With spring in the air, a young man or woman’s fancy turns to…Tuscan recipes. Springtime in Tuscany is glorious and in the province of Siena, earthy, wholesome and savory dishes dominate the menus of local eateries. Siena’s cuisine is pure and simple, yet distinguished by the excellence of its ingredients. Sienese meats, vegetables and herbs are of excellent quality. The oak woods around Siena are still home to the Cinta Sienese pig, a native breed reputed for the excellent flavor of its meat. The Val di Chiana area continues to raise the Chianina breed of cattle, famous for their white skin and remarkable size.
Focaccia di Carciofi
This wonderful recipe makes sure nothing goes to waste. It is also not what you would expect from focaccia; it isn’t so much a flat bread as it is a savory cake made with stale bread and artichokes. A few words about the ingredients and the preparation – use a good crusty bread. Cleaning the artichokes – remove all the dark outer leaves and the spiky tops before cooking.
Extra virgin olive oil
1 clove fresh garlic
3 cups warm water
1 lb stale bread
4 eggs, beaten
4 oz grated Parmigiano Reggiano
2 tbsp chopped flat leaf parsley
1 sprig of fresh mint
salt and black pepper
Prepare a large bowl of cold water and squeeze one lemon in it. Add the squeezed lemon inside the bowl. Now you can clean the artichokes. Snap off the dark green hard outer leaves until only the pale and tender inner leaves remain. Cut off the spiky top of the artichoke. Keep an inch or so of the stem and trim any dark parts around the bottom. Rub each artichoke with the squeezed lemon and drop them into the lemon water to prevent darkening.
Warm a few tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil with a clove of fresh garlic in a large pan on a medium flame. Add the finely trimmed artichokes and stir with a wooden spoon to cover with olive oil. Pour in the warm water and cook uncovered for about 30 minutes, stirring frequently, until the artichokes are tender. In the meanwhile, break the bread in pieces and soak it in cold water for a few minutes. Squeeze the bread well. If it is a good quality Italian bread, it will have a spongy texture.
When the artichokes are ready, pour them into a big bowl, add the squeezed bread, the eggs (previously beaten), grated Parmigiano, chopped parsley and fresh mint. Season with salt and black pepper to taste. Add 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil and mix thoroughly.
Preheat oven to 375°F. Drizzle some extra virgin olive oil at the bottom of a baking tray and scoop the mixture onto it. Press it gently to a ½” thickness with a fork and drizzle some extra virgin olive oil on top. Bake for about 55 minutes, until golden on top. Serve warm or cold.
Pici Pasta with Breadcrumbs and Wild Fennel
In the Tuscan culinary tradition, the feathery wild fennel fronds have a side role, even though it is the fennel seeds that are widely used in many typical recipes. Wild fennel has a long history in the Mediterranean area; it has been appreciated not only for its culinary uses but also for its health benefits. The fronds give a distinctive flavor to dishes and help to create ones that are entirely different from the expected. In the case of the pasta, pici, a thick hand-rolled pasta that is often served all’aglione (with a rich tomato sauce and a copious amount of garlic), this recipe prepares a creamy sauce made simply with grated Pecorino cheese, a ladleful of starchy cooking water, black pepper and con le briciole, literally with breadcrumbs. The breadcrumbs quickly fried in olive oil become something new and fresh – thanks to a bunch of fennel fronds.
For the pici pasta
8 oz of water
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
a pinch of salt
1 lb of stone-ground wheat flour
semolina flour and corn flour for dusting the pici
For the sauce
8 tbsp coarse breadcrumbs
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 clove of garlic
wild fennel fronds
1 tbsp shaved almonds
aged Tuscan pecorino
Pour the water into a large bowl with the olive oil and salt. Add gradually the flour, stirring with a fork. When the dough is too hard to be mixed with a fork, move it onto a wooden board and knead by hand to incorporate all the flour. Knead the dough until smooth. Add more flour if too sticky, or more water if you are not able to collect all the flour. Let the dough rest on the wooden board covered for 30 minutes.
Roll out the dough on the board with a rolling pin to about one-quarter inch thickness. Brush with olive oil to prevent it from drying. Cut the dough with a pizza wheel into strips about 1” long and get ready to make pici. Roll the pici and dip each picio a bowl of semolina as you go, then wrap it around your hand and put it aside on a tray. When all the pici are ready, prepare the breadcrumbs. Heat the olive oil in a pan with a clove of garlic, add the breadcrumbs and fry until golden. Add the roughly chopped wild fennel fronds, season with salt and pepper and set aside.
Cook the pici in salted boiling water for 5-6 minutes and serve tossed with breadcrumbs, shaved almonds and grated pecorino.
Pan-fried rabbit is one of the favorite meals among farmers in the province of Siena. It is also a hit among diners in restaurants and is most popular in the spring. Sautéed with vegetables, bacon and sausage and then finished in white wine, it pairs beautifully with pici.
1 lb. boned rabbit
2 celery stalks
3 garlic cloves
2 sprigs of rosemary
1 sprig of parsley
15 juniper berries
red pepper flakes to taste
4 cups white wine
3 slices of ‘rigatino’ bacon (or normal smoked)
1 hot Italian sausage
3 tbsp. of tomato paste
1 cup of vegetable stock
Extra virgin olive oil
In a large pan, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over a medium flame. Add red pepper flakes and stir into the oil. Lightly sauté the carrots, onions, garlic, celery, parsley, rosemary, and juniper berries. When browned, add the bacon (cut into small pieces), the sausage and rabbit. Brown well. Add the white wine and allow the alcohol to evaporate; add the tomato paste, vegetable stock and cook uncovered on a low flame for 40 minutes.