In an effort to relive the memories and food of Italy I hosted a Tuscan dinner (cena Toscana) with my mom, dad, Aunt Chris, Uncle Dave and Adena. It was so much fun to dream up the menu, reminiscing about the amazing meals we enjoyed together in Italy (well, the guys had to live vicariously through our memories). We all pitched into make the meal, and here was our menu:
For the melon and prosciutto, the melon should be ripe, sweet and juicy. In Italy I discovered that I prefer really aged prosciutto, which is what Tuscan prosciutto is, compared to say Parma prosciutto which is less aged. Just put the two together and enjoy.
We also had caprese (basil, tomato and mozzarella) as an appetizer, though I made the caprese with burrata instead of mozzarella because I became completely obsessed with it while in Italy. Side note: burrata, prosciutto, fried egg and Italian bread make an amazing breakfast sandwhich.
Our last appetizer was truffle fondue – fonduta tartufo. This was one of my absolute favorite things I ate in Italy, and we only saw it on the menu in Cortona, likely because it’s near Umbria which is truffle central. In Cortona I asked our server what cheeses were in the fondue so I could try to recreate it, and he said asiago and fontina, and two others that he didn’t remember. So, I used asiago, fontina and gruyere, with white wine. I added truffle cream that I’d brought back from Italy, and served it with grilled bread. The texture did not turn out well, but the flavor was great.
The next course: ribollita. This is a Tuscan soup that Adena and I first had in Florence at Il Latini, the same restaurant that my mom, aunt and I went to in Florence. We fell in love with it and proceeded to taste test it around the region. Il Latini remained our favorite, with a Trattoria La Grotta in Cortona coming in second. To make this at home, I modified a recipe from a cookbook I brought back from Italy.
adapted from Cantinetta Antinori Seasonal Recipes
1 coarsely chopped onion
3 carrots, cut into pieces
1/2 coarsely chopped celery stalk
2 cans cannellini beans
3 cups shredded kale
1/2 loaf stale Italian bread
2 Tbsp tomato paste
1 fresh diced tomato
2 diced potatoes
2 Tbsp chopped mixed herbs (rosemary, sage, thyme and basil)
10 Tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper
4 cups vegetable broth
Pour half the oil in a large saucepan and saute herbs and chopped onion. Add the tomato paste, tomato, then all the vegetables and beans. Mix a few minutes and cover with vegetable broth. Cover, bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer for about 1 hour and 30 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Stir in sliced bread, add the rest of the olive oil. Cook on a low flame for another ten minutes. Allow to stand covered for 10 minutes, then serve drizzled with olive oil and parmigiana cheese.
Our main courses were pesto and bread, homemade fettuccine, and chicken piccata. The pasta recipe comes from Alessandra, our cooking lesson instructor in Cortona.
from Alessandra Federici
2 3/4 cups semolina flour, plus more for kneading
5 large eggs
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
I used my kitchenaid mixer to make the homemade pasta, using these directions. We ate the fettuccine with a simple sauce of sautéed garlic and tomatoes, a dollop of homemade fresh ricotta, and ribbons of fresh basil.
For dessert we had Talenti gelato and lemon tiramisu. Adena and I had an amazing lemon tiramisu in Praiano on the Amalfi Coast, so I tried to recreate it. I used this recipe, though I added more lemon zest, more lemon curd, and substituted sparkling apple juice for the brandy. Next time I think I’d use limoncello for the liquid, but it turned out great and is a really refreshing, summery version of tiramisu.
We had such a lovely evening telling stories, reminiscing, laughing and eating. Grateful.