Autumn taste of Tuscany



Having just returned from my annual food and wine tour in Tuscany, I am excited to get back into my own kitchen and try some of the recipes we savored.

Anyone who has ever been to Italy undoubtedly has fallen in love with its history, landscapes, art, architecture, and of course, it’s food and wine. The Tuscan cuisine is all about using fresh ingredients grown and cultivated in the nearby countryside between Florence and Siena. The cucina povera, or the peasant kitchen, is the traditional, very modest and yet still incredibly delicious type of cooking that characterizes most family meals.

Staples in a Tuscan pantry always include freshly pressed extra virgin olive oil, coarse sea salt, fresh cracked pepper, fresh herbs, and a little Pecorino cheese. I hope you will enjoy a little Taste of Tuscany.

Farro and Bean Soup, Tuscan style

This Farro and Bean Soup, Tuscan style, is a wholesome, hearty, meal perfect on a cool autumn day.

Ingredients for soup:

  • ¾ cup carrots, diced
  • ¾ cup celery, chopped fine
  • ¾ cup onions, chopped fine
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
  • 1/3 cup dried porcini mushrooms (soak 10 minutes in ½ cup of boiling water, drain and chop.) Or, you can substitute any other fresh mushroom available to you.
  • 4 Tbsp imported Tuscan extra virgin olive oil (more for drizzling)
  • 1-¼ cups dried white navy beans, or cranberry beans (soaked in water over night)
  • ½ cup farro
  • 1 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 sprig fresh rosemary
  • 8 small fresh sage leaves
  • Coarse salt and fresh cracked pepper to taste
  • 8 cups of lukewarm water
  • ½ cup freshly crated dried pecorino, Romano or parmesan cheese

Ingredients for croutons:

  • 1 cup of day-old bread, cubed
  • 2 Tbsp of olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • ½ tsp mixed dried herbs of your choice (oregano, rosemary, thyme, basil)
  • Salt and pepper

Directions for soup:

  1. In a large heavy soup pot on medium-high heat, heat up olive oil.
  2. Toss in carrots, celery, onions, garlic and sauté until onions become soft.
  3. Add the fresh sprig of rosemary and sage leaves.
  4. Add chopped porcini mushrooms.
  5. Drain the beans you have soaked overnight and add to soup pot.
  6. Add the farro, stir and season with salt and pepper.
  7. Pour in water, lower heat, stir, cover and let simmer for about 1 hour or until the beans and farro are to your textured liking. Taste test to determine if it needs to cook longer and or needs a little more water.
  8. Pulse blend some of the soup mixture with a hand held blender before serving.
  9. Prepare croutons while soup is cooking.
    1. Place bread cubes in a bowl and drizzle olive oil and toss.
    2. Sprinkle in mixed herbs and salt and pepper. Toss again.
    3. Arrange on a parchment lined baking sheet.
    4. Place in a pre-heated 375° Fahrenheit oven.
    5. Cook until nice and golden brown, about 10 minutes.
    6. Serve immediately with a splash of imported peppery extra virgin olive oil. Garnish with freshly grated cheese.

Tuscan Mixed Bean Salad

A delicious hearty salad incorporating white beans, chickpeas, red onions and cherry tomatoes.

Ingredients (serves 8):

  • 1 can (approx. 15 oz.) chickpeas, rinsed and drained
  • 1 can (approx. 15 oz.) white cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 cup fresh cherry tomatoes, cut in half
  • ¼ red onion, chopped
  • 1/3 cup fruity extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ lemon, freshly squeezed
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Directions:

  • In a large bowl, whisk together extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper.
  • Add the chickpeas, white beans, fresh tomato and red onion, toss to combine dressing with the salad.

Cacio e Pepe

If you’re visiting the Siena area in Tuscany, there is one type of pasta that is their signature dish. It’s the simple, yet tasty “pici pasta.” Cacio e Pepe means “cheese and pepper,” and is made with pici or bucatini pasta. It is the Italian version of mac and cheese.

Ingredients (serves 4):

  • 1 pound Pici or Bucatini pasta
  • 4 Tbsp. salted butter
  • 1 ½ tsp. freshly cracked black pepper
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper and white pepper
  • 1 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
  • ½ cup freshly grated pecorino cheese
  • Fresh basil and lemon zest, for garnish

Directions:

  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook pasta according to package directions until al dente. Just before draining, reserve ¾ cup of the pasta cooking water. Drain.
  2. Melt 2 tbsp. butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the pepper and cook 30 seconds.
  3. Add the reserved pasta water and bring to a simmer over medium heat.
  4. Add the pasta and remaining butter. Reduce the heat to low and add the parmesan and pecorino, tossing until melted. Remove from heat, toss until the sauce coats the pasta, adding in more pasta water if needed to thin the sauce.
  5. Transfer to a bowl garnish with additional (fresh cracked black pepper and a sprinkle of ground cayenne pepper.) For additional taste and color, top with fresh basil and lemon zest. Enjoy!

Limoncello and Lemon Sherbet Cocktail

Ingredients (serves 8):

  1. Bottle limoncello
  2. 2 pints lemon sorbet
  3. Basil or mint for garnish

Directions:

  1. Make sure you chill the limoncello in the freezer at least several hours before serving dessert.
  2. In attractive martini glasses or champagne coupes, place a scoop of lemon sorbet. Pour in limoncello, then add a sprig of basil or mint as a garnish. Serve and enjoy!

Is a trip to Italy on your bucket list?  Please check out my small group privately guided food and wine tours to Italy every September and October. Go to www.CookingwithDawn.com or checkout my Facebook page, “Cooking with Dawn Tours, LLC.” You can always email, call or text me Dawn.Bause@gmail.com, 313-618-6559. Arrivederci! See you next month.

 

This year’s cooking challenge is in full swing. All you have to do is make any one of my recipes from my Oakland Lakefront articles and send me a photo via email or text message. The reader that sends me the most photos at the end of the year will be invited with a guest to a Chef’s Table Dinner January 2019 at my home here in Commerce Township. Send photos to my cell phone – 313-618-6559 or email me at Dawn.Bause@gmail.com.

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