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Ravioli with butter and sage sauce; a marriage made in heaven!

Posted on may 19, 2017 by Tuscookany Team
Ravioli with butter and sage sauce;  a marriage made in heaven!

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!

Lumaconi Pizzaiola

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.

Conchiglioni

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!

We’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to comment and share our post about traditional stuffed pastas with your friends.

 

 

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We will tell you the Bitter Truth about Amari in our blog

Posted on may 05, 2017 by The Tuscookany Team
We will tell you the Bitter Truth about Amari in our blog

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:

Campari

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).

Aperol

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):

 

Amaro Averna

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. 

 

Amaro Lucano

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.

 

Ramazzotti

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.

 

Cynar

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.

 

Zucca

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.

 

Fernet Branca

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.

We’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to comment and share our  amari post with your friends.

 

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Win a cooking vacation of a life time for two at Tuscookany!

Posted on may 03, 2017 by The Tuscookany Team
Win a cooking vacation of a life time for two at Tuscookany!

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 !  
www.tuscookany.com

 

 

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What do you know about Aromatic Salt and how to make it?

Posted on april 14, 2017 by Tuscookany Team
What do you know about Aromatic Salt and how to make it?

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!

We’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to comment and share our  aromatic salts post with your friends.

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Pollo alla Cacciatora - the best chicken dish in the world!

Posted on april 03, 2017 by Tuscookany Team
Pollo alla Cacciatora - the best chicken dish in the world!

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!

We’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to comment and share our pollo alla cacciatora post with your friends.

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What's better than a crispy Pizza from the Tuscookany oven?

Posted on march 10, 2017 by Tuscookany Team
What's better than a crispy Pizza from the Tuscookany oven?

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!

We’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to comment and share our PIZZA post with your friends.

 

 

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What do you know about Chickpeas and how they are prepared

Posted on february 22, 2017 by The Tuscookany Team
What do you know about Chickpeas and how they are prepared

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.

Cultural Matters

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. 

Please share your thoughts about our chickpea post? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below, or share our Tuscookany post with your friends?

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Find out why Parmigiano Reggiano is called The King Of Cheese

Posted on january 23, 2017 by Tuscookany Team
Find out why Parmigiano Reggiano is called The King Of Cheese

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.

Please share your thoughts about Parmigiano? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below, or share our post with your friends?

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Are you dreaming of a Traditional Italian Christmas this year?

Posted on december 18, 2016 by Tuscookany Team
Are you dreaming of a Traditional Italian Christmas this year?

What do the Italians prepare for Christmas?  Learn more about the delicious broths, pastas, roasted meats and, of course, Panettone prepared for this special feast!
 

Italian Holiday Traditions

In Italy, there is an expression that perfectly explains the approach to the holiday season: “Natale con i tuoi, Pasqua con chi vuoi” (literally means, “Christmas with your family, Easter with whoever you wish”). Considering the cardinal importance of the family within the Italian tradition, as a value, a cultural reference and a social safe-net.  It is of no surprise that Christmas has surged as the most intimate festivity.  The holiday par excellence throughout the most famous boot on Earth!
 

Christmas In An Italian Kitchen

The best of the Italian Christmas is the rich, diverse and delicious sequence of dishes, ideas, food and sweets. Each region has hundreds of recipes dedicated to the most beloved holiday in the country. Segments of history mixed within a vivacious cultural exchange, creating the widest choice of goodies you can imagine.  It is impossible to remember all the dishes.

The most famous is undoubtedly the panettone, which you can now find in every supermarket around the globe. It is just as well known as the pizza and was born in Milan around the 15th century.  Its creation is a succession of legends, with a common thread: it surely comes from a poor household, maybe it was a sweet focaccia to which eggs and a long, long, rising process was added. This is not simple to cook! You need high quality, fresh ingredients, a succession of mixing and rising, a lot of time and even more patience because its preparation has to be carried out for days until the dough reaches a perfect and wonderfully light & airy consistency.  The feature that makes it unique.  It is a dessert that you could only prepare for the holiday season, when there are many people gathered around in the kitchen with time to spare.  The end result takes awhile, but it is well worth every second of the wait.  In fact, baked panettone delivers an aroma that permeates the air and can be smelt from afar.

In the past the Italians sacrificed animals especially for the Christmas holiday.  These were extremely precious in a rural society, and the tough cuts that require a long cooking process were put in pot, with celery, carrots and onions (and a variety of ingredients depending on the region) to be boiled for a substantial amount of time. Even today, the fragrant broth that results from this tradition is used to serve the first dish, usually stuffed pasta. A great example is the famous tortellino emiliano, which contains a rich and luscious mixture of mortadella, pork, cheese, sausage, ham, salt, pepper, egg, butter, nutmeg and bread crumbs. The typical "navel" shape is handmade using fresh egg pasta. Despite a first dish so flavourful and often accompanied by more pasta (cannelloni and lasagne are ubiquitous on Christmas day), the main courses are just as delicious: stuffed capponi, glazed chicken, roasted duck or faraona (guinea fowl) served with an embrace of baked vegetables.

In Southern Italy, there is also a special place for fish: pasta con le sarde, fried or baked fish, capitone, cod and eel.

The universal dessert remains the panettone, but there is always a place for torroni (nougat), pandori (sponge cake), panpepati (panforte) and struffoli (deep fried balls of dough)

A meal of this kind can take hours, but the time of conviviality spent around the table is an opportunity to meet the whole family, listen to their stories and share experiences that would otherwise flow away lost in routines, whilst the children play, distracted by the new gifts.  The richness of Christmas was once a way to forget the hardships of a rural life.  Today it continues to be a day to enjoy all the pleasures of the palate without restrictions, a ritual repeated religiously every year.

We at Tuscookany would like to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and hope your table is filled with delicious flavours along with laughter and good cheer. 
Happy New Year and see you in Tuscany in 2017!

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Did you know that Cappuccino was invented by an Italian monk?

Posted on november 09, 2016 by Tuscookany Team
Did you know that Cappuccino was invented by an Italian monk?

Did you know that Cappuccino was invented by an Italian monk?

Learn more about Cappuccino and how to make it, come and join us this season and enjoy drinking it under the Tuscookany sun before you start your cooking lesson!

The cappuccino is arguably the most famous Italian beverage. The legend suggests the name comes from a monk of the capuchin order (ordine dei cappuccini, in Italian): Marco da Aviano. In 1683, Marco went to Vienna. The Pope had instructed him to convince the Austrians to be part of the fight against the Turks. The monk, as a matter of fact, became an important character in Medieval history: he was recognized as the man who saved Europe from the Muslims. It was in Vienna that the religious man tasted coffee for the first time, but he disliked the dark beverage; it was too strong and intense for his taste buds and he decided to ask the waiter for some whipped cream and sugar to make it sweeter and lighter. There are other myths and different variations of the story, but the two constant variables are the capuchin monks… and the whipped cream. That’s right, the same cream Italians refuse to add to their cappuccino while foreigners often request was probably one of the ingredients of the original version of this famous long coffee.

Certainly, in Italy the cappuccino is a ceremony that comes with very strict rules. One of them focuses precisely on whipped cream, which no Italian citizen would ever dream about adding to his or her sweetened coffee, unless he or she was ready to renounce his or her citizenship (just kidding… maybe). Let’s get down to the real cappuccino then, exploring the Italian traditions rotating around its sweet aroma.

The cappuccino and its rules

  • Italians drink coffee, strictly ristretto, after a meal but never a cappuccino. The cappuccino is exclusively a morning beverage, better if accompanied by a croissant or a brioche
  • The cappuccino, in order to deserve the label, has to be topped with whipped hot milk, which is neither cream nor bubbly milk. It has to be a perfectly creamy froth.
  • The froth is precisely what transforms the cappuccino from a café au lait or caffèlatte into an indisputable masterpiece. The milk has to be whipped until the bubbles are miniscule, giving the froth a glossy, soft, creamy, silky and smooth consistency. The aroma should evoke toasted coffee combined with warm milk.
  • In order to determine whether or not the bartender serving the drink is a true Italian expert, focus your attention on the moment when he or she pours the whipped milk into your cup. The perfect froth is added to the coffee WITHOUT USING A SPOON, with a delicate movement of the wrist that gently forces the milk to the centre of the cup, where it is quickly enfolded by the dark frame of the hot coffee

The best allies of the Italian espresso

One thing you certainly learn during our courses at Tuscookany – Cooking Vacations in Tuscany  is that in Italy there are many combinations of milk and coffee, which foreigners often misunderstand. What is then the difference between caffèlatte, caffè macchiato, latte macchiato and cappuccino?

Let me begin by assuring you that coffee is a sacred culture in the Italian peninsula. Therefore, just like any other culture, it has a series of layers and complexities that make it even more fascinating. For every moment, occasion or taste, there is a specific answer. Now, going back to the initial question, the caffèlatte, just like the cappuccino, is exclusively a breakfast matter. A strong coffee is combined with hot milk and then sweetened. This is a beverage enjoyed also by children, who often use the caffèlatte as a soft first step in the culture of coffee.

The caffè macchiato is defined by the combination of espresso with a creamy froth. However, the quantity of froth is at its bare minimum, barely more than a teaspoon. The taste of coffee remains the protagonist, with a gentle touch caressing the palate. Italians order caffè macchiato after lunch, but it is also enjoyed in the morning and can be adopted as the companion for an afternoon break.

The latte macchiato is in some way the opposite of the caffè macchiato.  In this case, the milk dominates, the cup is bigger, the coffee gives flavour to the milk and not vice versa. The result is a soft beverage, similar to a warm and silky milk shake. It is the perfect drink to combine with a croissant when the morning begins, a caffeinated parenthesis to sweeten and warm up a dreary day in autumn or winter.

So, to those who are looking for something similar to a cappuccino to enjoy after a nice lunch while respecting the Italian culture, the best choice is a caffè macchiato. Besides, with its strong taste of coffee, the macchiato carries an unmistakable and persistent aroma that matches perfectly the strong flavours of the Italian cuisine. As for the cappuccino and the other members of this delicious family, enjoy them with a pastry for a perfect breakfast made in Italy!

Buone giornata!

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