels, clams, crabs, turtles, shrimps, eels, gray mullets, dentice, sea bream and cuttlefish, are cooked by housewives and by chefs in a brodetto-soup, grilled or in the traditional, simple and aromatic recipes called alla Maremmana,Maremma  style. 
In Grosseto  delicious Tuscan dishes can be tasted along with game and fish alla Maremmana, includingtortelli  with vegetables and ricotta,  gnocchi with Gorgonzola and mushrooms, tagliatelle  with stewed wild boar, turtle or crab soup, black rice with cuttlefish, sweet-sour dishes, fresh salads and vegetables and without fail side dishes of  fagioli,  Tuscan  beans. 
The island of the Giglio  is a busy resort located about ten miles from the coast. The strong Ansonicawines are produced in the island. Among their gastronomic specialties are octopus with mussels, a cold herbed lobster with fresh olive oil and a soup alla Gigliese containing many different varieties of fish and by adding baby octopus, a different, unique, sweet and pleasantly tasting brodetto is made.
Popular wines in Grosseto  are Morellino di Scansano and Monteregio- Massa  produced in the hills of theMaremma.

 

 

 

Arezzo and Castelfranco di Sopra

 

Arezzo is located in the Val d’Arno -Valley of the Arno River- on the upper hills where the Medici  fortress was built in the medieval era. 
The manufacture of gold jewelry, agriculture and the rearing of bulls are very important factors affecting the economy of the province of Arezzo.  
Part of the province is Val di Chiana where cattle are reared and their meat used for the famous steak alla Fiorentina.
This breed of cattle grows rapidly and can be slaughtered at an age of 1 ½ years, when the meat is red and very tender. These animals, raised in the Chiana  valley, can reach 4000 pounds and because the valley used to be marshland, the cattle developed long legs and in fact they are the tallest cows in the world. They cannot be raised in other locations because for unknown reasons they loose the characteristics that make them outstanding.
Chains, necklaces, earrings, rings, classical and modern designed jewelry are mostly manufactured in 18 karat gold. Some of the biggest wholesale gold jewelry dealers in Europe are located in the city ofArezzo .  
Arezzo  is a center for agricultural trade and it offers the tourists a relaxed    
atmosphere, medieval architecture, Etruscan and Roman artifacts, fantastic shopping and gastronomic delights.
Salamelle  piccanti,  pecorino  cheese with pears and honey, finocchiona,  a salame  with fennels, panzanella all’Aretina, a summer salad with bread and fresh tomatoes, eggs dough pasta called bringoli  dressed with tomato sauce, is hand made thick and irregular spaghetti, rabbit sweet-sour with vin Santovinegar, pulezze coi rocchi, turnip tops with blood sausages, gobbo all’Aretina, cardoons boiled then fried in olive oil, placed in layers in a pot with garlic and oil, covered with tomato sauce and aromatized with ginger and Chianina beef steaks: these are a few Aretinian  gastronomic specialties.
The local wines of Terra di Arezzo, are of good quality and sold at an affordable price.  The locally madeVin Santo goes well with torta di pane e mele, a tart made with bread, apple, honey, sugar and milk.

  

Castelfranco di Sopra

 

In theArnoRivervalley, Castelfranco di Soprais nested on the slopes of thePratomagno Mountain, halfway betweenArezzoand Florence.
It is a peaceful town surrounded by hills with vineyards, olive groves and countryside where grain, beans, sugar beets and fodders are grown.
The economy ofCastelfranco di Soprais also based on the breeding of fish, cattle and pork. Farmhouses with vegetable gardens, producing their own olive oil and wine have incremented tourism by offering lodging facilities including all meals and the possibility for their guests to experience the daily routine of everyday country life. It is called agriturismo. They offer their visitors a pleasant and relaxing stay, a fantastic landscape full of natural, artistic and historic details and typical Tuscan cooking.
Until recently my wife Terry’s cousins lived inCastelfranco diSopraand we visited them a few years ago. They owned the only drugstore in town and were gracious hosts. After a tour of the countryside and the medieval town, a dinner prepared by her cousins Daniela and Paolo Carrara was offered to us. It was a sample of simple gastronomic delights of modern Tuscan cooking.Crostinicovered with freshly pressed olive oil and a delicate cream of herbs and greens; homemadepappardellewith a creamyporcini mushroom sauce and as main dish herb scented roast loin of pork, with potatoes, also a delicious salad and to conclude a dish of cheeses and salami; all this served with local young and light wine from the nearbyChianti region.
Now Daniela and Paolo are living in Florence but I think that they spend their vacation in Castelfranco di Sopra.