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Explore the Tuscan valley of Casentino and its best-kept secrets

Posted on march 19, 2019 by Tuscookany Team
Explore the Tuscan valley of Casentino and its best-kept secrets

See Tuscany as you have never seen it before - combine cooking and hiking in the Casentino valley!

Immerse yourself in the culture and lifestyle of Tuscany. At Casa Ombuto we are now offering, for selected weeks, a combination of cooking and hiking. Learn to cook authentic Italian dishes, have fun and make friends for life, all while staying in Casa Ombuto and hiking with a professional guide in the beautiful Casentino Valley

The Hikes

The hikes are given by the professional, English-speaking Guides of In Quiete. They will give you more information about the landscape and its history. These Guides have known the Casentino valley since they were children and know the best spots for amazing hikes. The Hikes are organised on Monday and Friday morning and the drive to the start of the hike in the Nature Reserve of Casentino is included. The hikes are E Catergory, which means they are easy for persons who do some physical activity. Together with the group you will be able to explore the nature and history of past and present human life. The first hike will be in the surroundings of Casa Ombuto, both in Quota and Raggiolo, the second hike is a bit longer and will be in the national park of Casentino. After the hike there is enough time to grab a snack or a light lunch and get ready for the cooking lesson, given by Paola in the afternoon.  We have hiking shoes, Nordic walking sticks and rain ponchos available at the villa Casa Ombuto, free for your use.


The valley is part of the province of Arezzo, which is one of the most well-known provinces of Tuscany. The Casentino Valley is rich with history, art, good food and numerous outdoor activities. Lying approximately 50 km to the east of Florence, this isolated valley offers opportunities for visitors of all ages to visiting castles, trekking through centuries-old forests, taste authentic recipes and discovering many of the best kept secrets from locals. The mountains of Casentino have attracted great saints such and St. Romuald and St. Francis of Assisi. The largest communal towns in the Casentino valley are Bibbiena and Poppi. The villa Casa Ombuto lies in a small glen above the beautiful town of Poppi.


Casentino is a narrow valley between the Apennine ridge and the hills of Pratomagno. The hilly part of the valley has been the home of the Arno River and many farms for decades. The landscape is characterised by sedimentary rock, predominantly sandstone, intercalated with marl, which in Romagna frequently appears with characteristic stratified escarpments or with bare ridges. The structure of the South-East area of the park is different: here the distinctive feature of Mount La Verna rises up with its calcareous crags from a landscape of broad, rolling hills interrupted by badland erosions, revealing the presence of clay. From a naturalist viewpoint, the Park stands out as one of the most prized forest areas in Europe. At the heart of the park is the Foreste Demaniali Casentinesi [State Casentino forest], within which the Riserva Naturale Integrale (Integral Nature Reserve) of Sasso Fratino, founded in 1959, can be found.


The territory has towns and villages which are rich in history, artistic and architectural heritage. They present themselves to the visitor in a wonderful natural frame, rich in flora and fauna, including the most important population of the Apennine wolf, as well as the exceptional presence of five species of ungulates (mammals with hooves): wild boar, roe deer, fallow deer, common deer, and mouflon (mountain sheep). Inside the park, there are two points of great interest and spiritual importance: the Sanctuary of La Verna and the Hermitage of Camaldoli. The forest has also represented the only true wealth of this territory, since it provided wood of the best quality and thus gave the mountain people a means of living. The Park includes an area in which people have always lived and worked, this is the reason for the presence of many ruins and abandoned villages within the park territory.  As a result of the mass exodus that took place starting from the Second World War, the number of actual inhabitants of the Park has dwindled to about 1,500. The protected area can be visited making pleasant excursions on foot, mountain bike and horseback or, in winter, on cross-country skis along a path network of approximately 600 kilometers.

Casentino looks forward to showing you its charm!


The Tuscookany Team

We would love to hear from you. Please feel free to comment or share our post about Cooking and Hiking in Casentino with your friends.

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Call a friend and open a bottle of wine, as this story is juicy!

Posted on february 06, 2019 by Tuscookany Team
Call a friend and open a bottle of wine, as this story is juicy!

Tuscookany serves delicious Tuscan wines, but what is it that makes these wines so special?

During our Tuscan cooking courses we serve a selection of great Italian wines, with an accent on wines from Tuscany, but what makes these wines such a big global success?  Is it the grapes, the climate, the knowledge or the love Italians put into producing these wines? One thing is definitely clear; you cannot eat pasta without a glass of wine to accompany it. After Piedmont and Veneto, Tuscany produces the third highest volume of quality wines in Italy. Over the last 50 years the quality and popularity of these wines has risen exponentially.

Types of grapes

Sangiovese grapes are the very soul of Tuscany. The fruity, aromatic fragrance is present in almost all of Tuscany’s top wines.  80% of all wines produced in Tuscany are produced with red grapes, the vast majority of which use Sangiovese as a grape. The white wine is produced using the Vernaccia grape, these grapes are local grapes tend to be hyper-local and are rarely grown outside of Italy.  The Sangiovese wines range in flavour from tart cherry-like and jammy strawberry to more vegetal tasting, such as ripe tomatoes and roasted red peppers. After harvesting the grapes during the La Vendemmia (the harvesting of grapes) in September, the grapes are oaked (riserva) in wooden barrels, which start from two years up to ten years.

History of the Tuscan wines

Tuscany is one of twenty regions in Italy, located in the central part of the country. The History of Tuscany is known for the Renaissance including the Medici family, Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo. The Tuscan grapes were cultivated by the Etruscans nearly 3000 years ago, grown in such wide abundance that they were often sold abroad and quickly became the areas most trusted cash crop. From the fall of the Roman Empire and throughout the Middle Ages, monasteries in the region were the main producers of wines made from these grapes. During the Middle Ages the sharecropping system evolved, also known as Mezzadria, in Italian. The system took its name from the arrangement whereby a landowner provides the land and resources for planting in exchange for half (mezza) of the yearly crop. This resulted in the landowners turning half of their grape harvest into wines, which were sold to merchants in Florence. In the 14th century, an average of 7.9 million US gallons or 30 million liters of wine was sold every year in Florence and in 1685 the Tuscan author Francesco Redi wrote a 980-line poem devoted to Tuscan wines. After World War II Chianti wines became famous all over the world, as Italian restaurants proliferated.  It is needless to say that the popularity of Tuscan wines is inherited in our veins.

Tuscan climate

Tuscany’s location, which contains terrains from the Mediterranean Sea to more hilly parts, is what the wines benefit from greatly. Moreover, the temperature fluctuation due to the typically warm and sunny climate to continental influences the grape’s taste. The regions Chianti, Bolgheri, Montepulciano and Montalcino are well known for their excellent wines. The hills in Tuscany serve as a tempering effect on the summertime heat with many vineyards planted on the higher elevations of the hillside. The grapes perform better when they receive direct sunlight, which is a benefit of the hillsides one can find in the vineyards of Tuscany. The majority of the region’s vineyards are found at altitudes of 500-1600 feet. Moreover, the higher elevations also increase the temperature variation, which helps the grapes to maintain their balance in sugars and acidity, as well as aromatic qualities. So the climate does indeed play a big role in the taste of the well-known red and white wines!

Variation of wines

The high quality, delicious red wines are called “Super Tuscans” and were developed by some Tuscan producers that came to believe that the legal rules governing the production of Chianti were too restrictive and decided to set up a new legal appellation giving the producers more flexibility in the 1970s. This resulted in wines becoming very modern, big and rich and have changed the wine industry in Tuscany ever since. The wines included in the Super Tuscan wines are Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and Cabernet Franc. The well-known wine regions that apply these regulations are Brunello di Montalcino, Carmignano and Chianti. For Tuscan white wine the most well known types are Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc which are produced from the native Vermentino grape. Moreover, Moscadello, a sweet and sparkling wine, is used as a dessert wine. Not only is Moscato a famous Tuscan dessert wine; Vin Santo is too! The sweeter type of wine known from the red and rose style Sangiovese grape is a perfect paring with a Cantucci biscuit after dinner. 

Wines at Tuscookany

All in all, we think it is a combination of the climate, the grapes and the knowledge learnt over the years that makes these great Tuscan wines what they are now. At Tuscookany we serve you the best wines of Tuscany, chosen by our chefs Franco, Laura, Alice and Paola. Every season the Tuscookany chefs carefully pick the best red and white wines to serve to our guests combining old favourites with new and promising wines, matching them with the weekly menu. The accent is of course on Tuscan wines, but we will also introduce to wines from other regions in Italy, both the north and the south, so that you can compare. In this way you get to see how real Italians celebrate their dinner! The white wines are often used for the aperitivo and primi piatti, whereas the red wines are served for the secondi piatti and the Vin Santo is served during dessert. As part of the culinary excursion we offer you will visit one of the best Tuscan wineries, Villa La Ripa. Villa La Ripa has a broad range of wines including red, rosé and white wines for you to taste. As you can see, wine runs deep in Tuscany, woven as it is into the cultural identity of this central Italian region. Therefore it is very important to us that you immerse yourself into this cultural identity. We can even see that the cooking skills are increased with a glass of wine and have therefore changed our 5 ‘O-clock “coffee break” into a “wine break”!!

Are you ready to immerse yourself in these fantastic wines?  Come and learn to cook with us and enjoy your meals with delicious wine pairings.

Kind regards,

The Tuscookany Team

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Want to impress friends and family, bake a fluffy Italian Panettone!

Posted on december 06, 2018 by Tuscookany
Want to impress friends and family, bake a fluffy Italian Panettone!

It requires patience to bake this Medieval leavened fruitcake, but you can really call yourself a Tuscan chef when it works out!

Have you ever been given a Panettone for Christmas? If you have, you obviously you have friends or family with good taste. This dome-shaped sweet bread loaf originated from Milan in Italy. It is usually prepared and enjoyed for Christmas and New Year. It takes three days to bake this medieval cake, also known as the “tall, leavened fruitcake”. It is mostly large enough to share, but will be gone in no time because the Panettone melts in your mouth and then all of a sudden it's gone, leaving you longing for more! Its fluffiness and hints of sultanas have been around for decades and are mostly baked for Christmas and New Years dinner parties. 


The history of this Christmas cake lies in a Medieval City in Northern Italy. The name “Panettone” is short for pane di Tonio, which can be translated into Tonio’s bread. Tonio was a poor Milanese baker and invented the loaf for his daughter after she fell in love with a nobleman. He needed to bake a cake to show his love, but he didn’t have enough money to bake one of the well-known desserts. Everybody loved the cake and they enjoyed it so much that the family asked for its name, this is when Tonio came up with his own bread and the name has not changed since. Due to World War II people got to know this Christmas sweet. It was cheap to produce and gave people hope during the Christmas period. The loaf was often combined with hot cocoa or liquor and its popularity brought the Panettone to the rest of Europe and even South America and Australia. Nowadays Italian food manufacturing companies and bakeries produce over 117 million Panettones and their sister Pandoro cakes every Christmas. Not only Italians, but also Americans ,have discovered this luxury Panetonne is something you want to serve at Christmas.

Variations of Panettones

There are over a hundred types of Panettones you can bake for the Christmas table. Basic ingredients added to the bread dough are sugar, butter, raisins and tender citrus peel. These are added over a couple of days, resulting in a light-as-air texture. After this the dough is left to prove for 10 hours; upside down! This is the basic mixture, but other famous flavours include; Prosecco, double chocolate, Tuscan honey, cherries and Tiramisu. We recommend you try the Finettone once; it is made with juniper, rosemary and gin-soaked olives. The saltiness from the olives is combined with an orange infused Gin & Tonic. But most of all Panettone is known from its delicious festive flavours of light and sweet dough filled with fruits and its amazing tastes. Served with a large dollop of creamy mascarpone and a splash of amaretto it is absolutely divine. During the Christmas season you can find Panettones in every grocery store or bakery, but have you ever tried to make one yourself? Note: you need some patience and baking skills to get the desired taste, shape and feeling. 

Tuscookany’s Panettone

We, at Tuscookany, know the smell of a great bake and all the scents that come free in the kitchen. It reminds one of a mother baking and having to be patient to unwrap Christmas presents (read: tear open!). The perfumed smell of candied citrus peel, dried fruit, butter and sugar are about to indulge in your home for three days when baking the Panettone. This fluffy and versatile Panettone is delicious enjoyed for breakfast or dessert or a mid-afternoon snack to get you through the 4pm slump. In our opinion we cannot think of a time that a slice wouldn’t be appropriate for a slice. A hint from one of our chefs of the Italian cooking classes in Tuscany is to serve this sweet bake with either a hot beverage or a sweet wine like Moscato. Serving this combination not only looks good but will also open up the playing field for some charades during the Holiday season festivities.   

Christmas wishes

Now it is your turn to decide; are you going to bake it yourself or buy it in a store? One thing you should never forget is that a party without a cake is just a meeting, so get the most of the Holidays this year. We from the Tuscookany team and everyone from the cooking classes in Italy, wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year and hope all your cooking wishes will come true next year. If you really want to know how to bake this Panettone please fill in the enquiry form and add your email address and Panettone in the remarks and we will send our favourite recipe to you by email.  You could also ask our chefs to teach you during one of the Italian cooking courses, they would be happy to help! We hope to see you next season!

Have fun cooking!

The Tuscookany Team


We would love to hear from you. Please feel free to comment and share our post about Panettone with your friends.

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Pasta was invented by Italians and has become symbolic for their kitchen

Posted on may 18, 2018 by Tuscookany Team
Pasta was invented by Italians and has become symbolic for their kitchen

When the Greeks found Naples, they adopted a dish made by the natives, made with barley-flour pasta and water dried by the sun.

We also find references to pasta dishes in ancient Rome, which dates back to the 3rd century before Christ. In fact, the Roman Cicero himself speaks about his passion for the “Laganum”, the “laganas”, which are the long pasta (wheat-flour pasta, wide flat shaped sheets). During that time, the Romans developed instruments, tools and procedures (machines) to manufacture the pasta for lasagna. Ever since, cereals have exhibited great facilities for both its transportation as well as its storage. It was the Roman expansion and dominion which fostered the harvesting of cereals in the whole Mediterranean basin.

Look out for World Pasta Day celebrated annually on October 25th, with a plate of your favorite pasta!

The first World Pasta Congress was held in Rome, Italy on October 25th, 1995, when World Pasta Day was established by 40 International pasta producers.

Types of Pasta
There are two major classifications: pasta fresca (fresh) and pasta secca (dried). From here, there are more than 400 unique types of pasta that altogether have more than 1300 names: sheets, strips, long strands, cylinders, unique shapes, flavors, and many other local varieties.


Cottage Industry

This 14th-century Italian miniature shows two  stages in pasta making. The woman to the rightis kneading the dough while her colleague is hanging cut strips of vermicelli - little worms - to dry on a rack.Much later, a thicker variation of vermicelli developed, today known as spaghetti.





Pasta Vendors

Pasta vendors in 1880s Naples sell vermicelli in industrial quantities in this 19th-century hand-colored woodcut painting.






Drying the Spaghetti

Spaghetti (at the time called macaroni) drying in the streets of Naples, circa 1895.







Drying the Pasta

Photo from more than 400 years after the commercial production of pasta began (the first photography was taken in 1827 by French inventor Joseph Nicéphore Niépce.







10 Most Importand Pastas:


Three-edged spiral, usually in mixed colors. Many vendors and brands sold as Fusilli are two-edged. Variations: Fusilli Bucati, Fusilli Lunghi Bucati. Fusilli may be solid or hollow. A variant type of Fusilli is formed as hollow tubes of pasta that is twisted into springs or corkscrews and is called Fusilli Bucati. Another variant is twisted long lengths as though Spaghetti were coiled around an object known as Fusilli Lunghi. Fusilli Napoletani are flat lengths of coiled pasta formed around a spindle. From Fusile, archaic/dialect form of Fucile, meaning rifle. As the inside barrel of a gun is “rifled” using a similar screw-shaped device. Fusilli pasta as originally developed in Southern Italy, Campania, by rolling fresh Spaghetti around a thin rod and letting it dry. The "Fusillo" shape was then developed as a pasta shape in its own right.


Most common round-rod pasta.
Variations: Bucatini, Spaghettoni, Spaghettini, Fedelini, Spaghetti alla Chitarra, Sciatelli, Rigatoni and Linguine.
Originally, Spaghetti was notably long, but shorter lengths gained in popularity during the latter half of the 20th century and now it is most commonly available in 25–30 cm (10–12 in) lengths.
The modern word "Macaroni" derives from the Sicilian term for kneading dough with energy, as early pasta making was often a laborious, day-long process. Spago means twine, Spaghetto means little twine, Spaghetti is plural. Sicily appears to have been the first place in Europe where pasta was made in long thin strands and subsequently dried. Durum wheat was well-suited to the soil and weather of Sicily and equally to Campania, the region around Naples. It was grown in large quantities in southern Italy. Naples also had an ideal climate for drying pasta: mild sea breezes alternating with hot winds from Mount Vesuvius. This ensured that the pasta would not dry too slowly and become moldy, or dry too fast and crack.


Ribbon of pasta approximately 6.5 millimeters wide. Fettuce - Wider version of Fettuccine. Modern Fettuccine Alfredo was invented by Alfredo di Lelio in Rome, in the early to mid-20th century. The story goes that in 1914, a man named Alfredo di Lelio was trying to cook something that would please his pregnant wife. He created a sauce made from parmesan cheese and butter and poured it over some fettuccine. Di Lelio opened a restaurant in Italy and served his fettuccine dish. Little ribbons. Originated in Lazio.


Flattened Spaghetti. A thinner version of Linguine is called Linguettine. Little tongues. Linguine originated in Genoa and the Liguria region of Italy. Linguine alle vongole (linguine with clams) and Trenette al pestoare are popular uses of this pasta. 


A type of tubular pasta having diagonally cut ends cylinder-shaped pieces. Penne is the plural form of the Italian Penna, deriving from ??? Variations: Penne Lisce, Penne Rigate, Pennoni, Mostaccioli. Latin Penna (meaning "feather" or "quill"), and is a cognate of the English word pen. Originated in Campania, a region in Southern Italy.


Tubular pasta. Large tubes, approximately 4 inches long and 1 inch wide, cut straight on both ends with a smooth surface, usually stuffed with a meat or cheese filling. This tube-like pasta is generally mistaken with the Italian pasta called Manicotti. Manicotti – which roughly means “sleeves” – is a filled crepe rather than an actual pasta and is traditionally prepared in a special crepe pan. Italian, literally ‘large tubes’, from Cannello ‘tube’. The origin of Cannelloni dates back to around 1907, when Nicola Federico, a well-known chef from Naples, Italy, invented this pasta. He created it while working at the La Favoria, a popular restaurant in Sorrento, Italy. Initially, this tubular pasta was called “Strascinati”, which soon came to be known by the name that is popular today – Cannelloni. It gained popularity when the residents of Naples fled to Sorrento, during World War II, which is when they got introduced to this pasta. Today, most restaurants across the world prepare various cannelloni dishes.


Ribbon fairly thinner than fettucine. Variations: Pizzoccheri, Tagliolini. From “Tagliare” – to cut. Originated from the Emilia-Romagna and Marche regions of Italy. Legend has it that the tagliatelle shape--strips of pasta about a half inch wide, was invented in 1487 by Maestro Zafirano, a cook from the village of Bentivoglio (Emilia-Romagna), on the occasion of the marriage of Lucrezia Borgia to the Duke of Ferrara. The cook was said to be inspired by the beautiful blond hair of the bride. Despite the appeal of this romantic notion, it seems likely that the invention of tagliatelle in Italy is earlier.


Bow tie or butterfly shaped. Farfalle come in several sizes, but they all have a distinctive "bow tie" shape. Variations: Farfalle Rigate, Farfallone, Farfalline Translation is Butterflies. Farfalle dates back to the 16th century in the Lombardy and Emilia-Romagna regions of Northern Italy.


Ring-shaped. Stuffed with a mixture of meat and cheese. Sometimes also described as "navel shaped", hence their alternative name of "belly button" (ombelico). In the Italian city of Modena, Farfalle is known as Strichetti. Italian, plural of Tortellino, diminutive of Tortello ‘small cake, fritter’. Originated in Emilia-Romagna.


Large and slightly curved tube. They are larger than Penne and Ziti, and sometimes slightly curved, though nowhere near as curved as Elbow Macaroni. And unlike Penne, Rigatoni's ends are cut square (perpendicular) to the tube walls instead of diagonally. From Riga, meaning line: Rigatoni is pasta with lines (large). Rigato or Rigate, when added to another pasta name means lined, or, with ridges added, as in “Spaghetti Rigati”. Originated in Southern Italy, Sicily.

We’d love to hear from you.  Please feel free to comment and share our post about Pasta with your friends.

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Parmigiana, A classic Italian dish, where does it come from?

Posted on february 23, 2018 by Tuscookany Team
Parmigiana, A classic Italian dish, where does it come from?

What are the ingredients?  Where are its origins? Which versions do you like best?  Join us in Tuscany to learn how to cook some different variations for yourself!

Parmigiana, known as Parmigiana di Melanzane or Melanzane alla Parmigiana, is a classic Italian dish made with thinly sliced, floured and fried eggplant layered with tomato sauce and cheese and baked in the oven.  Parmigiana made with a filling of eggplant is the earliest and still unique Italian version.

Why not book some Cooking Classes in Tuscany with Tuscookany to find out how the Italians cook their Parmigiana?

The History of Parmigiana

A lot of regions in Italy claim the invention and all of them could be true:  Sicily, Naples and also Puglia and Calabria.   Each region prepares its own version, just like our chefs at Tuscookany, and all are equally delicious.

In Sicilian dialect “Parmiciana” indicates the slats of wood in the window shutters, which remind us of the overlapping eggplant and sauce layers.  Some also believe Parmigiana came from Parma in the north of Italy but it is not part of Parma food so this is unlikely.

As you can see, no one knows 100% so we’ll leave it to you to decide where it really came from!  However, it remains a humble dish in its simplicity.


Some suspect that the first “Parmigiana” used pumpkin or zucchini so the recipe could be older than first believed.  Later it was found that using eggplant worked the best but of course it could be personal preference if you wish to make it your own.

The cheeses can also be changed, perhaps substituting a different mozzarella like Mozzarella Fiordilatte or Buffalo Mozzarella, or maybe a smoked cheese like Provola Affumicata to give a different flavour.  Not all recipes use both Parmesan and Mozzarella, you can use whichever combination you prefer.  Others might also add some Neapolitan sausage or spicy salami.

Whichever variation you wish to choose, enjoy this delicious Italian dish!

International variations

Variations are made with breaded meat cutlets, such as veal and chicken, have been popularised in other countries, usually in areas of Italian immigration.

In the United States and Canada, veal Parmigiana or chicken Parmigiana is often served as an entrée.  It is also popular with a side of or on top of pasta. Costelette Parmigiana is another related veal dish, however, in Italy it is generally served without sauce or cheese.

Veal or chicken Parmigiana is a common dish in Australia and Argentina and in both countries often served with a side of chips or salad.  In Australia, it may also contain a variety of toppings, including sliced ham or fried eggplant slices.

In Brazil, Parmigiana is a popular restaurant dish, which was brought over by Italian immigrants.  There are three kinds of Parmigiana in Brazil: filé de frango a Parmigiana (chicken fillet Parmigiana), berinjela a Parmigiana (eggplant Parmigiana) and meat Parmigiana.

Three types of beef are used to make meat Parmigiana: two prime cuts, yielding, respectively, filé mignon à Parmigiana (tenderloin Parmigiana) and contra-filé à Parmigiana (sirloin steak Parmigiana), while the third type, yielding bife a Parmigiana is simply beef of an unspecified cut.  In Brazil, Parmigiana dishes are usually served with either white rice, french fries or with pasta in a tomato sauce.

No matter which version you choose you will definitely need tomatoes, mozzarella and a big chunk of Parmesan!

We look forward to welcoming you to our Cooking School in Italy…….

We’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to comment and share our post about Parmigiana with your friends.


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Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and a happy new year!

Posted on december 11, 2017 by Tuscookany Team

Salute e Buon Appetito  The Tuscookany Team !  


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Italian bruschetta: a delicious appetiser made at Tuscookany

Posted on september 18, 2017 by Tuscookany Team
Italian bruschetta: a delicious appetiser made at Tuscookany

At Tuscookany we love bruschetta, the best Italian starter ever. Known outside of Italy, its name still confuses many. Learn how to pronounce and make it correctly.


Bruschetta is a traditional Italian starter dish, which consists of grilled bread, garlic, olive oil, salt and, very often, tomatoes. Different regions of Italy add their own “twists” to a traditional bruschetta by adding other veggies, cheeses or meat. However, the tomato bruschetta remains the most popular and the all time favourite variation.

Bruschetta is correctly pronounced as brew-sket-ta [bruˈsketta]. Many English speakers, however, tend to turn the “sch” into [ʃ] sound, which, quite frankly, drives most Italians mad. Therefore, if you do not want to fall out of favour with your Italian friends or, God forbid, our Italian chefs, you’d better learn it once and for all, that there is [sk] sound in the middle of bruschetta.

The name itself comes from the verb bruscare – “to roast over coals”. It is said that originally olive oil producers used toasted bread to taste their freshly pressed olive oil. While bruschetta is thought to come from the Middle Ages, it is believed that it might be a lot older, going back to the Roman or Etruscan times.

Neutral unsalted Tuscan bread is perfect for bruschetta, as it absorbs the flavours of newly pressed extra virgin olive oil, ripe, sweet and juicy red tomatoes, aromatic fresh basil and ever-essential garlic.  This is a match made in heaven. Bruschetta seems easy to make, and it is indeed not the most difficult meal on earth, but the freshness of the ingredients and right proportions make a huge difference. Therefore, while bruschetta can be made and eaten all over the world, it tastes nowhere better than in Italy. 

Thanks to our chefs and our wonderful garden, here at Tuscookany we are lucky to enjoy amazing bruschetta. Provided you can easily find the right ingredients, we are sharing our Chef Laura’s recipe with you here:

Laura’s Tomato Bruschetta:


6 fresh ripe tomatoes

6 slices country-style white bread

Garlic oil

Olive oil

2 cloves garlic

Salt and pepper from the mill

10 fresh basil leaves


-       Slice the tomatoes in half and remove the seeds. Dice into small cubes (1/2 inch). Mince the garlic cloves. Tear the basil leaves into small pieces.

-       Place in a bowl, add 3 tablespoons of olive oil, salt and pepper and stir

-       Grill the bread on both sides. While it is still hot, brush one side generously with garlic oil, or rub with a peeled mashed garlic clove, and drizzle a thin stream of olive oil

-       Top it with the diced tomato mix. Serve while still warm

And if you want to try a true Italian bruschetta, why not to come to Italy and join one of our cooking courses? Our Tuscookany chefs will be happy to share their secrets!

We’d love to hear from you.  Please feel free to comment and share our post about Bruschetta with your friends.

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What is Italian Focaccia and their regional differences?

Posted on june 01, 2017 by Tuscookany Team
What is Italian Focaccia and their regional differences?

Learn more about this traditional Italian flatbread and find out how to make the Tuscookany version which our guests enjoy so much.  It’s time to put the heat on!

Here at Tuscookany focaccia is always a hit among our guests. Who does not like this wonderfully simple bread that can be enjoyed both in combination with other food or on its own. Today we will tell you its story.


You can find flatbreads of different kinds pretty much in any corner of the earth, especially in its Eastern parts. However, probably with the only exception of the pitta bread, focaccia is by far the most famous of them all. Whether it’s the Italian origin that attracts eaters, like pizza, pasta or gelato, or just its absolute deliciousness, go figure!  We are inclined to believe it might be both…

Historians believe that focaccia originates from the Ancient Greeks or with the Etruscans who inhabited the territory of modern Tuscany, part of Umbria and Lazio. The name comes from the word “focus”, which means “fireplace” or “hearth” in Latin. The bread indeed was cooked over the open fire or on heated stones in the antiquity. The ingredients were simple back then and the basic recipe has not changed much to this day. Flour, water and olive oil are the three essentials. Focaccia can then be topped with coarse salt, rosemary, cherry tomatoes, onion or other veggies and is considered to be a pizza prototype.


When travelling around Italy, you will surely notice that focaccia does not look or taste the same in the different parts of Italy.  Its thickness, softness and toppings vary from one Italian area to another. 

Liguria is considered to be the birthplace of traditional Italian focaccia.  Foccacia ligure or genovese is about 2 cm thick and is soft inside, sprinkled with salt and brushed with olive oil.  Recco focaccia (also from Liguria) consists of two thin layers and soft fresh cheese in between.  Sardenaira originates in Sanremo, and it is focaccia with anchovies or sardines.

Venetian focaccia is sweet, baked for Easter and resembles the traditional Christmas cake panettone.  Sugar and butter are used instead of olive oil and salt.

Focaccia barese, which is common in Puglia in southern Italy, is made with durum wheat flour and topped with salt, rosemary, tomatoes or olives. There is also a potato version.

Tuscan focaccia, schiacciata, which means, “squashed”.  Fingers are used to flatten it; hence the attractive dimples, with a sprinkling of olive oil all over its surface. Traditionally Tuscan focaccia is medium thick and medium soft but crispy on the outside. Salt and rosemary are its usual companions.  However, throughout Tuscany you can also find a thin and crispy version as well thick and very soft. Tuscan panini with cheese and cold cuts often use focaccia for a base.

While other countries, for example France (foisse) or Spain (hogaza), have their own versions of this wonderful flatbread, focaccia retains its Italian essence and leadership.


Our Tuscookany chefs love focaccia and have their own little secrets to make it perfect, which you could discover by joining us for an Italian or Mediterranean cooking course in Tuscany at Casa Ombuto, Torre del Tartufo or Bellorcia.

Here we are happy to share the recipe of focaccia toscana from “The Flavours of Tuscany” cookbook, created by Paola, Laura and Franco:

Ingredients (serves 6):

-       900 g (2lbs) of all-purpose white flour

-       0.5 l (1 pint) warm water

-       25 g (1 oz) fresh baker’s yeast or 12 g (1 pinch) of dry yeast

-       ½ level tsp of sugar

-       1 tbsp of salt

-       10 tbsps of extra virgin olive oil

-       rosemary

-       extra virgin olive oil and coarse salt for cooking

Pour 7 Tbsp of water into a small bowl with the yeast and sugar. Leave until the ingredients froth.

Mix the flour in a large bowl with salt, then add the yeast, oil and warm (not hot) water, and mix thoroughly.  To make the focaccia softer, replace the oil with 3 tbsp of lard.  Add more water if necessary: the dough should be quite soft and sticky.

Let the dough rise under a damp cloth for about 90 minutes, in a warm place.

When it has risen, brush a baking sheet with oil, flour hands well and stretch the dough to a height of approximately 1.5 cm (2/3 in). Use your fingertips to make the characteristic “dimples” in the focaccia, brush with plenty of oil and sprinkle with salt.   Add rosemary to taste and bake for about 25 minutes in a pre-heated oven to 180C (355 F).

We’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to comment and share our post about Focaccia with your friends.

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Ravioli with butter and sage sauce; a marriage made in heaven!

Posted on may 19, 2017 by Tuscookany Team
Ravioli with butter and sage sauce;  a marriage made in heaven!

Read more about traditional stuffed pastas in our latest blog and come and join us here at Tuscookany - Cooking vacations in Tuscany to make many variations.

Stuffed pasta is one of the legendary cultural classics around here in Tuscany. Now, when I say “one” I actually mean “many”. In fact, there are so MANY recipes requiring some shape or form of stuffed pasta you would be amazed.  Starting with the marvellous cannelloni going all the way down to the myriad of different flavours and representations the famous ravioli has brought to the table.  Another reason why this is such an important cornerstone in the Italian culture is related to the fact that stuffing pasta - i.e. making ravioli/tortellini/casoncelli/fagottini/etc. - is a delicate process grandmothers teach to their daughters and granddaughters; a ritual passed down from generation to generation. Well, we also do it at Tuscookany but we always remind our guests that this is sacred territory: stuffing pasta is a BIG deal in Italy. Imagine this: flour on the table, sun outside, the ingredients placed in different bowls, a pestle & mortar for the spices, a rolling pin for the pasta… you know magic is about to happen!

When it comes to choosing the ingredients to compose the actual filling, you kind of make your own rules - from pork to chocolate and squash to mushrooms.  Every corner of Italy has its own favourite fillings, which are often related to extensive traditions and the freshness of the seasonal ingredients. There is, of course, a combination made in heaven. One that has become extremely popular around Italy and indeed around the world: spinach and ricotta. The green flavour of the spinach combined with the creamy deliciousness and lightness of ricotta cheese  produce an irresistible combination that can be enjoyed by those who love to eat and those who want to lose some weight. As a matter of fact, ricotta is extremely digestible and light as a feather.  It is a whey cheese you can make yourself at home by combining 1 litre of warm milk with the juice of 1/2 a lemon and salt. Even vegetarians cannot find a good excuse to avoid this beauty. To finish it off, add a little butter and sage to your spinach/ricotta ravioli and that is all you will ever need to impress your guests: simple and unbelievable.  Of course, you can always do more, if you are in the mood for some art!


Spinach and Ricotta Roll

This is precisely what it sounds like. Prepare the stuffing with butter, onion, spinach, ricotta and, if you want, a little egg and some Parmesan cheese. Spread the mix on a sheet of pasta, roll it and cook it for 45 minutes in the oven. Wait until it gets crispy, slice it and serve it with tomato sauce and pepper!


Lumaconi Pizzaiola

Go out and get some lumaconi! They are one of the shapes of pasta Italians love the most: big snails, literally. This time around, combine spinach, ricotta, nutmeg, salt and pepper. This is for the filling, of course. At the same time, you need a tomato sauce made with tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, a little oregano and pepper. Get ready with diced mozzarella too. Now, cook the pasta and place the lumaconi in a baking dish. Fill each “snail” with the stuffing and cover them with the tomato sauce and add the diced mozzarella. Allow it to crisp up in the oven for about 20 minutes at 190 degrees and you will find out what “miracle in the kitchen” really means.



Now, this is just pure fun. Cook your conchiglioni (big shells in Italian, a type of pasta). As you do so, prepare the stuffing with spinach, ricotta, salt, pepper and parmesan cheese. Fill the conchiglioni one by one with this divine combination. Place them in a buttered pan, add bechamel sauce and bake it all for 20 minutes at 230 degrees celsius. Trust me, this is delicious.

Are you ready to come to Tuscookany and allow us to teach you, in our cooking classes, the many variations of stuffed pasta which you can enjoy together with your fellow cooks together with delicious wine pairings!

We’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to comment and share our post about traditional stuffed pastas with your friends.



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We will tell you the Bitter Truth about Amari in our blog

Posted on may 05, 2017 by The Tuscookany Team
We will tell you the Bitter Truth about Amari in our blog

At Tuscookany we are not only fond of Italian cooking but wine and liquors too. Learn about Italian bitters and toast with us after your Cooking Class in Tuscany.

While almost every country in Europe has their own spirits to drink as an aperitif or digestif, Italians are particularly fond of theirs, and you will most certainly be spoilt for choice here.  Amaro is a true star of the Italian liquors.  Although, for a long time, it was considered to be an “Old Man’s drink”, it got its second wind in recent years and gains popularity in Europe and across the Atlantic.

“Amaro” in Italian literally means “bitter”, and bitterness is indeed the integral part of any amaro liquor.  Most Amaro recipes are kept secret, but they are usually made with a selection of herbs, roots, citrus peel, flowers, spices and bark, which are macerated in base alcohol.  Amaro can be aged in barrels, but not all of them are. The alcohol content is not set in stone either, and Amari usually contain anything between 16% and 40% ABV.

Most Amari are drunk after meals as a digestif to help your stomach cope with the abundance of Italian cooking. Some of these herbal drinks claim to have medicinal qualities and were originated in pharmacies and monasteries. One of the oldest Amari was created in this way. Benedictine monks from Abbazia di Santo Spirito in Sicily invented Amaro Averna in the early 19th century.  Its recipe was then given to a merchant Salvatore Averna as a gift for his contribution to the community and the church. Salvatore initially produced the liquor for his farmhouse guests, while his son Francesco got the Royal patent and commercialized Amaro Averna all over the country.

There are countless Amari in Italy, and almost each region produces its own Amaro, some of which are more known to the international public than others. Allora, let us have a closer look at the most famous Italian Amari.

There are two most commonly used bitters which form the base for a truly Italian aperitivo:


Origin: Novara, Piedmont

When to drink: before meals

While Campari’s recipe is kept in secret, what we know for sure is that it includes water, alcohol and a number of bitter herbs and fruit such as chinotto and cascarilla. Some traditional Italian cocktails are Campari-based, for example Americano (Campari, red vermouth and soda water) or Negroni (Campari, gin, red vermouth and orange).


Origin: Padua, Veneto

When to drink: before meals


Among the known ingredients of the Aperol secret recipe, there are rhubarb, cinchona, bitter orange and various roots. Aperol became famous all over the world thanks to the excellent aperitif cocktail Aperol Spritz (Aperol, Prosecco and soda water).


Most Amari, however, are usually taken as digestivo and drunk neat or on the rocks (although they can also be used as cocktail ingredients):


Amaro Averna

Origin: Caltanisetta, Sicily

When to drink: after meals

The recipe was created by the Benedictine monks in the 19th century, and is based on Mediterranean herbs, roots, orange and lemon peel. It has mild bitterness and is quite sweet. 


Amaro Lucano

Origin: Pisticci, Basilicata

When to drink: after meals

This dark brown amaro is a blend of more than 30 herbs and it has a distinct bittersweet taste.



Origin: Milan, Lombardy

When to drink: after meals

Ramazzotti is a blend of 33 spices, including star anise, cardamom, cloves, myrrh and orange peel. It is full-bodied, dark brown with a bittersweet.  This is also the liquor most favoured by owners.



Origin: Italy (created by a Venetian entrepreneur)

When to drink: before or after meals

Cynar is one of the youngest Italian Amari and appeared on the market only in 1950s. It is made of 13 herbs and roots, and the main ingredient is artichoke, or carciofo in Italian. The brand name originates from the artichoke’s botanical name cynara scolymus. Cynar can also be drunk as an aperitif.



Origin: Milan, Lombardy

When to drink: before or after meals

The base ingredient for this Amaro is rhubarb, combined with other spices, roots and citrus peel. It may not be widely available on the international market, but is quite common and easily sourced in Italy. It can also be taken as an aperitif.


Fernet Branca

Origin: Milan, Lombardy

When to drink: after meals

This Amaro, created in the late 19th century, is made of a blend of different herbs, flowers and spices, including chamomile, cinnamon, aloe, saffron, rhubarb and iris.


Amaro del Capo

Origin: Capo Vaticano, Calabria

When to drink: after meals

This Amaro is lighter in style and is to be consumed ice cold. The herbal and fruit ingredients include tangerine and orange peel, chamomile, licorice, mint, anise and juniper.


Having an aperitivo or digestivo is one of those Italian drinking habits, which go side by side with taking café after every meal (careful, cappuccino can only be drunk in the morning!), or to accompany food with wine. We love this Italian drinking etiquette, and you could enjoy most of the above Amaro liquors as part of your cooking vacation with Tuscookany as well as during your eating “routine” anywhere in Italy.

We’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to comment and share our  amari post with your friends.


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