A great many regions of Italy are intensely diverse; the food from one city barely even echoing that of its neighbour. Tuscany is a little different, and a common thread certainly runs through the food of its major cities – Florence, Sienna, Lucca & Pisa, amongst others – and through the countryside in between. This is an almost austere cuisine, with a strong focus on dried pulses, earthy vegetables, the finest olive oil in the world & fantastic meat; hearty fennel scented salamis, the delicate perfumed lardo di colonnata, and the fat juicy slabs of Chianina, the white cow of Tuscany, that are grilled rare over wood to form Bistecca alla Fiorentina. Here we celebrate autumn in all its goodness –chestnuts, farro & porcini harmonising in an earthy yet perfumed soup, followed by juicy chops from summer fattened pigs, rich, succulent octopus, grilled till crisp & heady truffle, shaved copiously over the lot.
For your meal you will need:
- A saucepan for the soup
- A griddle pan, bbq or heavy based frying pan for the pork chop
- A second saucepan for the beans (or a scrubbing brush for the first pan)
A truffle slicer, mandolin or grater for the truffle
Farro, porcini & chestnut soup
This soup is my invention, but it screams AUTUMN and TUSCANY to me in equal voice. Between the chestnuts and the mushrooms, you almost have a forest in a bowl. It is an irony that ingredients which should be peasants’ food (foraged mushrooms & fallen nuts) command such high prices today.
Your pack serves two and contains:
- Farro, porcini & chestnut soup
- A little rosemary oil
- Decant the soup into a suitable sauce pan, and heat on a medium heat, stirring regularly
- When piping hot, pour into warmed serving bowls and drizzle with a little rosemary oil
Honey marinated pork chop
The Tuscans are Italy’s meat grilling champions – famous for, amongst other things, vast hunks of Bistecca alla Fiorentina, seared over scorching wood till blackened & bloody, and heady fennel-scented sausages, butterflied and seared. A personal favourite are fat pork chops, on the bone – marinated with salt & honey, garlic & rosemary – and grilled till bittersweet on the outside and succulent within.
Your pack serves 2 and contains:
- A fat pork chop, big enough for two
- A little honey
- A sorrento lemon
- A truffle
- First, clean your truffle: using a dry, clean brush (a new toothbrush is ideal here), scrub it carefully. Use a toothpick to probe out any deep crevices of dirt, and brush clean again
- Heat your bbq, griddle pan or saute pan till hot, but not quite an inferno
- Season the chop with a little pepper, then grill – it will likely take 6-7 minutes per side, turning once hallway through
- To check, poke the tip of a knife or a metal skewer into the centre of the meat, near the bone, and leave it for a few seconds – when removed, it should feel hot, but not nearly enough to burn (I like it a little pink near the bone, but if you’d prefer to cook it through, simply cook till a skewer comes out hot hot)
- Brush the chop with honey on both sides, and move to the hottest part of the grill or pan, and cook for 20 seconds on either side, to scorch the honey
- Remove from the heat, drizzle with a little good oil, and let rest in a warm place for 10 minutes
- To serve, slice thinly and fan out on a warmed platter. Pour over any resting juices, and nestle the octopus alongside
- Shave/grate vast quantities of truffle on top – if using a truffle slicer or mandolin, turn the gauge to 0 (so that the blade is sitting flat against the surface), then slowly open it by quarter turns, trying to shave a little truffle each time – the objective is to obtain whole slices of truffle, but as thin and transparent as they can possibly be. If using a grater, simply grate the truffle through fine holes.
Octopus are such amazing animals – beautiful, intelligent, otherworldly – one does well to examine one’s conscience before eating them. In my case, I am tempted by their delicious flesh but do feel guilty about it.
Your pack contains:
- ¼ large octopus, boiled until just tender
- Heat barbecue, griddle pan or heavy pan till smoking hot
- Brush or rub the octopus with oil on all sides
- Lay it flat on the grill. It will take a good 5-8 minutes to get well browned, which is the point
- Turn it over, and repeat the other side
- Sit next to the sliced pork chop, and douse with oil
Tuscans cook little birds (uccelletti) with just a hint of tomato & sage. When they cook cannellini beans the same way, they call them ‘all’uccelletto’ (cooked ‘like little birds’) and serve them alongside grilled and roasted meats.
Your pack serves two as a side and contains:
- Braised beans
- Pour the beans into a suitable sized saucepan, and add 50ml water
- Warm over a medium heat, stirring regularly, until hot
- Check the seasoning, and stir in a little good oil
Torta della nonna
The Tuscans don’t do much by way of desserts – most meals end with a little cheese, or one of the many biscotti esteemed in the region; cantucci, panforte, or Brutti ma buoni – the ‘ugly but good’ biscuits that could be the name of a whole host of Italian dishes, perhaps dipped into Vin Santo or warm Zabaione. Torta della Nonna is a notable exception; Nonna– Grandma – is, of course, held in the highest regard in Italy. The very word signifies comfort and care, an older and gentler way of doing things. This rich custard pie is a gentle and homely embrace of a dish – sponge like pastry encasing a rich filling of thick vanilla custard, the lot topped with delicate, aromatic pine nuts.
Your pack serves two and contains:
- 2 fat wedges of torta della nonna
- Remove from the fridge a half hour or more before eating, to allow the slices to come to room temperature
- Remove from the tub and place on plates
- If desired, dust lightly with icing sugar
Farro, porcini & chestnut soup
Ingredients (allergens): celery, garlic, onion, rosemary, porcini, chestnuts, pork stock (carrots), rosemary oil (extra-virgin olive oil, rosemary), Guanciale (pork, salt, pepper), Farro
Pork chop marinated with honey and rosemary
Ingredients (allergens): pork chops, rosemary, honey, garlic, salt
Ingredients (allergens): Truffle
Ingredients (allergens): Octopus
Ingredients (allergens): garlic, sage, chilli flakes, cannellini beans, Napoli sauce (onions, tomato, tinned tomato, garlic, extra-virgin olive oil, salt)
Torta Della Nonna
Ingredients (allergens): sweet pastry (flour, icing sugar, butter, baking powder, eggs, lemon, vanilla, salt), eggs, milk, flour, lemons, vanilla, pine nut, icing sugar