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Third Week – Tuscany

October 21, 2011

Pappa al Pomodoro

This is my favourite week, because we are focusing on my 2 favourite regions, Toscana(or Tuscany, in English) and Piemonte. Tuscany is probably the most well-known region of Italy. Tuscany is also where the city of Florence(Firenze in italian) is.

One of the first dishes we made was the Pappa al Pomodoro, which is a tomato soup thickened with bread. I realised there are many dishes made with stale bread, because it is so dry here, bread dries out in a few days. In the past, every village only had 1 oven, and families had to take turns to bake their bread, so they could only bake once a week. So, they only had fresh bread for the first 2 days, and then they have to get creative to use up the rest of the stale bread the rest of the week, and yet still make it taste good.

Panzanella di Pane

 So, other than using the stale bread for soup, they also use it for  salads. The bread(it’s really tough bread, it’s not like the kind of bread we have in Singapore or Japan) is soaked in water, and then water is squeezed out from the bread, and marinated in the salad with olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. Although I’ve heard from some people, that they don’t really like the dish because of the soggy bread, I actually thought it was pretty good, considering it’s my first time trying it. 

Minestra di pane, Il Giorno dopo ribollita

 
We are still not done with using the bread to create dishes. Minestra di Pane means Soup of Bread, or Bread Soup. This dish is actually a creation from a day old soup(leftover), and stale bread. They are really creative, this is actually a traditional dish, but here, the chef gives it a modern twist to make it more appetising. The soup of beans and black cabbage(yup, I’ve never heard of black cabbage before this either), is served on top of the bread, and the bread soaks up the soup. Ribollita actually means reboiled.
 

'gnudi di Ricotta e Spinaci

 The first day, we made all the traditional dishes, and these include traditions from the poor as well as the rich. I guess it’s quite easy to tell the first 3 dishes are mainly from the poor villagers. Now, we have ‘gnudi or nude, in English. Basically, it’s a ricotta and spinach ravioli that is nude, or without the pasta dough. So, all you get is just the filling. This dish is perfect for those of you who usually order the ravioli and then eat up all the filling leave the pasta dough behind.
 

Trippa alla Fiorentina

We also had beef tripes and it was cooked till very soft in a sauce and served with beans. With the first bite, it was nostalgia for me(sounds like a scene from Ratatouille). The beef tripe was soft and chewy with flavours somewhat similar to the beef noodles I used to eat back home.
 

Cantuccini di Prato

On the first day, I got to prepare something from scratch, a type of biscotti from Prato. Finally, I learnt how to make the perfect biscotti, all by myself. Chef Filippo owns his own ristorante and teaches us like the way he runs the ristorante kitchen, each one responsible for certain dishes. We really felt proud of what we made after putting in all the effort. It was the best biscotti I have eaten. In Italy, biscotti is traditionaly eaten by dipping into a sweet wine like Vin Santo. And that was how we ate it in school.

Riciarelli di Siena

 
We also made a sweet chewy cookie with crushed hazelnuts, a traditional sweet from Siena. These Riciarellis are traditionally cut into diamond shapes, but in Chef Filippo’s ristorante, he prefers to fashion them like a round cookie.
 
Apparently, the regions in the upper half of Italy, had a lot more sweets and desserts. We made at least 3 in one day.
 

Panforte di Siena

Another sweet, also from Siena(south of Florence), is the Panforte, which is a compact disc of dried citrus fruits and almonds.  This is usually eaten after dinner, but we thought it also made a very handy snack except for the stickiness which doesn’t make for easy handling.
 
On the second day, we were each assigned a recipe and I got the most important dish in the restaurant, the Terrine of Chicken Liver. It’s a good thing that I like liver pate, and I know how to clean chicken livers, as I had to clean almost a kilo of livers! Apparently, most of the students hardly work with livers, and were glad I’m taking care of the livers, making sure I clean them very well.

Terrina di Fegatini di Pollo

 
The terrine had figs in them, for more interesting presentation as well as taste. It was already very tasty on its own, very full flavoured. It was a lot of work, but it was worth it, as it was voted best dish by all of us. It’s a dish that you remember even after a long time.
 
This is one dish that Iam proud of and which I know my family will love. The best part is I can easily make it back home, with locally available ingredients.

Acquacotta di Cardi e Porcini

 
 Another dish that was a lot of work, was the Cream of Cardoon. Cardoon is also called artichoke thistle, and looks like huge white celery but with thorns. It was tough peeling and cleaning them, then they were boiled in milk, blended and strained to get this creamy soup, served with soft yolk and porcini mushrooms.
 

Piccione Arrosto, Polenta Croccante, salsa all'uva

For meat, we had roasted pigeon on crispy polenta, and grape sauce. Although I don’t have pigeons back home(there are only live ones, no dead ones in the market to buy home to cook), we learnt a technique of cooking(a trick in the restaurant) the bird so it goes too the table crispy and perfect.
 

Pomodori all Gratinata

The dishes on the second day were very delicate and sophisticated. We also prepared a tomato gratin which didn’t look like a gratin. The tomato was filled with a goat cheese filling and gently baked and kept moist, and served on some pesto. The colors on the plate are like the flag of italy.
 

Gelato all' Alloro

Finally, for dessert we had gelato! We made Gelato flavored with fresh Bay leaves, very interesting refreshing flavour. I had no idea it was that easy. Time for me to buy an ice cream maker.

Torta della Nonna Anna Maria

Also for dessert(and breakfast and snack), we made a cake that has a layer of custard cream and raisins in the centre and baked together. Most of the time, custard is filled in, after the cake or bread is baked. But, the custard here is part of the cake, keeping the cake really moist. I heard the chef sells this cake for $5 a piece! We baked a huge tray, and ate it all within 3 days.

 

Chef Filippo Saporito

 We had a really great time with Chef Filippo, as he was very friendly and taught us very well, and even spoke some English. He invited us to visit him in his ristorante, and two of us took up the offer. So, we’re driving to Tuscany this weekend!
 
Ciao Chef, ci vediamo questo fino settimana!
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From → Culinary Journal

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