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Regional Food and Traditional Dishes
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FLORENCE CULTURAL GUIDE: EVERY DAY LIFE...This Every Day Life Guide will help you understand terms, traditions, proverbs and curiosities while in Florence:
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Name: Cucina ContadinaThe country, rural cuisine. Country, rural dishes were developed especially after the rising of the 'bourgeoisie', because a new interest rose towards the countryside. These dishes were prepared according to seasons, and were the fruit of hard work in the countryside. The produce came from the vegetable gardens and orchards and from the woods. Consequently, they were very fresh and varied. The common produce, and then ingredients, were: olive oil, wine (both of which accompanied all food), vegetables, legumes, fruits and cheese. Turnips, artichokes, cauliflowers, 'zucchini' (Italian squashes) and 'fiori di zucca' (cabbage flowers) were among the most common vegetables (it is worth it to eat the exquisite 'fiori fritti', lit. 'fried flowers' or these flowers mixed in sauces for pastas); certainly 'fagioli' (beans) were the most common vegetables, mushrooms, especially 'porcini' are very appreciated, and the 'pecorino toscano, dolce o stagionato' (cacio) and 'ricotta' the most common cheeses; also chestnuts were common and still are one of the protagonists in winter in the streets, and they are called 'caldarroste' (lit. 'warmroasted') in Florence. But there was also game, like beef, which is one of the best in the world (beef of 'carne chianina', meat from the Val di Chiana), let's just think of the 'bistecca alla fiorentina', or like the wild boar, or the rabbit or even the hare, and the pheasant (the 'rag? di lepre', hare, or 'di cinghiale', wild boar, are tasty meat sauces offered especially during winter); and, of course, chicken and pork.
Florentine and Tuscan charcuterie is indeed very very good and since the Middle Ages it had been a precious produce, worked by individual families for their personal use:
Name: Cucina PoveraThe poor people's cuisine. Florence and Tuscany have a lot of 'poor' cuisine in their traditions, principally because of the history of these territories. However, this cuisine is so strong, though simple and essential, that it survived much through times and today we can still appreciate it. It is made of 'poor' ingredients, those ingredients that poor people could afford and find in their country. Oil in the Middle Ages wasn't much used as a condiment because it was very expensive; lard, instead, was a fundamental ingredient; so much important it was that peasants designated a period in the calendar dedicated to the making of lard ('tempus de laride'). Let's clear out that Tuscany has always been priviledged with olive oil, and even in those times, more people, thanks to the positive reigning of the Granddukes and before them, could afford olive oil for their cuisines.
But in general, simple soups were preferred against pastas. Salt was expensive too, so there isn't much salt in 'poor' cuisine (for example, in Tuscan bread).
The flavour, instead, was produced by the mix of the ingredients, the way of cooking them and some important savours, such as 'aglio' (garlic), 'cipolla' (onion), 'rosmarino' (rosemary), 'salvia' (sage), 'basilico' (basil), 'alloro' (laurel), 'prezzemolo' (parsley) and pepper; in particular dishes, according to the historical period they belong to or to the area of Tuscany, one can also find more exotic flavours, such as nutmeg, cloves, coriander, etc..
In this form of eating also animal 'frattaglie' (giblets and entrails, for example, beef 'trippa', 'lampredotto', chicken wattles, livers, hearts, etc.) and 'arnione' (kidney) were common because they were less expensive, besides eggs , to give substance and density, (let's see for example such dishes as the 'carabaccia' and the 'cibreo') and some meat too, which was then very well cooked and re-cooked (for example, the 'stracotto', which literally means 'extra-cooked', or the 'bolliti', literally 'boiled' meats): one dish was, for example, the 'lesso rifatto' (lit. 're-made boiled meat'), which consisted of meat re-cooked inside an onion in olive oil, it became very smooth and almost sweet.
'Umidi', literally 'humid' mixes of fish or meat and vegetables, were very slowly cooked (for example, the 'inzimino', that means 'cooked with green, leafed vegetables', principally 'bietola', beet).
Frying was also a very good way to give food a great taste so that even not very good ingredients could be eaten and not thrown away: almost everything, indeed, from chicken or rabbit to vegetables or breads, can actually be fried, besides, of course, the simple and delicious 'ciambelle' or 'bomboloni', 'cenci' and 'frittelle di riso'...
...and other sweets being the 'quaresimali' (lit. 'lenten', because they were prepared and eaten at Quaresima (Lent), also called 'biscotti poveri' (lit. 'poor cookies'), and the 'biscottini, cantuccini di Prato', very simple, hard, with almonds and very good if soaked in Vin Santo after a meal...
According to each different area of Tuscany, there are different dishes which characterise that particular area, though the ingredients, as we have seen, are the same in all Tuscany and even central Italy. The similarity and differences can be clearly seen for example in:
Name: Cucina CasalingaHome-made cuisine, where there is space for additional creativity and personal and territorial interpretation: see, for example, the 'tortelli alla mugellana' (lit. '...the Mugello way')...,
In other types of homes, those of the aristocracy, or that became aristocratic, during the Renaissance and before, they were creating other such popular dishes as 'anatra all’arancia' or 'arista'... And home-made also reminds us of such (very simple) cakes as the 'schiacciata alla fiorentina' or the 'torta di riso' (rice cake)...
Certainly bread was the most common and important ingredient, and it was developed into different shapes and flavours throughout times, besides being used to make different tasty and fresh dishes.
Name: History of BreadBread was a pleasing discovery in very ancient times and was immediately adopetd by different countries and cultures, among which the Romans. In the times right before Christ the art of bread making was born; this corporation was called 'Pistores' (bread makers) and under the Romans the first mechanical device for making bread was invented.
Due to the easiness in preparing it, the flavour and the nutritional values, bread became an important element in everyday life and also acquired simbolic values, which varied from culture to culture. In Italy, under Christianism it simbolized the connection with God, being the representation of the flesh and sacrifice (also the everyday sacrifice of working...) in connection with wine, another precious fruit of everyday labour, which represented the blood.
For the Etruscans, very able country workers and lovers, bread was also very important.
For centuries, bread has become a symbol of survival and life, being for many people a main dish to satisfy hunger, and consequently all of it was used.
Indeed, during the XVII century, for example, only the rich could afford bread with white flour, while the rest of the people used all types of natural ingredients they could find: from wheat to barley, to rye and even oat...
At the beginning of the XX century, the use of wholewheat bread became very common. And again, all of the bread was used, even stale bread.
Great Tuscan and Florentine dishes were made with stale bread, for example:
Name: Tuscan breadBesides the particular ingredients and preparation techniques used for this specific bread, one of the aspects that is immediately recognized is that it has no salt:
...even in the simplest things, usually eaten as starters or aperitifs, such as:
Name: Some regional breadsEven though the most important and used bread is the typical Tuscan bread, there are other types of breads throughout Tuscany, such as:
Name: TrippaIs only one part of the entrails, the reticulum and rumen, and is certainly well known and always present in typical trattorie, while the 'centopelle' (lit. 'a hundred skins', from its shape), that is the omasum, is not preferred in Florence.
But the protagonist is surely the 'lampredotto' (lit. 'small lamprey', from its shape), the abomasum of the stomach. It is smoother than the tripe, a prelibacy.
Name: Panino di LampredottoThe 'panino di lampredotto' is a genuine Florentine way of eating, and is always a unique experience frozen in time either for Florentines than for tourists.
One eats standing on the street, talking to the neighbour in the line, while smelling the characteristic fumes of this typical food. Every type of people, from the common person to the aristocratic one, asks, compares and enjoys.
The 'panino di lampredotto' can be eaten 'bagnato' (lit. 'wet') in its broth, 'asciutto' (lit. 'dry'), with 'salsa verde' ('green sauce', with olive oil and herbs), with pepper, or 'salsa piccante' ('hot sauce'); the 'lampredotto' can also be eaten alone 'in inzimino' ('with chard'), with potatoes, or onion, or 'all'uccelletto'...etc.... and has nothing to envy to refined cuisine...; it can also be taken home and maybe prepared with white rice and black cabbage...
Name: Fagioli all'uccellettoWhite kidney beans are the Florentine beans, which deserve attention all by themselves in national cuisine, because they are present in different ways in Tuscan dishes. In this special dish, the beans are cooked with olive oil, onion, (sausage, not an original ingredient, but common and tasty), tomato and sage leaves.
Name: Honey in Medieval and Renaissance CuisineHoney was very common in the dishes of those times, because it had a double function: preserving food and giving it edibility. That's why honey could be found particularly in red meats, pork and game dishes.
Name: Chocolate in Medieval and Renaissance CuisineSauces such as the dolceforte (lit. 'sweetstrong'), made of fruits, even chocolate, were very common in the Renaissance; chocolate was primarily prepared for hare, beef and wild boar dishes, because it gave a very contrasting and at the same time complementary flavour
Name: Etrurians CuisineEtrurians loved to eat and drink well and certainly knew how to utilise all that the earth and the waters produced.
Fruits, vegetables, legumes and cereals were the most common produce. Spelt was absolutely the most used legume (others were lentils, chick-peas and fava beans), and has become one of the most famous produce to relate to the Etrurians and Tuscany.
The rich people also ate white and red meats from pastures and game (especially deer and wild boar). Milk was abundant; fish was less common.
Name: Olive OilOlive oil is a treasure in Italian gastronomy:
The comeback of an international interest in genuine and natural products has certainly reaffirmed its preciousness...
Name: WineAnother magical element in Tuscan culture and gastronomy is wine:
Name: China, Alquermes and Rosolio'China', 'alquermes' and 'rosolio' are very renouned and old liquors. Especially the 'alquermes', which, since the Renaissance, was considered and called 'elisir di lunga vita' (lit. 'elixir for a long life') and drunk by Lorenzo il Magnifico during his artistic and cultural meetings. This liquor was prepared by the Dominican frairs of Santa Maria Novella, and was also appreciated by the Popes and promoted by Catherine of Medici in France, where it was called the liquor of the Medici...
Name: Tuscan CheesesThe most characteristic cheeses in Tuscany are the:
Name: AcquacottaAcquacotta (lit. 'cooked water') is eaten throughout Tuscany but certainly is most famous in the Maremma area: it started as a 'water soup' for poor workers, and is now a savoury soup...
Name: Other Regional DishesIn Florence other regional dishes such as for example the cacciucco and the baccal (salted codfish) alla livornese', both from Livorno, or the 'stoccafisso' (from the German 'stock fisch', which means 'stick fish' and is dried codfish) from Pisa, are very well known and commonly eaten.