The magic of Florence is legendary. The city, with its red-tiled roofs fills the wide valley of the river Arno, straddled by the ponte vecchio, literally paved with gold shops. The enormous cupola of the duomo, also red-tiled, has given Florence one of the most recognized skylines in the world, to rival, Paris, London, New York, but it’s a renaissance skyline—how precious.
Most tourists regard Florence as a hot city, where the art-filled arcade of the Piazza della Signoria provides welcome shade for the consumption of gelato, and where the breezes skipping up the river Arno from the sea offer respite from the ninety-degree heat.
In the winter, however, Florence is a cold city, and at this time, with fewer tourists, and much shorter queues at the Uffizi gallery, it can be a Christmas treat in itself.
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!
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.
Exploring the wines of the new Tuscan revolution
When people think of Tuscan wine, they think of Chianti, and rightly so because the Chianti region occupies the majority of the wine producing area of central Tuscany, and is the third largest Italian region in terms of DOC/G production.
Most people are aware also that forty years ago, there was a revolution in Tuscan wine precipitated by a perceived drop in quality of Chianti. At this time, a number of producers stopped adhering to the rules of the Chianti DOC and started producing the wines they wanted to make with a heavy focus on quality. Today, these wines—most notably Sassicaia and Tignanello—are known as ‘super Tuscans’ and are recognized as amongst the very best Italian wines.
What few people know, is that a similar revolution has been taking place, quietly over the last ten years and today we are enjoying the first fruits. This time, producers are seeking to produce quality wines by rediscovering both traditional methods and old grape varieties that were eclipsed by mass production and the ubiquitous Sangiovese.
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.
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
- Put all the ingredients into a terracotta pot, dutch oven, or slow cooker.
- Cover and cook in the oven at 150-160°C (300-320°F) for 2-3 hours.
- Toast the bread and serve the stew on top.