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The Caterer

Book review – Tuscany

07 June 2011
Book review – Tuscany

Tuscany By Phaidon editors
Phaidon, £24.95
ISBN 978-07148 60787

Described as the birthplace of Italian food, Tuscany combines two distinct culinary traditions: peasant cooking born out of poverty and necessity, and the city-based cuisine of nobility from cities such as Florence and Siena.

This specialised book, by the authors of Italian cookery bible, The Silver Spoon, is divided into sections on the 10 areas of the region, with authentic recipes that are unpretentious and straightforward.

The recipes remain faithful to their roots with traditions intact and essentials of hearty soups and stews, olive oil and bread - the cornerstone of Tuscan cooking - playing centre-stage throughout. Leaving nothing to waste, tougher cuts of meat are slow-cooked into stews, while soups make the most of locally grown pulses, grains and vegetables.

The emphasis in Tuscany is on authenticity; each recipe has an introduction as to how the dish was originally cooked, with details on local ingredients including spiced pork fat, Zeri lamb, lunigiana honey and cantucci. Tuscans eat less pasta than their compatriots, but the classic pasta of the region, parpadelle, is featured served with duck.

Caccia, or hunting, is embedded in local history. Hence, recipes are often game-based and rich, such as rabbit with apples using rigatino, a peppery version of pancetta; pigs' liver with caul fat; and Florentine tripe. Wild boar is arguably the most popular animal hunted in Tuscany and for the featured wild boar stew the meat is marinated in white wine vinegar overnight.

There is also an index of Tuscan food festivals, known as sagra - informal food events open to everyone for less than the cost of a meal at a restaurant. Some celebrate particular dishes of the area, others a regional product such as the famed Sagra del tartufo, a truffle festival held in San Miniato every October.

Although the festivals bring the regions together, the diversity of the area is reflected in its cuisine. Florence is famous for its offal dishes, while Pisa - with its fertile fields devoted to vegetables, olive groves and orchards - offers recipes based on its fresh local produce. Massa-Carrara is famous for its oily fish, with a popular dish being pan-fried anchovies, simply prepared; and in Pistoia, peasant cooking traditions run deep.

This book will appeal to the authentic Italian food lover, chefs who want to increase their expertise in cooking with offal and game, and those who wish to introduce some more specialised and authentic regional recipes to their menus.

If you like this, you'll love these:

Twelve: A Tuscan Cookbook by Tessa Kiros
â- Tuscan Cookbook by Stephanie Alexander and Maggie Beer
â- Tasting Tuscany: Exploring and Eating Off The Beaten Track by Beth Elon

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