Food & Drink

Tuscany has certainly earned its top reputation

When it comes to food in Italy, Tuscany gets all the press. It is easy to get jaded and think it is overblown. But there is something about the region that is regal and distinct.

Driving through Tuscany, you feel as if the countryside has been manicured for you. Perhaps it is the contrast of the golden rolling hills, the tall coned-shaped cypress trees that jut high above the fields, the hilltop towns and the old stone farmhouses. Whatever it is, the region has an undeniable presence.

For our session on Tuscany, we had a great young chef, Marco Stabile, who owns Orso di Aria, one of the top-rated restaurants in Florence. We did one day of traditional Tuscan cooking and one day of modern interpretations.

Marco really stressed knowing tradition before you start trying to change dishes or experiment.

The Etruscans cultivated the land in what is now Tuscany 2,500 years ago. Today the region is full of tradition and produces foods known throughout the world. Although the region is rich in gastronomic products, it is known for dishes that are humble, simple in composition and often make use of “leftovers.”

Tuscany is known for excellent cured meats like salumi, prosciutto and lardo de Colonnata from Carrara, a delectable cured fat that melts from your body temperature as you eat.

There also has been a revival of a breed of pig called the Cinta Senese, which is thought to have superior meat for curing. In North Carolina, we may compare the qualities of the Cinta Senese with the Ossabaw, another old-breed pig.

Some people know that Tuscan bread is made without salt. One reason is because it goes well with the salty salami produced in the region. The other reason is for preservation. Salt in bread attracts moisture and eventually the bread gets soft. Without salt, the bread will last for several days and will eventually get dry.

Since tomato season is approaching, try this Tomato “Confit” when you get big, flavorful, locally grown tomatoes. The recipe is an updated version of a classic combination of tomato and mozzarella. We made it with burrata, a cream-filled cheese. You can make it with fresh mozzarella or fresh goat cheese.