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Taste tour of Tuscan provinces

Published Nov 24, 2011

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Tuscany

Phaidon Press

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Sitting on a hillside overlooking ancient olive groves, rows of cypresses and rolling vineyards, it’s easy to shrug off Italian politics and economics. Add a hunk of Tuscan bread, black olives and local pecorino, washed down by good chianti, and the flavourful simplicity of country cuisine will replenish more than your hunger.

The food of Tuscany plays an essential role, veering between the peasant cuisine born of necessity and that of the wealthy nobility.

This culinary journey takes readers through the provinces of Tuscany, starting with one of the least visited, the mountainous Massa Carrara in the north. A simple pancake and savoury polenta feature alongside rabbit with apple and leg of lamb on potato.

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Lucca yields varied fare, from crostini topped with cavolo nero, or black cabbage to pancotto from Viareggio, a robust seafood soup. There’s also minestrone that contains faro, a local wheat, along with beans, and a third broth which makes good use of spring vegetables.

From Pistoia comes a chestnut cake that, accompanied by mascarpone and sweet wine, makes an authentic dessert, while the smallest Tuscan province of Prato is typified by two local staples, bozza bread and celery. Traditional cantucci cookies are flavoured with almonds and saffron and zuppa Inglese – English custard – comes topped with a delicious-looking caramel meringue.

From Florence, the famous tomato and bread soup precedes meat followed by that delectable frozen dessert, zucotto. Pisa is a province, we learn, that produces a fine array of fruit, vegetables, fungi, pinenuts, honey and cured pork products.

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Livorno focuses on seafood, including sweet-and-sour prawns with raisins. Grosseto may be less famous than its neighbour Siena, but there are interesting dishes – gnudi (or nude ravioli), ricotta and spinach dumplings, chicken liver sauce for pasta, pheasant breasts in white wine and a tart of stuffed courgette flowers.

Siena presents ribollita along with its famous panforte, and the final destination, Arezzo, specialises in pappardelle with duck, roast rabbit, skewered pigs’ livers and beans in a flask.

These are authentic recipes for the serious cook and a delectable compilation for all who savour Italian cuisine.

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Along with photographs of the dishes, there are evocative pictures of the regions and the text includes descriptions and explanations of traditional ingredients and culinary customs. - Weekend Argus

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