Caterina de’ Medici was born in Florence in 1519 and was the last of the principal Medici family. When she was just 14 years old she married Prince Enrico d’Orleans and she moved to France, bringing with her all her cooking staff who were already helping Caterina to create wonderful dishes in Tuscany.â€¨â€¨What is so fascinating about Caterina de’ Medici is that her power in France grew to such a level that she was held in greater esteem than even her husband when she became Queen.â€¨As a wonderful chef, she took traditional Tuscan recipes to what was considered the home of fine cuisine, all of which were greatly received.Â â€¨For example, the recipe for BÃ¨chamel sauce that is thought by many to be of French origin, was actually introduced to France by Caterina, it’s original name being “Salsa Colla”.â€¨There are many other Tuscan dishes which have slightly changed their Italian names to French ones.â€¨A famous renaissance recipe still linked to Caterina’s name is “Anitra all’Arancio“.
“Duck cooked with Orange“â€¨â€¨Clean a young duck and seperate the liver. Fill the duck with rosemary, sage and laurel leaves, and then tie the duck’s body to preserve it’s shape while it is cooking. Season with salt and pepper and a splash of cognac.â€¨â€¨In a large saucepan add a knob of butter, sliced bacon, chopped onion and fry slowly. Add the liver to the saucepan and grind while it is cooking.
Then add the duck to the saucepan and leave it cooking until the sauce is absorbed, add some fresh orange juice and leave it cooking for 20 minutes. Then add two cups of stock . The duck has to cook on a medium heat for about two hours. When the meat has become soft, sieve the sauce (aromatic leaves, etc.) and re-fill the duck. Add two oranges, cut into slices, and leave them cooking with the duck for five minutes, just enough time for it to acquire the flavour.â€¨â€¨Put the duck on a tray and cover it with orange slices. Finally, dress it with the remaining sauce.
Ingredients for four to six persons.
500 gr (a little over a pound) of raw black cabbage
1 litre (a little over two pints) of water
2 pinches of salt
4 to 6 slices of bread, preferably home-made
1 clove of garlic, with the thin peel
Pepper as wanted
Half a cup of extra virgin olive oil
Wash the cabbage leaves in tepid water.â€¨Bring a pot of water to the boil, add salt and the cabbage, let it boil for thirty minutes.â€¨Lift out the cabbage with a drainage tool and cool it off in ample cold water, but keep the hot cooking water. When the cabbage is cool, sieve off all water.
Toast the bread and rub each slice with the garlic clove, then cover with the cabbage and baste with the hot cooking water. Add salt, pepper ad oil.
The olive tree varieties that still exist come from the cultivation made 6000 years ago in the siro-palestinean area, where the oldest testimonies were found.
In fact, the cultivation of olive trees, as well as the vines , corresponds with the evolution of human beings in the whole Mediterranean area.
Italy, especially, remains the biggest producer of high quality olive oil and Tuscany plays an important role in this.
The olive harvest is done between November and March depending on the different olive tree varieties and the different regions. Tuscany is one of the earliest Italian regions to harvest.
Olives are picked by hand before they are fully ripe. Whilst this obtains less quantity, it ensures a higher quality, verifiable in the particular peppery taste and the green colour obtained.
As soon as the olives have been picked and collected in small boxes, they must be taken very quickly to the olive mill where the process of oil-making will start straight away.
This process consists of three main stages and it is interesting to notice that the first two steps have remained almost the same since olive oil was first produced, with the only change being in the kind of machinery employed .
After the olives are separated from their leaves and washed, firstly they are crushed and secondly the resulting dough must be thoroughly amalgamated.
The third important step, which in recent times has had various evolutions, consists of separating the water from the olive oil. In the past this was done with a presser machine, nowadays more sophisticated systems allow it to be done by calculating the physical laws (the different specific weight of oil and water).
At this point the new olive oil is ready to be bottled, although it is usually filtered to avoid possible residues in the bottle.
The high quality of the olives is the most important factor to obtain a high quality oil.
For an olive oil to be defined as extra virgin, it must have an acidity level of not more than 1 gr. per 100 gr. Chemical analysis testifies this before the oil can be bottled.
Unlike wine, the younger the oil, the better it is and it is advised not to buy it after it is 18 months old, and even after the first year it will loose a bit of its better characteristics, as well as its colour, which will turn a deeper yellow (this is particularly visible in the extra virgin Tuscan oils).
Modern scientific researches have confirmed the healthy virtues of olive oil in the alimentation, especially comparing the lower risks of cardiopathic illness in the Mediterranean countries, in comparison to places where butter and other kind of fat produces are used instead of oil.
The poor cousin of the more famous ribollita, pappa al pomodoro is a typical Tuscan rural dish that reflects the needs of modest folk who had to make do with ingredients that were not only free or at least very inexpensive but also seasonal and easy to come by. It consists of dried-up bread, tomatoes and still-young basil. Out of these three elements plus a little spice, e.g. garlic, comes a soup, traditionally aromatic and yet very modern it its own way, laden with bright but delicate flavours. It appears on the menus of many top-quality restaurants. Vissani and Braschi suggest it as an appetiser.
INGREDIENTS FOR FOUR PERSONS:
200 g of dry bread, preferably the white unsalted Tuscan type.
4 large, ripe tomatoes
4 garlic cloves
4 tablespoonfuls of good extra-virgin olive oil
A few sprigs of fresh basil
Coarse kitchen salt, pepper
Brown the garlic cloves in a casserole, preferably of terracotta. After a few minutes add the tomatoes cut in little pieces and the basil leaves. Add about two litres of water and when this boils but not before, lay on the bread in thin slices. Salt and let simmer for at least an hour. Take off the fire and serve warm but not hot in terracotta bowls, preferably terracotta ort ceramic, dress with extra-virgin oil, freshly ground pepper and basil leaves crushed by hand.
THE RIGHT WINE
Long cooking eliminates the acidity of the tomatoes, so that a young red wine of middling structure will do well, for example a Ciliegiolo or a Sienese or Pisan Chianti. A Vernaccia of San Gimignano can be tried safely.