Did you know that Italians consume 4kg of gelato per year?
Read about the origins of delicious Italian gelato and varieties and come and learn to make it this summer at the Tuscookany cooking school in Tuscany, Italy
The food-lovers who come to Tuscookany – Cooking vacations in Tuscany ready to learn the secrets of the Italian cuisine are often surprised by the simplicity of the recipes. As a matter of fact, differently from other traditions, Italian food is about quality before complexity, and pleasure before anything else: this is what makes Italy the home place of all those who truly love sitting at a table and enjoy what life has to offer. There are those who claim Italian recipes are love letters written to nature itself, a big “thank you” for the many gifts and the feelings coming from them. With its intense flavour and its pure natural notes, the Italian gelato is no exception which we teach you to make at Tuscookany.
Tasty origins of Gelato
Truth be told, what we now know as gelato (literally means “frozen” but you can call it ice-cream) has ancient origins and has changed quite a lot through time. It is said, the idea of gelato can be traced back to the Neanderthal men, who used to freeze berries in order to preserve them, taking advantage of the cold climate of continental Europe at that time. However, if you are looking for something similar to the cold cream we all love, you will need to move to Sicily during the Arab domination, in the 9th century. In fact, the Arabs were those responsible for bringing sugar cane to the Italian island, the missing ingredient for the sweet taste of our beloved gelato.
On the Sicilian Apennines there were large glaciers from which the inhabitants took large ice cubes that were sold in spring and summer on the coast, where they were used to make granita flavoured with different fruits, the precursor of today’s ice cream. The delicious recipe moved then to France. It is said this happened because of a man from Florence named Ruggeri, who lived in Paris and invented a mix made of ice, cream, eggnog and fruits: it was an incredible success.
This said, Italy is the place where the gelato ultimately acquired the features that made it what it is today. In fact, it was 1884 when the famous gelateria Pepino was opened in Piedmont. It is still open today and the owner still uses milk, ice, sugar and cream like the founders used to. Then, the final touch: in 1903, Italo Marchioni added the cone to the mix and the ice cream became the faithful sweet companion of the long romantic walks Italians love so much.
Interesting facts about Gelato
Let’s get down to some interesting facts. The flavours exported and used around the world are many, often extremely original and yet far away from the original gelato. Those loved by the Italians are the simple ones: chocolate (22%), hazelnut (20%), strawberry and lemon (12%), soon followed by cream and stracciatella.
In case you had doubts about how much Italians love their gelato, you should know that near Bologna there is a museum completely dedicated to it: the Gelato Museum Carpignani in Anzola Emilia. And if this wasn’t enough to convince you, there is a number that speaks louder than 1000 words: the per capita consumption of this delicious food in Italy touches almost the 4 kg per year. Considering Italians generally eat gelato only in summer, this number is even more impressive.
Another interesting fact you probably didn’t know: when the humidity is high, many Italians eat a big cup of ice cream for dinner. If you are asking yourself: what is the most complete dish, hamburger with fries or salad with gelato? The answer is salad with gelato all the way, hands down. In fact, while delicious and irresistible, the Italian gelato contains proteins, minerals, sugars, lipids and vitamins. In other words, it is quite healthy and complete. Just to be sure, we are talking about the real handmade Italian gelato here, not the pre-made hyper-sugary mixes that get sold as ice cream in supermarkets and malls. A good gelato with fruits can be a quick and fresh meal with a proper caloric intake that is quickly expendable: an ideal meal at work (it’s not heavy) or for active people. All natural and organic, a genuine wonder with a delicious taste: gelato is the flavour of an Italian summer!
Hope to see you in Tuscany this year to enjoy one of the many delicious flavours of Gelato!
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Try the famous Tuscan Negroni but never drink more than two!
Read about Negroni: a typical Tuscan Apéritif which the Italians and our Tuscookany cooks enjoy while watching the sunset after a great cooking session.
Italy is known all over the world for its food: pizza and lasagna, pasta and tiramisu, risotto and gelato… you name it. This is certainly one of the reasons why Tuscookany cooking classes in Italy was born, because we love Italian food. However, those who really know the culture of this beautiful peninsula are also aware of the fact that Italians love their drinks. It is not just a matter of good red wine or prosecco: there are some classic Italian cocktails that are absolutely delicious, and for which people around here go crazy. An example is the so-called Negroni, a wonderful drink…. made in Tuscany, of course!
The Negroni originated in Florence, around 1920. The authorship is a disputed matter and there are a few bars and bartenders who claim to be the fathers of this delicious ambrosia. This said, it is commonly believed the cocktail is the handwork of Mr. Luigi Scarselli. The reason why it was created is actually quite peculiar. Among the regulars of the bar where Luigi worked there was a noble man called count Negroni, who loved to drink C&C (Bitter Campari and Cinzano Vermouth) with gin. Scarselli combined the ingredients and conceived the most perfect blend. He named the resulting mix in honor of the famous customer. The fact that count Camillo Negroni fell in love with the drink is just another proof Mr. Scarselli might be the right father.
Today the Negroni is arguably the best known among the Italian aperitifs. It gets served everywhere with soda water, half a slice of orange and, often, lemon peel. Its characteristic strong and fruity flavor is quite unmistakable.
One of the people responsible for the popularity of the drink was an entrepreneur from Emilia Romagna who moved to Tuscany. He was the founder of a liquor company and adored the aperitif. Are you ready for one of the greatest coincidences in the history of liquors and drinks? His name was Guglielmo Negroni. For him, advertising the cocktail was just another way to strengthen his brand.
A small anecdote: It is said that count Negroni loved to experiment with ingredients drawing inspiration from aperitifs he tried during his trips, especially those to London. As a matter of fact, the base of the cocktail used to be called “the American”. If you think about it, it is funny that starting from America and London the Negroni became the Italian aperitif par excellence. However, once you taste its fruity harmonious notes, you know it couldn’t be otherwise: the Negroni is 100% Italian. We know from experience at Tuscookany that you should never drink more than two otherwise you might end up at the bottom of the Arno river!
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Balsamic Vinegar: Creates a taste sensation with a few drops
Enjoy Balsamic with strawberries or vanilla ice cream. Read more of its unique properties and when and how to use it and come and join our lessons at Tuscookany
The Italian balsamic vinegar is one of the most precious and sophisticated elements of the Italian cuisine. A delicacy, a concentrate made from simmered grape must, fermented and matured for many years in barrels. Ask the Tuscookany chefs and they’ll confirm you: a few drops of this ambrosia from heaven and your dish will change forever
A precious gift
The original balsamic vinegar is produced only on a small strip of land near Modena, in Emilia Romagna, an area that used to belong to the Estensi. While the geography is no secret, the origins of this product are unknown. There are many local legends and curiosities, but it is probable the balsamic vinegar is the result of a random process. It is said that one day someone left some cooked must in a cool place by mistake and the typical climate of the region did the rest. When the lost must was found, it was something else: an incredible vinegar, deep, sweet, with a sour scent and a round taste.
Various writings that come from the time of the House of Este confirm that the balsamic vinegar was used sparingly, sometimes given as a precious gift for great personalities and displayed with pride. In addition to the flavour, this cult was also the result of the medicinal power of this culinary wonder.
Lucrezia Borgia herself used it during childbirth for its therapeutic, almost magical virtues. It was considered a powerful weapon against the plague, eased the pain caused by the scurvy, was able to sooth the irritation of mucous membranes and was considered a powerful aphrodisiac. Someone says it was the secret weapon of Giacomo Casanova.
Besides stories and legends, most of the healing powers of the balsamic vinegar are now confirmed by science: the product is truly a tasty lifesaver. These powers, which the balsamic vinegar owns no matter what, reach their maximum potential only in the original product, obtained from the ripening and aging of cooked must, the crushing of high quality grapes and the use of oak barrels made of solid wood. The best balsamic vinegar needs also 25 years of aging: a dense and perfumed ambrosia, called "extra old".
A tasty miracle
The “extra old” vinegar has a very good to taste and can be eaten “neat”, using a slightly warm spoon made of crystal or porcelain. It also gives a unique note to strawberries and turns vanilla ice cream into one of the most elegant dessert on earth. A less aged product, which should still be no less than 12 years old to be called balsamic vinegar, can be the basis for a meat sauce. It also enriched a fish dish and turns fresh vegetables into an explosion of flavour.
The non-traditional balsamic vinegar is a different product. It still has many therapeutic properties but it contains wine vinegar. Plus, it comes with more sour notes and has a more liquid consistency. This said, it still tastes great and can enrich salads of different kinds - it’s the perfect companion in a fruit salad. It is also delicious on meat and fish.
Traditional or not, there is a rule we teach at the Italian cooking lessons in Tuscany: food should never be drowned in balsamic vinegar. It has a strong flavour, which should harmonize with the dishes without concealing their taste. As an example, try a few drops of vinegar, aged or not, on Parmesan cheese: it is a combination not to be missed. In fact, an exquisitely elegant plate with a unique appearance is the salad with pear and cheese, a delicious dish traditionally made with balsamic vinegar, pepper, extra virgin olive oil, Parmesan cheese, pears and arugula. The sweet, spicy flavours and the deep notes of the vinegar come together in a triumph that stimulates even the most sophisticated taste buds.
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Asparagus: Then we know that Spring has arrived in Tuscany!
Learn more about this delicious green sprout in this interesting blog. Join us at Tuscookany and have fun learning to cook a variety of dishes with Asparagus
The chefs of Tuscookany and veggie-worshippers all over Italy have one delicious green reason to await the arrival of spring: it’s called asparagus. It is a natural beauty that grows wild in the fields, but for those who are not lucky enough to be able to spend hours looking for this wild plant and its pungent flavour, spring is by far the best time of the year to buy common asparagus from the greengrocer.
An ancient friend
It is probable that we have known the asparagus since the beginning of human history. In fact, it grows even in arid environments, it is present in very different climates, and it has accompanied human gastronomy since its origin. Certainly, it was appreciated in 2000 BC Mesopotamia and worshiped by both Egyptians and Romans by the year 200 BC.
The Greeks loved it and it is precisely from the Greek word aspharagos that the modern name comes from. Aspharagos derives from asparag, which means sprout. In fact, the asparagus is not a fruit but a sprout of the plant: if it is not picked up promptly it gets longer, produces small leaves, and the shell hardens.
Taste and More
The asparagus is not only delicious, with a unique flavour that conquers even the most sophisticated palates; it is also rich in healthy properties. It contains vitamin A, C and B. It is rich in minerals, a good diuretic and a mild laxative, and helps you lose weight. Plus, it has another peculiar feature: during the digestive process, it produces a substance that gets excreted via our urines, giving them an unpleasant strong smell.
Because it’s a sprout, the asparagus tends to lose soon its characteristics once severed: it becomes soft and limp. A good trick to avoid this for a few days is to put the asparaguses in a pot with a little water, just like you would do with cut flowers. And if you are curious to know if your asparagus is fresh when you purchase it, here is another clue: the tips must be straight and closed, and the stems should be shiny and turgid. Don’t forget, the white/light green part, the base of the asparagus, should be cut out: way too woody. A good trick to know which is the exact point where you should cut is to bend the asparagus near the base: it will break on its own in the perfect spot
Cooking with Mr. Asparagus
As we teach at the Italian cooking lessons at Tuscookany, a good trick is to peel the base with a potato peeler, this way it will soften easily. Plus, the asparagus will cook rapidly without losing its properties, becoming tender and pleasant to the palate. And to preserve the bright green colour, you should dip the asparagus in cold water after cooking.
In Italy the asparagus has a multitude of uses in the kitchen. The simplest recipe is with fried eggs and a drizzle of good olive oil. Also served with melted butter and Parmesan cheese, asparaguses (even the wild ones) are the key ingredient of some of the best omelettes in the peninsula.
Plus, obviously, when you talk about Italian cuisine, you cannot miss a meeting with the classic pasta. In fact, asparaguses are added to vegetable ragú with exquisite seasonal veggies. They are also used to cook creamy and smooth risotti, and sauté with pancetta for the seasoning of handmade garganelli and other simple unique dishes.
Come a join our delicious spring table at Tuscookany and make your own favourite asparagus dish and let us inspire you!
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Risotto: A classic Italian dish that changes with the seasons
What about a delicious asparagus risotto in spring, or with zucchini in summer and Porcini in fall? Learn to make this wonderful dish at Tuscookany this year.
Welcome back to the kitchen of Tuscookany the home of cooking vacations in Tuscany. Today. We talk about one of the classic dishes of the Italian culinary landscape, an irresistible treat for all those who love healthy and tasty food. The Italian risotto was born in Naples, or at least this is what the Napoletani claim. Whether or not this is true, it’s a fact that the people of Naples were among the first food lovers to conceive the risotto as a stand-alone dish. This said, throughout the culinary history of the Italian peninsula, these magical grains have had an enormous success in Northern Italy, where there is enough water for its cultivation. Thus, while in Naples it has never had the power to substitute pasta, in Northern Italy risotto earned its place as a protagonist.
The story of an accident
It was 1385. Milan was welcoming an army of artists and craftsmen, all ready to contribute to the construction of the Duomo, a huge project rich of cultural stimuli that remained unfinished for decades. One of the artists was a Flemish named Valerio Perfundavalle and his task was to paint the windows. In order to do so, he devised a special yellow paint that contained a colour derived from the pistil of some flowers: saffron. The work was hard, there wasn’t much time, and the glass master was eating a bowl of rice without leaving the scaffolding. One day, by accident, some saffron fell in the rice, colouring it instantly. Mr. Perfundavalle found it beautiful, but was undecided about what to do. Then he thought: "it's just a plant, it won't make me ill". That was how he discovered that the taste was yummy. This story is in all probability a legend, but the date and place of birth of the risotto Milanese, probably the most famous risotto in Italy, coincides.
The flavour of the seasons
Undoubtedly, despite the fact that Italy is not among the oldest and the largest producers of rice in the world, the Italians have created many variations of risotto recipes known all over the world. As a matter of fact, the recipe is a masterpiece. At Tuscookany cooking classes in Italy you will learn that using the starch naturally contained in rice, the result is a harmonious, creamy, elegant and exquisite dish that has little in common with the simple rice, often boiled, used in many cultures around the globe. The cooking process itself is quite elaborate. It starts with a soffritto, then the toasting of the rice that allows the grains to become translucent and release an intense fragrance. Once that’s done, liquids enter the scene, added gradually so that the grains can absorb them. The final touch is called mantecatura – i.e. the introduction of fat combined with vapour that invites the flavours to blend.
Types ot Risotto
As for the various types of risotto, often the most successful and comforting flavours are those evoked by the seasons. So in the misty autumn days, the smell of red wine and porcini mushrooms will fill the nostrils and the palate of mossy aromas. During the cold winter, a risotto strictly served hot, with bitter radicchio and a sturdy cheese, it’s like a warm embrace coming from the inside. With the arrival of spring, here is the risotto with the spicy flavour of green asparagus. And if you want to add some colours for Easter day, you can add artichokes, peas and baby carrots. During the summer, risotto can absorb the perfume of the sun, with the help of tomatoes, and when the summer begins to step towards its end, a pumpkin risotto is the perfect consolation, remembrance of the sun slowly fading away.
Mistakes to avoid
Around the world, people make many mistakes when they try to imitate the real Italian risotto. For instance, some of them wash the rice. The rice that you use in the preparation of risotto it’s already processed, so it contains nothing that needs to be washed out. All that is achieved by washing it is the removal of the starch, which is a magical ally indispensible for a creamy recipe. Plus, very often onions and other vegetables are cooked in oil and the rice is added to the same mix. However, the processes should be separated: the onion should be sauté over low heat, while rice is roasted at very high temperature to release its aroma. The best procedure requires cooking the soffritto in a pan and toasting the rice in another, and then mix the two before adding the liquids. Plus, the mantecatura requires butter, sometimes cheese, never oil. Butter, in fact, merges perfectly with the starch giving the risotto its soft notes.
We look forward to welcoming you at Tuscookany – Cooking vacations in Tuscany !
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At Tuscookany we make Pizza Pasqualina for Easter brunch!
This delicious Italian Easter dish made with pizza dough, spinach and egg is a modern version of the traditional Torte Pasqualina.
As an alternative, make this delicious Italian Easter dish with pizza dough instead and add a good layer of spinach and decorated with eggs. It's a modern version of the traditional Torte Pasqualina and the Tuscookany chefs, at the cooking classes in Tuscany, call it Pizza Pasqualina. Great for an elaborate Easter brunch buffet or first course for an Easter lunch.
Happy Easter from Tuscookany !
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The Secrets of the Italian Mozzarella - another cheesy story!
Tuscookany uses Mozzarella in many fine dishes. Read how to choose the best quality and how to use this delicious cheese and come to cook in Tuscany with us!
Few products can be considered among the most recognizable incarnations of the Made in Italy: the Italian mozzarella is certainly one of them. Many think they know it inside out, as an ingredient of the delicious caprese salad, or as the key protagonist of the renowned pizza, but the chefs of Tuscookany know of a bunch of little secrets very few experts are aware of.
First of all, the mozzarella that enriches with its strong and welcoming taste the original pizza is the so-called bufala, a delicacy traditionally made in Campania, Molise, Puglia and Lazio. It was born in the region that surrounds Naples, where the buffalos lived. These animals produce milk that is very perishable, with a strong acid component, which makes it perfect to be curdled. According to the historians, this cheese has ancient origins. In fact, it is said one of its distant relatives was consumed 7500 years ago during the Palaeolithic!
The name mozzarella comes from the Italian word “Mozzatura”, which means “Cut Off”. The reason for the name is that the curd is cut, following an old artisanal tradition, by hand using the index finger and the thumb, a process that gives the cheese its typical shape. Here is something you may not know. What is often sold as mozzarella, made with cow milk, is not exactly “mozzarella”. The name should be used only to describe the cheese produced with buffalo milk, otherwise the correct label should be “fior di latte”.
A trick to enjoy it at its best is to warm up the mozzarella au bain marie in its own liquid for about twenty minutes. The water shouldn’t be too hot, around 38 degrees. This will warm the cheese, softening the liquids, and allowing you to fully appreciate the taste.
The reputation of this culinary wonder is not a simple consequence of its exquisite taste. The most recent researches, in fact, have shown that the Italian mozzarella is among the most valid substitutes for meat and fish, due to the high content of high-quality proteins, minerals and precious calcium, which is essential to prevent osteoporosis. This, however, is not all: the mozzarella owns also the power to protect our organism from the negative effects of free radicals.
To use it on the pizza, the best method is to cut it into pieces, put it in a colander with a weight, and eliminate the excess of liquid that would otherwise wet the pizza.
One final note. When the time comes to choose the right mozzarella, make sure that the cheese is pure white, bright, and that the serum is clear. Any colouring that tends towards yellow is a sign of poor freshness. Once you cut it, you should also be able to see drops of a milky liquid, without strange bubbles.
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A delicious story that will bring tears to your eyes!
At Tuscookany we grow our own organic onions. Read more about the many different varieties, uses and many helpful tips and come and cook with us in Tuscany.
There is no doubt about it: the world, and Tuscookany would be different without onions. This multilayered bulb has a strong aroma with the power of strengthening a dish or being the star of the show. Onion soups, though the most famous one is French and it’s called Soupe à l'oignon, are famous across all Europe and Italians can count on several delicious versions too.
To give you a sense of the importance onions have in an Italian kitchen, let’s just say that in our Bel Paese people say “I ate onions and bread for this” to indicate a big sacrifice made. Onions, in fact, were a very poor ingredient, a basic lifesaving vegetable, almost the symbol of survival itself.
An onion for every season
In Italy, there is quite literally an onion for every season. In autumn and winter, you can enjoy the red onion of Tropea or the Tuscan “Vernina”, which is also red and comes from Florence, with its typical strong aroma and flavor. If you find yourself in need of a nice soffritto, you can always count on the golden onion of Parma, it’s just perfect. And what about the red onion of Bassano del Grappa? Unforgettable, that’s for sure. In spring and summer, you can find the white “musona tonda” (round snout) and the onion of August, with its big white bulb slightly touched by red shades. And if you love white onions and are in Southern Italy, you will certainly find yourself surrounded by the so-called white giant of June (bianca gigante di giugno).
The varieties are too many to be counted, just like the recipes that are based on these magic bulbs. Generally speaking, golden onions are wonderful for soffritti and soups, with their intense flavor that makes them perfect to be cooked in the oven. On the Italian cookery course at Tuscookany we teach you how to make this famous Italian Soffritti which is the aromatic base for many sauces with onion, carrot, celery and garlic.
White onions are the ideal companions of peppers and are also a good base for dishes with a strong soul. Red onions tend to be on the sweet side and can be enjoyed cooked or uncooked, in fact you often find them in salads at the cooking vacations in Tuscany. Plus, depending on where you are, you will find people who love a specific kind of onion and use it for everything. In the province of Venice, for instance, the show is stolen by the white onion of Chioggia, which was used to preserve the fish, while not far from Naples, in Caserta, the local pizzaioli have been conquered by the onion of Alife. The sweet aroma of the onion of Montoro is the king of Salerno, while the onion borettana, famous in the Pianura Padana, is often pickled and enjoyed as a side dish. Just like I said: there is an onion for every season!
An ancient vegetable
It turns out onions truly save lives, because they contain quercetin, a flavonoid that can prevent osteoporosis, a remedy against asthma and viral diseases that also has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and anti-carcinogenic properties. These qualities were known in ancient times too: in ancient Egypt it was thought that this incredible bulb could bring the dead back to life. The onion became even a "coin" when, during the middle ages, it was used by the poor to pay the rent.
On many occasions in the past onions were thought to have real magical powers. It is said that during various flu epidemics, but also in some cases of plague, a few families of farmers escaped the contagion. Some doctors noted the people counted on a diet based mainly on onions and began to claim the bulb had some mysterious power. All considered, today the qualities of the mystical onion are too often underestimated.
Are you ready for some other onion-related useful curiosity and tricks the Tuscookany’s chefs know about?
How to mitigate the strong smell of the famous vegetable?
A trick of the Italian grandmothers is to let them rest for a few minutes in boiling milk. The onion does not lose the flavor, the time is not enough to cook, but the smell is greatly weakened.
Why do onions make you cry and how to avoid this unpleasant experience?
The onion contains sulfuric acids that get released only when we cut the vegetable and end up attracting and combining with liquids - think about the tear glands. The nerves perceive the acids and send a message to the brain. The trick, known for ages, well before people knew chemistry or biology, is to give the acids other liquids with which they can interact, besides our tears. Italian grandmothers used to wet their forearms before cutting onions and keep near them a bowl of water, in order to divert the acids. Nowadays there are other remedies, like putting the vegetable in the freezer for a few minutes or using swimming goggles.
Other tricks are based on our body's needs.
The juice of onions is a tonic against acne, a wonderful potion for your skin. Mashed onions, honey and a dash of cognac make a very effective remedy against coughs. Before shampooing, you can apply mashed onions on the scalp and leave them to act for 20 minutes: you will avoid hair loss and they can be used to treat head lice.
Raw onion rubbed on an insect sting helps with the burning, the itching and the swelling. The same remedy applied on a scar guarantees it won’t leave an indelible mark on the skin. Plus, onions contain sulfur, which prevents intestinal fermentation and helps your belly with its daily work. It seems you can even use an onion to get rid of grass and mud stains from the shoes and stains of ashes from clothing.
Is there anything onions can’t do?
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The Mysteries of Ricotta Cheese - a rather cheesy story!
The Italian ricotta is a simple cheese that can be enjoyed as it is or used as a key ingredient for sweets and main courses. The chefs of Tuscookany can introduce you to dozens of recipes that include this soft, natural wonder shipped directly from the mysterious cheese land. You should come around to one of the Tuscookany villas when our kitchen is conquered by the aroma of the famous Sicilian cannoli and cassata: yes, ricotta cheese is the secret of those delicious funny looking sweets , and yes, they are amazing. If you don’t have a sweet tooth, you will be surprised by the gift ricotta has for you: ravioli, cannelloni, and pretty much every possible stuffed pasta recipe you can think about. As a matter of fact this is the first ricotta mystery you should be aware of:
1) Ricotta has a double, sweet and salty soul.
The versatility of this cheese is topped only by its healthy constitution. The Italian ricotta, in fact, is made of whey, which makes it naturally low fat. Yes, you finally found a cheese that won’t make you feel guilty about your own cravings. So, let’s get one thing clear:
2) Ricotta is not fatty, it is healthy.
As for its origin, let’s start with the name. As it often happens, especially in the case of ingredients and recipes, the etymology of a word hides the secrets of its meaning. Ricotta comes from the Latin “recoctus” , which quite literally means cooked twice. Now, why would you call something “cooked twice”? During the production of cheese such as Pecorino, Caciotta or Parmesan, as the curdling phase begins the milk is divided from the whey. This is when the whey is collected and cooked again: welcome to the world, Ricotta. Let’s recap it, then:
3) Ricotta means cooked twice, from the Latin “recoctus”.
As you probably guessed, pretty much every Italian region has its own local recipes and traditions when it comes to ricotta cheese. In Carlantino, for instance, not far from Foggia, every year there is a peculiar festival dedicated to the Madonna della Ricotta (Virgin Mary of the ricotta cheese). It is a tradition that comes from a habit the shepherds developed through the centuries. In order to find fields for their animals free from the taxes of the landlords, these ingenious fellows used to travel to Monte San Giovanni, which had no owners. On top of this mountain, there was an emblem, which then became a church dedicated to the Virgin Mary where the shepherds used to leave gifts to express their thankfulness: milk and ricotta. Yes, you heard it right:
4) In Italy, there is a Virgin Mary of the ricotta cheese.
Italians love it, but ricotta cheese can be traced back to the origin of human kind. In fact, historians have claimed this special food is probably one of the most ancient types of cheese ever conceived by the Homo sapiens. Some civilizations even thought it was a matter of mythical roots. The Greeks, for instance, thought that ricotta cheese was discovered by Artiseo, son of the god Apollo and the beautiful nymph Cirene. Ricotta is also mentioned in the Odyssey, more specifically when Ulysses meets Polyphemus. Apparently, the hero loved it so much he decided to risk his life with the giant Cyclops, who was a crafty producer of ricotta, in order to taste some. Well, we have to admit it:
5) Ricotta cheese is a matter of gods and heroes.
And what about the Italians? It is said that Giotto, when he was a kid, used to be a shepherd and dreamt about being an artist. Inspired by the bucolic soul of the magic ricotta cheese, he carved on a rock the image of a sheep and a bowl of ricotta. As he was doing so, Cimabue passed by. He was a famous master known all over the country. The young Giotto offered him some ricotta. The master accepted the gift, noticed the carving and was so impressed he decided to offer the kid free art lessons… and the history of art changed forever. We better be thankful:
6) If you like Giotto and art, say “thank you, ricotta!”
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Photo: "The flavours of Tuscany" Sughi e primi piatti page 80 Tortelli di patate di Cetica al ragù
Ragu: Is there a perfect recipe for this delicious meat sauce?
Ragu (meat sauce), also known as "bolognese sauce" around the world, is one of the most famous sauces in the world. If you haven’t tried it yet on pasta, you probably tasted it while you enjoyed lasagne, or as a stuffing for the famous cannelloni. Everybody knows this delicious sauce, but very few people know where the name ragu (ragù in Italian) comes from. It comes from the French word ragoût, chopped up meat stewed with tomato and other ingredients.
Many of the travellers and adventurers who visit Torre del Tartufo, the living heart of Tuscookany, sooner or later end up asking for it. Still, chefs all over the planet have been asking for quite some times if there is a perfect ragu recipe. The questions are seemingly endless. Should you use pork meat and dairy? Is it a matter of slow cooking? Maybe it all depends on whether or not you use red wine, or maybe is all about personal taste?
Truth be told, this wonderful meat sauce varies in the different regions of Italy. It is an expression of the changing Italian landscapes, a mirror of the many micro cultures that constitute the most precious Italian treasure. The ingredients vary depending on availability and traditions, but the most famous one was born in Emilia and then spread to Tuscany. The meat sauce of Naples has also an old tradition and often the people of Campania, where Naples is situated, claim their region is the birthplace of the original recipe. The main difference is how the meat is chopped, bigger in the Neapolitan version, and the habit in Bologna to add some sausage, making it thicker. The real secret of a good meat sauce, however, is hidden in the quality of its ingredients and in the time needed to make it cook gently so that meat can flavor tomato with its taste, while aromatic herbs and vegetables can mix up together in a perfect symphony.
A little side note here is necessary. In the Italian cuisine, you always need to consider details and traditions. In this case remember that, even if they are both important in the cuisine of Emilia, meat sauce and spaghetti must not be mixed up together. The people of Bologna would never do that, and the Tuscans know it too well. In fact, the ideal companions are tagliatelle, lasagne, and almost any egg-pasta and also dried "small" pasta. But then again at Tuscookany we believe in the kitchen there are no rules so if you like spaghetti with Ragu or a filled pasta with ragu – go for it!
An essential ingredient of a good Bolognese/Tuscan ragu is a pinch of imagination, which Italians certainly have. Therefore, the meat sauce had to be adapted depending on available ingredients. You can have wild game ragu (fantastic with polenta [cornmeal mush]), duck ragu, Chianina ragu, vegetarian ragu... some people also add grated pecorino cheese or Parmesan cheese, a little raw extra virgin olive oil, and the magic is done.
Poor families had a special recipe with chicken livers, hearts and offal instead of beef or pork meat. Even though it might seem unusual, these "poor" meats, properly cooked by allowing them all the necessary time to boil in a ripe tomato sauce, become a delicious sauce, with a strong yet exquisite taste, that has nothing less than the noble and traditional recipe.
Learn how to cook this wonderful culinary treasure with our Tuscookany chefs, a wonderful sauce the people of both Emilia Romagna and Tuscany consider part of their own heritage.
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