Last week I wrote about staying at a Tuscan Villa in Italy where I enjoyed very authentic meals using ingredients that were grown on the farm or sourced from nearby villages. During the one week stay, I was able to get a glimpse of what Italians eat and the proper etiquettes to eat them. I was also dining with the locals during all of the meals, so it was easy to verify the technique of cooking and eating these dishes. Some of the recipes are available on Go Eat Give.
1. Prosciutto and Cheese: A Tuscan meal starts with Salumi and cheese platter. An appertivo cocktail, prosecco or Rose wine accompanies it. Besides your table cheese, you can also serve rich cream of pecorino and sheep cheese from Sardinia.
2. Raw Fava: Whole raw Fava beans are generally stacked in the middle of the table for everyone to share. You are suppose to grab a few strings, peel them, dip the beans in a little salt, and eat with bread and cheese. The beans are hard and dry so much of the flavor comes from the salt.
3. Olive Oil: We always had generous portions of salad, generally served toward the end of the meal. This simple salad of rugola (arugula), black olives, chopped tomatoes, red bell peppers and shaved pecorino cheese is dressed with Montestigliano brand olive oil and aged balsamic vinegar. All the olives are grown and pressed at the farm, and has a spicy sharp flavor. I highly recommend doing an olive oil tasting so you can distinguish the color, fragrance and taste of different kinds of olive oil.
4. Spianata: Hearty foccacia is cooked in the oven with a hint of salt, rosemary and olive oil. I especially liked Spianata al forno a legna con ciccioli di maiale (flat bread with pork fat made in a wood oven) which had a flaky buttery texture.
5. Farro Salad: Grains are a big part of the Italian diet. The farms grow and harvest wheat, faro, arborio and store them for year round consumption. Farro salad with roasted red peppers, chopped parsley and olive oil served on a baby bib lettuce makes for a visually appealing yet healthy side dish.
6. Conchiglie al Forno: During one of the al fresco lunches, I had baked conchilie pasta al forno, pasta shells cooked with zucchini and benchémel sauce, sprinkled with pecorino cheese and baked in the oven till light brown. It was garnished with fresh basil leaves and tasted divine!
7. Pinolata Senesce: For Easter dinner, the family prepared a special treat – pinolata senesce or Tuscan pine nut cake from Siena. The creamy cake had a light flaky crust and soft jam center. It was dusted with powdered sugar and lots of toasted pine nuts.
8. Torta Budino al Cioccolato: This was not your ordinary chocolate cake, as the bottom was a little soggy and bursted with strong dark chocolate and orange flavors. I pleaded the chef to tell me what was her secret ingredient – vanilla, orange liquor, rum? Find out for yourself as she grudgingly shared her recipe.
9. Crostata: I ate a lot of crostatas during my week in Tuscany. A crostata is an Italian cross between a tart and a pie. It is a rustic pastry made with butter, sugar, flour and eggs and filled with whatever fruits that are available in the season. Apricot jams, apples, plums, elderberries, tomatoes and nuts are some of the inspiring flavors for the crostata. It was served for breakfast, dessert and snacks, but I’m not complaining!
10. Cantucci: Otherwise know as almond biscotti or Italian cookies, the only way to eat them is by dipping in Vin Santo dessert wine. The hard biscotti become moist and sweet after a few seconds in the late-harvest wine. It melts in your mouth with a delicious alcohol kick to it. Please do not dip cantucci in coffee or order a cappuccino after a meal as this is a no-no in Italian culture!
I went for a food tour of Tuscany as a guest of the Donati family. You can book a similar trip directly through Luisa Donati. Rent one of the villas located on the family farm, Montestigliano. During your stay, visit the bio gas station, do a blind olive oil tasting, talk to local producers, go Truffle hunting, learn to make pasta, have a home cook prepare your meals, and dine with the locals.