La Dolce vita Toscana
After almost 2 years of a poster of Tuscan countryside hanging above my bed, this all time travel dream finally came true. Roads lined with tall slim thujas, fields immersed in sun, beautiful stone houses, eternal vineyards and olive...
After almost 2 years of a poster of Tuscan countryside hanging above my bed, this all time travel dream finally came true. Roads lined with tall slim thujas, fields immersed in sun, beautiful stone houses, eternal vineyards and olive trees dispersed all around. Tuscany gets you immediately, even before tasting why the local vita is so dolce.
Traveling through Italy, we were lucky enough to visit the traditional family restaurant of our friend Simone 2 days before its opening. The atmosphere was very relieved, no stress, although the restaurant visibly needed more work before the opening. And guess what we had for dinner, aaah siiii, la pizza!
Despite the language barrier the talk flow over the dinner table was very natural and the stereotype about Italians speaking with hands proved to be practical. Discussing cultural differences Simone’s mum would lean at the table towards us and looking from above her glasses pulled to the end of her nose, she would say in a very low voice: “and once an English man ordered pizza with CAPPUCCINO!” Her pity about the choice of the poor English tourist was too visible. We responded with a mute “how could he-faces” and ate the last pieces of our delicious pizza.
Clock signaled 10 p.m and we were satisfied, having finished our pizza, thinking the dinner is over…… poor us, we still had so much ahead. Amazing creamy tiramisu aaand cantuccine con vino santo – which are almond biscuits that you HAVE TO dip in a very intense wine before eating, their surface gets the right moisture while the inside keeps its ‘al dente crisp’, la dolce vita!
Pisa & a lecture on Italian restaurant menu
Antipasti, primi piatti, secondi piatti, insalati e dolci. Here you have a complete Italian dinner menu, with their literal translations appetizers, first courses, second courses, salads and desserts. Seems like too much? Well, that’s what we thought as well but a primo piatto, which is usually some kind of pasta or risotto, proved to be of a too gentle portion. Hence we didn’t have any other choice but to order some pizza after having finished our pasta dish, that´s a part of la dolce vita!
Simply given: there.are.just.no.limits.on.gelato in Italy. No limits on volume, shape, color, day time/ night time, so pay attention, because searching for a sweet dot after your meal you can easily end up with a smiling Italian at gelatería handing you a ‘bucket’ of ice cream as a ‘one portion’ of chocolate gelato.
Waking up in Florence
Waking up in Florence counts between the most pleasant mornings of my life. Opening the colorful wooden shades, letting weak morning sunbeams to fulfill the room, climbing out of the window to sit on the roof, just as I’ve always imagined. However, the art of Italian breakfast was a bit tricky. As all the Mediterranean cultures tend to dine quite late a tiny breakfast is more than sufficient. That means some biscuits or a little piece of pastry accompanied by coffee and juice, and although we lived and behaved in a very Italian way most of the trip, we just could not get used to this custom.
Having breakfast, we were automatically served a big americano styled coffee with an offer of additional milk and a face “your touristic coffee can´t get any worse anyways”. Moreover, if you want to see all the amazing sites of Florence you just need a lot of energy! The architecture is just breathtaking, besides seeing numerous cathedrals, bridge Ponte Vecchio with its traditional jewel stalls and the most famous Galerie Uffizi, it is definitely worth it to climb up the hill and see the sunset above the city of Florence.
Wandering around the towns we also noticed that there are not many fast foods and Starbucks coffees around (not that we would crave for one). Our Italian friend Simone explained it as ‘who would go there? We have pizza, focaccia, pasta and coffee places at every corner, moreover Italians don’t like to walk with their coffee’. That’s probably because they usually drink ‘coffee shots’ rather than Starbucks style coffee, which can sometimes be a substitute for your lunch.
The more economic explanation would be that Starbucks has a business contract with Italian company Autogrill, more precisely, Autogrill was sold rights to open any Starbucks branch in Italy. As they understand local tastes they would open Starbucks preferably in areas higher density of tourists and keep the non-touristy areas for traditional Italian coffee companies.
But let´s get back to Florence...
Escaping the town
The day in Florence came to the end and we took the last deep breath looking at a beautiful sunset from the highest hill in town. Running down from the hill back to city centre, we took the last bus to a Tuscan village Tavernelle, it was the beginning of November and the main touristic season was already over, there were just few cars passing by from time to time and people harvesting olives.
The following day was very calm, there were so few people around the village that when taking our every morning cappucino at local taverna we could feel the sight of locals sitting outside drinking their espresso shots and smoking their cigarettes. Around midday we did a little wine tasting accompanied by lamenting of a nice old lady about the poor olives season. The vitamin Wine in our veins was back on track and so we made it to pure satisfaction with some pasta con pesto, la dolce vita!
In the end, it is not like you could choose if you like Tuscany or not, you just arrive and unconsciously, day by day, you would fall in love with the local atmosphere, delicious food and cheerful people with their eternal hand gestures.
You don’t feel like hurrying or worrying, cause you know that tomorrow the sun will shine again, you don’t think about other food than pizza, pasta or gelato cause this combination just fits your state of mind. I’m sure that the ‘holiday blood’ full of endorphins pulsing in my veins contributed to this impression of Tuscany, but looking back it is undeniable that this journey made me fall for much more than just Tuscany.
And if you wish to see an undeniable passion for Italian cuisine try videorecipes of Gennaro Contaldo. This man is my secret God, making poetry about the smell of ripe tomatoes, a slight crisp of Parmigiano cheese or creaminess of risotto, he will make you want to enter your kitchen immediately and try out some of his delicious ideas.
Tagliatelle con ragù rosso d’anatra
(tagliatelle with duck ragout)
Believe me, you just need to master the art of a perfect ragout, once you know the key factors you will benefit from this knowledge for the rest of your life (and have many friends willing to come back to your house just to have it again).
Start with meat, basically any red meat may be a good base for your ragout, white meat like poultry is not very suitable as it is low in fat and hence carries less flavor. I prefer to cut meat in very small pieces rather than mincing it in ‘burger style’. Like that, you not only show the meat quality but also create a way nicer texture to your dish.
Second – the flavoring, I do not have to stress that with onion and garlic you mostly can not go wrong. Use more types of root vegetables, being aware of flavor they bring. You can be generous regarding onion and carrots, they turn into sweet flavor when cooked, which is easy to balance with salt. Parsley and celery is another couple, both having very intense root flavor. Be especially careful with a bulb of celery, on the other hand with fresh green celery you can be more generous. You can also add herbs that would fit your type of meat. I like to use bay leaves, thyme, rosemary occasionally oregano.
Last but not least -the red wine. Use it, use it often and use it wisely, there is no sexier ingredient than wine. You don´t need the best one, but you don´t want to use the shitty one, choose one with intense flavor, young wines of Beaujolais type would get lost in combination with root vegetables and herbs Make sure you let the sauce boil after adding wine so that the alcohol evaporates and leaves you just with an amazing wine taste.
pair of duck breasts
one big onion
4 cloves of garlic
1 stick green celery
100g intense tomato puree
150ml red wine
2 bay leaves, thyme & rosemary
Cheese of Parmesan type
- Chop onion and garlic finely. In a big pan roast both on olive oil on a low flame.
- Add chopped carrots, parsley and celery and roast for additional 5 minutes. Season with salt, bay leaves, thyme and rosemary, to spread flavors more rub the dried herbs between your palms before adding
- Cut duck breasts in about 10-5mm cubes. Add heat to almost maximum and roast duck cubes with vegetables until the meat is sealed and golden brown, hence keeping its juices inside.
- Add tomato puree roast the mixture for one minute then dilute with red wine. Let simmer until the alcohol evaporates, then add tomatoes.
- Cook pasta in a big pot with boiling salty water. If you can, use fresh pasta, it does not require long cooking time and soaks the tastes of sauce easier than dried pasta.
- Drain pasta, leaving some water aside. Mix the drained pasta in tomato sauce, sprinkle with olive oil and if the sauce seems too thick add some boiled pasta water.
Little hint; if you can’t find the duck breasts, buy the whole duck, use the breasts for ragout, from legs you can make 2 proper portions of canard au miel et moutard and from bones you get amazing duck broth which you can freeze and use universally for sauces, risottos etc.
And don´t forget, la vita e dolce.