Visitors to Italy soon discover that a major part of the easygoing Italian way of life, or la dolce vita, is eating fine cuisine and drinking delicious wine. Both are focal points of Italian life.
After 3,000 years, the influence of the ancient Etruscans continues in Florence in the use of fresh herbs and savory cooking. Tuscan food is simple and savory, with rich bread-based soups, crisp vegetable dishes, and flavorful meats sprinkled with aromatic spices such as sage and rosemary. Florentine bread may be grilled and drizzled with fresh-pressed olive oil (crostini), or spread with pâté (crostini di fegatini), or rubbed with garlic and topped with fresh, fragrant tomatoes (bruschetta).
Eating is a simple pleasure, and good friends and delicious wine make an evening perfect. With four or five courses and long breaks in between, plus cheese, dessert, coffee, and liqueur at the end, the typical Italian meal lends itself to good conversation.
The Etruscans not only revolutionized food, but also brought grape cultivation to Tuscany. Vineyards are scattered throughout the region, particularly in Chianti. Locally made, medium-bodied red wine is found in most homes; however, Tuscany produces many high-end wine varieties such as Brunello di Montalcino, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, and Vermentino. The sweet, luscious dessert wine Vin Santo is a staple throughout the region and is served with biscotti.
Ragł di carne alla fiorentina (Florentine Meat Sauce)
- Preparation time: 15 minutes
- Cooking time: 50 minutes
- One onion
- One carrot
- One stick of celery parsley
- 4 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
- 300g minced meat
- 100g chicken or rabbit livers
- One glass red wine
- 700g tomatoes
Finely chop the onion, carrot, celery and parsley. Sautee gently in olive oil over medium heat. Add minced meat (do not use meat that is too lean!) and washed, finely chopped livers. Add salt and cook over high heat for at least ten minutes, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, so that the meat does not stick to the pan. When the sauce becomes golden brown, add wine and let it evaporate. Lower the heat and add peeled and puréed tomatoes. Cook over a low heat for half an hour, adding salt to taste. This method produces a fairly liquid, but very light sauce. If you prefer it thicker, simply cook it for two hours instead: it will produce an entirely different consistency and flavor.
Crema di porri (Leek Soup)
Preparation time: 20 minutes.
Cooking time: 30 minutes
- One kg leeks
- 2tbsp flour
- 200g stock
- 2 glasses of milk
Finely chop the leeks into rings and fry gently in a flameproof earthenware dish. Add the flour, salt and pour in the stock, stirring all the time. Cook for about twenty minutes, remove from the heat and add the milk. To make the mixture creamy in consistency, you could put it into a blender for a minute or two. Return to the heat for five minutes, add the chopped parsley and grated Parmesan and serve immediately.
Renaissance recipes for this dish suggest adding saffron and cumin to flavor. You could also garnish with a handful of butter-fried croutons. The flour can be replaced by 300g of potatoes, peeled and finely chopped. This soup was traditionally served for the San Lorenzo festivities on the 10th August. Historical documents in the Florentine church of San Lorenzo refer to it, also mentioning a savory flan made with leeks called porrea.