The aromas of food can transport you back to a place. I often cook Tuscan favourites when I'm missing Italy, or when I want to remember a particular time of my life. A smell of a steaming and bubbling pot of 'ragú' in a large pan takes me straight back to farmhouse Sundays when, as a group of teenagers, we'd make handmade gnocchi while the ragú bubbled away, steaming red wine vapours into the room. By mid afternoon it would all be ready and we'd sit down to a fantastic late Sunday lunch.
I was looking for recipe ideas recently and found some wonderful ideas from food bloggers. They're not all strictly authentic Tuscan recipes, some are even low-carb, but they all share the joy of making and sharing food.
Here are my 10 favourite recipes and bloggers:
I first tasted this when living in Stigliano near Siena. The local restaurant had a chef who loved testing things on us and he would often make these sage leaves joined together with anchovy or anchovy paste in between and dipped in batter. They are incredibly moreish and delicious.
Emily from Inside the Rustic Kitchen has nailed the recipe. It is one of those that is incredibly simple but easy to get wrong. Small details like the sparkling water make all the difference.
Simplicity and good ingredients are the very foundation of good Italian food and you can't get more simple or delicious than this - "Uova al tegamino con tartufo bianchetto".
Emiko Davies now lives in Tuscany and her husband is from San Miniato - truffle country! So she knows where to find the good spring truffles, 'tartufo marzolino'. Cook a fried egg then simply grate some truffle over it. When the truffle shavings hit the warm egg, the smell will wash over you. This is a dish that is just as much about your nose as your tongue.
Enjoy her other recipes here: http://www.emikodavies.com/
Ribollita. I grew up on a farm with no electricity and no running water. We grew our own vegetables and one thing you really have to perfect if you have no fridge and no money is the art of using everything you have in your larder. Ribollita or "Boiled again" is a masterclass in using up old bread and vegetables .
Jeanine seems to have nailed it here, in her blog Love and Lemons, all the way from Chicago. The Cannellini beans can be tricky to find - good ones, that is. But the advantage of this recipe is that you can chop and change as your larder dictates as it is a flexible feast.
Love and Lemons is a beautiful blog. I love the design and clarity of it. It's not Tuscan focused, but the ribollita recipe was so good I thought it should be included.
This is an autumn recipe, when the hunting season starts, as well as when the "sagra" season starts, the period in Tuscany when there seems to be food themed festivals everywhere.
Giulia has a fantastic website, Jul's kitchen, about Tuscan food, as well as about Tuscany in general. This recipe is part of a wonderful article about 'sagre'. As Giulia says, if you're ever invited to a 'sagra', drop whatever you're doing and just go, they are a celebration of the pleasure of food and community.
The translation of this is Little Balls of Cheese and Egg, or "Stale Bread and Pecorino Dumplings". As Silvia of Silvia's Cucina freely admits, it doesn't sound quite so evocative in the translation.
It's also not Tuscan, but from Abruzzo, further south. I'm being lead by my stomach here, bear with me - this is another 'poor' dish that can be made with leftovers but is mouth-wateringly warming and delicious.
The secret, as far as I'm concerned, and as is always true where tomatoes are concerned, is to give the tomatoes plenty of time, making sure that the taste changes and softens.
This is a low-carb recipe and it's rich and delicious. You need big courgettes, or Zucchine, and then you basically make a slightly different ragú, with green peppers in the soffritto and no carrots. I normally put cloves of garlic into the olive oil and heat the oil very gently. As it heats I'll put in an anchovy and let it melt into the oil and only when all that's been done will I add the chopped green peppers and onion. I definitely like leaving the zucchine raw until you pop them in the oven as it keeps the structure firm.
It is a great recipe and I really like this blog. There are some excellent low-carb and paleo ideas here.
Back to Truffles! They make everything taste better, as long as used in moderation... Farro is Spelt and is often used in Tuscany. There's a restaurant with near mythical status in the Garfagnana somewhere that makes a divine Trout with Spelt, the trout from the lake just behind the restaurant, the spelt from a field next-door.
I like this recipe for Truffled Farro Salad because Judy explains the Q.B. rule. You'll often find Q.B. if you use an Italian cook book and it stands for "Quanto Basta" - or "As Much As Is Enough" i.e. use your own judgement! This is clearly most effective if you have a Nonna you can ask the first times you cook the dish, or if you already know what it should taste like - but, though it sounds vague, it's remarkably effective.
The website/blog is beautifully designed and I love the look of the Market Tours that Judy also offers. Judy Wits Francini is originally Californian but has been living in Tuscany since 1984 and her passion and enthusiasm shine out from the pages.
Tuscan Recipes is less of a 'blog' than the others. It is quite old school and visually quite dry, but the recipes are excellent and Lourdes, who runs it, has clearly got a handle on good, traditional Tuscan dishes, like this Arista.
Arista is a Pork Roast. Soft, delicious hot or cold, this is another of those very simple recipes that depend on the quality of the ingredients but, when done well, are heart-warming and comforting.
The name itself comes from the Greek aristos meaning 'best' (as in aristocracy). The story goes that Greek clergymen visiting Florence in 1430 were served this roast pork and all declared it "aristos" - very good. The name stuck.
I'd call them "Cantuccini al cioccolato" but whatever the name, they're delicious. I've always thought of these biscuits as typically Sienese, but apparently they're originally from the middle-east, via Ancient Greece and then Sicily. The original version manages to mix almonds, cinnamon, honey and wine into a portable and durable biscuit. Perhaps it was the Phoenicians, famed Mediterranean explorers, who originally used them on their long travels by ship. Mocha Almond Biscotti
The original versions are quite hard. I share Rosemary's fear of breaking a tooth on them and are best dipped in Vinsanto. These these slightly softer, chocolate-themed variations would be delicious for breakfast.
Rosemary's blog is a treasure trove of puddings! There are other recipes too, I originally found her while looking for a good recipe for Risotto but it is the puddings that made me stay.
Ok, this is an odd choice. Richa is not Italian and a lot of her recipes are Indian. But I find I have more and more friends and family members who are either Vegan or Vegetarian so it's great to find a versions of Pasta al Pesto that I know I can serve to my Vegan friends.
And anyway, I love Tuscany and I love Italian food generally, but variety is the spice of life and I really like the look of a lot of Richa's recipes - whether they are vegan or not doesn't really come into it for me, they just look tasty!
After writing this list I was sent a few more recipes and this one struck me. Firstly it looks delicious and the recipe is really well explained, secondly I'm always a big fan of recipes that rely on long cooking times for the flavours to become rich and meld with each other. So here is a completely un-Tuscan vegan Gumbo!
I hope you enjoyed these blogs and that the recipes might bring a ray of Tuscan sunshine into your kitchens even while you're away. If you'd like to learn some Italian cooking while staying at your villa we're always happy to organise a cookery course. If you would prefer for somebody else to do the hard work, we can organise a chef to come round to prepare delicious meals in your very own villa, just ask.