Tuscany is known for its landscapes, traditions, history, artistic legacy and its influence on culture, yet, simplicity is central to the Tuscan cuisine. Legumes, bread, cheese, vegetables, mushrooms and fresh fruit are used. Olive oil is made from Moraiolo, Leccino and Frantoio olives. White truffles from San Miniato appear in October and November. Beef of the highest quality comes from the Chiana Valley, specifically a breed known as Chianina used for Florentine steak. Pork is also produced for the region’s many excellent cured meats. Tuscany’s climate provides the ideal soil for the grapes grown to create the region’s world-renowned Chianti wine.
A soffritto can be considered the Italian version of a mirepoix and is a combination of olive oil and minced browned vegetables (usually onion, carrot and celery) that are used to create a base for a variety of slow-cooked dishes. Herbs (sage and rosemary) are used in many Tuscan dishes and seasonings can be added to the soffritto, as needed, to bring out the unique flavors of each different recipe.
Stracotto (braised beef) is a well-known favorite of the area, as are finocchiona (a rustic salami with fennel seeds), cacciucco (a delicate fish stew), pollo al mattone (chicken roasted under heated bricks) and biscotti di prato (hard almond cookies made for dipping in the local dessert wine, vin santo). Borlotti beans provide a savory flavor to meatless dishes and cannellini beans form the basis for many a pot of slowly simmered soup. Breads are many and varied in the Tuscan cuisine, with varieties including, donzelle (a bread fried in olive oil), filone (an unsalted traditional Tuscan bread) and the sweet schiacciata con l’uva with grapes and sugar on top. Pastas are not heavily relied upon in Tuscan cooking but pappardelle (a wide egg noodle) is one of the region’s few traditional cuts.
Marinated Olives and Mushrooms
- 1 cup mixed Italian olives
- 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 teaspoons finely chopped mixed fresh herbs, (flat-leaf parsley basil, and oregano)
- 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
- 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 lb. whole cremini mushrooms, stemmed
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 1/4 cup thinly sliced fresh fennel stalk (with some chopped fronds)
- 2 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- 1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
- 2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
To prepare olives:
Combine ingredients in a bowl and let sit for 1 hour. Serve at room temperature or store in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.
To prepare mushrooms:
Heat oil in a 12″ skillet over medium-high heat. Add remaining ingredients and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms are just soft, 6–8 minutes.
Transfer mushrooms to a medium bowl. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour. Mushrooms will keep in refrigerator for 1 week. Serve at room temperature.
Tuscan White Bean Salad
- 1 pound cannellini beans
- 4 tomatoes, seeded and chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh oregano leaves
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 teaspoon coarse salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
Soak the beans in water to cover overnight.
Drain the beans and simmer in water to cover until tender (about 45-60 minutes).
Combine the remaining ingredients and toss with the warm beans.
Correct seasoning to taste. Serve at room temperature.
Stracotto translates literally from the Italian as “overcooked,” but the term has come to refer to beef stews and braises – especially in northern Italy. There are as many versions of this dish as there are cooks. The important part of the recipe is the slow cooking of the meat at a very low temperature to tenderize even the toughest cut of beef. The recipe starts with a soffritto and continues with the addition of red wine, beef broth, tomatoes and tomato paste.
Italian Pot Roast (Stracotto)
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 4 lb chuck roast
- 1 onion, chopped
- 2 carrots, chopped
- 2 celery stalks, chopped
- 8 oz. cremini mushrooms, chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, chopped
- 2 cups dry red wine
- 1/4 cup flat leaf parsley leaves, chopped
- 2 tablespoons sage leaves, chopped
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 cup beef stock
- One 26-28 oz. container Italian crushed tomatoes
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- Polenta, recipe below
Heat olive oil in a large Dutch oven. Salt and pepper the roast, then brown it on both sides. Put the roast on a plate and set aside.
Sauté the vegetables in the oil that remains until they’re soft and a little browned.
Add the wine to stir up the browned bits on the bottom of the pan and bring to a boil for 2-3 minutes.
Add the herbs, tomato paste, tomatoes and beef stock. Put the roast back in the pot and bring the mixture to a simmer and keep at just a simmer for 2 ½ to 3 hours. If the liquid begins to boil, you may need to place the lid ajar. You don’t want a rapid boil, just a few lazy bubbles or the meat will get tough.
When the meat is tender, remove it from the sauce and cut into thin slices. To thicken the sauce, boil for a few minutes to reduce it. Remove the bay leaf.
Serve the sliced beef with the creamy polenta. An Italian red wine, like Montepulciano d’Abruzzo or Chianti, will be great to use in the recipe and to drink with dinner.
Quick Creamy Polenta
- 3 cups beef broth or water
- 1/2 teaspoon salt, if using water
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 cup quick cooking polenta
Bring the broth to a boil. Add salt and butter, then while stirring, slowly pour in the polenta. Stir until there are no lumps, then turn the heat down to a bare simmer. After 5 minutes, turn off the heat and cover the pan until ready to serve.
Fresh Fall Fruit
- 3½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 4 large eggs
- 2 egg yolks and reserve one egg white
- 2 cups granulated sugar, plus 1 tablespoon for topping
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 2 tablespoons Amaretto liqueur
- 1 tablespoon anise seed
- 6 cups whole almonds, coarsely chopped
Preheat the oven to 325°F. Lightly grease two heavy cookie sheets, or line with parchment paper.
In a medium-sized mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt and set aside.
In a large bowl, beat together the eggs, egg yolks and sugar until light, about 2 minutes; the mixture will look somewhat curdled.
Beat in the vanilla, amaretto and anise seed. Beat in the dry ingredients, then the chopped nuts.
Divide the dough into four portions. On a lightly floured board, shape each portion into a flat log, just about the length the cookie sheet. Place two rolls on each cookie sheet.
In a small bowl, beat the egg white with a fork until frothy. With a pastry brush, glaze each log with some egg white and sprinkle with granulated sugar.
Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the logs are lightly golden brown, firm to the touch and just beginning to crack slightly.
Allow the logs to cool on the cookie sheet about 20 minutes.
Reduce the oven temperature to 200°F. With a serrated knife slice the biscotti on the bias into ½-inch slices. Lay the slices on the cookie sheets in a single layer; Return the biscotti to the oven and cook for 20 more minutes, turning over halfway through the baking time or until the biscotti are toasted and crisp
Store the biscotti in an airtight container. They will keep for 2-3 weeks.