The Province of Pistoia has truly embraced the concept of the slow food movement, but that was true before the term had ever been coined. For countless generations, the slow pace of the agricultural area produced hearty dishes where excellent ingredients made all the difference in otherwise simple recipes. That is certainly the case with Pappa al Pomodoro, where stale bread and fresh tomatoes produce a delicious thick soup.
If you visit Pistoia and its surroundings, one of the most impressive things you will notice is the wonderful value placed on food. Cinghale or wild boar is a staple in Tuscany. Often prepared in a thick tomato-based sauce, it is perfect as the weather gets cold. However, in the Pistoia province, specifically in Montalbano, a delicious pasta is prepared using mushrooms rather than tomatoes that is perfect for this time of the year. It also uses the sharp Pecorino cheese that is locally produced, the most delicious of which are Pecorino di Noce and Pecorino di Fiano. These cheeses are aged in walnut leaves and hay and have a sharp bite not found typically found in most imported Pecorino.
Pappa al Pomodoro
1 lb stale Italian bread
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
2 to 3 garlic cloves, minced
1 ½ lb ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
1 tbsp tomato paste
a pinch of sugar
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
salt and freshly ground pepper
4 cups water
3 tbsp slivered fresh basil
Begin with the stale Italian bread. If it is too hard to cut, douse it with water first. Remove the crust and cut the bread into cubes. You should have about 7 cups.
Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy soup pot over a medium-low flame. Add the onion and cook, stirring, until tender, but not brown – about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for about a minute, until fragrant. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, a pinch of sugar, red pepper flakes, plus salt and pepper to taste. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes have cooked down, about 10 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning.
Stir the bread cubes into the tomatoes. Add the water, half of the basil and 1 teaspoon of salt. Bring to a simmer and stir to break up the bread cubes for about 10 minutes, until the soup is thick and has a consistency similar to oatmeal. Stir in the remaining basil, taste and adjust seasoning. Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature.
Tagliatelle with Cinghiale Ragù
16 oz tagliatelle
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 sprig rosemary, finely chopped
1 tsp chopped thyme
8 sage leaves, finely chopped
1/4 cup dry red wine
1 lb ground wild boar
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp butter
1 medium yellow onion, chopped very fine
½ cup dried, torn porcini mushrooms
6 oz baby bella mushrooms
½ cup hot water
1 cup vegetable stock
1 cup dry white wine
1/3 cup milk or cream
freshly ground pepper
8 oz Pecorino cheese, grated
In a bowl, marinate the wild boar with garlic, rosemary, thyme, 4 sage leaves and the red wine. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours, although overnight is even better.
Heat a large saucepan over a medium-high flame and add 2 tablespoons each of the olive oil and butter. Once the butter has melted, add the onions and adjust the flame to low. Sweat the onions over a very low flame for about an hour, stirring every 5-10 minutes. Add a spoonful or two of broth if it begins to get too dry. Turn the flame up to medium near the end for 6 or 7 minutes to caramelize the onions a bit.
While the onions are cooking, reconstitute the porcini mushrooms with half cup of hot water; cover and let sit at least 15 minutes. Wash and slice the baby bella mushrooms. Remove the onions from the pan. Turn the flame to medium-high, add a drop of olive oil and sauté the baby bellas for 5-6 minutes. Return the onions and any juices to the pan.
Add the ground wild boar to the pan and cook over a low flame for 8-10 minutes, until cooked through, but not browned.
Add remaining sage, porcini mushrooms, mushroom water, white wine and the remaining broth to the pan. Add a pinch of salt and 3-4 cracks of pepper. Raise flame to medium and stir slowly as the liquid reduces. When the liquid is reduced by about half (approximately 8 minutes), add the milk and continue to stir.
In a large pot, bring to a boil about 2 quarts of cold water, 2 teaspoons salt and a tablespoon of olive oil. Cook the pasta until it is a bit less than al dente. Once ready, ladle 1 ½ cups of the pasta water into a separate bowl before draining the pasta.
Return pasta back to the pot and adjust the flame to medium. Add a splash of olive oil, ¼ cup pasta water and stir rapidly. Add the ragù, stirring to coat the pasta thoroughly and then add more pasta water, about 1/4 cup at a time. Remove from the heat and serve.
Pollo all’aglio Cremoso
1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
coarse sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp dried oregano
3 tbsp unsalted butter
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 ½ cups cherry tomatoes
2 cups baby spinach
½ cup heavy cream
1/4 cup Parmigiano cheese, grated
lemon wedges, for serving
Heat the olive oil in a skillet over a medium flame. Add the chicken breasts and season with salt, pepper and oregano. Cook until golden and no longer pink, about 6-8 minutes per side. Remove from the skillet and set aside.
In the same skillet, melt the butter over a medium flame. Stir in minced garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the cherry tomatoes and season with salt and pepper. Cook until the tomatoes are beginning to burst, then add the spinach and cook until the spinach begins to wilt.
Stir in heavy cream and Parmigiano cheese; bring the mixture to a simmer. Reduce the flame to low and simmer until the sauce reduces slightly, about 3 minutes. Return the chicken to the skillet and cook until heated through, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove from heat, squeeze with lemon and serve.