Chickpeas are healthy, delicious and so versatile. Learn more about this popular legume and its history and have fun cooking up a storm with us at Tuscookany
Known and appreciated for centuries, chickpeas are the representation of a long history that begins with their Italian and Latin name, respectively cecio and cicer. Marcus Tullius Cicero was one of the most powerful Romans of the 100 BC, a legendary figure who is remembered as lawyer, constitutionalist, politician, orator, political theorist, consul and philosopher. And do you why this exceptional being was called Cicero – or Chickpearo, if you prefer? Because it is said he had an outgrowth on the nose that looked like a chickpea (i.e. cicer). Of course, you will not find it in the official statues, but that is another narcisistic story.
Back to the Cecio
Chickpeas were famous even before the Romans came around. In fact, they have been one of the staple foods of the Mediterranean region since the Bronze Age. Truth be told, archaeologists found proof that the legume was used even in Iraq in prehistoric times. Back to the Mediterranean, we find our ceci (plural of cecio in Italian) in the ancient Greek language. The term kikus, which was used to identify the chickpea, meant “strength and power.” As a matter of fact, Greeks and Egyptians thought the legume was not only nutritious but also an aphrodisiac.
What is the reason for the success of this tasty little treasure? Quite simply, the fact that its plant (the Cicer Arietinum) is extremely easy to grow all year-round, even in sandy terrains. Furthermore, the legume is extremely rich in proteins and even today is the most used for human consumption after generic beans and soy. If their tastiness was not enough, it turns out ceci are very easy to preserve. All you need to do is dry them. Soak them for 12 hours in cold water and they will come back to life.
Another point in their favour: they are healthy, really healthy. In fact, they contain vitamin C, E, B1, B2, B3, vegetable proteins, phosphorus, magnesium, calcium, iron and fibres.
Chickpeas have a place in multiple cultures around the globe. In Italy, they are an historical key culinary player especially in Liguria, Tuscany (yep, that’s where we are!), Lazio and Umbria. The most famous Italian recipe that includes ceci is probably the pasta e ceci, but the Tuscan zuppa di ceci is the most beloved in the peninsula for its comforting texture. And the best thing is that chickpeas combine perfectly with other legumes, fish, molluscs and crustaceans, and they are delicious when eaten alone, even if they get cold.
A curiosity that demonstrates the centrality of the legume in the Italian culture, the idiom “in ginocchio sui ceci” (kneeling on chickpeas). Today, it is used to represent repentance and apology made by humbling yourself in front of someone. It actually comes from an old pedagogical tool used by Italian teachers who used to punish their young students by asking them to kneel on chickpeas. In Liguria, when you feel upset and keep complaining, it is common to say “sto bollendo i ceci” (I am boiling chickpeas), because a boiling pot of chickpeas sounds like someone mumbling.
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Read what makes it so special and how it's produced and more cheesy facts in this blog. Learn to cook at Tuscookany using Parmesan cheese in many Italian dishes
Parmigiano Reggiano is undoubtedly one of the most famous products in the Italian cheese universe. It is extremely appreciated abroad, it has earned a Godlike status in Italy and it is also one of the most imitated cheeses on Earth. Honestly, sometimes it gets very confusing. The copycats are too many and very few people know the difference between Parmigiano Reggiano and Grana Padano. So, don’t feel bad if you are not sure which one is which: you are not alone! The best way to blow away every little trace of doubt is to trust your taste buds: if you let his majesty the Parmigiano enter your house and conquer your senses, you will not be able to forget it… or replace it.
A Practical Delight
Few cheeses can boast of such a long history (most likely over one thousand years) and count on so many virtues. Everything started with the Benedictine monks, who famously focused on agriculture as one of their daily activities. They reclaimed vast swamps in the great Po Valley and assigned large areas to be left to pasture. These lands were truly extensive. Suffice it to say that 500 litres of milk were needed to produce only 30 kilograms of cheese. Considering a wheel of Parmigiano weighs between 30 and 40 kg, you need 500 kg of milk to produce one. So… why the hell did they do it?!
The monks discovered that by skimming and heating the milk several times at fixed temperatures it is possible to obtain a very dry product, minimizing the water and therefore making it easy to keep for very long periods of time. It was the possibility to preserve the quality of the milk for years that made the process worthwhile. Once again, as it has often happened, a piece of (cheesy) culinary art is the result of a very practical need, which in this case is preservation.
Love Is All Around It
This cheesy wonder is accepted even by the strictest norms dictated by the most authoritative nutritionists: it is rich in vitamins and minerals, it contains an enormous amount of proteins... And for those who believe that umami is only a feature of Eastern foods, it is important to know that Mr. Reggiano is one of the products with the highest level of umami: that’s right, Parmigiano-san!
The great Parmesan, like they call it in English, can also count on admirers from all backgrounds. Resounding examples are those of Molière, who late in life survived nearly exclusively eating Reggiano and demanded a piece of it on his deathbed, and Napoleon, who loved it combined with green beans. It was also mentioned in the Decameron of Giovanni Boccaccio and by Emile Zola.
Managing The Confusion
Let us face the confusion then. Have you ever asked yourself why the Grana Padano looks the same but costs so much less? Which one should you choose for your risotto or pasta? These are the questions that Tuscookany can help you answer on your cooking classes in Tuscany. It is important to know that the Parmigiano Reggiano has a much more complex and strong taste when compared to the Padano. Its notes enfold a combination of salty and spicy waves and deep tones, with an herbaceous background. The Grana is softer and buttery. If the protagonist or one of the main actors of your plate is the cheese, the Reggiano is certainly the right choice. However, if you simply need to add creaminess to your composition, it is better to opt for the Grana.
As for the substantial differences between the two, here they are:
• Parmesan cheese is only produced in specific provinces in Emilia Romagna while the Grana is made in various regions.
• The cows that produce the milk needed for the Parmigiano are exclusively grass-fed, a restriction that does not exist in the production of the Padano.
• Parmesan cheese can only be manufactured with animal rennet while the Grana can also be made with vegetable or microbial products.
• Preservatives are prohibited in the production of Mr. Reggiano.
• Despite the buttery flavor, the Grana contains less fat than the real Parmesan cheese.
• The Reggiano must be aged at least 12 months while the Padano can be labeled as such after 9 months.
My Grandma Used To Say…
My grandmother used to say: the Grana is delicious, but the Parmesan is much more than a cheese, it is like comparing a good donkey to a thoroughbred. Not everyone would agree, they both are delicious dairy products with a flavour that justifies the great notoriety. This said, if you are looking for the perfect purest cheesy ecstasy, the Parmigiano is simply a certainty.
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What do the Italians prepare for Christmas? Learn more about the delicious broths, pastas, roasted meats and, of course, Panettone prepared for this special feast!
Italian Holiday Traditions
In Italy, there is an expression that perfectly explains the approach to the holiday season: “Natale con i tuoi, Pasqua con chi vuoi” (literally means, “Christmas with your family, Easter with whoever you wish”). Considering the cardinal importance of the family within the Italian tradition, as a value, a cultural reference and a social safe-net. It is of no surprise that Christmas has surged as the most intimate festivity. The holiday par excellence throughout the most famous boot on Earth!
Christmas In An Italian Kitchen
The best of the Italian Christmas is the rich, diverse and delicious sequence of dishes, ideas, food and sweets. Each region has hundreds of recipes dedicated to the most beloved holiday in the country. Segments of history mixed within a vivacious cultural exchange, creating the widest choice of goodies you can imagine. It is impossible to remember all the dishes.
The most famous is undoubtedly the panettone, which you can now find in every supermarket around the globe. It is just as well known as the pizza and was born in Milan around the 15th century. Its creation is a succession of legends, with a common thread: it surely comes from a poor household, maybe it was a sweet focaccia to which eggs and a long, long, rising process was added. This is not simple to cook! You need high quality, fresh ingredients, a succession of mixing and rising, a lot of time and even more patience because its preparation has to be carried out for days until the dough reaches a perfect and wonderfully light & airy consistency. The feature that makes it unique. It is a dessert that you could only prepare for the holiday season, when there are many people gathered around in the kitchen with time to spare. The end result takes awhile, but it is well worth every second of the wait. In fact, baked panettone delivers an aroma that permeates the air and can be smelt from afar.
In the past the Italians sacrificed animals especially for the Christmas holiday. These were extremely precious in a rural society, and the tough cuts that require a long cooking process were put in pot, with celery, carrots and onions (and a variety of ingredients depending on the region) to be boiled for a substantial amount of time. Even today, the fragrant broth that results from this tradition is used to serve the first dish, usually stuffed pasta. A great example is the famous tortellino emiliano, which contains a rich and luscious mixture of mortadella, pork, cheese, sausage, ham, salt, pepper, egg, butter, nutmeg and bread crumbs. The typical "navel" shape is handmade using fresh egg pasta. Despite a first dish so flavourful and often accompanied by more pasta (cannelloni and lasagne are ubiquitous on Christmas day), the main courses are just as delicious: stuffed capponi, glazed chicken, roasted duck or faraona (guinea fowl) served with an embrace of baked vegetables.
The universal dessert remains the panettone, but there is always a place for torroni (nougat), pandori (sponge cake), panpepati (panforte) and struffoli (deep fried balls of dough)
A meal of this kind can take hours, but the time of conviviality spent around the table is an opportunity to meet the whole family, listen to their stories and share experiences that would otherwise flow away lost in routines, whilst the children play, distracted by the new gifts. The richness of Christmas was once a way to forget the hardships of a rural life. Today it continues to be a day to enjoy all the pleasures of the palate without restrictions, a ritual repeated religiously every year.
We at Tuscookany would like to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and hope your table is filled with delicious flavours along with laughter and good cheer.
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Happy New Year and see you in Tuscany in 2017!
Did you know that Cappuccino was invented by an Italian monk?
Learn more about Cappuccino and how to make it, come and join us this season and enjoy drinking it under the Tuscookany sun before you start your cooking lesson!
The cappuccino is arguably the most famous Italian beverage. The legend suggests the name comes from a monk of the capuchin order (ordine dei cappuccini, in Italian): Marco da Aviano. In 1683, Marco went to Vienna. The Pope had instructed him to convince the Austrians to be part of the fight against the Turks. The monk, as a matter of fact, became an important character in Medieval history: he was recognized as the man who saved Europe from the Muslims. It was in Vienna that the religious man tasted coffee for the first time, but he disliked the dark beverage; it was too strong and intense for his taste buds and he decided to ask the waiter for some whipped cream and sugar to make it sweeter and lighter. There are other myths and different variations of the story, but the two constant variables are the capuchin monks… and the whipped cream. That’s right, the same cream Italians refuse to add to their cappuccino while foreigners often request was probably one of the ingredients of the original version of this famous long coffee.
Certainly, in Italy the cappuccino is a ceremony that comes with very strict rules. One of them focuses precisely on whipped cream, which no Italian citizen would ever dream about adding to his or her sweetened coffee, unless he or she was ready to renounce his or her citizenship (just kidding… maybe). Let’s get down to the real cappuccino then, exploring the Italian traditions rotating around its sweet aroma.
The cappuccino and its rules
- Italians drink coffee, strictly ristretto, after a meal but never a cappuccino. The cappuccino is exclusively a morning beverage, better if accompanied by a croissant or a brioche.
- The cappuccino, in order to deserve the label, has to be topped with whipped hot milk, which is neither cream nor bubbly milk. It has to be a perfectly creamy froth.
- The froth is precisely what transforms the cappuccino from a café au lait or caffèlatte into an indisputable masterpiece. The milk has to be whipped until the bubbles are miniscule, giving the froth a glossy, soft, creamy, silky and smooth consistency. The aroma should evoke toasted coffee combined with warm milk.
- In order to determine whether or not the bartender serving the drink is a true Italian expert, focus your attention on the moment when he or she pours the whipped milk into your cup. The perfect froth is added to the coffee WITHOUT USING A SPOON, with a delicate movement of the wrist that gently forces the milk to the centre of the cup, where it is quickly enfolded by the dark frame of the hot coffee
The best allies of the Italian espresso
One thing you certainly learn during our courses at Tuscookany – Cooking Vacations in Tuscany is that in Italy there are many combinations of milk and coffee, which foreigners often misunderstand. What is then the difference between caffèlatte, caffè macchiato, latte macchiato and cappuccino?
Let me begin by assuring you that coffee is a sacred culture in the Italian peninsula. Therefore, just like any other culture, it has a series of layers and complexities that make it even more fascinating. For every moment, occasion or taste, there is a specific answer. Now, going back to the initial question, the caffèlatte, just like the cappuccino, is exclusively a breakfast matter. A strong coffee is combined with hot milk and then sweetened. This is a beverage enjoyed also by children, who often use the caffèlatte as a soft first step in the culture of coffee.
The caffè macchiato is defined by the combination of espresso with a creamy froth. However, the quantity of froth is at its bare minimum, barely more than a teaspoon. The taste of coffee remains the protagonist, with a gentle touch caressing the palate. Italians order caffè macchiato after lunch, but it is also enjoyed in the morning and can be adopted as the companion for an afternoon break.
The latte macchiato is in some way the opposite of the caffè macchiato. In this case, the milk dominates, the cup is bigger, the coffee gives flavour to the milk and not vice versa. The result is a soft beverage, similar to a warm and silky milk shake. It is the perfect drink to combine with a croissant when the morning begins, a caffeinated parenthesis to sweeten and warm up a dreary day in autumn or winter.
So, to those who are looking for something similar to a cappuccino to enjoy after a nice lunch while respecting the Italian culture, the best choice is a caffè macchiato. Besides, with its strong taste of coffee, the macchiato carries an unmistakable and persistent aroma that matches perfectly the strong flavours of the Italian cuisine. As for the cappuccino and the other members of this delicious family, enjoy them with a pastry for a perfect breakfast made in Italy!
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Tiramisu, which means "cheer you up" for a happy end of any meal !
The Italians are known for Dolce vita and for delicious desserts. Read more about Tiramisu and how to make this heavenly dessert and come and join us at Tuscookany!
Tiramisu is one of the most famous and beloved Italian desserts. The name says it all. In fact, “tiramisu” literally means “pull me up” (cheer me up), and this fabulous recipe made in heaven does indeed pull you up… while it also picks and pushes you up, whenever you feel down. It is a combination of chocolate and coffee notes mixed with a soft cream made of eggs and mascarpone, all based on layers of Italian ladyfingers, which we call savoiardi. It is a boost of energy and happiness, a game changer that turns a dinner into triumph and transforms an afternoon snack into an unforgettable journey through a rare kind of sophisticated, chocolaty and creamy pleasure. And the best thing of all is that it is really quite easy to make. See below one of the Tuscookany – Cooking vacations in Tuscany recipes for this heavenly dessert below
Italy is (also) the land of the sweets and the sweet life! This is not because Italians love cakes and cookies more than other populations, although they do adore them quite a lot. The incredible number of traditional desserts characterizing the most famous European peninsula is the result of the history of this fascinating nation. In fact, after the collapse of the Roman Empire, Italy has been conquered, divided, partially unified, fragmented and re-conquered by the most different cultures, which have created a mosaic of unique local combinations made of history, colours and flavours: wines, appetizers, cheeses and liquors, first and second courses, and of course desserts.
When guests knock at our door at Tuscookany – Cooking vacations in Tuscany ready to learn the secrets of our chefs, it is hard to encounter a food lover who is not interested in the sweet corners of the Italian cuisine. Gelato, pannacotta, cannoli, torrone,, the choices are many. This said, very few desserts have conquered the palate and the imagination of the citizens of the world like the tiramisu did – and continues to do. I tell you what: if you want to use “tiramisu” as a synonym for “Italian dessert”, I promise I won’t hold that against you. Considering it has become such a delicious classic, it is actually hard to imagine the recipe has not been around for a very long time. Truth be told, it is not even 50 years old: it was created in Treviso in the 70s. Yes, you heard me just fine: Julio Cesar, Leonardo and Dante didn’t grow up feasting on tiramisu (although historians do agree on the fact that they would have loved it).
Maybe the feeling of eternal welcoming carried by its sweets notes has something to do with how easy it is to consider this fabulous dessert an ancient invention. Italian cultural geographers of food push this consideration even further. They claim the modern tiramisu recipe contains traces of the old sbatudin, a traditional sweet snack that has been enjoyed by children and elders for centuries. This is how you make a sbatudin: you beat egg yolk with sugar; you add cream or fresh cheese; you mix all the ingredients and you serve it with cookies called baicoli. Thinking about it, this is more or less a tiramisu, even thought it is not usually served in restaurants or patisseries.
Tiramisu – cheer me up….Step By Step
Just like the sbatudin, the tastiest Italian dessert is indeed quite simple to make. It is the artful combination of sweetness and bitterness, creaminess and soft textures, joined together to create a dish without rivals in its character and uniqueness. Let’s get down to the recipe then, one of the classic versions. Follow it and the result will be an intense, light and complex dessert that makes your head spin with pleasure.
450 grams of mascarpone
200 grams of savoiardi (lady fingers)
250 grams of powdered sugar
100 grams of dark chocolate
5 egg yolks
2 egg whites
3 cups of Italian espresso
2 tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa powder
This delicacy can be served in a baking dish or in individual serving bowls.
Let us get down to the preparation.
Break up the chocolate in little pieces. Divide the egg whites from the yolks. Beat the egg whites until they are stiff and dry – you can use an electric whisk. In another bowl, whisk the egg yolks with the sugar until you obtain a foamy, pale yellow cream. A little tip: make sure the whisks you are using with the egg whites are clean with no traces of yolks, otherwise you won’t be able to get the results you need. Add the mascarpone to the yolks, beginning with a spoon. Stir from the bottom to the top with caution: do not ruin your foamy cream.
Now, the tricky part: add the mix to the fluffy and delicate egg whites, slowly, delicately, just like you did with the egg yolks. Ready to run downhill? You are almost there. Pour the coffee into a bowl, moisten the savoiardi one by one and use them to create the base of the tiramisu in an oven dish or in your individual cups. Spread the cream and sprinkle the chopped dark chocolate. Repeat to create a second layer and then close your masterpiece with cocoa powder.
Store the tiramisu in the refrigerator for several hours before serving. It was not that difficult, what do you say?
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Herbs create the famous aromas we all love about Italian food
The herbs all have their own unique partners in the Italian cuisine. Read about these great marriages but also about the useful medicinal properties they have.
The Italian cuisine is largely constituted by its aromas, which in turn are made of classic combinations of herbs and spices. Can you really imagine a pizza without the pungent smell of oregano? Or basil? These are touches that often you don’t find in pizzas and other Italian dishes cooked abroad, but they are one of the essential differences that turn the food of the peninsula into a sensorial dreamland. And this is just one small thing herbs do for the Italians. In fact, the art of recognizing useful and edible herbs is ancient, dating back perhaps to prehistoric times. The Greeks and the Romans brought it to its apotheosis and doctors like Asclepius, Hippocrates and Galen turned this knowledge into one of their most powerful weapons against all kinds of diseases.
Throughout the centuries, this tradition has entered the Italian popular knowledge. As a consequence, the Italian cuisine has been increasingly enriched by curative aromas, which provide unique flavours and are the cornerstone of the longevity associated with the Mediterranean diet. Following the advice and wisdom of our wonderful chefs at Tuscookany – Cooking vacations in Tuscany , we now look at some of the most commonly used herbs in the Italian gastronomy, starting precisely from the famous pizza ally: the oregano.
Fresh and dried oregano taste quite differently. The fresh herb is delicate and blends in well with a salad. However, when the oregano dries up, its flavour multiplies, strengthening its stinging notes and becoming a great companion not only for pizzas but also for tomato-based red sauces. Sprinkle it on your mozzarella, trust me: it is amazing. And if its deliciousness is not enough, it also has antiseptic, analgesic, expectorant and digestive properties.
One of the most famous and beloved herbs of the Italian culinary landscape, basil is known as a protagonist in legendary recipes such as pizza, caprese and pesto. It is absolutely divine when combined with olive oil and garlic, and it is beyond this world when it meets tomatoes in every form, either fresh or cooked. The name comes from the Greek basilikohn, which means “royal”: a perfect label for a noble herb symbol of hospitality and love. Its antibacterial, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties make it one of the healthiest herbs on the planet with plenty of nutrients that improve cardiovascular and digestive health, and protect the structures of cells and chromosomes. Its aroma is welcoming and fresh, with a hint of minty notes. In fact, basil and peppermint are related: did you know?
In Italy, when referring to something that is everywhere, or a person you find in all the places you go, it is said: it/he is like parsley. The reason is because this herb is an inevitable protagonist in almost all Italian recipes. There are sauces made exclusively of parsley, like the Gremola in Lombardy and the Tuscan green sauce. It is great with mushrooms and with all the trifolature, and you can add it raw on salads, fish and cheese. And this herb is a real medicine, a life-saver. It is able to promote iron absorption, it is diuretic, laxative and it fights against cellulite, improving the circulation and promoting a healthy digestion. Plus, it is rich in vitamins and can be used as a perfect detox potion.
This rustic plant can grow even on rocks and in dry areas, and it is not afraid of the cold. Consequently, it grows easily around the beautiful Italian peninsula. Try it to marinate meat and veggies. It is perfect with potatoes and other vegetables cooked in the oven and with the famous abbacchio of Lazio, and it is used in many regional recipes. It is both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, and it is helpful to fight back against depression, because it is both a tonic and a stimulant. Italian grandmothers used to combine it with water to be used in the last rinse of their hair, giving it an awesome sparkle.
It is so good it is actually sacred: the ancient Greeks used thyme as incense in their sacred temples. A medieval symbol of bravery and courage with an intense aroma, the herb has been known for centuries for its medicinal properties. It has antioxidant, antibacterial and antimicrobial properties, and studies suggest it can even decontaminate contaminated food. It was also used as an embalming agent during the mummification of the Egyptian pharaohs: talking about a powerful ingredient! A wonderful add-on to many pasta sauce recipes, fresh thyme is a triumph when combined with fish, beans and seasonal soups. You should also try it in your Italian omelettes.
An herb that in many countries can’t find its place, but that in Italy is an absolute queen. It is used with fish and meat, and many Italians adore it in soups and sprinkled on a wide variety if vegetables. It is perfect for the ravioli together with butter. And a marriage in heaven together with white beans and garlic. To give you a sense of how much Italians love it, in Rome sage leaves are fried and eaten as healthy chips: can you imagine? Its taste and aroma are intense, powerful and dominant, and this is the reason why you can’t really combine it with other herbs: it would wipe out their flavour. This herb also has amazing properties: it is antibacterial, antispasmodic and digestive, and improves the functioning of the central nervous system. It even helps fighting excessive sweating and rheumatism (when added to the water used for a bath). Another little Italian secret: rub sage leaves on your teeth; you will destroy all traces of bad breath and find yourself with white teeth and a beautiful smile.
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Italians do it with Tomatoes in all different shapes and sizes
Raw, cooked, pureed or stuffed, the Italians have made this fruit a centrepiece of their cuisine. Learn to cook with our organic grown tomatoes at Tuscookany
The Italian cuisine is famous worldwide for its recipes, its aromas and flavours, but it is also recognizable for its gaudy colours, a pure expression of joy de vivre, beautifully represented by one of the main ingredients of the Mediterranean culinary landscape: the tomatoes.
The Origins of how the Italians fell in love with tomatoes
This colourful ingredient came from the Americas and slowly entered the culture of the peninsula to become a protagonist of many Italian dishes. At first, it was used to make stews combined with other vegetables: nothing too special for the pomodoro (the Italian name of this great fruit, yes biologically speaking tomatoes are fruits not veggies). Little by little, tomatoes climbed the ranks to become the poster boys of the cuisine made in Italy, flavouring pasta dishes and turning into the protagonist of that worldwide triumph called pizza.
So many varieties of tomatoes all with their own specific qualities
Of course, nowadays the number of varieties of tomatoes available around Italy and beyond has established this beautiful fruit as the ultimate touch of many dishes. For instance, you can find beefsteak tomatoes like the Costoluto Fiorentino and small multi-coloured cherry tomatoes that are perfect in salads, because of their sweetness and playful elegance (the cherry tomatoes) and thanks to their ability to add texture and combine perfectly with a vinaigrette use the the Costoluto Fiorentino. Plum tomatoes like the San Marzano are your choice if you want to make a sauce, including a pizza sauce, while the Principe Borghese is the variety most Italians use for sun drying. The San Marzano is also great for soups because of its meaty texture. These are just a few examples: pick and choose and ask our chefs at Tuscookany for some advice or come and learn to cook in Tuscany using our organic tomatoes grown at the villas in all shapes and sizes.
Italians Do It Better… with Tomatoes
For the Italians, the maccheroni with tomato sauce is an everyday convivial dish, quick and casual but always important with its powerful aroma. In Northern Italy it is often combined with butter while in the South olive oil is its faithful companion. You should add Parmesan cheese for the gourmands, but remember this became a habit only in the early Twentieth Century, when tomatoes started to be cultivated throughout the peninsula. Slowly the pomodoro, which in Italian literally means golden fruit, has become the partner of fish, meat… in other words: what would the Mediterranean diet be without its golden boy?
This said, we should remember that, before the fame of the tomatoes exploded, an Italian invention changed the rules of the game in the Eighteenth Century and allowed these fruits to step up. To preserve the precious pomodoro, the Italians began to cook the tomatoes with the typical soffritto veggies. The mix was then crushed and sieved, and finally poured in glass containers that were closed quickly while the sauce was still hot. This is how the story of the legendary Passata, known as pummarola in Naples, began: the sauce used today on pasta and pizzas and a huge variety of dishes around the globe.
The love Italians feel for strong, penetrating flavours, those that enter through the nostrils and not just via the eyes and the palate, was also the reason behind the marriage of the tomatoes with two spices: basil and oregano. The first cool and intoxicating, the second deep and pungent, these herbs turn tomato-based dishes into masterpieces while making them easy to digest.
There are many anecdotes related to the tomato, which as we said originally comes from the Americas (specifically Chile and Ecuador). As the story goes, the South American growers of the plant did not eat its fruits: tomatoes were used for decorative or magic purposes, but not as food. When it was imported, in almost all countries, except Italy, this fruit was named after the term that was used by the Aztecs: xitomatl, which means great tomatl.
However, the colonizers made a mistake. Tomatl was not the fruit they imported, it was a smaller plant with green fruits, which was indeed used in the South American cuisine. It was what we now know as Tomatillo. In other words, while convinced to take home an edible plant, they imported a fruit the natives considered inedible, the same golden fruit the Italians turned into the ingredient that changed the entire culinary culture of the peninsula. Interesting, wouldn’t you say?
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Did you know that Italians consume 4kg of gelato per year?
Read about the origins of delicious Italian gelato and varieties and come and learn to make it this summer at the Tuscookany cooking school in Tuscany, Italy
The food-lovers who come to Tuscookany – Cooking vacations in Tuscany ready to learn the secrets of the Italian cuisine are often surprised by the simplicity of the recipes. As a matter of fact, differently from other traditions, Italian food is about quality before complexity, and pleasure before anything else: this is what makes Italy the home place of all those who truly love sitting at a table and enjoy what life has to offer. There are those who claim Italian recipes are love letters written to nature itself, a big “thank you” for the many gifts and the feelings coming from them. With its intense flavour and its pure natural notes, the Italian gelato is no exception which we teach you to make at Tuscookany.
Tasty origins of Gelato
Truth be told, what we now know as gelato (literally means “frozen” but you can call it ice-cream) has ancient origins and has changed quite a lot through time. It is said, the idea of gelato can be traced back to the Neanderthal men, who used to freeze berries in order to preserve them, taking advantage of the cold climate of continental Europe at that time. However, if you are looking for something similar to the cold cream we all love, you will need to move to Sicily during the Arab domination, in the 9th century. In fact, the Arabs were those responsible for bringing sugar cane to the Italian island, the missing ingredient for the sweet taste of our beloved gelato.
On the Sicilian Apennines there were large glaciers from which the inhabitants took large ice cubes that were sold in spring and summer on the coast, where they were used to make granita flavoured with different fruits, the precursor of today’s ice cream. The delicious recipe moved then to France. It is said this happened because of a man from Florence named Ruggeri, who lived in Paris and invented a mix made of ice, cream, eggnog and fruits: it was an incredible success.
This said, Italy is the place where the gelato ultimately acquired the features that made it what it is today. In fact, it was 1884 when the famous gelateria Pepino was opened in Piedmont. It is still open today and the owner still uses milk, ice, sugar and cream like the founders used to. Then, the final touch: in 1903, Italo Marchioni added the cone to the mix and the ice cream became the faithful sweet companion of the long romantic walks Italians love so much.
Interesting facts about Gelato
Let’s get down to some interesting facts. The flavours exported and used around the world are many, often extremely original and yet far away from the original gelato. Those loved by the Italians are the simple ones: chocolate (22%), hazelnut (20%), strawberry and lemon (12%), soon followed by cream and stracciatella.
In case you had doubts about how much Italians love their gelato, you should know that near Bologna there is a museum completely dedicated to it: the Gelato Museum Carpignani in Anzola Emilia. And if this wasn’t enough to convince you, there is a number that speaks louder than 1000 words: the per capita consumption of this delicious food in Italy touches almost the 4 kg per year. Considering Italians generally eat gelato only in summer, this number is even more impressive.
Another interesting fact you probably didn’t know: when the humidity is high, many Italians eat a big cup of ice cream for dinner. If you are asking yourself: what is the most complete dish, hamburger with fries or salad with gelato? The answer is salad with gelato all the way, hands down. In fact, while delicious and irresistible, the Italian gelato contains proteins, minerals, sugars, lipids and vitamins. In other words, it is quite healthy and complete. Just to be sure, we are talking about the real handmade Italian gelato here, not the pre-made hyper-sugary mixes that get sold as ice cream in supermarkets and malls. A good gelato with fruits can be a quick and fresh meal with a proper caloric intake that is quickly expendable: an ideal meal at work (it’s not heavy) or for active people. All natural and organic, a genuine wonder with a delicious taste: gelato is the flavour of an Italian summer!
Hope to see you in Tuscany this year to enjoy one of the many delicious flavours of Gelato!
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Try the famous Tuscan Negroni but never drink more than two!
Read about Negroni: a typical Tuscan Apéritif which the Italians and our Tuscookany cooks enjoy while watching the sunset after a great cooking session.
Italy is known all over the world for its food: pizza and lasagna, pasta and tiramisu, risotto and gelato… you name it. This is certainly one of the reasons why Tuscookany cooking classes in Italy was born, because we love Italian food. However, those who really know the culture of this beautiful peninsula are also aware of the fact that Italians love their drinks. It is not just a matter of good red wine or prosecco: there are some classic Italian cocktails that are absolutely delicious, and for which people around here go crazy. An example is the so-called Negroni, a wonderful drink…. made in Tuscany, of course!
The Negroni originated in Florence, around 1920. The authorship is a disputed matter and there are a few bars and bartenders who claim to be the fathers of this delicious ambrosia. This said, it is commonly believed the cocktail is the handwork of Mr. Luigi Scarselli. The reason why it was created is actually quite peculiar. Among the regulars of the bar where Luigi worked there was a noble man called count Negroni, who loved to drink C&C (Bitter Campari and Cinzano Vermouth) with gin. Scarselli combined the ingredients and conceived the most perfect blend. He named the resulting mix in honor of the famous customer. The fact that count Camillo Negroni fell in love with the drink is just another proof Mr. Scarselli might be the right father.
Today the Negroni is arguably the best known among the Italian aperitifs. It gets served everywhere with soda water, half a slice of orange and, often, lemon peel. Its characteristic strong and fruity flavor is quite unmistakable.
One of the people responsible for the popularity of the drink was an entrepreneur from Emilia Romagna who moved to Tuscany. He was the founder of a liquor company and adored the aperitif. Are you ready for one of the greatest coincidences in the history of liquors and drinks? His name was Guglielmo Negroni. For him, advertising the cocktail was just another way to strengthen his brand.
A small anecdote: It is said that count Negroni loved to experiment with ingredients drawing inspiration from aperitifs he tried during his trips, especially those to London. As a matter of fact, the base of the cocktail used to be called “the American”. If you think about it, it is funny that starting from America and London the Negroni became the Italian aperitif par excellence. However, once you taste its fruity harmonious notes, you know it couldn’t be otherwise: the Negroni is 100% Italian. We know from experience at Tuscookany that you should never drink more than two otherwise you might end up at the bottom of the Arno river!
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Balsamic Vinegar: Creates a taste sensation with a few drops
Enjoy Balsamic with strawberries or vanilla ice cream. Read more of its unique properties and when and how to use it and come and join our lessons at Tuscookany
The Italian balsamic vinegar is one of the most precious and sophisticated elements of the Italian cuisine. A delicacy, a concentrate made from simmered grape must, fermented and matured for many years in barrels. Ask the Tuscookany chefs and they’ll confirm you: a few drops of this ambrosia from heaven and your dish will change forever
A precious gift
The original balsamic vinegar is produced only on a small strip of land near Modena, in Emilia Romagna, an area that used to belong to the Estensi. While the geography is no secret, the origins of this product are unknown. There are many local legends and curiosities, but it is probable the balsamic vinegar is the result of a random process. It is said that one day someone left some cooked must in a cool place by mistake and the typical climate of the region did the rest. When the lost must was found, it was something else: an incredible vinegar, deep, sweet, with a sour scent and a round taste.
Various writings that come from the time of the House of Este confirm that the balsamic vinegar was used sparingly, sometimes given as a precious gift for great personalities and displayed with pride. In addition to the flavour, this cult was also the result of the medicinal power of this culinary wonder.
Lucrezia Borgia herself used it during childbirth for its therapeutic, almost magical virtues. It was considered a powerful weapon against the plague, eased the pain caused by the scurvy, was able to sooth the irritation of mucous membranes and was considered a powerful aphrodisiac. Someone says it was the secret weapon of Giacomo Casanova.
Besides stories and legends, most of the healing powers of the balsamic vinegar are now confirmed by science: the product is truly a tasty lifesaver. These powers, which the balsamic vinegar owns no matter what, reach their maximum potential only in the original product, obtained from the ripening and aging of cooked must, the crushing of high quality grapes and the use of oak barrels made of solid wood. The best balsamic vinegar needs also 25 years of aging: a dense and perfumed ambrosia, called "extra old".
A tasty miracle
The “extra old” vinegar has a very good to taste and can be eaten “neat”, using a slightly warm spoon made of crystal or porcelain. It also gives a unique note to strawberries and turns vanilla ice cream into one of the most elegant dessert on earth. A less aged product, which should still be no less than 12 years old to be called balsamic vinegar, can be the basis for a meat sauce. It also enriched a fish dish and turns fresh vegetables into an explosion of flavour.
The non-traditional balsamic vinegar is a different product. It still has many therapeutic properties but it contains wine vinegar. Plus, it comes with more sour notes and has a more liquid consistency. This said, it still tastes great and can enrich salads of different kinds - it’s the perfect companion in a fruit salad. It is also delicious on meat and fish.
Traditional or not, there is a rule we teach at the Italian cooking lessons in Tuscany: food should never be drowned in balsamic vinegar. It has a strong flavour, which should harmonize with the dishes without concealing their taste. As an example, try a few drops of vinegar, aged or not, on Parmesan cheese: it is a combination not to be missed. In fact, an exquisitely elegant plate with a unique appearance is the salad with pear and cheese, a delicious dish traditionally made with balsamic vinegar, pepper, extra virgin olive oil, Parmesan cheese, pears and arugula. The sweet, spicy flavours and the deep notes of the vinegar come together in a triumph that stimulates even the most sophisticated taste buds.
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