Photo by Tuscookany cookbook "The flavours of Tuscany" page 142
La Bistecca Fiorentina! The queen of the steaks
Literally “fiorentina” means “from Firenze”. This is arguably one of the cornerstones of the Tuscan culinary traditions, and that’s why our Tuscookany chefs choose it as one of the key dishes when a special occasion comes around – like the welcoming dinner of every cooking course here at Tuscookany!
The origin of this recipe - which is really not complicated at all, as long as you have the right cut of meat - are unknown. What is known, however, is that the people of Florence have been enjoying this bistecca for at least 600 years.
In order to cook it, you need a 2 1/2 to 3 inch-thick porterhouse, cut from the rear end of the short loin, that weighs no less than 600 to 800 grams (t-bone included) and comes from a Maremmana or Chianina oxen. Seasoned with salt, pepper and a touch of olive oil, the juicy steak is cooked on a charcoal grill for no more than 5 minutes per side. Some people like to brush it with a branch of rosemary while it cooks. Simple and tender, it is paradise on earth for the Tuscan meat lovers. Enjoy it with a glass of local wine: a combination you must taste during your trip across Tuscany.
It is said that la Bistecca Fiorentina was already famous when the Medici family was in town. For those of who don’t know, we are talking about the family many historians consider the beating heart of the Italian Renaissance. “I was here when the Renaissance flourished, and I was born in the city where the Renaissance was conceived”, this is what la Bistecca Fiorentina could say. Not a bad answer to the classic “where are you from” question, wouldn’t you agree?
Here is a curiosity. Do you know where the Italian word “bistecca” comes from? From the Latin? No. From some ancient obscure language? Not at all. It comes from the English beefsteak! Now, why would the Italians use an English term to label one of their culinary masterpieces? Well, let me explain. On the 10th of August, the people of Florence come together for the famous Festa di San Lorenzo. This festa has been organized for centuries around the Basilica di San Lorenzo, which is one of the oldest - and one of the most beautiful - churches in Florence.
What happens during this wonderful feast? Apart from the religious celebrations, San Lorenzo means free food. And you know what people cook on that day? Yes, precisely: la Bistecca Fiorentina. It is said that once upon a time (we don’t know exactly when) a group of English rich men was in Florence precisely on the 10th of August. These gentlemen loved meat and they did nothing but asking for “beefsteak” all night. The people of Florence, after that evening, decided to take “beefsteak” and turn it into “bistecca”.
For some reason, I’ve always like this story... maybe because I adore this “beefsteak”! By the way, don’t call it “Fiorentina”, if you can, because that’s also the name of the football team of the city. It’s not a big deal, of course, I am pretty sure people will understand you anyway if you are in a restaurant. However, remember: Bistecca Fiorentina (or Bistecca alla Fiorentina) is the proper name of this juicy culinary masterpiece.
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Cantucci and Vin Santo- a heavenly combination which is made at Tuscookany and savored after dinner.
Photo by Tuscookany cookbook "The flavours of Tuscany" page 206
Cantucci and Vin Santo- a heavenly combination which is made at Tuscookany and savored after dinner.
The delicious Cantucci are fragrant little treats made of flour, eggs, pine nuts and almonds. They are the kings of the Italian biscotti, the representation par excellence of our love for the sweet, crunchy notes that make life worth living. Some people believe the “original” recipe of the modern Cantucci was conceived in the charming city of Prato. What we know for sure it that they are the product of ancient Tuscan traditions. Like it often happens in the Italian peninsula, where the most famous dishes come from the kitchen of the poor villagers, every recipe handed down from generation to generation has its own little variation: a personal touch, a secret ingredient, a pinch of something special grandma added because she loved it too much. That’s why some people make Cantucci with acacia honey while others choose orange blossom honey, and there are families who believe you just can’t make the real Tuscan Cantucci without sugar. My grandma always used butter and I adored her Cantucci and their soft heart, but I know many families who like them dry and rustic, and even use whole, unpeeled almonds to underline the rough texture, the perfect companion for the sweetness of the classic Vin Santo. At Tuscookany, all our chefs have their own special Cantucci recipe, and they are all delicious.
Talking about Vin Santo (literally, Holy Wine), this sweet ambrosia has an equally long story behind its sweet notes. According to an ancient legend, during the year when the Black Death invaded Italy (in 1348) a Dominican friar distributed a beverage to the victims of the terrible plague, a wine, precisely, telling them it was a miraculous drink, a holy liquid. Maybe, however, the name of this mystical wine comes for the season when the grapes were traditionally collected and the wine bottled, November, which is the month of the Saints. Whatever the truth is, the Vin Santo is velvety like a liquor, inebriating, with a lingering nutty aroma. At the end of the meal, dipping homemade Cantucci, which are crunchy and rich in nutty notes – thanks to the almonds, in a glass of classic Vin Santo it’s a celebration of a perfect contrast that creates a unique, unmistakable harmony.
This wine is great also with Italian cheese and salty recipes, which is surprisingly another element that brings Vin Santo and Cantucci together. The famous Tuscan treats, in fact, used to be cut from bread and toasted, and they were basically salty. Almonds became part of the recipe later and in the eighteenth century honey arrived, which finally turned them into a charming dessert that was both simple and refreshing. Sugar and honey functioned also as preservatives, a quality that allowed the Tuscan villagers to package and share their invention. That’s how the Cantucci entered the taverns, where travellers coming from all over Europe met their crunchiness and fell in love with them.
The Cantucci are little cookies, but it is important to underline the erroneous use of the word “biscotti”, which in the United States (and in each and every Starbucks on Earth) is used to label the classic Tuscan dessert. The word biscotto comes from the Latin panis biscotus, which means bread that was cooked twice. Historically, in fact, just like it happened with the Cantucci, many bread-based recipes used to be toasted, which made them crunchy and more durable. Then, the name began to be used to indicate little dry desserts made with sugar, honey, flour and other ingredients. However, in Italy the term biscotti doesn’t indicate a single recipe, but it is an almost perfect translation of the American cookie. This said, the fact that our Cantucci have been somehow mistaken for the representation of an entire category, the Italian biscotti, is a clear sign of their deliciousness!
The Cantucci are irresistible. In fact, Franco (the chef of the Tuscookany Italian cookery course at Torre del Tartufo) always knows where the owners have been: he just has to follow the empty cookie jars! The Vin Santo/Cantucci combination, however, carries with it also an anecdote and an important lesson. Like the count Ugo Contini Bonacossi used to say, the sweet binomial reminds us to respect the table where we sit to enjoy our dinner and lunch. Those who are unable to slow down, meditate, and taste their food, the Italian way to have a nice meal, will end up greedily dipping the Cantucci in the wine. In doing so, they will ruin the holy beverage with crumbles and pieces of almonds. As any proud Tuscan can confirm, this is a sacrilegious crime that forces the guest to drink Vin Santo soiled with pieces of cookie. If you respect both wine and cookies, however, you learn to cultivate your patience, slow down, touch the wine quickly with the Cantucci, wait enough time to let the cookie absorb the liquid and then enjoy the triumph of taste. This is how a masterpiece should be enjoyed: slowly and carefully.
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Tuscookany chose Val d’Orcia for the location of Bellorcia – a Unesco World Heritage Site
Close your eyes and let beauty conquer your thoughts. Imagine a canvas made of rolling hills, trees and blue sky, and add the most beautiful Italian villa, all wrapped in colors and aromas that whisper ancient sonnets. The perfect portrait of a Tuscan landscape, a magnificent triumph of Italian culture: this is the place where Tuscookany welcomes her guests, offering an experience nobody can forget. Bellorcia is a dream come true for all those who want to experience the magic of cooking and eating together in Italy in the breathtaking Val d’Orcia.
Not far from Siena, Bellorcia belongs to the mythical Val d’Orcia, which was added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites in 2004. Using the words you can also find on the UNESCO website, “the Val d’Orcia is an exceptional reflection of the way the landscape was re-written in Renaissance times,” a place where mankind and nature come together to produce the most exquisite harmony. A unique universe that follows the rhythm and the colors of the seasons; a paradise that is both aesthetically majestic and perfectly functional, defined by grain, vines, cypress and olive trees, and shaped by merchants and artists, who have been in love with the valley since the 14th century.
The many archaeological remains suggest the Val d’Orcia met our species in prehistoric times, and flourished under the guidance of Etruscan and Roman civilizations. As a matter of fact, it is still possible to walk down the historic Via Cassia, which connects Siena to Rome, an ancient consular road able to carry visitors and tourists to a dimension beyond time and space. Crossing the famous Via Cassia means also re-tracing the famous Via Francigena, a mystical path that religious pilgrims from all over Europe sanctified with their steps throughout the 10th and 11th centuries, as they walked from Canterbury to Rome; a precious route for the rich merchants who entered Tuscany and crossed our Val d’Orcia and the entire region to reach the Eternal City.
Besides its beauty, the Val d’Orcia offers a variety of curiosities and delicious treats. For instance, in the valley, a real connoisseur can discover some of the most sublime wines he will ever encounter, such as the legendary Brunello di Montalcino, the Rosso Orcia and the delicious Nobile di Montepulciano. And if you find yourself needing to taste pure relaxation with a touch of historic beauty, you can always visit the thermal baths of the region, including Bagno Vignoni and the gorgeous Bagni di San Filippo. Plus, of course, you can always spend a beautiful day in one of the ancient abbeys and castles, with all their ghosts and legends. Or you can simply lose yourself in your own senses as you contemplate landscapes and little towns: the perfect expression of beauty made in Italy.
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The famous pasta is one of the oldest food products in the history of humanity. For the Italians, la pasta has been vital for centuries: it is the food of the poor and the rich, the basis of almost every meal. Its history began when human beings left their nomadic lives and became sedentary, discovered wheat and learned how to grind it, turn it into flour and use it. It existed millennia before Christ. In fact, both Etruscans and Greeks used it, and even Cicero spoke about it in his writings. And when the Romans created their empire, la pasta conquered the world.
The Romans discovered in desert areas they captured in Northern Africa that wheat could be perfectly preserved if the flour is kneaded and then dried in the sun. Thus, in the sunny climate of Liguria, Campania and Sicily la pasta was left in the Sun, and then exported to the Northern regions of the peninsula. Combined with lentils or other legumes, it was a complete, perfect meal. Of course, back then la pasta still lacked its ideal groom, the tomato, which arrived in Italy from Peru in 1554 and began to be widely cultivated only in the 17th century.
The Italian creativity expresses itself in the most different forms, colours and types of pasta. Basically, they are thousands, designed for the most varied dishes. This said, the Italians have pretty broad categories for their pasta, organized around shapes, lengths and dimensions: paste lunghe, pasta in nidi, pasta a tubo, corta, minuta, ripiena e irregolare. Within these categories, there are also other specialties, like the egg pasta or the one made with special semolina. You can learn to make it grandmother-style at Tuscookany, rolling it out by hand and making many types and fillings—also traditional Tuscan fillings. Often la pasta is meant to absorb delicious, imaginative sauces, while some other times it constitutes a full meal thanks to the richness of its ingredients. Wonderful examples of the latter category are the famous passatelli, rough spaghettoni made with eggs, cheese, nutmeg and bread crumbs. Simple and tasty, they are cooked quickly in delicious broth and served hot: a festive, comforting meal.
The Italian pasta, perhaps the most popular food in the world, is often prepared incorrectly outside the Bel Paese. No doubts about it: some of the most common mistakes are shocking for the Italians, who believe cooking la pasta is almost a sacred dish. For instance, each and every Italian could easily consider the popular noodles-ketchup duo a crime. Another nightmarish recipe is the ragú Bolognese-spaghetti combination: in the capital city of this recipe, Bologna, the dish is served strictly with tagliatelle. Then, there are those who add salt before the water begins to boil, and others who add oil to the water: these practices are banned in Italy. La pasta has to be cooked al dente, drained when it is still crispy, and it can’t be cooled under cold water, because it would lose its flavour and the starch needed to aggregate the sauce. And, of course, la pasta is never served as a side dish: it's a first course or a main course. The only exception is the pilaf rice, which is accompanied by the delicious ossobuco. Plus, nobody in Italy would ever dream about adding meat or meatballs to the pasta (like you see in the animated classic Lady and the Tramp). The inhabitants of the beautiful planet do not forgive these widespread horrors, and the reason resides in the sacredness of la pasta and its ingredients: a magic, ancient ritual.
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Photo: Tuscookany cookbook "The flavours of Tuscany" page 214
Torta della Nonna, made at Tuscookany from our Grandmothers recipes
A sweet miracle: homemade pastry, vanilla scented custard and a surprising layer of pine nuts and sugar… Ask anyone to name a traditional, homemade dessert and “torta della nonna” (Granny’s cake), a much-loved Tuscan favourite, is sure to be mentioned. Its crispy, melt-in-your-mouth crumbliness makes it the queen of harmonious contrasts. It has a beautifully balanced flavour, which more than justifies its claim to fame, a classic of the Italian cuisine.
Each and every top cook has his own secret recipe, handed down from his or her grandmother, and the chefs of Tuscookany are no exception to this rule. The results speak for themselves: an exquisite combination of simplicity and tradition… it will be hard for you to find something similar elsewhere.
Whilst its long history is well established, the exact origins of this culinary delight are shrouded in mystery, and there are many contenders for the role of original inventors. For instance, there are those who claim it was the result of a bet made by chef Guido Samorini, who wanted to surprise some of his customers who had been demanding for some time something completely new. Samorini ran a restaurant in the present-day location of the San Lorenzo market in Florence, and decided to create a dessert that would surprise God himself with its delicate simplicity. The cake was an enormous success, and the Chef secretly passed on the treasured recipe to one of his pupils. This is what the legend says.
Pellegrino Artusi, the great writer and food critic, however, indirectly denies the story. In fact, in one of his books he described what would appear to be the very same dish, at an earlier point in time.
One thing is certain: this is one of those sweet miracles that can be described as “comfort food”, and therefore it could hardly be better named: it’s homely, simple, tasty and delicate, and its aroma brings you a deep sense of comfort… like the one you feel at your grandma’s home. This is why many people believe that, regardless of the bet made by Samorini, this dessert has that homemade quality that only a grandmother can bring to the table: a special homemade touch that comes from combining love and tradition.
And if it existed before its appearance in a Florentine restaurant, like Artusi would appear to prove, who is to say that Samorini didn’t get his idea from a traditional winter dessert he had as a child, a sweet melody usually accompanied by one of those children’s stories that Italian grandmothers tell so well?
Nevertheless, now the recipe is passed down from grandmothers to granddaughters, with endless expert variations and secret ingredients, together with traditional popular suggestions, like the famous “you should never make a custard during the menstruation period because otherwise you will end up with some curdled custard”. An old superstition, one that has been handed down in secret, from woman to woman through generations, just like the recipe of the Tuscans’ favourite dessert: la torta della nonna.
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7 Things you did not know about Artichokes.
Artichokes and cardoons have been part of the Mediterranean civilizations since the Greco-Roman era.
According to the myth, the artichoke was born after Zeus one day decided to visit his brother Poseidon. During his journey, the God saw and seduced a lovely woman on the beach. Ashen hair, with green shades, her name was Cynara. He brought her on Mount Olympus but Cynara was sad. She felt alone and she missed home. Her feelings became unbearable, and she decided to travel back to Earth to visit her family and her beloved homeland. Zeus discovered what she did and punished her: he turned her into a plant, beautiful and strong like she was, the artichoke. It is possible that the scientific name of the delicious vegetable, Cynara Cardunculus , comes precisely from the story of this unfortunate woman.
The Romans adopted the legend, and the passionate lover became Jove (the Roman Zeus). In the Roman version of the story, it was Jove’s wife, Juno, blinded by her own jealousy, who turned Cynara into an artichoke. Interestingly enough, the plant and the hair of the young woman share the same colours: hash and green.
The mythology is fascinating. However, according to Lucio Giusto Moderato Columella, author of the most comprehensive ancient treatise on agriculture, De re rustica, the name comes from the word cinis, hash, which was often use to make the soil more fertile for the cultivation of this plant. What scholars know for sure is that artichokes are a variety of wild cardoon, a tougher and bitter plant known for its health benefits. The Romans adored artichokes and they used to marinate them for an entire night in honey and vinegar, a process that tames and sweetens their strong flavour. They then cooked and seasoned them with cumin.
After the fall of the Roman Empire, artichokes seemed to disappear. But the plant is resilient and survived the disappearance of the Romans, remaining enfolded in silence as centuries went by. We meet it again during the Renaissance, where it earned the respect of the most sophisticated families. Truth be told, this is not at all surprising: the Renaissance itself was built on the rediscovery of classic civilizations and cultures, and the plant belonged to that ancient world. Historians suggest that Caterina de' Medici used to adore it. One the reasons we know this is the fact that artichokes, at that time, were considered a potent aphrodisiac, and the Tuscan puritans were scandalized by the audacity of the young woman.
Even La Framboisière, the physician of Luis XIII king of France (1601 – 1643), believed in the aphrodisiac properties of the artichoke. In fact, he famously stated: “artichokes make the blood warmer stimulating the will to engage in the amorous game of Venus…” Even today, especially in popular Mediterranean cultures, the artichoke is a metaphor for the virile member or the anus, if we refer to its hidden heart.
The artichoke is a tasty plant with a peculiar, unforgivable taste, perfect for those who own a strong personality. Talking about strong personalities, Caravaggio was known to be a cursed artist, someone who brandished swords and guns, was arrested for beating up a man and once killed a love rival. It appears that one day the famous artist attacked a waiter and the reason was, incredibly enough, a plait full of artichokes. This is how the victim described what happened, it was the 26th of April 1604: “I brought them eight artichokes, four of them cooked in butter and four in oil, and I suggested they should smell them. He got very angry and, without saying a word, he took the pot and hit me on my cheek, hurting me… then he stood up and brandished his friend’s sword, which was lying on the table, and it looked like he wanted to hit me. I ran away and I came here to the police station to make a formal complaint”. Be careful: this is a veggie you should take seriously!
Sigmund Freud loved artichokes too, he used to dream about them, and even Marilyn Monroe was a big fan of the plant.
But let’s close this post with the greatest poem ever dedicated to a vegetable. It was included in Odas elementales, written by Pablo Neruda, the 1971 winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature. His Ode to the Artichoke is a poem inspired by the purest love and passion, the same feelings Zeus felt for Cynara.
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Photo Torre del Tartufo sunday lunch.
Cooking and eating together remain an irreplaceable pillar of the Italian sociability.
In Italy, gastronomy is almost philosophy… and much more than that. It is pleasure and sociability: the perfect moment to talk, share a laugh and strengthen relationships. As a matter of fact, the importance of food, home cooking and eating together within the Italian culture has been scientifically proven.
Deborah Cameron, a world-renowned professor of English who teaches at the University of Oxford, and Don Kulick, a professor of Anthropology who works at the New York University, wrote about the subject in their outstanding book Language and Sexuality (2006, published by Cambridge University Press). The authors claim that food taste is actively socialized at dinner, and compare an American and an Italian family to explain their point. While some American family frames dessert as desirable, especially for children, and labels the rest of the dinner as mere nutrition and, sometimes (think about broccoli or brussels sprouts), even as some kind of punishment, Italian families talk about food and dinner as pure pleasure. For an Italian family, the dessert is not the great prize after a painful duty, but the cathartic moment that comes through an extremely exciting social and cultural journey.
It is something you can find in the way Italians talk about food, and the people who cook food. For an Italian child, food means family and parents, it is a comforting blanket that wraps everything with its delicate warmth. Eating together with his mum and dad a home-cooked meal, a little Italian gains the sense of stability and love he needs to grow up and be happy. The mother is usually the one who cooks, and this is another important aspect of this moment of sharing. She spends a lot of time choosing and preparing the right ingredients, those that make a house smell like home, an aroma that - if you are lucky enough to embrace it with all your senses when you are a child - will stay with you for the rest of your life.
The classic Italian mum owns the kitchen, a personal universe where she spends hours and hours, sometimes with grandma. She knows the right recipe for a cold day, when the family needs a ray of sunshine and the warm touch of a homemade dinner. She is perfectly aware of the ingredients you need to fight against a bad cold, and she is ready to cook them for you. And, of course, Italian mums are the best in the world when a special day comes around: desserts, traditional recipes… you name it. Considering all this, it seems quite natural that, for an Italian, nothing is better or more comforting than whatever mum cooks.
While people around the world, especially some people in England and North America, develop family traditions based on “home delivery” or “eating out”, home-cooked meals shared with the rest of the family remain a sacred, irreplaceable event in Italy. The person who cooks waits for the sincere comments of the rest of the family, looking at every expression, waiting patiently to understand whether or not the recipe hit the right spot. All this happens very slowly, while the different courses enter the room following an ancient rhythm carefully directed by the chef of the house. Flavors meet softly, mirroring the traditional combinations of the particular region where the family lives, adding a special cultural twist to a very intimate moment: a ritual passed from generation to generation, from mother to daughter, like an old esoteric ceremony.
Even a “moment with your friends” translates almost automatically in “dinner” in the Italian vocabulary, because eating together and sharing food are both metaphorical and practical expressions of commitment. Around the table, conviviality grows and relationships achieve their highest peaks. Eating together is a magical moment through which the beautiful reaches the sublime, and friendship turns into a rare form of intimacy.
The fact that in Italy women are those who traditionally cook can sometimes be misleading: men have always had their roles in the Italian culinary landscapes and rituals. In the past, men were those who gathered the food, butchered the animals, turned milk into the most amazing cheese. Even today, Italian men are usually those who are in charge of buying the right cold cuts, the perfect wine or the liquor needed to complete the dessert. Plus, especially in younger Italian families, men often cook as well, replicating what they learned from their mothers. However, even if the traditional dynamics that have characterized Italian families for centuries are changing, cooking and eating together remain an irreplaceable pillar of the Italian sociability.
It doesn’t matter if the members of the family live at a different pace, have different routines and do different things: Italians eat together, sitting around the kitchen table, every day, no matter what. And then, on Sunday, grandpa and grandma, daughters and sons, father and mother: the big family, all together. You could think about Christmas dinner as an example of the perfect Italian-style Sunday convivio. Different generations merge and embrace in front of the most delicious dishes you can imagine. The grownups enjoy some local wine, grandpa tells a story, the children laugh and grandma helps mum with the second course. Then the dessert, the coffee and the liquor. Maybe a friend comes around, or the uncle who lives on the other side of town, riding his bicycle. People talk about what happened during the week, how they feel. Everything is familiar and warm. A ritual that goes on and on, year after year. A beautiful celebration of life itself.
On our Tuscookany courses you will teach Italian dishes that are great to prepare for a family sunday lunch or even a small family dinner also read our previous post 4 Reasons Why Everyone Needs an Active Holiday in Italy
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Slow Travel - slow visit to Florence
Travelling is not a simple geographical movement from point A to point B.
It is an experience that involves all the 5 senses: an enriching, emotional journey. It means swimming in flavours and colours, touching cultures and home cooking, losing yourself in histories and stories while spaces and places absorb every drop of your being. Too often, however, all this magic gets lost in midst of some form of rushed tourism. You just have to see as many things as you can, as fast as you can. You take hundreds of pictures to remind yourself you were actually there, even if you don’t actually believe it. And while you rush through beauty, travelling never enters you, never conquers you… never changes you. You suddenly turn into a postcard collector, and you forget you could have been a traveller.
There is, however, an alternative:
It is called slow travel www.slowtraveleurope.eu It is a tourism that rediscovers travelling; a journey built on the idea that only slowness allows the traveller to really see and appreciate both cultural and physical landscapes, stress free www.huffingtonpost.co.uk. Slow travels are about emotions and aromas, voices and backgrounds www.magazine.wsj.com. Through the slowness of his own journey, the traveller finds himself in front of an ocean of details, all the little things that speed and postcards cannot catch. It is pure magic… and a lot of fun!
One of the best places to slow travel is Tuscany.
With all its small details and treasures. “But how do you actually slow travel”, you might be asking. Let me show you: come with me, slowly through Florence, a place made of art and history, but also flavours, home cooking, smells and sounds, just like the region of which this marvellous city is the capital. This will be the perfect example, and also the first step of your slow travel through the magnificent Tuscany.
You will need a pair of comfortable shoes, because walking is always the best way to go slow, and it also the best way to be ready to discover every little dark corner. In a city like Florence, every street can hide an unforgettable masterpiece. In fact, for centuries the town has been an extremely important commercial, artistic and cultural hub. This is the place where the Renaissance was born, a source of never-ending inspiration for architectures and artists across Europe.
Begin your day with an Italian breakfast, enjoy a good cappuccino and a warm pastry. The wonderful Pasticceria Giorgio, which the people of Florence simply call Giorgio, will surprise you with its sweet masterpieces. You will find it in via Duccio da Boninsegna. Or you can always walk down to via Marconi, where you will certainly find a charming spot to enjoy the notes of your cappuccino. Find a table, sit and start a conversation with a real fiorentino, a local citizen. This is the best way to kick off your day and discover all the secrets unknown to the mainstream fast tourists.
Start walking through the city centre. Admire Palazzo Pitti and stop to be carried away by the beauty of the famous Giardino di Boboli, one of the most exquisite examples of Italian garden you will ever encounter. You will find fountains and caves, sculptures and other masterpieces: it is a real open-air museum. Forget about the camera and let the space guide you through its own perfection. Keep on walking, slowly. You can buy a focaccia in the little shop in via Giuseppe Verdi 36, it will take you about 15 minutes to get there. You should also taste some of the cold cuts that made Tuscany famous all over the world. They are excellent. The manager is called Pino, you can trust him. The prices are extremely fair and you will have the chance to experience the flavours of ancient traditions and real Italian home cooking.
Say goodbye to Pino and move towards the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore. It is one of the biggest churches on the planet: an immensely fascinating building with a façade made of pink, green and white marble. If Pino’s food gives you enough energy, you will be able to climb the stairs and reach the top of the dome to enjoy a beautiful view of Florence. Inside the church, you can find the marvellous frescos painted by maestro Vasari. The church tower was designed by Giotto in 1334. Certainly, you can’t miss the baptistery and its door, which was made by the sculptor-goldsmith Lorenzo Ghiberti. It is called La Porta del Paradiso, literally “Gates of Paradise”: an overwhelming masterpiece made of wood and gold. According to the legend, Michelangelo himself said that the door was beautiful, like the gates of paradise, and that’s where the name comes from.
You can spend the rest of the day walking through the renowned Galleria Degli Uffizi. A day won’t be enough to absorb all the beauty you will find there. As a matter of fact, you can probably lose yourself in this incredible museum, where you fill find masterpieces of some of the greatest artists of the history of humanity, including Cimabue, Raffaello, Caravaggio, Leonardo da Vinci, Parmigianino, Rubens, Rembrandt. Words won’t be enough to express the feelings that will assault you. The price of the ticket is 6,5 euro, and the building itself is worth the price. If you love art, this will be a lot of fun: a memorable experience.
When dinnertime comes around, you can choose a restaurant and enjoy a typical dish. Walk around the city centre, and let the magic of Florence guide you. A nice place is the charming Osteria di Giovanni, in via del Moro 22. The so-called osterie are typical Italian restaurants, often family owned, perfect for the adventurers who travel through Tuscany. When you sit at the table, before the starters, the owners will probably bring you a few exquisite tasty treats that will make you fall in love with life itself. I am talking about traditional Tuscan dishes, home cooking, maybe a little bit of ribollita or passata di ceci, or even a slice of local salami. When it comes to the first course, pasta is the unquestionable queen of Tuscany. Try some homemade tortelli, they are delicious. You can also enjoy the classic bistecca fiorentina, if you are in the mood for a delicious second course. It is a very thick steak, perfectly cooked to be juicy, tasty and tender. And what about some roasted potatoes? They are the traditional side dish. Before the coffee, you have to try vin santo and cantucci, traditional Tuscan cookies served with sweet wine: a sublime experience.
If you are looking for something cheaper, you can always go to Beppa Fioraia, where a Tagliere Beppa, a mix of cold cuts, homemade jams, pate and other home cooked special treats, costs only 10 euro. A Chianti, the house wine, is always your best choice here. Of course, you can find many other osterie and restaurants. Ask around, the people of Tuscany are always more than willing to give you some tips and guide you towards a nice little place. They love their cities, and they are righteously proud of the local food.
After the dinner, relax and drink something in one of the many taverns you will encounter not far from the restaurant you chose. You will easily find one that offers live music, gorgeous wine, some more delicious home cooking and an unforgivable atmosphere. Have fun!
A day spent travelling slowly through a town or a village in Tuscany won’t allow you to see everything, but it will certainly give you the chance to truly experience everything you see. Breathe in places and spaces, enjoy aromas and home cooking, and start the next day with new points of reference and a new wonderful journey… slowly.
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"Photo: Organic vegetable garden at Torre del Tartufo"
Secret Benefits to Eating In-Season Produce
The owner / chef / waiter had just set down heaping plates of salad at our table.
Now he was staring at us from behind the counter, with an expectant smile.
“I’ve been here before. He’s proud of using only seasonal ingredients. Wants to see you take your first bite!” explained my dinner companion, helpfully.
It was quite odd. My shy salad, in a spotlight.
Shrugging, I crammed in a fork-speared mouthful. And, then… I understood what the fuss was about.
The little restaurant is closed now, sadly. I don’t even recall the name. But those savoury sprightly greens still dance in my taste-bud memory.
You probably don’t need much convincing about in-season produce trumping their limp, imported counterparts for sheer taste. But there are many other perks besides flavour and texture.
Food shipped over long distances loses flavour and freshness. Not to mention incurring some dents and bruises along the way.
But imports can also drive up transit fuel costs.
And even if produce is grown relatively nearby in greenhouses, off-season hothouse fees are hefted onto the overall price.
Farmer's markets are a good place to start your food shopping. Produce is unloaded quickly while yields are still fresh, so there's an incentive to sell at lower prices.
And big bins overflowing with produce are a clue as to what’s in-season at larger grocers.
Seasonality isn't limited to produce. Some meat and game have peak seasons. And since meat is a pricier item in shopping carts, it's smart to keep an eye on time of year.
PACKED WITH NUTRIENTS
Nutritional value breaks down soon after harvest so longer transit times and refrigerated storage cause damage to compounds in fruits and vegetables.
Phytochemicals, vitamins and minerals are more likely to be preserved with in-season items.
You also expand your nutritional range over the year by switching things up every few months.
There are less pesticides, too. Smaller, organic farmers tend to spray crops with natural, safer chemicals.
AVOID FOOD RUTS
Large grocery chains dull our awareness of seasonality with the ready availability of off-season imports.
It can be fun to drum up meal ideas based on what’s in-season. And your taste-buds get treated to regular changes, dodging any "food lulls" that come from buying the same stuff all year round.
WHAT'S IN-SEASON RIGHT NOW?
Certain produce have more than one crop. For example artichokes are harvested in the Spring and Fall. Carrots and onions can grow year round in temperate climates.
The following list is a good starting point if you like to plan your shopping list ahead:
- - Brussel Sprouts - Kale - Leeks - Celery - Cauliflower - Onions - Radicchio - Spring onions - Sweet potatos .....
- - Clementines - Grapefruit - Pomegranate - Pears - Lemons - Apples .....
- - Cabbage - Celeriac - Lettuce - Mint - New Potatos - Pepper - Purple sprouting broccoli - Spinach .....
- - Apricots - Honeydew - Limes - Strawberries - Grapefruit - Pomegranate - Rhubarb ......
- - Tomatoes - Zucchini - Cabbage - Carrots - Cavolo nero - Courgette - Fennel bulb - Garlic - Lettuce ......
- - Blackcurrants - Blackberries - Cantaloupe - Raspberries - Cherries - Gooseberries - Redcurrant .......
- - Broccoli - Endives - Mushrooms - Swiss Chard - Turnips - Aubergine - Beetroot - Broad beans ......
- - Blackberries - Chestnuts - Dates - Lemons - Nectarines- Pears - Plums .......
For a more complete listing check out this handy seasonality calendar on the BBC Good Food Site: http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/seasonal-calendar/all
Want to share your thoughts on eating in-season? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below:0 comments | Add comment
Imagine yourself in a large rustic kitchen.
Inside a sprawling Tuscan villa.
It sits among endless rows of sun-speckled trees and breathing hills.
There’s convivial laughter all around you. The earthy scent of basil and garlic wafts through the air. Pappa al Pomodoro soup simmers cheerfully on the stove nearby.
You’re learning how to prepare an authentic 4-course Tuscan dinner. With a master Italian chef!
The menu may include scrumptious layered eggplant with buffalo mozzarella. Drizzled with a velvety pesto cream. Now, picture yourself rolling out your own fresh pasta. Homemade Gnocchi anyone?
How about Limoncello Tiramisu for dessert?
It’s easy to see why.
1. Great for Everyone
Cooking school vacations can be an alluring prospect for singles who find traveling alone intimidating. They’re a fitting alternative to group tours - a better way to mingle with local people and engage with fellow tourists.
Also, organizations are discovering that culinary classes are a fun, effective team-building exercise - everyone works together in the kitchen.
Families can bond over the experience, because, let’s face it, nothing brings people together the way food does! Children develop a healthy respect for tradition and are exposed to new cultures in a creative way.
Couples find plenty of romance in the settings.
Seniors benefit too. Travel is often a major part of the lives of retirees, but having dutifully followed the usual sightseeing circuits earlier in life, a fresh, engaging adventure can be attractive. So there’s a growing trend towards active holidays among older people, as this Huffington Post article points out.
2. Health Benefits
Active vacations are, well, active. Now, of course you’ll have quiet moments taking in the breathtaking scenery. Or perhaps lounging languidly in the sun, sipping a glass of Chianti.
But let’s face it. You’ll often be on your feet, with your sleeves rolled up - making pizza in a wood burning oven, for example. Or stirring up a savory sauce!
There’ll be no reaching for fast food either.
We’ve already talked about how healthy the Mediterranean Diet is - it can prevent cancer and heart disease. And you’ll be cooking with fresh, seasonal, local produce and meats. Which means the very best ingredients go into every dish. Good for the environment too.
3. Impress Your Friends (and Yourself!)
Not only will you return home refreshed, you’ll also sport sharpened culinary skills and brim with inspired meal ideas, as well as fun new wine-pairings. Cooking at home will be enticing!
4. Cultural Immersion
A cooking holiday is a wonderful way to steep yourself in new cultures - literally offering a taste of local flavour firsthand.
Discovering how to prepare authentic meals from a native chef is a rich initiation into different lifestyles. An intimate glimpse into tradition.
You’ll also learn about provincial and regional culinary variations.
For instance, there are 20 regions in Italy - each with its own unique approach to food preparation and ingredients. Tuscan cuisine relies heavily on olive oil, for example. And often uses local wild game (wild boar, rabbit, pheasant etc.,) in many classic dishes.
An Italian or Mediterranean food escapade is an attractive option for anyone looking for a unique travel experience.
Active vacations are the way to go!
Had a great experience with a cooking holiday? Want to share some travel tips? We’d love to hear your stories in the comments below:0 comments | Add comment