Love can be just like sugared almonds, bitter and sweet. What do you know about almonds and their role in the Italian...
The use of almonds in the Italian kitchen, although still relevant now, can be traced back centuries. The recipes and traditions are still here but how much do you actually know about this healthy confetti? Keep reading to find out more....
Almonds are recognised among traditional Italian foods as typically Sicilian. The city of Agrigento even holds festivals, at the end of March, in honour of the 'blooming' of the almond trees and their use in the kitchen. However, as you might remember from an earlier blog, local dishes are often popular in foods and meals spread throughout the whole of Italy. Also mentioned in an earlier blog about the history of Italian ingredients, they are originally traced back to Roman times.
Sugared almonds (called confetti in Italy) were created during the 13th Century and usually served as a sign of culinary distinction at the end of very important dinners but, of course, we’re talking about modern confetti, covered with a delicious sugar shell here, but the idea of having almonds or even aniseeds covered in a sweet shell was common already in Roman times. However, the Romans didn’t know sugar, so they would use a paste of honey and flour instead. The confetti we know now are Jordanian almonds that are used at Mediterranean weddings. Almonds are traditionally given in odd numbers, which are indivisible, symbolizing how the newlyweds will share everything equally and remain undivided, and Jordanian almonds are often given five at a time. Each almond represents a quality that the guests wish for the couple getting married: health, fertility, wealth, longevity and happiness. The combination of bitter almonds and sweet sugar are representations of a couple’s life together, with the hopes that the newlyweds’ experiences will be more sweet than bitter. Isn’t that sweet?
This geographic spread bears witness to the Italian passion for nuts. Not just because they are rich in vitamins, proteins and minerals but also because they are a great ingredient for preparing and enhancing many different dishes. Almond flour also has great versatility in the kitchen. It’s excellent for cakes and biscuits where it retains more moisture, making any dessert softer. If you want a more bitter taste you should use ermine almonds but be careful as if they are ingested in large quantities, this variety can actually become toxic to the body!
In short, there is so much you can do with this oily fruit, which is also rich in vitamin E, mineral salts and proteins. If you want to read about all the health benefits of almonds visit this link.
The almond trees start blossoming in spring and so do our own almond trees in Tuscany but unfortunately they do not produce any tasty almonds. However, we do use the nut a lot in our kitchens. Learn how to grow your own almond tree here.
Our chefs especially like including almonds in our desserts., for example, cantuccini, panforte and Siena Ricciarelli. If you want to learn more about cantuccini then why not read our earlier blog about this yummy treat: Franco, our chef at the Italian cookery course at Torre del Tartufo teaches his students to make a chocolate cake with almond flour which leaves everyone swooning! Come to Tuscookany to learn to make this delicious, gluten free cake!
The last biscuit, Siena Ricciarelli, is a personal favourite and that is why we have added the recipe here. It might not be the easiest recipe but it would be a great way to amaze your dinner guests over the Easter Holidays! That is if you can resist the temptation of eating them all yourself!!
Ingredients for 1 kg (2lbs)
- 300 g (11⁄2 cups) granulated sugar
- 400 g (3 cups) peeled almonds, baked at 50 °C (120 °F) for 10 minutes
- 50 g (1⁄2 cup) flour
- 15 g (1 tbsp) candied orange peel (or the grated zest of 4 oranges)
- 5 ml (1 tsp) almond essence
- 47 g (1⁄4 cup) of granulated sugar
- 14 g (3 tsp) water
- 20 g (1⁄4 cup) of flour
- 20 g (1⁄4 cup) of icing sugar - 8 g (1⁄4 oz) of cake yeast
- pinch baker’s ammonia
- 80 g (3 tbsp) egg whites
- 20 g (1⁄4 cup) vanilla-flavoured icing sugar
- vanilla-flavoured icing sugar - corn starch
Pulverize the almonds with the sugar in a food processor using the blade attachment before adding the flour mixed with the orange. Use the pulse button to mix in short bursts to prevent the almonds losing their oils. Add the almond essence and place the mixture in a large bowl.
In a small saucepan boil the sugar and water to 108 °C (225 °F), then turn the heat off and set the pan aside.
Sift the flour; add the sugar, baking powder and ammonia, and mix well.
Mix A, B and C together: the dough will stay quite moist but not compact. Cover with kitchen film so it does not dry out too much and leave for 12 hours.
Beat the egg whites until they form stiff peaks. Add the vanilla-flavoured icing sugar to the dough and knead, then work in the egg whites until the mixture is compact.
-Dust the work surface with corn starch and vanilla-flavoured icing sugar (ratio 1:5). Shape individual sausage shapes of about 4.5 cm (11⁄2 in) and cut each of them into 1 cm (2/5”) lengths, approx. 25-30 g or 1 oz in weight. Shape each roll by hand into a softly rounded diamond shape.
-Dust the ricciarelli on the work surface covered with icing sugar and corn starch, and the tops only with icing sugar.
-Place the ricciarelli onto a lined baking tray. Preheat the oven to 140 °C ((285 °F) and bake the ricciarelli for about 20 minutes. They are done when they have formed slight cracks on the surface, but are still white and soft.
-Remove from the oven and place delicately on a wire rack or a wooden chopping board so they dry.
-Keep in an airtight container (at least until the next day!) before serving.0 comments | Add comment
Have you already tasted the famous Cioccolata calda? We all need this Italian, rich, hot chocolate to get us through...
Have you already tasted the famous Cioccolata calda? We all need this Italian, rich, hot chocolate to get us through the winter!
We have all had a cup of hot chocolate, but have you had a cup of ‘Cioccolata Calda’? This Italian spin on this well known hot drink will give you a beaming smile and chocolate moustache to match! What makes it so special from any ordinary hot chocolate? Keep on reading to learn more about the history of this decadent drink and try making it yourself with the special recipe too.
Of course, Italy is famous for its Caffè, but its Cioccolata Calda is just as special! If you want to learn more about Italian coffee then why not take a look at our earlier blog Italian Caffè
“Cioccolata Calda,” or “hot chocolate” has a very lengthy history dating back to about 4000 years to Mesoamerica. The Olmec cultivated the cacao plant, nibs of which were ground into paste with water in order to make a chocolate drink. To achieve the rich, creamy consistency, the paste was transferred back and forth between jugs. Due to the natural taste of cocoa, the chocolate drink was bitter unless honey was added. Cacao has natural benefits that boost energy, enhance mood, and create long lasting sustenance. The chocolate drink was even rumoured to be an aphrodisiac, so these qualities led people to believe that the drink possessed mystic qualities, and thus it was saved for important and sacred ceremonies. Cacao beans were even used as a form of currency. So drinking a cup of chocolate would be about the same as eating a one hundred dollar bill!
In the 17th century chocolate was brought to Spain by conquistadors, after which it spread across Europe like wildfire. During this era hot chocolate made a turning point where different cultures created their own version of the drink by adding different spices and dairy products. Columbus was amongst one of the first Italians to bring it back home, but at that time chocolate was only considered as a form of payment. It didn’t become popular in Italy until Francesco D’Antonio Carletti (1573-1636) decided to import it after a visit to an American plantation. His imported chocolate delighted the Medici, at that time the Regents of Tuscany, the home of Carletti. Duke Cosimo III preferred it with lemons and Francesco Redi, the court doctor, prepared a jasmine-infused version. Everyone at court sought his recipe but he vowed never to divulge it.
After Duke Cosimo, the Vatican took an interest, with Cardinal Brancaccio in 1662 advising to drink hot chocolate after mass but still imposing confession after drinking it.
Chocolate unites the whole of Italy from the very north to way down in the south. Starting in Turin, and nearby Cuneo, the chocolate-making tradition connects the two northern cities to Perugia and Sicily in the south. Whilst Turin and Cuneo are renowned for their hot chocolate, Perugia represents the commercial centre of chocolate in Italy. This is due to the fact that the chocolate company “Perugin” was founded there in 1907. An important person in the development of the brand was Luisa Spagnoli. In the early 1900’s female entrepreneurs were extremely rare but Luisa Spagnoli was no ordinary woman! Her creativity and ambition led her to create the now famous Baci Perugina. She was a very practical woman so she set about developing a plan to help improve the lives of her employees. Luisa Spagnoli was one of the most forward-looking business owners of her time. She opened a nursery in the Perugina factory, which allowed her female employees to continue to work. They could bring their babies with them and not have to give up their jobs, which were vital part of their lives while the men were away at war. Read more about the company here: Perugina. It is for this reason why Perugia has become the Chocolate City of Umbria. In March and April this year, Perugia will be hosting a Chocolate Festival. When you visit our Cooking Schools in Tuscany you could consider going to this great city!
So, what is so special about the modern-day Italian hot chocolate? Its thick consistency makes it the richest hot chocolate you will ever taste! The decadent drink consists of more cocoa than milk and is served hot with even more decadence, a dollop of whipped cream.! A perfect drink to get you through these cold, winter months! However, even in summer the Italians prepare Cioccolata Calda.
In the meantime why don’t you try practising with the following recipe? Enjoy!
3½ oz (100g) chopped dark chocolate or chocolate chips
2 TBS cocoa powder, unsweetened
2 TBS caster sugar
2 cups (500ml) milk + 2 tbsp
4 tsp cornstarch
1 small pinch smoked or regular salt
Add the milk to a saucepan and add the chopped chocolate, cocoa powder and sugar. Heat the mixture, stirring occasionally until all the chocolate and sugar has melted.
Mix the cornstarch with 2 tablespoon of milk then add it to the chocolate milk. Stir the hot chocolate until thick and smooth. Add a small pinch of salt and serve in mugs. Top this delicious drink off with a dollop of whipped cream, because……why not?
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We all want good fortune in the New Year, don't we? Let's learn from the Italians as to how we can get it!
Considering the last couple of years that we have all had, we are sure that everybody is hoping for a bit more luck in 2022. If you want to learn how the Italians celebrate New Year and ensure good fortune for the year ahead, then keep on reading! We hope these traditions and recipes will inspire you and your own New Year plans.
There are two different names for the New Year holiday in Italy – one for New Year’s Eve and one for New Year’s Day. New Year’s Eve, December 31, is La Festa di San Silvestro, Saint Sylvester’s Feast Day. Saint Sylvester's Day is the day of the Feast of Pope Sylvester I, a saint who served as pope (Bishop of Rome) from 314 to 335. Medieval legend made him responsible for the conversion of Emperor Constantine. Among the Western churches, the Feast Day is held on the anniversary of Saint Sylvester's death, 31 December, a date that, since the adoption of the Gregorian calendar, has coincided with New Year's Eve.
New Year’s Day, January 1, is called Capodanno, which translates to “head of the year.” Of course it’s quite obvious why they call it this. New Year is a moment of a new start, a new year with new chances. Thus, the first day is the head, the start of the New Year. Interestingly, il Capodanno hasn't always fallen on January 1st. In some parts of Italy, especially Tuscany, they used to celebrate March 25 as the turn of the year, since it was the date that Christians believe the Virgin Mary was told she was to become the mother of Christ.
Many different traditions are held throughout Italy, for example the Romans who decided that a great way to start the year is to jump into the River Tiber. Brrrr…. You can read about it here:
In Southern Italy, traditionally, they launch their celebrations on New Year’s Eve by throwing old pots, pans, clothes, appliances and even furniture out of the window. It’s meant to symbolise “letting go” of past unhappiness to prepare your self for the future. Although most Italians have abandoned the tradition be sure to watch your head on the streets of Naples on New Year’s Eve! Other traditions are generally carried out throughout Italy. Many of these traditions following the theme of having good fortune in the New Year. For example, on New Year’s Eve, you’re supposed to wear something red (usually underwear!) because it fends off negativity and, supposedly, helps with happiness and love! The origins of this tradition are unclear but some believe that it dates back to the ancient Romans, who used red clothes to fend off war and blood. However, for this superstition to work, your red underwear must be new and a gift from someone else. Additionally, to get off to a good start on January 1st make sure you have a little money in your pocket when you leave the house. This Italian New Year tradition plays on the superstition that if you leave the house with money in your pocket on the first day of the year, you will have money in your pocket to spend on every day of the coming year. Also, while walking on the street, watch out for other people too as one of the most ancient customs in Italy is to observe the first person that you meet on the street on Capodanno. If it is an old person the New Year will be full of great surprises. If you meet a baby, a priest or a doctor – according to tradition, there might be some bad luck around the corner but, don’t worry, if you follow the following food traditions you should be fine.
Not surprisingly, New Year is based around food in Italy too! They celebrate with a big feast! If you want to learn more about the different courses of an Italian feats, read our blog about it. A ritual is to eat a grape at each ring of the midnight bell, twelve in all, to banish bad luck for the coming twelve months. An old Italian rhyme explains the custom: Chi mangia l’uva per Capodanno, maneggia i quattrini tutto l’anno, “Whoever eats grapes on New Year, will handle money all year.” The saying might have arisen because it was thought that if you’re wise enough to save some grapes from the fall harvest, you’re probably also frugal and clever with money too. For similar reasons there should be some pork on the dinner table as well as their snouts always root in a forward direction and their meat is rich in fat. Pigs are believed, in many cultures, to symbolise prosperity for the coming year. Lentils are considered lucky almost everywhere in the world. Their round and flattened shape resembles coins and, according to Italian tradition, each corresponds to a penny. So, it’s thought that the more you eat the more money will come your way. There is definitely a financial pattern we can see here…. Grains of rice swell and grow as they cook, in many cultures representing abundance and wealth. Accordingly, in Northern Italy, especially Piedmont, Friuli and Lombardy, it is customary to serve a New Year’s Eve first course of risotto to encourage prosperity in the coming year. Read about risotto in one of our earlier blogs.
As for the Tuscookany team, we will all be sure to eat plenty of grapes, lentils and risotto to bring us, and all of our guests, good fortune in 2022. Although we were very lucky to have been able to welcome some wonderful guests last season and everyone was safe, our wish, of course, is that next season our kitchens are even fuller with happy and healthy cooks from all over the world. So, while we wait for the season to open in April, we will eat our lentils and prepare for your visit! We would like to wish you a great La Festa di San Silvestro and Capodanno and a lucky and healthy 2022!
Here is one of our favourite risotto recipes to start your lucky year and, of course, don’t forget to pop the prosecco at midnight!
Saffron and Prawn Risotto
- 300g (10 oz) Carnaroli or Arborio rice
- 300g (10 oz) prawns
- 1 sachet of saffron
- 2 small shallots
- 1 l (2 pints) light vegetable stock
- 1 glass of dry white wine
- zest of half an organic lemon
- 60 g (3 Tbs) of butter
- extra virgin olive oil
Shell the prawns and remove the black intestine. Melt a tablespoon of butter and cook them in a skillet for a few minutes, before adding a little of the white wine and allow it to evaporate.
In another skillet heat a little olive oil and sauté the chopped shallots until lightly browned, add the rice and toast lightly.
Heat the rest of the white wine and add to the toasted rice, allow to evaporate before adding hot stock, a little at a time, until cooked. You will need to do this several times until cooked.
A few minutes before the rice is ready, add the saffron and season with salt and pepper; before stirring in the prawns and lemon zest.
Turn off the heat and stir in the rest of the butter. Allow to stand for 5 minutes before serving whilst still hot.
Add chopped parsley, if desired, and ENJOY!
Have a happy, healthy and delicious New Year!
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It's creamy, it's sweet and it's delicious. Do you think you know everything about the Italian dessert Zabaione? Re...
Zabaione is an Italian dessert made from egg yolk, sugar and sweet or fortified wine such as Marsala, Moscato, or Port. Countless variations exist which is, no doubt, on account of zabaione's simplicity (requiring only these three basic ingredients), versatility and the ease with which its flavour can be modified using different wines and liquors. This is simply one of our favourite desserts!
Like so many Italian dishes of note, zabaione is not without its share of historical anecdotes and competing claims of origin. Though accounts vary, the Italian dessert dates as far back as the second half of the 15th century when a recipe for Zabaione appears in the manuscript collection at the Morgan Library Cuoco Napoletano. In Tuscany, it is said that Zabaione has been well known since the 16th century, and very popular to the court of Caterina de' Medici. In Piedmont, it is said that the original name was Sambayon, in honor of Saint Pasquale Baylon. According to the story, Venture Captain Giovan Paolo Baglioni is credited with creating Zabaione by chance. In 1471, upon setting up camp with his troops at the city gates of Reggio Emilia, Condottiere Baglioni realized he was short on foodstuffs and sent some of his men to raid the local peasants. Unfortunately, the haul they returned with was rather scant: eggs, sugar, a flask of wine, and some herbs. Captain Baglioni mixed the ingredients together and the concoction was served to the men in place of their usual soup. The soldiers liked it so much that they christened it Zvàn Bajòun, their leader's nickname, which later morphed into zambajoun, zabajone, zabaglione, and finally zabaione!
Others speak of zabaione's ties to Mantua, where the Gonzaga family chef, Bartolomeo Stefani, was known to prepare this dish, and included a recipe for it in his 1662 cookbook L'Arte di Ben Cucinare. However, given that Renaissance chef Bartolomeo Scappi was writing about a semi-sweet version of zabaione a century prior, Stefani could not have been the first to put the recipe down on paper. Interestingly, drinks made with eggs have long been considered rejuvenating: many ancient recipes speak of their special power to ‘wake up’ love, revives the sick, and generally boosts energy. For this reason, zabaione was also a favourite breakfast of hunters as well as those agricultural labourers who could afford it.
Regardless of its true origins, zabaione remains an all-Italian Classic prepared in the exact same way across the country. Since the 1960s, in restaurants in areas of the United States with a large Italian population, zabaione is usually served in a champagne coupe. If you want to learn more about zabaione, check this link.
At each of our Tuscan Villa’s, Torre del Tartufo and Casa Ombuto, Zabaione is prepared during the cooking classes. We love it, as it is a great excuse to have some liquor, not that we need an excuse, of course! Franco, Paola, Alice or Laura will teach you each important step during the lesson. Even though it consists of simple ingredients, some real cooking skills are required but don’t let this scare you away and prevent you from trying. If you are struggling with this recipe, you will just have to come to Tuscookany and learn how to make Zabaione, alongside many other authentic Italian recipes!
As a custard-like dessert, Zabaione may be topped with chocolate shavings or a dusting of cocoa powder. In the summer it can be served with fresh berries, or hard biscotti although our favourite is with a serving of homemade lady fingers. You can also use Zabaione as you would any egg cream in making other desserts; it's the base of the Mantovan specialty, Torta Ostiglia, for instance, and some even use it in tiramisu. In fact, coffee is often used in place of liquor in making Zabaione, giving rise to the theory that Zabaione is tiramisù’s antecedent!
If you want to learn more about Italian Coffee check out our earlier blog about coffee. It’s also very tasty alongside your favourite cake in place of ice cream. You can also make a slightly less dense, drinkable version, with an added splash of brandy and a pinch of nutmeg or cinnamon, which is basically eggnog.
Zabaione with Cat’s tongue
For the Cream:
- 3 egg yolks
- 80 g sugar
- 1 small glass dry marsala
- 300 ml whipping cream
For the Cat's tongue:
- 135 g butter, room temperature
- 170 g flour
- 140 g sugar
- 2 egg whites
- ½ tsp vanilla
For the Cream:
- Beat the egg yolks and sugar together with a mixer in a steel bowl.
- Gradually add the alcohol, one tablespoon at a time. Whisk well after each addition.
- Place the bowl on the top of a pan of boiling water and continue to whisk on the stove until the cream doubles in size with a light, fluffy appearance.
- Put aside and allow to cool, stirring occasionally with a spatula to prevent a skin forming.
- Beat the cream in a separate bowl and gently fold into the egg mixture.
- Refrigerate the Zabaione cream until you are ready to serve.
- Preheat the oven to 180°C.
- Place the butter in a bowl and beat until soft with a mixer. Gradually and gently add the flour, sugar and vanilla.
- Beat the egg whites until stiff and gently fold them into the mixture.
- If the consistency is too firm, add another beaten egg white.
- Grease an oven tray and dust with flour, or line it with parchment paper.
- Make 3 x 8 cm strips from the dough, leaving space between to allow them to spread
- Bake at 180°C for 5 to 10 minutes.
- Serve the Zabaione cream together with Cat’s tongue and sprinkle with cacao powder.
Do you know the smelly history of garlic, the vegetable that has now become one of the most important flavourings in the Italian kitchen?
We cannot think of a savoury meal that could not use some taste enhancing Italian perfume. No, we’re not talking about a new Armani fragrance we’re talking about garlic! How can something so smelly be so delicious and used so much? Keep reading if you want to learn about the history of garlic, its medicinal uses and learn some delicious Italian recipes using garlic.
Garlic (Allium sativum) is a member of the onion (Amaryllidaceae) family and is classified in the same genus as onion, leek, chive and shallot. If you also want to read about the onion, take a look at this earlier Tuscookany blog: A delicious story that will bring tears to your eyes!
Evidence exists that garlic originated from Allium longicuspis as it does not appear in the wild as a species itself. The mutation, that resulted in garlic, probably occurred somewhere in central Asia. Most scholars agree that garlic has been used as a medicinal plant and food source for over 7000 years. The latter makes this pungent vegetable one of the oldest cultivated plants. It was worshiped by the Egyptians as a God and used as local currency. Clay garlic bulbs were placed in Egyptian tombs with the dearly departed. Archaeologists are unsure whether the clay bulbs were intended as funds for the afterlife or as idols to appease the Gods. In addition, garlic was used to pay and feed workers and slaves on the great pyramids. The bulb was so popular with those who toiled on the pyramids that garlic shortages caused work stoppages. Despite its reputation for warding off evil and use as a medicinal herb, garlic was considered too coarse and common for the refined palates of the upper class therefore only the rough, lower classes could fill their bellies with garlic. It was thought that it would upset the delicate constitutions of the rich and powerful! Egyptian priests worshiped garlic but actively avoided cooking and eating the fragrant cloves. Other cultures also deemed garlic too pungent for religious institutions. Greeks wishing to enter the temple of Cybele had to pass a garlic breath test. Those who had consumed garlic were not allowed entry. Does that seem like bit of an overreaction?
In Ancient India, the upper caste denied themselves the pleasure of the pungent herb because of its strong smell and association with commoners. In England, garlic breath was also deemed entirely unsuitable for refined young ladies and the gentlemen who wished to court them. Many Americans adopted the English attitude and didn’t embrace garlic until the 1940’s, until then it was considered an ethnic ingredient and known by slang terms such as ‘Italian perfume’. We wonder why, as today garlic is used as an herbal supplement to help prevent heart disease, lower high cholesterol and high blood pressure and to boost the immune system. Of course, it also enhances the taste of our favourite dishes! Here are some other health benefits of garlic:
BBC goodfood 6 health benefits of garlic
Garlic grows best in a sunny location in soil that is well drained yet moisture-retentive and relatively high in organic matter. Well-rotted manure or compost is an ideal additive soil amendment to improve the moisture and organic matter in garden soils. Garlic prefers a soil pH of between 6 and 7. Liming is recommended if the pH falls below 5.8. Base rates on soil test results.
At Tuscookany we cannot imagine a day without cooking without garlic. The vegetable is used in many of the meals prepared and cooked at our Cooking Schools in Tuscany. When garlic is chopped, the release of sugars and oils can make for a sticky exterior, and this sometimes makes it difficult to work with. If you don’t like handling garlic, a garlic press is an excellent solution; they’re a little more work to clean, but they quickly produce evenly minced garlic. Alternatively come and join our garlic journey at one of our villas in Tuscany!
If you want to practise beforehand here is a way to become a Garlic Master: Tastemade How to Prepare Garlic as a Chef
Or perhaps start practising with this recipe: Pici all’aglione (Pici pasta with garlic). Serves 4
For the Pici Pasta:
- 500 g (5 cups) of strong wheat flour
- 250 ml ( ½ pint) of water
- extra virgin olive oil
For the Sauce:
- 500 g (5 cups) of fresh tomatoes
- 6–8 cloves of garlic
- chilli pepper
- extra virgin olive oil
- salt & pepper
How to prepare the pici pasta:
Pile the flour onto a pastry board and make a well in the centre, add a pinch of salt and pour in the lukewarm water, a little at a time, incorporating all the flour.
Knead the dough for quite a while before adding a tsp of olive oil and continue to knead until the dough is firm, smooth and free of lumps. Add water or flour, if necessary.
Allow to rest for 30 minutes before rolling out the dough, with a rolling pin, to a thickness of 1 cm (2/5”), grease with oil and cut into strips as wide as they are thick.
Sprinkle the work surface with flour and with the right palm rub and roll up each strip while the left hand gently stretches each strip into long spaghetti that are quite thin and of a similar diameter. Dust with flour to stop the pasta sticking.
Cook for about 6 minutes in plenty of boiling, salted water.
How to prepare the sauce:
Peel the garlic and remove the central shoot before frying gently in a skillet for 8–10 minutes. Use plenty of oil, as the pici pasta will be tossed in the same skillet later. Move the garlic around regularly to stop it becoming too dark.
When the garlic has softened, crush it with a fork before adding chopped tomatoes and chilli peppers. Leave to stand for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, and seasoning with salt and pepper. When the pici are cooked, toss in the sauce and serve, if preferred, with mature Pratomagno Pecorino.
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Have you always wondered why Tuscan bread tastes so bland? If so, please keep reading this tasteless story!
If you’ve been to a restaurant in Tuscany you must have had a shock when you tasted the bread. In contrast to all the tasty and delicious food the Italian cuisine has to offer, the authentic Tuscan bread has no taste at all. The pale-crusted slices are bland and dry. How come? And why do the Italians allow themselves to be associated with this?
Tuscan bread is intentionally made without salt. Who knew that salt could make such a difference? The bread not only lacks depth of flavour without salt but the structure is much more delicate and chewy and it has a lighter crust. It is sometimes called pane sciocco. Sciocco means unsalted, but it’s also a synonym for stupid. Coincidence?
Salt was a highly prized commodity in the Middle Ages and therefore it was heavily taxed. Impoverished Tuscans (which was a large percentage of the population at that time) couldn't afford salt. They therefore started making their bread without it.
Another story that is told, perhaps a saltier one, stems from the historic rivalry between Florence and Pisa. During one of the feuds between the two city-states, the Pisan army set up a blockade on the Arno River to prevent salt shipments from reaching Florence. Undaunted, Florentine bakers kept baking – they just left out the salt! Salt-less Tuscan bread is really not intended for eating on its own. It’s usually served along with the meal and is meant for mopping up thick, rich sauces. The bread doesn’t compete with the flavours in the dish and therefore both are enhanced.
Think about a delicious Bruschetta: Italian bruschetta: a delicious appetiser made at Tuscookany, the fresh tomatoes with garlic and basil can excel on their bland base to create a fresh and delicious, yet crusty, antipasti.
Tuscan bread goes stale more quickly than other types of bread. When the stale bread is rejuvenated with liquid it becomes springy and not mushy which makes it the perfect left over bread. Tuscans have used stale bread for hundreds of years to make simple peasant dishes more filling and to give soups a thicker consistency.
Hence you will find many recipes using stale bread throughout Italy. One of our favourites to make is Ribollita, which literally means re-boiled. It is a left over vegetable soup cooked with stale bread that’s so thick you need to eat it with a fork but, oh so delicious. Read more about Ribollita here. Six things you didn't know about the Tuscan Ribollita Soup. Another delicious dish is Panzanella, an Italian salad with bread. Here is a recipe Panzanella-Tuscan Tomato and Bread Salad.
We can learn a lot from the Italians in the light of food waste, so next time your bread has gone stale and you want to throw the bread away think of these recipes instead: 5 Italian Ways to Use Leftover Bread
When we, at Tuscookany, serve Tuscan bread at our Tuscan cooking schools we often get shocked reactions to the salt less bread when our guests taste it for the first time. That is why we like to give them the above history and teach them how they should eat the bread in the best way possible. Additionally if you want to learn to bake focaccia come and visit us! Until then read our blog about focaccia: What is Italian Focaccia and their regional differences? An extremely delicious bread that is definitely NOT tasteless!
If you want to experience the Tuscan bread for yourself, book your ticket to Florence right away and don’t forget to stop at Tuscookany! If that’s not yet a possibility here is a recipe for you to make it by yourself and don’t forget to make a sauce to dip your bread into. Please let us know what you think!
⅔ cup bread flour
¼ cup water lukewarm
¼ tsp dry yeast
3⅓ cup flour
1¼ cup water lukewarm
Starter (Biga) – the night before
1. Dissolve yeast in lukewarm water. Add flour and knead into a ball. Place in a bowl, cover with a plastic wrap and a linen towel and allow to sit overnight.
Dough – the next morning!
1. The next morning the starter should have doubled or tripled in size.
2. In a mixer bowl add starter, lukewarm water and flour. Using a dough hook attachment knead for about 10-15 minutes slowly increasing the speed.
As a result you should get soft dough that easily comes together into a ball.
3. Give the dough a round shape and place it in a large bowl covered with plastic wrap and a tea towel.
Allow to rise for 1-2 hours or until it has tripled in size.
4. Turn the dough onto a floured surface. Dust it with a little more flour.
Using your fingers pat the dough down into a rectangle.
Fold the upper edges into the middle and roll the dough into a loaf starting from the top.
5. Transfer the loaf onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
Score the loaf with a blade or a sharp knife and cover it with a linen towel to rise for the last time for about 30-40 minutes.
6. Preheat the oven to 450F.
7. Bake the bread for 15 minutes. Reduce the heat to 400F and bake for another 25-30 minutes.
8. Allow the bread cool on a wire cooling rack.
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Lavender can be used for much more than you think! See, smell and taste what we mean!
Who doesn’t love lavender? The colour and smell can cause instant happiness. But why is this beautiful flower so popular? And what else can we use it for? Keep on reading to get these answers.
The origin of Lavender is believed to be from the Mediterranean, Middle East and India. Its history goes back some 2500 years. Lavender is a flowering plant of the mint family known for its beauty, its sweet floral fragrance and its multiple uses.Today Lavender continues to be cultivated across its countries of origin as well as Europe, Australia, New Zealand, North and South America. The ancient Greeks called Lavender nardus, after the Syrian city of Naarda and was commonly called Nard. The flower was one of the holy herbs used to prepare the Holy Essence and Nard, or ‘spikenard’ is mentioned in the bible in the ‘Song of Solomon’ among other places. It derives its name from the Latin ‘lavare’ meaning ‘to wash”. The Romans used Lavender to scent their baths, beds, clothes and even hair. The Romans highly prized the cleansing qualities of this plant and knew that it restored and soothed the skin. The Romans loved the plant and a pound of lavender flowers would have cost around a months wages for a farm laborer. So intrinsic was this plant to Roman culture, it was transported everywhere; they were in fact responsible for introducing lavender to England and other far reaches of their vast empire. They also discovered its medicinal properties. The plants strong scented resin has strong antibiotic properties and was even used to disinfect hospital floors during World war II. When the plants oil is burned in aromatherapy it will curiously repel moths from the house and induce a positive effect on human respiration. Lavender oil is also said to soothe headaches, migraines and motion sickness when applied to the temples. It is frequently used as an aid to sleep and relaxation. Lavender’s anti-inflammatory properties can relieve skin burns and when mixed with rose water can even cure acne. The purple plant was even used during the years of the plague to repel the fleas that carried the disease. If you are interested to learn more about lavender, here is a link for you on WikipediA. But it’s not only a great product for humans. That’s because the fragrant plant has both pollen and nectar to feed the bees. Another huge benefit is that it blooms during a midsummer gap when bees are usually the hungriest but have fewer pickings. If you want to know why bees are so important please read our earlier blog on bees. www.tuscookany.com/blog
We at Tuscookany love lavender! It is the favourite flower of the owners, and that is visible. Our villa’s in Tuscany are surrounded by the vibrant purple colour of lavender. But this fragrant flower is not only found outside for the bees to enjoy but also in our kitchens for us to enjoy. Franco Palandra, the chef at Torre del Tartufo, loves cooking with Lavender. He uses the nice aroma to give flavour to some of his iconic dishes. Often he likes to combine lavender with another strong flavour like saffron or orange zest, to give for example, a dessert, a nice zing. But he stresses that the use of lavender must be done with extreme caution. The strong taste of the flower can easily be overpowering. Our chef Laura Giusti in Casa Ombuto also uses lavender in one of her Mediterranean desserts, namely Crema Catalana. Here are some more recipes that you can try: www.italianfoodforever.com/lavender/.
It is not only populair is desserts, but also in savoury meals. Think of the medditerean Herbes de Provence with lamb or chicken.
Have you been inspired by all these uses and do you want to plant lavender yourself? See here what to do:
Light: Lavender needs full sun and well-drained soil to grow best. In hot summer climates, afternoon shade may help them thrive.
Soil: Lavender grows best in low to moderately-fertile soils, so don't amend the soil with organic matter before planting. Lavender performs best in neutral to slightly alkaline soils. Add lime to raise the soil pH to around 7.0 - we recommend performing a simple soil test for best results.
Spacing: Depending on the variety, space plants 1 to 3 feet apart.
Planting Time: In areas colder than Zone 6 (Zone 6-1), we recommend planting in spring or early summer. In areas warmer than zone 6 (7-10), we recommend planting in early fall so the roots can get established during the cool, moist winter weather.
1. Start with healthy plants that have developed root systems.
2. Prepare a planting hole that's twice as deep and twice as wide as the root ball of your lavender plant. when planting multiple plants, you can amend the soil for each planting hole, or amend the whole bed before planting. In a container, prepare a well-draining soil mix by combining gravel or sand with soil.
3. If the roots are clinging to the sides of the pot, you can "rough up" the roots to encourage outward growth.
4. Plant your lavender with the top of the root ball even with the soil line. Backfill soil around the plant and press firmly all around.
5. Water to compress the soil and remove an air pockets. In the coming weeks, only water your Lavender if both the plant and the overall conditions in your garden are very dry. Remember, Lavender thrives on fast-draining soil and does not prefer to have "wet feet," or standing water, which can cause roots to rot.
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When life gives you lemons, pour some vodka over them and make limoncello! Have you made this bright liqueur before?
Limoncello is the Italian word referring to an intensely lemon-flavoured liqueur most famously associated with, and produced in, the south, but also very popular throughout the whole of Italy. What is its history and how can you make it? Keep reading if you want to learn more about this delicious, boozy drink!
If you have visited the south of Italy before you would not have missed the many shops proudly displaying this bright yellow liqueur. Although you would expect it to taste sour it has a more of a sweet and soothing taste. To appreciate Limoncello to its fullest, it should be served at a very cold temperature, which makes it more refreshing in the warmer seasons. This is why we, at Tuscookany cooking vacations in Tuscany, always serve our limoncello after dinner at its coldest and straight out of the freezer (to be quite honest, some lunches also end with this nectar too!). Italy is the world's largest producer of lemons so, naturally, Italians have developed a delicious way to use this plentiful fruit. Citrus trees dot the landscape throughout Italy but along the Amalfi Coast you will find lemon trees growing in abundance.
Limoncello is made using a combination of lemon rinds washed in water, Vodka (or a grain alcohol), water and sugar. The best limoncello comes from the big, ripe lemons of the Mediterranean but any variety of lemons can be used. The mixture is made using approximately 8 lemons to 1 litre of alcohol. Added to this combination are approximately 420 g of sugar and 900 ml of water. Firstly, the lemons are peeled, leaving a little white attached to the peel. The peels are put in a large container together with the alcohol and left in a cool place for at least 4 days. The container is gently shaken a couple of times a day. On the fifth day a syrup is prepared from sugar and hot water. It is stirred for 5 minutes until the sugar has dissolved and then cooled. The lemon-scented alcohol is strained through gauze or a strainer, the lemon peels discarded and the alcohol mixed with the syrup. The limoncello must then rest for 2 or 3 days. It’s easy to make it yourself. The process is, however, quite tedious but absolutely worth it! While waiting for your citrusy limoncello, read about some other classic Italian drink, such as the bitter truth about amari : We will tell you the Bitter Truth about Amari in our blog
There are many different theories on the origins of Limoncello but it has always been a big mystery in Italy. Legends have it that Limoncello, and other liqueurs of fermented spices, fruits and herbs, were developed in convents. In the early 1600’s the nuns of the Santa Rosa convent in Conca dei Marini were using this citrus-based liqueur to give their famous lemon pastry sfogiatella Santa Rosa its authentic taste. However, some say that its origins are linked to the events of the family of the businessman Massimo Canale in Capri, who, in 1988, registered the first trademark “Limoncello”. The liquor became even more popular from the beginning of the 1900’s in a small boarding house on the island of Azzurra where the lady Maria Antonia Farace took care of a rigorous garden of lemons and oranges. During the post-war period her nephew opened a bar near Alex Munte’s villa. The speciality of the bar was the lemon liquor made with her old recipe. Some recall the peasants and fishermen’s custom of drinking a little lemon liqueur in the morning to ward off the cold. However, in his article entitled L’invenzione della tradizione (The Invention of Tradition), Lee Marshall argues that we do not have any historical documentation regarding the use of Limoncello before the beginning of the twentieth century.
From Capri to Costiera, Limoncello’s fame soon reached Milan where it was called Limoncino. It then made its way down to Rome where it was called Limoncello and finally reached Naples where downtown bars proudly started displaying the cheery bottles filled with yellow liquid gold.
As is done throughout Tuscany as well, with our cooking schools being no exception, the chef at Tuscookany often makes Limoncello with their groups. The group can then take a bottle home so they can enjoy their own Limoncello with their friends at home. Franco Palandra, the chef at Torre del Tartufo, uses his grandma’s old recipe. She lived close to Naples. When you come to Tuscookany make sure you request a Limoncello lesson!
Here is a Limoncello dessert recipe for you to get started:
Here are some citrus cocktails for you to make with your Limoncello:
Fill a wine glass with ice. Pour over the Limoncello and top up with the Prosecco and soda. Stir with a long spoon, and garnish with some lemon.
3 large sprigs fresh mint plus extra for garnish
2 shots Limoncello
2 shots White Rum
soda water to top up
1 tbsp sugar
1 lemon cut into wedges
Put the mint leaves, sugar and fresh lemon into a large cocktail shaker and muddle, bashing the lemon and mint until most of the juice is released. Add the Limoncello and rum and top up the shaker with ice. Shake until thoroughly mixed and ice cold. Divide the cocktail between two high-ball glasses filled with ice and top up with soda water. Garnish with mint and lemon if desired.
1½ ounces pear vodka (Grey Goose La Poire)
¾ ounce Limoncello
¾ ounce ginger liqueur
½ ounce simple syrup
1 ounce orange juice
Garnish: mint leaves
Garnish: dried pears
Garnish: orange & sugar
Rim an old-fashioned glass with sugar; wet the rim by wiping an orange wedge around it. Pour all of the ingredients into a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake vigorously until the outside of the shaker is frosted and beaded with sweat. Strain into the prepared glass filled with crushed ice. Garnish with mint leaves and dried pears.
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Feast your eyes on your dish before savouring it. Do you know the importance of food plating?
In celebration of February being Italian National Art Month, we would like to share our love of art. Tuscany is the birthplace of the renaissance and therefore art surrounds us. But, first and foremost, we love the art that we can eat. Please keep reading if you want to learn more about the art of cooking and plating food!
Italy is well known for its art and people from all over the world come to visit to see and learn about this part of the Italian heritage. The centre of art in Italy is Tuscany and it takes great pride in being the birthplace of the Renaissance. The region is believed to have the largest concentration of Renaissance art and architecture in the world. Although Etruscan, Romanesque, Gothic and Baroque influences are also seen in Tuscany, Renaissance remains the most characteristic. Florence is one of the world's most important watercolour centres, so much so that it is often nicknamed the "Art Palace of Italy". The Renaissance in Tuscany is the period from about 1400-1600. This period runs parallel with new developments that occurred in philosophy, literature, music, science and technology. Renaissance art took, as its foundation, the art of Classical antiquity. Painters such as Cimabue and Giotto, the fathers of Italian painting, lived in Florence and Tuscany, as did Arnolfo and Andrea Pisano who were known for their architecture and sculptures; Brunelleschi, Donatello and Masaccio, forefathers of the Renaissance; Ghiberti and the Della Robbias, Filippo Lippi and Angelico; Botticelli, Paolo Uccello, and the universal genii of Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo too.
When you visit one of our Cooking School villas we highly advise you to visit some of the countless museums in Tuscany. Here are some tips on where to go: Tripadvisor.com. Even when driving to our Cooking School in Tuscany, through the breath-taking Tuscan countryside, architecture from the renaissance will stand out in the old villages.
But, in true Tuscookany style, our favourite art is food art! We like to consider our chefs to be artists, not only whilst cooking but also when plating. Plating is often overlooked as part of the art of cooking. Chefs are becoming more and more innovative when it comes to cooking their dishes. Many chefs are crossing the boundaries of science and art to create new and interesting meals. Food presentation is the best way for our chefs to bring their personality into a dish. How you choose to present food to your guests is an art form and you get to choose what that art looks like. With a little extra time spent plating you can utilize the texture, colour, and taste of the food to create a masterpiece on the plate, a story for your guests to read first with their eyes, and then with their taste buds! You can bring the culture of the food to the surface of the dish with traditional presentation or make something totally unique with a more abstract technique. Food presentation is the key to pulling all five senses into the experience of eating. At Tuscookany we invite you to join the chef during the plating time to learn more and be inspired.
Even in Ancient Roman times banquets were an important social event. They were usually hosted in private residences for friends and clients. The Romans placed great focus on the appearance of their dining room (triclinium). They were decorated with murals and mosaics as well as lavish sculptures and furniture. The overall purpose of a private banquet was entertainment, not only through live performances, but also through the presentation of the food itself.
Whilst diners have always eaten with their eyes first, the popularity of social media has made flawless food presentation the expectation for the restaurant dining experience. This trend has also led to more creative presentations of food and a greater emphasis on plating. One of our favourite must be the classic pasta nest, which is made by swirling spaghetti in the middle of the plate. See here how you can master this: Italymax.com
However, there are many ways you can plate pasta, as there are so many different types of pasta. Get creative! If you want to learn more about the different types of pasta why not read our blog on this. Pasta was invented by Italians and has become symbolic for their kitchen.
Until the time comes when you can join us for a fun-filled cooking vacation at Tuscookany here are some of the most important plating tips to get those mouths watering.
1. Avoid overloading the plates
Your dish won’t be very attractive if the meat is swimming and your vegetable garnish has sunk into an ocean of sauce. Don’t be afraid of blank spaces on plates as it helps to highlight your composition. Remember that less is more, so if you overload your plate with too large a portion, you’ll make the food less precious and valuable.
2. Alternate forms and volumes
Try to mix crisp and soft, large and small and dark and light elements. In some cases you can use the sauce as decoration. Serve additional sauce on the side or in a small stylish jug. Slice vegetables and fruits using varied and surprising combinations to make great looking garnishes.
3. Think about playing with contrasts and colours
Vary the look of your plate presentation through the colour of cooked food or adding colourful decorative elements. Cherry tomatoes or sundried tomatoes are a good element to add some red. Try a sprig of fresh herbs, the most commonly used currently being chervil. The technique of “blanching” will be very useful as it allows you to keep the vivid green of vegetables by boiling them for a short time and then plunging them into iced water.
4. Observe a half-inch space or more between food and the edge trim of the plate
To keep the eyes focused on the food, don’t hesitate to leave a regular blank space between your composition and the edge of the plate. If you have nice decorative plate it would a shame to hide it!
That’s all for this short reminder about food presentation! If you’re interested about this subject please go and check out our previous article links about the art of plating a dish and the tools to create professional looking food presentations.
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"Photo our bee-keeper educating guests on bees at Torre del Tartufo"
Are you looking for a new hobby in 2021 to keep you buzzy as a bee? Why not try bee-keeping?!
At our Tuscookany Cooking Schools we keep our own honeybees and produce delicious, fresh Tuscan honey for our guests! Would you like to learn more about the importance, and the effects, of beekeeping? Read on for this un-bee-lievable story!
Bees have been declared to be the most important living species on our planet, yet a recent study has shown a dramatic 90% decline in the bee population in the last few years. The main reasons for their extinction include deforestation, climate change, the use of pesticides and lack of flowers. If this continues we will have a big problem. Bees are vital to both pollinate the food we need to survive and pollinate many of the trees and flowers that provide habitats for wildlife. While there are other methods of pollination, including wind, birds, bats and other insects, wild bees are among the most important pollinators as they are capable of pollinating on a much larger scale. Honeybees, both wild and domestic, perform about 80% of all pollination worldwide. A single bee colony can pollinate 300 million flowers every day. Click on the following link to read more, WikipediA.
Why is this important for us? Well, you have a bee to thank for every one in three bites of food you eat and we can’t stress enough how important food is to us: 70% of the world’s agriculture depends exclusively on bees. Without their hard work pollinating, the plants would not be able to reproduce. What would Italian food be without tomatoes? This is what happens in Italy: Italian beekeepers suffer 'worst honey harvest ever'
At Tuscookany we are incredibly grateful for the bees around us and have so much to thank them for. Firstly, we are blessed with views of fully-grown, green Tuscan hills and villas that are surrounded by countless species of flowers. Anyone who has ever visited Torre del Tartufo, Casa Ombuto or Bellorcia would agree that it would not be the same without the delightful scented lavender bushes all over the premises. Secondly, the growth of many of our favourite local organic fruits and vegetables that we use can be traced back to the work of bees. We take high priority in using the freshest produce we can find in all our courses. Thirdly, at our Cooking Schools in Tuscany we keep our own honeybees and have a professional beekeeper named Faini Giovanni to produce the honey. We make three kinds of delicious honey: our classic honey, fresh Mille Fleurs honey and rich chestnut honey. The latter is perfect to pair with pecorino cheese and walnuts. If you want to learn more about what more you can do with this cheese then why not read our blog: Did you know this about Tuscan pecorino cheese?
This is why we took responsibility and decided to give a safe habitat to our bees by setting up hives. We also like to educate as many guests as we can about beekeeping and the importance of bees. Let’s keep bees alive, because that’s what they do for us!
Now what can you do? If you would like to become even more educated about honeybees, why not watch the documentary “The Pollinators” on Waterbear streaming platform. Here’s a link where you can sign up for free: www.waterbear.com. When you sign up you will get access to 180 films and documentaries about food, sustainability and climate change that will inspire you! Moreover, make your garden bee-friendly! It’s easy to achieve by planting bee-loving flowers. You can create a safe habitat where they can build homes and find a variety of nutritious food sources. You don’t need a lot of space to grow bee-friendly plants. They can be grown in small gardens or even window boxes, pots and planters. You can also get involved with local organizations and governments to find opportunities to enrich public and shared spaces. Always make sure that your garden is chemical free by not using any synthetic pesticides, fertilizers, herbicides or neonicotinoids. Instead, use organic products and natural solutions, such as compost, to aid soil health and adding beneficial insects that keep pests away like ladybugs and praying mantises. If you want to take it a step further why not keep your own bees? See how here: Bee Built
If reading all about honey got you excited then here is a delicious recipe for Struffoli (Italian honey balls):
490 g plain flour
6 egg yolks
1 lemon, zested
1 orange, zested
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 tbsp limoncello
950 ml rapeseed oil, for frying
480 ml honey
1 lemon, zested and juiced
Icing sugar, for dusting
Candied orange or lemon peel or sprinkles, for garnish, optional
1) In a mixing bowl add the flour, egg yolks, eggs, lemon & orange zest, salt and the Limoncello. Mix well for about 8 to 10 minutes to form a firm dough. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
2) When the dough has rested, remove from refrigerator and cut into golf ball-size pieces. Roll each golf ball into a 1 cm thick dowel and cut each dowel into ¾ cm pieces. Roll each piece into a ball. Repeat with the remaining dough.
3) Heat the oil in a 30-35cm skillet (least 7cm deep) to 190 degrees C. Drop balls into the pan to cover about half of the surface of the oil and cook until they turn a dark, golden brown. Use a spider or slotted spoon to turn them regularly; they will puff up while cooking. When cooked, remove to a tray covered with kitchen towel and drain well. This should make at least 5 batches, so be patient.
4) When all the Struffoli are cooked, heat the honey and the juice and zest of the remaining lemon, in a wide 6-8 litre saucepan until quite warm, about 65 degrees C. It will be substantially thinner at this stage.
5) Add the Struffoli and stir carefully until well coated. Remove from the heat and cool for 5 minutes in the pan, stirring regularly.
6) Pour them onto a large serving tray in the form of either a pyramid or a ring. Sprinkle with icing sugar and any other choice of garnish. The Struffoli can be kept for up to a week, if your guests allow!!
Buon Appetito and share this blog if you think it was interesting!
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