The Tuscan Cuisine - The Authentic Italian Table Guidebook

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Online Guidebook

TABLE OF CONTENTS ITALIANS AT TABLE ...............................................................


GALATEO: HOW TO PREPARE THE TABLE AND HOW TO BEHAVE ...............................................................................


SUPERSTITIONS AT TABLE .................................................


THE ITALIAN TABLE: A TASTE OF ITALY ........................


TUSCAN GASTRONOMY .......................................................


THE TUSCAN CUISINE ITALIANS AT TABLE Food is culture when it is produced, created, prepared, transformed, consumed and when it is chosen. Thus, it should not come as a surprise to discover that when the clock strikes eating time in Italy, the country with the most UNESCO heritage in the world, the whole peninsula sits around the table with joy in their hearts and hunger in their stomachs. While people from all over the world have fostered their own recipes and traditions, some of them associated with specific meals (think Uomo che mangia spaghetti Renato Gattuso, 1956 of the Vietnamese bánh trung thu!), Italians developed a set of habits when it comes to eating. These range from behaviors and superstitions to even the order in which a certain meal should be eaten! Considering this, let’s dive into this Authentic Italian experience starting from the Table! First of all, bread shall be on the table. Not only bread itself is delicious, it is also the perfect way to check the flavour of olive oil and vinegar that will be present on the table. A mix of olive oil and vinegar is in fact called “pinzimonio” , in which your slice of bread should be dipped before being put in your mouth.! However, bread is not considered to be the first meal of a proper, Authentic Italian Table. It is the Antipasto, the Appetizer that has the honor of starting the eating. Often, the antipasto may consist of a charcuterie platter such as salame, mortadella, or prosciutto, served with cheeses and bread; other times, you may find a cold salmon or tuna antipasto, or a bruschetta. Cold cuts


THE TUSCAN CUISINE ITALIANS AT TABLE After the Antipasto, the Primo is served. As the name suggests, which literally means “the first”, this is the first course to usually contain hot food and is often heavier than antipasto dishes. A Primo dish may contain fine and luxurious ingredients, such as truffle or seafood. Risotto, gnocchi, soup, lasagne, pasta, or broth are all common Primi. The first is of course followed by “the second”, Risotto with mushrooms, Secondo. In this course, an example of first course you will encounter different meat and seafood options. Depending on the Italian region the menu is based on, you may have chicken, beef, pork, lamb, or turkey prepared in a variety of different ways, from a sausage to a roast to a grilled meat. In terms of seafood, you can choose Ravioli fish, shrimp, lobster, or some other kind of “meaty” seafood. If there are two dishes in the secondi, a sorbet palate cleanser is served between them. Alongside Secondo are sometimes served Contorni dishes, literally side dishes. Common ones are vegetable-based, whether raw or cooked. They are served on a different plate than the meat or seafood of the secondi, so as the food not gotten mixed and allow the preservation of the integrity of flavors. The whole set of meals is consumed while drinking wines, the choice of which will depend on the meal. While at this point you may fill satisfied and full with your meal, an Italian may say to you that, despite having his or her stomach full, there is always some place in there for the Dolce, the Dessert! Options range from tiramisu to cake or pie to panna cotta. You may also consider a sorbetto or gelato for something lighter and more palate-cleansing. In this occasion, you’ll have the chance to try a delightful Torta della Nonna, literally Grandma’s cake! “Panna cotta”, a typical dessert


THE TUSCAN CUISINE GALATEO: HOW TO PREPARE THE TABLE AND HOW TO BEHAVE In the 16th Century Galeazzo Florimonte, bishop of Sessa Aurunca, came up with a code of behaviours to be polite during meals. He called it “Galateo de’ Costumi”, and although the term “Galateo” was originally meant to be a signature adjective related to Galeazzo, the term is now used in Italy to refer to the set of norms which should be followed at the table. These rules, all together, outline an extremely formal and even noble behaviour, and not strictly following them is not generally considered as unpolite behaviour. However, in general, these “rules” have been adapted to the current common habits, delineates a way of staying at the table which fits formal situations, and it is still followed nowadays. Furthermore, the Galateo also includes indications about preparing the table. In this sense, it is now adhered to in

fancy occasions such as important restaurants or meals with special guests. First, the table should be prepared as follows. Forks should be placed to the left of the dishes, with tines facing the centre of the table. In contrast, knives should be placed on the right, and the blade facing the dish. Dessert cutlery must be between the dishes and the glasses, horizontally, and the handles should face the side where the person will use it – left if it is a fork, right for spoons and knives. Finally, glasses can be used up to a maximum of five: the biggest one for water, and then, decreasing in size, red wine and white wine. These shall be top-right of the dishes. Glasses for dessert, which usually are smaller because fortified wine, typical for desserts, is more alcoholic and thus people only drink a small potion. This wine will only be brought to the table just before the moment when they will be used, and not from 06

THE TUSCAN CUISINE GALATEO: HOW TO PREPARE THE TABLE AND HOW TO BEHAVE the start. Moving to behaviours, the first and maybe least expected rule is to not say, “Buon Appetito!”, a sort of “enjoy your meal” wish. In fact, meals are supposed to be a gathering opportunity to conversate, and food is just an excuse. Therefore, wishing good appetite would move the focus to the wrong aspect of the meal, implicitly saying that food is more important than company. Secondly, once everyone has gathered, the first person to eat must be the host. When eating, the napkin shall be on one’s knees or on the table, and elbows must not be on the table. If anyone wants to take a break from eating, he has to put the cutlery on the dish, positioning them like a 4:20 clock. When someone ends the meal cutlery should be positioned in parallel horizontally inside the dish. Oppositely to a well-known Italian cliché, the bread must not be used for the “scarpetta”, i.e. using the bread to clean up the dish. After all these aristocratic and noble rules, you may feel a bit uncomfortable now by sitting to an Italian table, almost as all the eyes of the other guests would be there to control if you’re acting the proper way. However, eating is, in Italy as elsewhere, a moment of conviviality and relax, so we hope you will enjoy your meal in total calm!

Set table


THE TUSCAN CUISINE SUPERSTITIONS AT TABLE While an Italian table may have all these detailed and strict rules, the majority of Italians who had a simpler, less aristocratic lives had an easier time when sitting for lunch or dinner. That does not mean, however, that everything was permitted! On the contrary, there are several superstitions related to food and manners that we think are note reading because, as an Italian old say goes, “To believe in superstitions makes you a fool, but to not believe brings you bad luck!” In the ancient etiquette of the table even hands were subject of superstitions. The use of the left hand was forbidden, it was the right hand, the side of God that was destined for food. The left side, the Devil’s one was reserved for cleaning the body and, given the poor hygiene of ancient times, this rule is well understood which only fell into disuse after the 1600s with the introduction of the fork. Spilling wine Salt, a precious element, had to be kept with the utmost care to avoid waste: overthrowing the salt is considered a bad omen. It is believed that Judas overthrew some salt before he betrayed Jesus at the Last Supper. Here then explains the other custom linked to salt, which is to never pass the salt shaker holding it in the air but, to avoid overturning it, it should be placed on the table, where everyone then takes it with his own hand. But if the salt has fallen, to cancel the evil effect, just throw a pinch behind the left shoulder, side of the Devil, to blind it. Another precious element is olive oil and, as with salt, spilling it is bad luck. To cancel the effect, however, just throw the miraculous salt on it. Who knew that passing salt or oil may result in such a task! There are also well-wished beliefs. Eating lentils on the first day of January is believed to bring money into the New Year. Spilling wine brings good luck and it seems that dipping your finger in the wine that has fallen on the tablecloth and bathing behind the ears has made many people rich! However, we wish you’d rather enjoy fine Italian wine by drinking it this time, saving luck and superstitions for another day!


THE TUSCAN CUISINE THE ITALIAN TABLE: A TASTE OF ITALY We are delighted to present to our audience a small example of what you might expect if you peek through the window of a typical Italian house at lunchtime/dinnertime. Today we propose you a poached egg with Parmigiano foam and Italian truffle. Egg has always been considered a very important part of the Italian nutrition, as it was considered a strengthening food for both children and elders. We chose this ingredient because when we work with a very good quality truffle we Poached egg with truffles and parmesan don’t want the flavor to be distracted by other unnecessary elements. Therefore, most of the time the ingredients that enhance its taste effectively are eggs and parmesan. Moreover, in this case we took a traditional Tuscan recipe and reinterpreted it in a modern way: instead of fried egg, we choose the poached version because of its delicacy. This feature is very important for an appetizer, as it should just stimulate the appetite but not be too fulfilling. Moving on, we find house made pasta, “Pappardelle”, with rabbit ragu and artichokes. We choose this plate because in Vietnam this type of meat is not very known and also because of its peculiar flavor, it couldn’t be missing in an event like this. In Tuscany this recipe is traditionally cooked on Sundays when the family is reunited; it is pretty common for grandfathers and grandmothers to raise animals on their own, and one of them has always been the rabbit. This kind of meat is quite mild and it goes quite well with the artichokes. We would also want you to focus on the fact that we don’t have to use tomatoes or tomato sauce: most of the time you will see ragu made with this ingredient but it is actually not the standard procedure, it depends from the kind of meat we are working with and the kind of savour we want to achieve. In this case you will find a white, delicate, ragu, cooked for 6 hours and shread by hand as it was made in the traditional recipe. At this point, don’t forget to moisten the taste buds with a sip of a wonderful Italian wine. “Pappardelle al ragu di coniglio” house made pasta with rabbit ragu


THE TUSCAN CUISINE THE ITALIAN TABLE: A TASTE OF ITALY The crescendo of flavors culminates with the second course, beef neck braised for eight hours in red wine, with vegetables and rosemary. We chose a beef wagyu neck from Australia; unfortunately, we couldn’t import Italian meat, which in this case would “Stracotto alla Fiorentina”, long braised beef neck with vegetables have been the Chianina, but this is still a very good quality meat, known for its marble pattern created by fat which is perfect for this recipe: in this long cooking process it will melt down and tenderize the meat. It will have a very moist, almost buttery consistency. We are going to serve it with some vegetables and potatoes. To conclude the experience, we propose the “Torta della Nonna”, which literally translates in “grandmother’s cake”: a double layer of pastry that wraps custard and pine nuts. Perhaps due to its reassuring name, which tastes good and genuine. This cake is a timeless classic, and also it is not extremely sweet, so can be appreciated also by people that don’t really appreciate this part of the meal. We chose to end this experience with this recipe because of its name, which resembles family. When we cook with a lot of effort, we do it for our relatives or for our friends, and this commitment brings joy for ourselves. This familiar feeling is what really represents the Authentic Italian Table. 10

“Torta della nonna”, grandmother’s cake

THE TUSCAN CUISINE TUSCAN GASTRONOMY Today’s menu is based on the food tradition of Tuscany, one of the most famous regions in Italy thanks to its art, nature and, of course, its food. Tuscany is characterized by a deep and ancient culinary tradition, somehow originated and influenced by the abundance of available crops, in particular vineyards, thanks to its territory’s orography, with many hills and mountains, and temperate climate, slightly colder than southern Italy. This makes Tuscany a popular destination for foodies, sommeliers and people looking for a new and peculiar culinary experience. Some of the must-have dishes include “lampredotto”, typical of Florence area. Lampredotto is the fourth stomach of the cow which is cooked in a broth and served with a sauce, generTuscan landscape ally spiced. Its use comes from a time in which the tripe, intestines, udder and hoof of the cow were very cheap and therefore available to all classes of the population, who used these pieces to prepare tasty dishes. In the area of Carrara where Michelangelo used to extract pure white marble, there is the small village of Colonnata, where the delicious “Lard of Colonnata” is produced. Its taste comes from the marble case rubbed with garlic where it is stored and aged at a cool temperature, and throughout this time cured with herbs; its delicacy and rich taste are awarded with the IGP quality certification. In addition, there are several types of bread, from schiacciata to crostini, that are excellent seasoned with the Tuscan pungent, bitter, fruity-flavored extra-virgin olive oil. One of the quintessential dishes is the Fiorentina, the thickly-cut large Tuscan T-bone steak. The Fiorentina beef steak is aken from the loin of the young steer, it is 11

THE TUSCAN CUISINE TUSCAN GASTRONOMY normally 3 to 4 cm high and weight 1.5 – 2 kg; usually it is of Chianina, a local cattle breeds. The taste of this steak is very pronounced and aromatic even if it is cooked without any type of seasoning, only a touch of salt and olive oil. A trip to Tuscany becomes unforgettable when food is paired with the typical wines that this region offers. The hills, the coast, the mountains, often generated in different geological eras, mark the Tuscan soil, giving it a flourishing variety of environments suitable for the production of the best wines and labels existing. The most cultivated grape variety in Tuscany is Sangiovese, which enters almost all the blends of the wines produced in the region. Probably the most iconic is Chianti (DOCG), produced in the area between Siena and Florence, a red wine characterized by a bright color, an aromatic and dry taste, and a strong but pleasant smell. Going south, we can find the Montalcino hill, that was formed in different geological eras, and this has arranged the territory to host the production of a wine with an unmistakable taste: the “rosso di Montalcino”, a ruby red wine with a clean scent, and hints of flowers. Finally, the Siena area is characterized by other very well-known wines, the red wine “Vino Nobile di Montepulciano” (DOP) and the white wine “Vernaccia di San Gimignano” (DOCG). Going south, to the coastal region of Maremma, we can find “Montecucco” (DOC) and the “Morellino di Scansano” (DOCG). We have come to the end of our journey of the Authentic Italian Table. But before wishing you Buon appetito! we leave you with a quote of the famous Italo-American Director Martin Scorsese: Tuscan city



If your mother cooks Italian food, why should you go to a restaurant? Martin Scorsese

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