Tuscan cuisine is famous all over the world and the really good thing about is that’s it’s usually quite simple to rustle up yourself. The most important thing is to get the best quality ingredients you can find so try not to go for flavourless supermarket buys if you have an alternative.
These recipes include an antipasta starter, a vegetable soup first course, a meat second course, a fish and herb side order and a dessert. They are all Tuscan classics but it is not intended that you make all these things together unless you want to explode.
Crostini di Fegatini (Little Livers on Toast)
A permanent feature of Tuscan antipasti, some find this paté to be a rather acquired taste. Liver is not usually at the top of my shopping list but I don’t have a problem hoovering this up particularly when it’s served warm!
» 1 Onion
» 450 grams of Chicken Livers
» Half a glass of Dry White Wine
» Splash of Chicken Stock
» 1 Tablespoon of Capers
» Butter to fry
» Salt & Pepper
» Crusty Bread
Brown a finely sliced white onion in butter then add the chicken livers, salt and pepper. Allow to cook for 5 minutes then add half a glass of dry white wine. When the wine has evaporated from the pan add a bit of chicken stock. Take out the livers and whizz in a blender or cut finely depending on how rustic you want your paté to look. Put the liver back in the pan and add the crushed capers. Remove the mixture from the pan and spread the paté onto slices of toasted bread. Serve with salami, prosciutto, ham, mortadella etc. for an unrivalled meat-feast!
Traditionally made by reheating yesterday’s minestrone, reboiled vegetables and stale bread might not sound impressive but this is a Tuscan classic that has made the transition from peasant dish to restaurant cuisine with ease. This recipe is all about slow cooking so plan a few days ahead for the most authentic taste. This is just one recipe out of many possible combinations of ingredients. The reality is that you are supposed to use whatever vegetables and flavourings you have to hand so feel free to substitute leek, plum tomatoes, brussel sprouts, zucchine, chilli, rosemary, oregano etc.
» Tomato purée
» White Cannellini Beans
» Cabbage or Kale
» Olive oil
» Day old crusty bread
Soak the beans overnight or for at least 8 hours. Drain, rinse then cook them and conserve their water. In a pan with olive oil lightly fry finely sliced onion, carrot, celery and parsley. Add tomato purée and the water you saved from cooking the beans. Add cabbage, chard and potatoes. Add the beans and flavour with salt and pepper. Allow to cook well until all the vegetables have softened.
In a bowl place thin slices of grilled crusty bread and pour the soup on top. Let it rest for an hour or even a whole day to turn the bread into a tasty goo.
Return everything to a large pan and reboil before serving with a splash of olive oil and bits of garlic. Make your grandmother proud and see how long you can keep this soup going by adding more water and vegetables each day.
Bistecca Alla Fiorentina (Florentine Steak)
This is a thick cut of T-bone steak (traditionally from the Chianina breed in Arezzo but you can try Porterhouse or any good quality T-bone) cooked over hot coals and served very rare. It is obscenely good and brings out the carnivore in all but the most committed vegetarian. Make like the locals and chew on the bone like a lion to get the best of the meat.
» A good steak should be two fingers thick and weigh between 600-800 grams.
» Salt & Pepper
Bistecca Alla Fiorentina is traditionally cooked above a bed of burning charcoal. If, like me, you don’t have a bed of burning charcoal in your immediate vicinity you can see how you get on with a very hot grill. Regardless, the accepted wisdom is that the meat needs to be cooked 10 cm away from the fire/heat source. You need to watch out that flames and smoke do not touch the meat. You also need to be aware that cooking time is short so have your wits about you.
Warm the grill and cook one side of the steak quickly until it comes off the grill without sticking to it. Turn and salt the cooked side generously. When the other side has cooked turn and salt generously again. Quickly turn again and add pepper. Turn and add pepper to the other side. Finish with another quick turn to resalt both sides again.
Don’t be alarmed by the amount of salt used. Salting the parts which are already roasted only flavours the parts of meat that need it so don’t be afraid to salt liberally. It is very important not to salt the meat before cooking as this dries the meat out. Serve piled high and bleeding with a wild green salad and fried potatoes.
Foglie di Salvia Fritte (Fried Sage Leaves)
Something a little unusual for you here. This delicious dish is normally cooked in the late spring (May/June) when the sage plant has put out its new leaves. If the plant has been correctly pruned they are intensely green and as large as two fingers. If you pick them after they are tastier but tougher so the choice is yours.
» Sage leaves
Wash the sage leaves and allow them to drain. Prepare a thick pastry with the flour, egg and a pinch of salt (not too much because the sage and anchovies have their own saltiness). Clean and descale the anchovies (or use fillets if you want an easy life) and cut them in pieces the size of your fingernail. Get two sage leaves and put the anchovy pieces inside like a sandwich. Wrap that in some of the pastry and press around the edges to close. Fry in hot oil.
Biscottini di Prato (Little Biscuits of Prato)
In Prato they say “I biscottini e il morellino ci danno l’ultimo ritocchino!” which means that these little biscuits and morellino wine complete a meal. I couldn’t agree more but you might find you can stomach them equally well as an aperitivo or sweet treat any time of day. For extra cunning they can be frozen in their uncooked state so that a quick rummage in your freezer can yield freshly cooked biscuits in less than half an hour.
» 800-900 grams Flour
» 700 grams Sugar
» 250 grams Sweet Almonds
» 4 egg Whites
» 4 whole Eggs
» Dash of Orange Flavouring/Zest
Toast the almonds on a tray in a hot oven for a few minutes and put aside. Beat the whole eggs and sugar with a whisk until the mixture stiffens. Add the flour, almonds and orange flavouring and work into a paste. Mould pieces of the paste into oblongs as wide as two fingers and let them rest in a dish for an hour. This is the point at which you might like to freeze them. If you want them ready now brush with the egg whites before putting the biscuits in the oven for around 15 minutes until they colour. Get them out and cut diagonally into 2cm slices so they get their characteristic shape. Put them back in the oven at a lower temperature for another 10 minutes or so to finish cooking and get super crunchy. Enjoy these biscuits with dipped in Morellino, Vin Santo or Marsala wine.
Good luck and happy cooking!