Easy Italian food

 

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Toscana (Tuscany)

Tuscan cuisine is just as rewarding as the region

To many people, Tuscany seems to have been unfairly blessed by the gods: with rolling hills, vines, olive groves, cypress trees, golden villas, ancient farmhouses, charming hill towns, and secret monasteries. Even its long coastline, which may not be the most beautiful in Italy, has its highpoints, one of which is providing the coastal areas with fine fish to defend their culinary honor against the riches of the hinterland. And this brings us to the hub of the matter: when one thinks of Tuscany's "unfair" advantages over the rest of the world, its gastronomic tradition would seem to be the "straw that breaks the camel's back." For this is an area that not only produces some of the country's finest wines (think of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano or Brunello di Montalcino) and wonderfully flavorsome olive oil, but it also finds space for the produce of forests and hills such as porcini mushrooms and chestnuts, game such as wild boar, rabbit and hare, mouthwatering cured meats and cheeses, and crisp seasonal vegetables and fruits. So let’s have a look at what the region offers to food-lovers: for starters, you can enjoy a range of crostini topped with anything from chicken livers to wild mushrooms, fresh tomatoes, olive pâté, "lardo," or artichokes. And don't be surprised by the strangely tasteless (low-salt) bread baked in the region: wise Tuscan peasants realized they could cut down on expensive and heavily taxed salt and use their flavorsome cured meats such as "prosciutto toscano," "finocchiona," or "salamini di cinghiale" to provide accompaniments that would actually be enhanced and not overpowered by the subtle flavor of the bread. This type of bread also pops up in the hearty soups that are such a feature of Tuscan cuisine: from "ribollita," made with "cavolo nero" and beans, to the lighter "pappa col pomodoro" or the mysteriously named "acquacotta," a blend of porcini mushrooms, mushrooms and bread that is infinitely more appetizing that its name ("cooked water") suggests. Other great regional soups feature farro, chickpeas, or porcini. If you prefer to try a pasta dish, "pici," a sort of flat homemade spaghetti, are served with meat sauces, while pappardelle are usually combined with rich sauces made with either hare, wild boar, or other types of game. Tortelli, filled with chickpeas or potatoes and topped with local Pecorino cheese, are also a tasty first-course option. When it comes to main courses, Tuscany's love of the past and its loyalty to tradition is reflected in the way meat is cooked: barbecued over coals, grilled, or on spits, this is food with a medieval touch. Meat lovers will revel in a range that goes from the thick classic "fiorentina" (prime steak on the bone) to roast lamb, suckling pig, and pork chops. However, if you prefer flavorsome casseroles, Tuscans also do well: try "cinghiale all cacciatore," "piccioni in tegame," or "stufato alla fiorentina" and soak up those rich wine sauces with your "flavorless" bread. If you have a taste for innards, the classic "trippa alla fiorentina" (tripe with pancetta, wine, and tomatoes) or "fegatelli nella rete" (liver in pork caul) will surely meet your expectations. On the coast, you would do well to head toward the port of Livorno and track down the famous "cacciucco," a fish soup that can have anything from lobster to red mullet, hake, octopus, sea bream, and various types of shellfish floating in its mouthwatering depths. The Tuscan table doesn't end there: the cakes and biscuits are also legendary, particularly around Siena, but an account of those here would perhaps make you absolutely convinced that Tuscans really do have it all!


Appetizers

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First courses

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Second courses

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Dessert

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Liguria Lombardia