toscana-dining

Celebrate the Season as they Do
Every Night in Tuscany
In Italy, you don’t need a special occasion to enjoy a five-course meal with three glasses of wine and an after-diner drink. This is an entire country full of people who love to celebrate food. And in their luxurious everyday dining rituals, they make me look normal.

To me and Glenn, dinner is a sacred time together. No matter where we are in the world, we like to do it right. But when we’re in Tuscany, it’s clear they really get it. From the glass of prosecco to the delightful biscotti, I love the indulgence of the typical nightly meal here, and how you can enjoy it at all levels of restaurants.

So, if you’re not used to allowing yourself leisurely, multi-course meals, let the season give you an extra push to delight your loved ones with a fabulous Italian feast. Below you’ll find my favorite Tuscan menu, complete with easy recipes you can make at home and wine pairings to sweeten the deal. And remember, you don’t have to wait for a reason to celebrate. As they know in Italy, any night of your life already is.

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Prosecco & Bruschetta

Every night begins with a little something bubbly! Once the prosecco is poured, the bruschetta arrives. At a classic Florentine restaurant, I love to find either a liver pate or classic tomato topping, but better yet is to have both!

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Liver Pate Crostini

Courtesy of Food & Wine

 

Ingredients:
1 pound chicken livers
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 white onion, finely chopped
2 sage sprigs
1 rosemary sprig
1 anchovy fillet, minced
1 tablespoon drained capers
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup cognac
1 large baguette, thinly sliced

 

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Directions: Trim the chicken livers of any sinews and veins and set them on paper towels to dry for about 20 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350°. In a large skillet, melt the butter in 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Add the chopped onion, sage and rosemary and cook over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until the onion is softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the minced anchovy and capers and cook over low heat until the onion is lightly browned, about 8 minutes longer. Scrape the mixture into a medium bowl. chilled glass and serve.

Add the remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil to the skillet. Season the chicken livers with salt and pepper, add them to the skillet and cook over high heat until browned, about 2 minutes. Flip and cook the chicken livers for 1 minute longer. Stir in the onion mixture. Add the cognac and carefully ignite it with a long match. Cook the livers until the flames subside.

Discard the herb sprigs and scrape the contents of the skillet into a food processor; let cool slightly. Pulse until chunky, then season with salt and pepper. Place the baguette slices on a large baking sheet and toast them for about 15 minutes, until they are golden and crisp. Spread the baguette toasts with the chicken liver and serve.

The chicken-liver spread can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 2 days. Bring the spread to room temperature before serving.

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Next Recipe: Tomato Brochesta

Prosecco & Bruschetta

Every night begins with a little something bubbly! Once the prosecco is poured, the bruschetta arrives. At a classic Florentine restaurant, I love to find either a liver pate or classic tomato topping, but better yet is to have both!

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Tomato Bruschetta

Courtesy of Williams Sonoma

 

Ingredients:
About 1 lb. (500 g.) cherry tomatoes, or 3 or 4 large tomatoes
Salt
About 16 fresh basil leaves, torn into small pieces
2 cloves garlic
8 slices coarse country bread, each about 1/2 inch (12 mm.) thick
1/4 cup (2 fl. oz./60 ml.) extra-virgin olive oil

 

Directions: Preheat the broiler. If using cherry tomatoes, cut them in half. If using large tomatoes, core and seed them and cut into 1/2-inch (12-mm.) pieces. In a bowl, combine the tomatoes, basil, and a pinch of salt.

Place the bread slices on a baking sheet and broil, turning once, until crisp and golden on

both sides, about 3 minutes. Immediately rub one side of each slice vigorously with a garlic clove, using 1 clove for 4 slices. Arrange the bread slices, garlic side up, on a platter. Spoon the tomato mixture on the slices. Drizzle with the oil and serve. Serves 4.
 
Next Recipe: Salumi Antipasto

Salumi Antipasto

In Italian the word “salumi” refers to all dried and cured meats, from salami to prosciutto, and in Tuscany these gourmet delicacies always arrive in a course together before the pasta. To create the perfect platter, select a mix of 3-4 Italian meats that range in spice, flavor, color and texture. Throw in a a wedge of pecorino, a bowl of marinated olives, and a focaccia loaf to take things to the next level.

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What To Get

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Prosciutto

Prosciutto is cured, uncooked and unsmoked ham from the Emilia-Romagna region. The most famous is probably prosciutto di Parma, while prosciutto San Danielle provides a less expensive alternative.

Mortadella

Before there was Bologna from Bologna, there was Mortadella. Thinly sliced and much more subtly flavored than the American cold cut we know, Mortadella has a soft texture and rich, nutty flavor.
 

Salame

All cured and dried sausages fall into the salami category. From sopressata to coppa, they’re great for adding a spicy kick and a dash of pepper to your platter.

Pancetta

Cured, unsmoked pork belly, Pancetta is known as the Italian bacon. Guanicale is a less fatty version that’s salted and peppered before aging.

Bresaola

Unlike most Italian cured meats that are made from Pork, Bresaola is made from beef. It’s a lean cut that’s typically salted and spiced before being hung to dry.

 

Tagliatelle & Vermentino

Now it’s time for our primi—the pasta course. You can’t have a Tuscan feast without it. While in Italy you typically don’t encounter the huge portions you do in the States, this course isn’t tiny either. Because fall is mushroom season in Tuscany, I’ve chosen a delicious tagliatelle with porcini, to be enjoyed alongside a crisp Vermentino—my favorite Italian white.

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Tagliatelle alle Funghi

Courtesy of Culinary Ginger

 

Ingredients:
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 pound porcini mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
Freshly ground black pepper
1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms
Fresh parsley, chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
½ cup dry white wine * see note
Pinch of salt
Ground black pepper
1½ cups boiling water
1 tablespoon parmesan cheese, freshly grated (plus more for garnish)
16 ounces/1 pound fresh tagliatelle or pasta of your choice

 

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Directions: Bring a large pan full of salted water to a boil. Add the dried porcini mushrooms and the boiling water to a bowl, soak for 5 minutes. Once the porcini mushrooms have reconstituted, remove the mushrooms and pour the liquid through a sieve to get rid of any grit.

In a large sauté pan heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the shallot and sauté until lightly browned. Add the sliced porcini mushrooms and cook until browned. You may find that the mushrooms absorb the oil, if this is the case add another tablespoon.

Add 4 turns of freshly ground black pepper and a small pinch of salt.

Remove the pan from the heat and add the wine and scrape any bits that are stuck to the pan. Cook for about 2 minutes or until the wine has reduced slightly. Add the mushroom stock. Increase the heat to high and simmer until reduced slightly.You can add the dried reconstituted porcini mushrooms at this stage if you like.

Drop the pasta into the boiling water and cook for 2-3 minutes for fresh pasta or according to the package directions. Add the parsley and parmesan cheese to the mushroom mixture, toss with the pasta and serve with freshly grated parmesan cheese.

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Next Recipe: Osso Buco & Brunello

Osso Buco & Brunello

Beyond the fabulous porcini, nothing says Tuscany in the fall like a braised osso buco, falling off the bone and served with creamy parmesan polenta. A side of garlicky rapini rounds out the ideal meal.

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Ingredients:
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 sprig fresh rosemary
1 sprig fresh thyme
1 dry bay leaf
2 whole cloves
Cheesecloth
Kitchen twine, for bouquet garni and tying the veal shanks
3 whole veal shanks (about 1 pound per shank), trimmed
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
All purpose flour, for dredging
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 small onion, diced into 1/2-inch cubes
1 small carrot, diced into 1/2-inch cubes
1 stalk celery, diced into 1/2-inch cubes
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 cup dry white wine
3 cups chicken stock
3 tablespoons fresh flat-leaf Italian parsley, chopped
1 tablespoon lemon zest

 

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Directions: Place the rosemary, thyme, bay leaf and cloves into cheesecloth and secure with twine. This will be your bouquet garni.

For the veal shanks, pat dry with paper towels to remove any excess moisture. Veal shanks will brown better when they are dry. Secure the meat to the bone with the kitchen twine. Season each shank with salt and freshly ground pepper. Dredge the shanks in flour, shaking off excess.

In a large Dutch oven pot, heat vegetable oil until smoking. Add tied veal shanks to the hot pan and brown all sides, about 3 minutes per side. Remove browned shanks and reserve.

In the same pot, add the onion, carrot and celery. Season with salt at this point to help draw out the moisture from the vegetables. Saute until soft and translucent, about 8 minutes. Add the tomato paste and mix well. Return browned shanks to the pan and add the white wine and reduce liquid by half, about 5 minutes. Add the bouquet garni and 2 cups of the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover pan and simmer for about 1 1/2 hours or until the meat is falling off the bone. Check every 15 minutes, turning shanks and adding more chicken stock as necessary. The level of cooking liquid should always be about 3/4 the way up the shank.

Carefully remove the cooked shanks from the pot and place in decorative serving platter. Cut off the kitchen twine and discard. Remove and discard bouquet garni from the pot. Pour all the juices and sauce from the pot over the shanks. Garnish with chopped parsley and lemon zest.

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Next Recipe: Polenta & Rapini

Side Dishes

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Polenta

Courtesy of A Pinch of Yum

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Ingredients:
3 cups cherry tomatoes
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic
3 cups spinach
3 cups water
1 cup corn grits or polenta
4 ounces goat cheese
½ teaspoon salt

Directions: Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Wash the tomatoes, place on a baking sheet, and pat dry. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon of the oil. Roast for 10 minutes, gently turn the tomatoes, and repeat until the tomatoes are browned, about 30 minutes. I turned the heat up to 450 at the end to get more browning action.

Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons oil in a large heavy pan. Add the garlic and saute gently until fragrant, but do not brown – browned garlic tastes bitter and gross. When the garlic is smelling awesome, add the spinach and turn off the heat. You should be able to just keep stirring the spinach around for a minute and it will wilt and reduce in size. Transfer to a bowl and set aside. Wipe out the pan with a paper towel.

In the same pan, bring the water to a boil. Add the polenta and whisk until smooth. Simmer for 15 minutes or so until the polenta has thickened. Add the goat cheese and the salt and stir until smooth. Taste and adjust as necessary. Serve the polenta immediately with the tomatoes and the spinach.
 

Lemony Rapini

Courtesy of Food 52

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Ingredients:
2 bunches rapini
3 tbsp butter
1/4 tsp salt
2 tbsp lemon zest
1 tsp hot chili-garlic sauce
1 tbsp lemon juice

 

Directions: Bring a partly filled pot of salted water to a boil. Meanwhile, trim about 2 in. from rapini stems and discard. Add rapini to boiling water. Boil, uncovered, for 1 min. Drain well.

Melt butter in a very large frying pan over medium. Add salt and rapini, and stir often until rapini is coated with butter mixture, 1 to 2 min.

Remove from heat and stir in zest and chili-garlic sauce. Transfer to a platter. Just before serving, drizzle with lemon juice until smooth. Taste and adjust as necessary. Serve the polenta immediately with the tomatoes and the spinach.

 

Cantucci e Vin Santo

Often dessert for me is just a doppio macchiato, but occasionally I do like to indulge in the great Italian after-dinner tradition of cantucci and Vin Santo. Cantucci are the typical Florentine almond biscotti, and they can be fairly dry, but after a dip in a glass of Vin Santo dessert wine, they become totally delicious.

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Cantuccini

Courtesy of STYLE SEEKING ZURICH

 

Ingredients:
175 g almonds, whole
250 g flour
180 g sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 packets vanilla sugar
½ little bottle of bitter almond oil
1 pinch of salt
25 g butter, room temperature
2 eggs

 

Directions: Roast the dry whole almonds in a pan. For the batter combine flour, sugar, baking powder, vanilla sugar, bitter almond oil and salt stir well in a bowl. Add the eggs and butter until the ingredients stay together in a ball of dough and mix in the roasted, cooled almonds. The dough is going to be very sticky. With the help of a little bit of flour form the dough into a ball and put it into a cold place for 30 minutes. Divide the dough into 4 to 6 pieces (depending on the width you wish) and form a log, elongating them to a length of 25 cm. Press down gently with the palm of your hand to flatten the logs.
Preheat your oven to 200°C. Put parchment paper onto the baking tray. Put the logs onto the parchment paper, making sure there is enough space between them (about 8 cm, they spread and rise).

Bake the rolls for about 15 minutes until they are lightly toasted. Transfer the rolls onto a wire rack to cool slightly and then cut diagonally in 1cm thick slices. Arrange the cantuccini on the prepared tray, cut side down. It isn’t necessary to leave space between them anymore. Bake them for an additional 10 minutes until the cantuccini are golden brown. Let the biscuits cool completely and keep in a container with a tight-fitting cover.

 
Next Recipe: Prosecco & Bruschetta

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