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Buone vacanze!

August 8, 2016 — 5 Comments


August in Italy is vacation season. At the moment, the news reports are full of exactly how many Italians have taken to the road, trains, or planes to spend their annual vacation in or outside of Italy. The August holiday peaks around the 15 August, which is the feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, otherwise known as ferragosto or ‘the August holiday’.

So, I am joining my compatriots and jetting off for two weeks in the sun in Spain. Not that I’ll be leaving behind any bad weather, because August in Italy is also hot, with temperatures pushing 30 degrees celsius (86 fahrenheit). Be prepared for some Chestnuts and Truffles on holiday posts however concentrating on the wonderful Spanish and Catalan cuisine that I am going to experience.

In the autumn I will be starting a new series of video blogs to accompany the blog on my Youtube channel. If you are not a subscriber already please click on the Youtube icon on the top right of this page to do so. As a teaser for the new series I have uploaded a short video about Venice, which will feature in my first post (liked to above). Check it out and click like if you do.

So, until the next time, buone vacanze or have a nice vacation!

This classic recipe comes from La scienza in cucina e l’arte di mangiar bene by Pellegrino Artusi, first published in 1891. Not widely known outside Italy, this book is considered to be the definitive text on traditional Italian cooking, however, a great many of the recipes are from Tuscan cuisine. Artusi was born in Forlimpopoli in Emilia-Romagna but lived for most of his adult life in Florence.

This cake is delicious served on its own with tea, or slightly warm with cream as a dessert. It’s gluten-free apart from the breadcrumbs sprinkled on the top to add a crunch, but these could be substituted with crushed walnuts or even icing sugar sprinkled on after baking.

Artusi writes that ‘Dai miei commensali questo è stato giudicato un dolce squisito.‘ ‘My dinner companions judged this to be an exquisite dessert.‘ I agree. Buon appetito!

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Tozzetti are the Umbrian version of cantucci (aka biscotti or biscotti di Prato) and are slightly different containing hazelnuts as well as almonds and being flavoured with aniseed. I first had these at the Saio Winery in Assisi, where they served them as part of the food to taste with their wine. Cantucci are traditionally dipped in vin santo but they encouraged us to dip the tozzetti in red wine before eating. The effect was incredible, because what was a sweet biscuit, became in effect savoury; the aniseed a perfect partner to the wine. I promised the recipe after that blog post, but as these biscuits are traditionally eaten at Christmas time, I thought I’d save it for now.

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For Tuscans, panforte means Christmas. A centuries-old tradition from the province of Siena, panforte is a rich cake made of almonds, candied peel, and honey peppered with winter spices, with a unique flavour and texture. There are several variations on the recipe for panforte, but to create this one, I went back to the official requirements of the Italian Ministry of Agriculture for Panforte di Siena IGP (Indicazione Geografica Protetta). The only requirement I could not fulfil was to make it in the province of Siena, as I live in the neighbouring provice of Arezzo.

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Watch me make peposo, an amazing Tuscan winter warmer stew. This dish originated with the workers in the terracotta factories of Impruneta, near Florence, back in medieval times. Like them, I use a traditional terracotta pot, but you could make this in a slow cooker, or a normal dutch oven. Nowadays, some people add a small amount of tomato puree to this dish, but it was invented long before the arrival of the tomato in Italian cuisine. You need to cook this for a minumum of two to three hours: four, five, even six is better. The Tuscans eat this on top of a slice of toasted pane sciocco, which is unsalted, but any good rustic bread will do.


Peposo d’Impruneta

Serves 4
1kg (2 1/4 pounds) beef
18g (2/3 ounce) salt
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
6 cloves of garlic
1/2 liter (2 cups) Chianti
4 slices of Tuscan bread
  1. Put all the ingredients into a terracotta pot, dutch oven, or slow cooker.
  2. Cover and cook in the oven at 150-160°C (300-320°F) for 2-3 hours.
  3. Toast the bread and serve the stew on top.

What’s your favourite winter warmer dish?