At Tuscookany we love bruschetta, the best Italian starter ever. Known outside of Italy, its name still confuses many. Learn how to pronounce and make it correctly.
Bruschetta is a traditional Italian starter dish, which consists of grilled bread, garlic, olive oil, salt and, very often, tomatoes. Different regions of Italy add their own “twists” to a traditional bruschetta by adding other veggies, cheeses or meat. However, the tomato bruschetta remains the most popular and the all time favourite variation.
Bruschetta is correctly pronounced as brew-sket-ta [bruˈsketta]. Many English speakers, however, tend to turn the “sch” into [ʃ] sound, which, quite frankly, drives most Italians mad. Therefore, if you do not want to fall out of favour with your Italian friends or, God forbid, our Italian chefs, you’d better learn it once and for all, that there is [sk] sound in the middle of bruschetta.
The name itself comes from the verb bruscare – “to roast over coals”. It is said that originally olive oil producers used toasted bread to taste their freshly pressed olive oil. While bruschetta is thought to come from the Middle Ages, it is believed that it might be a lot older, going back to the Roman or Etruscan times.
Neutral unsalted Tuscan bread is perfect for bruschetta, as it absorbs the flavours of newly pressed extra virgin olive oil, ripe, sweet and juicy red tomatoes, aromatic fresh basil and ever-essential garlic. This is a match made in heaven. Bruschetta seems easy to make, and it is indeed not the most difficult meal on earth, but the freshness of the ingredients and right proportions make a huge difference. Therefore, while bruschetta can be made and eaten all over the world, it tastes nowhere better than in Italy.
Thanks to our chefs and our wonderful garden, here at Tuscookany we are lucky to enjoy amazing bruschetta. Provided you can easily find the right ingredients, we are sharing our Chef Laura’s recipe with you here:
Laura’s Tomato Bruschetta:
6 fresh ripe tomatoes
6 slices country-style white bread
2 cloves garlic
Salt and pepper from the mill
10 fresh basil leaves
- Slice the tomatoes in half and remove the seeds. Dice into small cubes (1/2 inch). Mince the garlic cloves. Tear the basil leaves into small pieces.
- Place in a bowl, add 3 tablespoons of olive oil, salt and pepper and stir
- Grill the bread on both sides. While it is still hot, brush one side generously with garlic oil, or rub with a peeled mashed garlic clove, and drizzle a thin stream of olive oil
- Top it with the diced tomato mix. Serve while still warm
And if you want to try a true Italian bruschetta, why not to come to Italy and join one of our cooking courses? Our Tuscookany chefs will be happy to share their secrets!
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Learn more about this traditional Italian flatbread and find out how to make the Tuscookany version which our guests enjoy so much. It’s time to put the heat on!
Here at Tuscookany focaccia is always a hit among our guests. Who does not like this wonderfully simple bread that can be enjoyed both in combination with other food or on its own. Today we will tell you its story.
A BIT OF HISTORY
You can find flatbreads of different kinds pretty much in any corner of the earth, especially in its Eastern parts. However, probably with the only exception of the pitta bread, focaccia is by far the most famous of them all. Whether it’s the Italian origin that attracts eaters, like pizza, pasta or gelato, or just its absolute deliciousness, go figure! We are inclined to believe it might be both…
Historians believe that focaccia originates from the Ancient Greeks or with the Etruscans who inhabited the territory of modern Tuscany, part of Umbria and Lazio. The name comes from the word “focus”, which means “fireplace” or “hearth” in Latin. The bread indeed was cooked over the open fire or on heated stones in the antiquity. The ingredients were simple back then and the basic recipe has not changed much to this day. Flour, water and olive oil are the three essentials. Focaccia can then be topped with coarse salt, rosemary, cherry tomatoes, onion or other veggies and is considered to be a pizza prototype.
REGIONAL TYPES OF FOCACCIA
When travelling around Italy, you will surely notice that focaccia does not look or taste the same in the different parts of Italy. Its thickness, softness and toppings vary from one Italian area to another.
Liguria is considered to be the birthplace of traditional Italian focaccia. Foccacia ligure or genovese is about 2 cm thick and is soft inside, sprinkled with salt and brushed with olive oil. Recco focaccia (also from Liguria) consists of two thin layers and soft fresh cheese in between. Sardenaira originates in Sanremo, and it is focaccia with anchovies or sardines.
Venetian focaccia is sweet, baked for Easter and resembles the traditional Christmas cake panettone. Sugar and butter are used instead of olive oil and salt.
Focaccia barese, which is common in Puglia in southern Italy, is made with durum wheat flour and topped with salt, rosemary, tomatoes or olives. There is also a potato version.
Tuscan focaccia, schiacciata, which means, “squashed”. Fingers are used to flatten it; hence the attractive dimples, with a sprinkling of olive oil all over its surface. Traditionally Tuscan focaccia is medium thick and medium soft but crispy on the outside. Salt and rosemary are its usual companions. However, throughout Tuscany you can also find a thin and crispy version as well thick and very soft. Tuscan panini with cheese and cold cuts often use focaccia for a base.
While other countries, for example France (foisse) or Spain (hogaza), have their own versions of this wonderful flatbread, focaccia retains its Italian essence and leadership.
TUSCOOKANY’S FOCACCIA TOSCANA
Our Tuscookany chefs love focaccia and have their own little secrets to make it perfect, which you could discover by joining us for an Italian or Mediterranean cooking course in Tuscany at Casa Ombuto, Torre del Tartufo or Bellorcia.
Here we are happy to share the recipe of focaccia toscana from “The Flavours of Tuscany” cookbook, created by Paola, Laura and Franco:
Ingredients (serves 6):
- 900 g (2lbs) of all-purpose white flour
- 0.5 l (1 pint) warm water
- 25 g (1 oz) fresh baker’s yeast or 12 g (1 pinch) of dry yeast
- ½ level tsp of sugar
- 1 tbsp of salt
- 10 tbsps of extra virgin olive oil
- extra virgin olive oil and coarse salt for cooking
Pour 7 Tbsp of water into a small bowl with the yeast and sugar. Leave until the ingredients froth.
Mix the flour in a large bowl with salt, then add the yeast, oil and warm (not hot) water, and mix thoroughly. To make the focaccia softer, replace the oil with 3 tbsp of lard. Add more water if necessary: the dough should be quite soft and sticky.
Let the dough rise under a damp cloth for about 90 minutes, in a warm place.
When it has risen, brush a baking sheet with oil, flour hands well and stretch the dough to a height of approximately 1.5 cm (2/3 in). Use your fingertips to make the characteristic “dimples” in the focaccia, brush with plenty of oil and sprinkle with salt. Add rosemary to taste and bake for about 25 minutes in a pre-heated oven to 180C (355 F).
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Read more about traditional stuffed pastas in our latest blog and come and join us here at Tuscookany - Cooking vacations in Tuscany to make many variations.
Stuffed pasta is one of the legendary cultural classics around here in Tuscany. Now, when I say “one” I actually mean “many”. In fact, there are so MANY recipes requiring some shape or form of stuffed pasta you would be amazed. Starting from the marvellous cannelloni going all the way down to the myriad of different flavours and representations the famous ravioli has brought to the table. Another reason why this is such an important cornerstone in the Italian culture is related to the fact that stuffing pasta - i.e. making ravioli/tortellini/casoncelli/fagottini/etc. - is a delicate process grandmothers teach to their daughters and granddaughters; a ritual passed down from generation to generation. Well, we also do it at Tuscookany but we always remind our guests that this is sacred territory: stuffing pasta is a BIG deal in Italy. Imagine this: flour on the table, sun outside, the ingredients placed in different bowls, a pestle & mortar for the spices, a rolling pin for the pasta… you know magic is about to happen!
When it comes to choosing the ingredients to compose the actual filling, you kind of make your own rules - from pork to chocolate and squash to mushrooms. Every corner of Italy has its own favourite fillings, which are often related to extensive traditions and the freshness of the seasonal ingredients. There is, of course, a combination made in heaven. One that has become extremely popular around Italy and indeed around the world: spinach and ricotta. The green flavour of the spinach combined with the creamy deliciousness and lightness of ricotta cheese produce an irresistible combination that can be enjoyed by those who love to eat and those who want to lose some weight. As a matter of fact, ricotta is extremely digestible and light as a feather. It is a whey cheese you can make yourself at home by combining 1 litre of warm milk with the juice of 1/2 a lemon and salt. Even vegetarians cannot find a good excuse to avoid this beauty. To finish it off, add a little butter and sage to your spinach/ricotta ravioli and that is all you will ever need to impress your guests: simple and unbelievable. Of course, you can always do more, if you are in the mood for some art!
Spinach and Ricotta Roll
This is precisely what it sounds like. Prepare the stuffing with butter, onion, spinach, ricotta and, if you want, a little egg and some Parmesan cheese. Spread the mix on a sheet of pasta, roll it and cook it for 45 minutes in the oven. Wait until it gets crispy, slice it and serve it with tomato sauce and pepper!
Go out and get some lumaconi! They are one of the shapes of pasta Italians love the most: big snails, literally. This time around, combine spinach, ricotta, nutmeg, salt and pepper. This is for the filling, of course. At the same time, you need a tomato sauce made with tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, a little oregano and pepper. Get ready with diced mozzarella too. Now, cook the pasta and place the lumaconi in a baking dish. Fill each “snail” with the stuffing and cover them with the tomato sauce and add the diced mozzarella. Allow it to crisp up in the oven for about 20 minutes at 190 degrees and you will find out what “miracle in the kitchen” really means.
Now, this is just pure fun. Cook your conchiglioni (big shells in Italian, a type of pasta). As you do so, prepare the stuffing with spinach, ricotta, salt, pepper and parmesan cheese. Fill the conchiglioni one by one with this divine combination. Place them in a buttered pan, add bechamel sauce and bake it all for 20 minutes at 230 degrees celsius. Trust me, this is delicious.
Are you ready to come to Tuscookany and allow us to teach you many variations of stuffed pasta which you can enjoy together with your fellow cooks together with delicious wine pairings!
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At Tuscookany we are not only fond of Italian cooking but wine and liquors too. Learn about Italian bitters and toast with us after your Cooking Class in Tuscany.
While almost every country in Europe has their own spirits to drink as an aperitif or digestif, Italians are particularly fond of theirs, and you will most certainly be spoilt for choice here. Amaro is a true star of the Italian liquors. Although, for a long time, it was considered to be an “Old Man’s drink”, it got its second wind in recent years and gains popularity in Europe and across the Atlantic.
“Amaro” in Italian literally means “bitter”, and bitterness is indeed the integral part of any amaro liquor. Most Amaro recipes are kept secret, but they are usually made with a selection of herbs, roots, citrus peel, flowers, spices and bark, which are macerated in base alcohol. Amaro can be aged in barrels, but not all of them are. The alcohol content is not set in stone either, and Amari usually contain anything between 16% and 40% ABV.
Most Amari are drunk after meals as a digestif to help your stomach cope with the abundance of Italian cooking. Some of these herbal drinks claim to have medicinal qualities and were originated in pharmacies and monasteries. One of the oldest Amari was created in this way. Benedictine monks from Abbazia di Santo Spirito in Sicily invented Amaro Averna in the early 19th century. Its recipe was then given to a merchant Salvatore Averna as a gift for his contribution to the community and the church. Salvatore initially produced the liquor for his farmhouse guests, while his son Francesco got the Royal patent and commercialized Amaro Averna all over the country.
There are countless Amari in Italy, and almost each region produces its own Amaro, some of which are more known to the international public than others. Allora, let us have a closer look at the most famous Italian Amari.
There are two most commonly used bitters which form the base for a truly Italian aperitivo:
Origin: Novara, Piedmont
When to drink: before meals
While Campari’s recipe is kept in secret, what we know for sure is that it includes water, alcohol and a number of bitter herbs and fruit such as chinotto and cascarilla. Some traditional Italian cocktails are Campari-based, for example Americano (Campari, red vermouth and soda water) or Negroni (Campari, gin, red vermouth and orange).
Origin: Padua, Veneto
When to drink: before meals
Among the known ingredients of the Aperol secret recipe, there are rhubarb, cinchona, bitter orange and various roots. Aperol became famous all over the world thanks to the excellent aperitif cocktail Aperol Spritz (Aperol, Prosecco and soda water).
Most Amari, however, are usually taken as digestivo and drunk neat or on the rocks (although they can also be used as cocktail ingredients):
Origin: Caltanisetta, Sicily
When to drink: after meals
The recipe was created by the Benedictine monks in the 19th century, and is based on Mediterranean herbs, roots, orange and lemon peel. It has mild bitterness and is quite sweet.
Origin: Pisticci, Basilicata
When to drink: after meals
This dark brown amaro is a blend of more than 30 herbs and it has a distinct bittersweet taste.
Origin: Milan, Lombardy
When to drink: after meals
Ramazzotti is a blend of 33 spices, including star anise, cardamom, cloves, myrrh and orange peel. It is full-bodied, dark brown with a bittersweet. This is also the liquor most favoured by owners.
Origin: Italy (created by a Venetian entrepreneur)
When to drink: before or after meals
Cynar is one of the youngest Italian Amari and appeared on the market only in 1950s. It is made of 13 herbs and roots, and the main ingredient is artichoke, or carciofo in Italian. The brand name originates from the artichoke’s botanical name cynara scolymus. Cynar can also be drunk as an aperitif.
Origin: Milan, Lombardy
When to drink: before or after meals
The base ingredient for this Amaro is rhubarb, combined with other spices, roots and citrus peel. It may not be widely available on the international market, but is quite common and easily sourced in Italy. It can also be taken as an aperitif.
Origin: Milan, Lombardy
When to drink: after meals
This Amaro, created in the late 19th century, is made of a blend of different herbs, flowers and spices, including chamomile, cinnamon, aloe, saffron, rhubarb and iris.
Amaro del Capo
Origin: Capo Vaticano, Calabria
When to drink: after meals
This Amaro is lighter in style and is to be consumed ice cold. The herbal and fruit ingredients include tangerine and orange peel, chamomile, licorice, mint, anise and juniper.
Having an aperitivo or digestivo is one of those Italian drinking habits, which go side by side with taking café after every meal (careful, cappuccino can only be drunk in the morning!), or to accompany food with wine. We love this Italian drinking etiquette, and you could enjoy most of the above Amaro liquors as part of your cooking vacation with Tuscookany as well as during your eating “routine” anywhere in Italy.
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A unique opportunity to win two spots at the Italian cookery course at Casa Ombuto running from 13-20 May 2017. More details on the Tuscookany Facebook page
One Facebook friend of Tuscookany has a chance of winning TWO free spots at the Italian cookery course at Casa Ombuto running from 13-20 May 2017. If you would like to qualify please share this link with the picture on your own Facebook page and send us a message why you think you should win this and include your email address. The most original message will win!! We will decide at noon Friday so you have time to book your flights!! Good luck!
The Tuscookany Team !
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Photo: "The flavours of Tuscany" La bistecca alla fiorentina page 145
The smell of the Tuscookany aromatic salt makes your mouth water even before you start cooking! Read about the best combinations and have fun experimenting!
Salt is no joke, let me tell you that. Italians say il cuoco lo fa il fuoco, which means the fire is the real cook (i.e. use it carefully, it’s like a musical instrument, not a simple tool), but if that is true salt is certainly the waiter. It carries the flavour to the table, it defines whether or not you will have a good experience and, if it wants to, it can really mess things up. I will try quite hard to forget those who add salt to the dish before tasting it, a severe crime punishable by a portion of bad pasta in Italy. Seriously, do not do it. This said, I will insist in reiterating that salt has a soul and a purpose, which is not simply to make things… well, salty.
Did you know that certain molecules in our dishes find an easier way to the air thanks to our special waiter? You could almost say it helps define the strength of the aroma, and if you have ever been at an Italian grandma’s house on Sunday you might know a powerful aroma is a quasi religious experience. As a matter of fact, taste is partially defined by the smell. Also, salt balances sweetness and sourness (e.g. a pinch of salt in your cake, hello?) and can suppress bitterness. Do you still think salt is bland? Yes? All right. Then, let me introduce to the ultimate salty experience: aromatic salts.
Lemon, Orange Or Tangerine?
Choose your tone, get ready and grate it! You can go with lemon peel or orange, or maybe tangerine if it is the right season. What matters is that you only need 1 fruit for every 3/4 spoons of coarse sea salt. Suddenly, in no time, you will own a weapon to turn a white meat, crustaceans or any fish-based meal into a symphony of citrusy, salty notes, which is basically the Mediterranean itself.
Lavender, Oregano Or Rosemary?
I am thinking about mixing salt with fresh lavender flowers or maybe some dried oregano or rosemary. A favourite at Tuscookany is a mix of rosemary, sage and garlic and coarse salt placed in a food processor and ground down. Place it in a jar and use it whenever you feel like it. Sprinkle it over your roast vegetables before putting them into the oven or sprinkle over your roast meat or steak or just add to your soup. You can rest assured that your neighbours will suddenly pop into your house, finding whatever excuse to spend time in your culinary sanctuary. It happens all the time at our Tuscookany villas, and the aroma is to blame! It attracts people like a magnet. It’s simply irresistible.
Spice and Mix It Up
Here is where is gets funny. Go crazy. I am serious - just open your fantasy. Chili pepper powder with rosemary and salt? Someone told me Simon and Garfunkel used to make aromatic salt with parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme… but I haven’t checked yet. Quite simply, you cannot go wrong, as long as you make sure you are using salt and not sugar. That would be bad. Now, are you still thinking salt is bland? No? I knew it!
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Learn more about this typical Italian dish with rosemary and garlic and come and learn to cook it with us at Tuscookany and enjoy with a delicious Tuscan wine
One of the most beloved Tuscan recipes, a dish that could not be left behind at Tuscookany: the pollo alla cacciatora (literally, “chicken hunter-style” in Italian). The experts really cannot fully explain the origin of the name. In fact, the ingredients needed to cook the chicken in this delicious way come straight from the garden. That is correct, I am not going crazy: in order to cook something hunter-style, you basically do not need any hunter around, apparently. Sure, the Tuscan countryside is famous for being a land of hunters, as demonstrated by the love the locals have for game meat-based dishes. Some people claim the label can be traced back to a tradition among Tuscan hunters, who often used rosemary and garlic, two key ingredients of the recipe, to cook the meat they brought home. Surely enough, whenever you cook it, the pollo alla cacciatora conquers every corner of the house and turns you into a hunter looking for the source of the irresistible aroma. For me, that is the explanation behind the name. It makes sense, you can try and write me if you disagree (I am pretty sure you will not!).
Now, how do you cook it?
Well, surprise, you need a chicken. Remember, just like most of the classic Italian recipes, this is a dish that comes from poor households, villagers who cooked with whatever they found in their backyards. However, this is no excuse to forget that the same people cared deeply about the connection they had with their land. Every ingredient, starting from the chicken itself, was the expression of the organic relationship that existed between man and nature, the same connection that makes every dish of the Italian cuisine special. What does this all mean? Please, find a chicken that was raised in the countryside, organic veggies and the love you will need to cook it all to perfection. Plus, and this is a must, you need to enjoy the dish with your family and friends. In fact, the pollo alla cacciatora was and still is a special dish. It is not something you cook everyday, poor people could not afford it. Instead, it is a celebration of the love for conviviality and the gifts of a life spent in a continuous dance with the rhythm of nature.
Sorry for the digression, do you have the chicken? Good.
Wash it and dry it, and chop it up into pieces. In a pan, fry some garlic and onion. It is time for celery and carrots. Yes, the classic Italian soffritto. Let the mix brown before adding the chicken (with its skin!). Now, salt and a little white wine (or red, if you have red). Take your time, enjoy the cooking and when the time is right add rosemary and pepper. At this point, some people also add tomatoes. It is up to you. Personally, I believe it is not a real Tuscan pollo alla cacciatora without them, but the dish has travelled around the peninsula and there are variations. Serve it with parsley and close it all with a nice bottle of Tuscan wine.
You are officially a real hunter of Italian deliciousness! Enjoy it!
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Learn about Pizzas, the history of flat breads and the famous Margherita. Come to Tuscookany and we will teach you to make the best Pizzas you will ever eat!
It is quite impossible to think about Italian cuisine without mentioning, thinking about or imagining the crunchiness of a well-made pizza. Even here, in Tuscany, far from Naples, the city associated with pizza worldwide, there is no escape: the deliciousness of this comforting dish has conquered the entire peninsula and has crossed the national borders to become one, if not THE, symbol of Italian food. But where does it come from? Is it really a creation of the resourceful people of Naples? And what about the toppings and the classic Margherita? Scratching under the surface of today’s "junk-food" landscape we discover that our beloved pizza is a dish with ancient roots, an international soul and a mix of ingredients that brings together the entire human race.
A Prehistoric Pleasure
Are you looking for some flat bread, baked to perfection and maybe flavoured with garlic, herbs or onions? What about some cheese and dates or olive oil? A long, long time ago, way before the pizza became the perfect tomato-mozzarella triumph, people enjoyed baking flatbreads and adding toppings to enhance the flavour.
It is said that these traditions can be traced back to the Neolithic Age. Archeologists have found baked breads that can be dated back to 7000 years ago. Flat cakes - POMPEII
Certainly we know that the Ancient Greeks, the Persians, the Romans, the Chinese, the Etruscans, the Catalans and the inhabitants of India all shared this guilty pleasure. It was a pure expression of the combination of local ingredients. Ingredients included cheese and dates for the Persians and olive oil, garlic and herbs for the Romans and Ancient Greeks.
The Food of the Poor
Since the 16th century, in Naples, the pizza with tomatoes has been the food of the poor. It was a flatbread sold on street corners and enriched by tomatoes, thanks to the "discovery" of the Americas. The word "pizza" seems to be even older. In fact, apparently the world pizza or pizea entered the Neapolitan dialect in around 1000 A.D. Truth be told, at that time, the word did not mean "pizza", it is something related to the operation through which you take something out of a hot oven.
Your Majesty Margherita
Then June 11 1889 came and the world was introduced to the "real" pizza. The Neapolitan maestro and legendary pizza maker Raffaele Esposito decided to cook a pizza to celebrate the Queen consort of Italy, Margherita of Savoy. He was apparently inspired by the colours of the Italian flag: red (tomatoes), white (buffalo mozzarella) and green (basil). The Pizza Margherita was conceived, it was a huge success and since then has become the embodiment of pizza.
The pizza in Naples has remained special. Someone says it’s the water they use to make the dough. Others swear the secret is the buffalo mozzarella, the thin crust or the fresh ingredients. You just have to try it to believe it. Today in Naples there are over 1000 wood fired ovens that cook pizza everyday. It is more than a tradition, it is a way of life, a symbol of joie de vivre.
We have authentic wood burning ovens at all three of our villas at Tuscookany and you will learn on your cooking lessons in Tuscany to make traditional pizza dough and add toppings of your choice and bake it yourself. We love it!
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Chickpeas are healthy, delicious and so versatile. Learn more about this popular legume and its history and have fun cooking up a storm with us at Tuscookany
Known and appreciated for centuries, chickpeas are the representation of a long history that begins with their Italian and Latin name, respectively cecio and cicer. Marcus Tullius Cicero was one of the most powerful Romans of the 100 BC, a legendary figure who is remembered as lawyer, constitutionalist, politician, orator, political theorist, consul and philosopher. And do you why this exceptional being was called Cicero – or Chickpearo, if you prefer? Because it is said he had an outgrowth on the nose that looked like a chickpea (i.e. cicer). Of course, you will not find it in the official statues, but that is another narcisistic story.
Back to the Cecio
Chickpeas were famous even before the Romans came around. In fact, they have been one of the staple foods of the Mediterranean region since the Bronze Age. Truth be told, archaeologists found proof that the legume was used even in Iraq in prehistoric times. Back to the Mediterranean, we find our ceci (plural of cecio in Italian) in the ancient Greek language. The term kikus, which was used to identify the chickpea, meant “strength and power.” As a matter of fact, Greeks and Egyptians thought the legume was not only nutritious but also an aphrodisiac.
What is the reason for the success of this tasty little treasure? Quite simply, the fact that its plant (the Cicer Arietinum) is extremely easy to grow all year-round, even in sandy terrains. Furthermore, the legume is extremely rich in proteins and even today is the most used for human consumption after generic beans and soy. If their tastiness was not enough, it turns out ceci are very easy to preserve. All you need to do is dry them. Soak them for 12 hours in cold water and they will come back to life.
Another point in their favour: they are healthy, really healthy. In fact, they contain vitamin C, E, B1, B2, B3, vegetable proteins, phosphorus, magnesium, calcium, iron and fibres.
Chickpeas have a place in multiple cultures around the globe. In Italy, they are an historical key culinary player especially in Liguria, Tuscany (yep, that’s where we are!), Lazio and Umbria. The most famous Italian recipe that includes ceci is probably the pasta e ceci, but the Tuscan zuppa di ceci is the most beloved in the peninsula for its comforting texture. And the best thing is that chickpeas combine perfectly with other legumes, fish, molluscs and crustaceans, and they are delicious when eaten alone, even if they get cold.
A curiosity that demonstrates the centrality of the legume in the Italian culture, the idiom “in ginocchio sui ceci” (kneeling on chickpeas). Today, it is used to represent repentance and apology made by humbling yourself in front of someone. It actually comes from an old pedagogical tool used by Italian teachers who used to punish their young students by asking them to kneel on chickpeas. In Liguria, when you feel upset and keep complaining, it is common to say “sto bollendo i ceci” (I am boiling chickpeas), because a boiling pot of chickpeas sounds like someone mumbling.
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Read what makes it so special and how it's produced and more cheesy facts in this blog. Learn to cook at Tuscookany using Parmesan cheese in many Italian dishes
Parmigiano Reggiano is undoubtedly one of the most famous products in the Italian cheese universe. It is extremely appreciated abroad, it has earned a Godlike status in Italy and it is also one of the most imitated cheeses on Earth. Honestly, sometimes it gets very confusing. The copycats are too many and very few people know the difference between Parmigiano Reggiano and Grana Padano. So, don’t feel bad if you are not sure which one is which: you are not alone! The best way to blow away every little trace of doubt is to trust your taste buds: if you let his majesty the Parmigiano enter your house and conquer your senses, you will not be able to forget it… or replace it.
A Practical Delight
Few cheeses can boast of such a long history (most likely over one thousand years) and count on so many virtues. Everything started with the Benedictine monks, who famously focused on agriculture as one of their daily activities. They reclaimed vast swamps in the great Po Valley and assigned large areas to be left to pasture. These lands were truly extensive. Suffice it to say that 500 litres of milk were needed to produce only 30 kilograms of cheese. Considering a wheel of Parmigiano weighs between 30 and 40 kg, you need 500 kg of milk to produce one. So… why the hell did they do it?!
The monks discovered that by skimming and heating the milk several times at fixed temperatures it is possible to obtain a very dry product, minimizing the water and therefore making it easy to keep for very long periods of time. It was the possibility to preserve the quality of the milk for years that made the process worthwhile. Once again, as it has often happened, a piece of (cheesy) culinary art is the result of a very practical need, which in this case is preservation.
Love Is All Around It
This cheesy wonder is accepted even by the strictest norms dictated by the most authoritative nutritionists: it is rich in vitamins and minerals, it contains an enormous amount of proteins... And for those who believe that umami is only a feature of Eastern foods, it is important to know that Mr. Reggiano is one of the products with the highest level of umami: that’s right, Parmigiano-san!
The great Parmesan, like they call it in English, can also count on admirers from all backgrounds. Resounding examples are those of Molière, who late in life survived nearly exclusively eating Reggiano and demanded a piece of it on his deathbed, and Napoleon, who loved it combined with green beans. It was also mentioned in the Decameron of Giovanni Boccaccio and by Emile Zola.
Managing The Confusion
Let us face the confusion then. Have you ever asked yourself why the Grana Padano looks the same but costs so much less? Which one should you choose for your risotto or pasta? These are the questions that Tuscookany can help you answer on your cooking classes in Tuscany. It is important to know that the Parmigiano Reggiano has a much more complex and strong taste when compared to the Padano. Its notes enfold a combination of salty and spicy waves and deep tones, with an herbaceous background. The Grana is softer and buttery. If the protagonist or one of the main actors of your plate is the cheese, the Reggiano is certainly the right choice. However, if you simply need to add creaminess to your composition, it is better to opt for the Grana.
As for the substantial differences between the two, here they are:
• Parmesan cheese is only produced in specific provinces in Emilia Romagna while the Grana is made in various regions.
• The cows that produce the milk needed for the Parmigiano are exclusively grass-fed, a restriction that does not exist in the production of the Padano.
• Parmesan cheese can only be manufactured with animal rennet while the Grana can also be made with vegetable or microbial products.
• Preservatives are prohibited in the production of Mr. Reggiano.
• Despite the buttery flavor, the Grana contains less fat than the real Parmesan cheese.
• The Reggiano must be aged at least 12 months while the Padano can be labeled as such after 9 months.
My Grandma Used To Say…
My grandmother used to say: the Grana is delicious, but the Parmesan is much more than a cheese, it is like comparing a good donkey to a thoroughbred. Not everyone would agree, they both are delicious dairy products with a flavour that justifies the great notoriety. This said, if you are looking for the perfect purest cheesy ecstasy, the Parmigiano is simply a certainty.
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