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Friday, March 27, 2015

"Acqua-Cotta": the ultimate Cookery lesson about Tuscan Soups and my childhood memories

acquacotta

How many memories bind me to this delicious soup. 
I left my native land, Maremma, at age 18 to attend the University in Pisa; since then (apart from a break of four years in Milan), I moved permanently in the province of the "leaning tower".  
I return rarely in Grosseto, perhaps to greet my mother who still lives there, or to find a friend who, thanks to Facebook too, I could not lose.

Yet the Maremma and Grosseto are in my heart, both solar and strong like my grandmother Amossina; she often narrated me about the long rural vigils during the evenings of sultry weather, about the crusts of toasted bread in the fireplace during the long afternoons in Winter, the raids in the fields to steal "purnelle", the fruit of a tree that I've never understood what it was. My grandmother gave meaning to my life, for 80%, has made me able to listen curiously the "olds" when they tell their stories, she sent me a huge passion for the countryside and a religious respect for Nature; she pushed the tip of my small fingers in a "crater" of white flour for breaking eggs and begin to knead.

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She made me realize that every dish is a synthesis of a long history, a scientific faithful guardian of an archive of memory that is renewed at the table, repeated in each family, even after centuries... 
Each traditional dish is history in a bowl, a story which is passed without books, but through an act of care. Here is another aspect: cooking for someone is to take this person in your heart, from the shopping until you're ready to wash plates. 
As my grandmother was unromantic, however little romantic are those gestures when washing the vegetables, kneading the dough, cutting an onion or cleaning a chicken, I'll never forget the feeling of "being at home" I felt every time I saw my grandmother make those gestures. The certainty of being loved by that petite woman, grew up with few pretensions and caresses, confirmed and proved by her strong desire that "all had to be good, for us"

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And also I felt almost blessed by that care, and a bit 'more good and deserving of all the good things that I'd be enjoying... 
The Acquacotta (litterally "cooked-water") which is sometimes written all attacked, sometimes not ... and there is no rule for this, it is a simple dish that, like all simple dishes, requires the "lingering" to be exquisite.  
My granny used to tell me: "Cooking is like giving a caress to someone, even a caress rushed, is always a caress; but if you run your hand slowly, if you stop for a moment, is definitely better. "
And in my opinion, with the hard life she had faced, she
learned the meaning of "caress"  from "cooking", rather than by people.  

spinach

The Acquacotta is the  emblem dish of Maremma, land of "malaria" (completely eradicated only in the mid-50s) and "bitter land" as defined by a popular song. Over the years, this soup has gained ground into trendy restaurants, enriched by many different ingredients ... ah, if my grandmother knew that I found even with truffles!! 
And yet (who comes from Maremma knows) Acquacotta needs just 3 ingredients to be exquisite: onion, celery, bread. 
It belongs to the Tuscan country, just like the Onion Soup and the "Bordatino"

broth Known as the dish of "BUTTERI", or rather the "cowboys" from Maremma crossing fields, forests and swamps to move their herds and "govern" their inaccessible land
And it is telling me about "Butteri" and their adventures that  my granny Amossina took me in her arms and she told me about her childhood spent in contact with nature and, between a nursery rhyme and another on her knees, she often told me the story of "Ultimo" and the origin of Acquacotta. 


"Ultimo (the italian meaning is: the LAST ONE) was such in name and in fact, and one evening in Summer, tired for the job and hungry because of the absence of food (at that time was on the agenda) he sat next to a fire in the farmyard, thinking about what could eat from all that surrounded him. 
In his pocket there was an onion, and you know ...this never missed the table of the poor.
He put a little 'of water on a frying pan and he broke inside the onion, then began to turn around the barnyard and right there, on the edge of a field, he ripped some wild chicory and after a brief rinse poured even this in the pan; then went near the hen house and took a few loaf of dry bread for chickens from the sack... and threw also this one in the pan. While he was watching all that "poverty" that floated and seethed, his brothers called him from afar: "Ultimo! Ultimo, what are you doing?" "Nothing of important" he replied "I'm cooking the water, I'm doing Acquacotta!! ". 

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When I got married I went around the Maremma to seek those who would cook better Acquacotta, grandmother Amossina unfortunately was no more with us for a few years, but I still wanted this tasty soup, rich in its history to the lunch of my marriage.
I found an exceptional Acquacotta in Castiglione della Pescaia, in the restaurant of a hotel overlooking the sea. The chef was called Enrica and note the coincidence, she  had won an award for the best "Acquacotta",
over the years. 
My future husband and I, from the first of a long series of tastings, we looked each other at realizing that we had already decided: it was just the cook we wanted for the wedding, she knew for sure what's the "lingering". 
For our party Enrica gave everyone a poem about Acquacotta, written on a sheet of yellow paper rolled up, beribboned with raffia bordeau. I still have this gift and I give it to the "students" who attend the course on "Tuscan soups" ... and recipes that I give after cooking classes in general, are always rolled up and closed with a raffia bow dark red...

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Ginny's eating Acquacotta

Acquacotta Old Tuscan Veggie Soup


Recipe by Erika Elia (CuocheinVacanza.it)
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 25 minutes + 15 minutes (to grill)
Total time: 1 hour

Ingredients
  • 11 oz spinach
  • 11 oz swiss chard
  • 3 celery stalks with their leaves
  • 1 large or 2 red onion
  • 6 leaves calamint (optional)
  • 4 tomatoes (Piccadillly or San Marzano) or
  • 8 cherry tomatoes
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 4 slices country style bread toasted
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (Evo)
  • to taste salt
  • to taste pepper
  • 1 l simmering water
Cooking Directions
  1. Rub the slices of toasted bread (just one side) with half garlic clove
  2. Drizzle a heavy-bottomed large pan with Evo oil
  3. place in it calamint and the remaining garlic and wait until the oil is hot
  4. place the red onion roughtly chopped in the pan and cook over a medium-low heat until it becames translucent (not brown)
  5. add the roughtly chooped veggies: celery (remind to put in the leaves too), Swiss chard and the spinach (you can also use mushrooms and chicory), and stir briefly to wilt.
  6. Add tomatoes and one cup of simmering water
  7. cook over a low heat for about 20 minutes (lid over the pan) until veggies are very soft, adding the remaining simmering water in 2 times.
  8. Season with salt and taste
  9. place the toasted bread in 4 soup bowls
  10. ladle broth and veggies over the bread in each bowl
  11. when they're full, use a teaspoon to slightly dig a hole in the center of veggies
  12. and break the eggs in this hole, one in each bowl
  13. top with a generous sprinkling of parmesan cheese
  14. put in the oven 400 F° to grill, for about 15 minutes. Until the whites are set, but the yellow is still runny
Print Recipe

le zuppe sator

Friday, March 20, 2015

#Small Group Cookery Course and Chicken Scaloppine Sauteed in Marsala Sauce and Raisin

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Tomorrow I'll run my first cookery course in 2015 and the location'll be a beautiful Tuscan cellar, this time. It'll be a cooking class about something I love: Tuscan soups and their original recipes (do you remember our fantastic onion soup?) and we're going to prepare some delicious Cantuccini too.
I'm excited and anxious and can not wait to be tomorrow night, to post some pictures and tell you the experience on our social networks: Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Google+...
It seems only yesterday that I washed all my kitchen utensils, my huge bag (I look like Mary Poppins), the aprons for my students ... to store them for the long winter. It seems only yesterday that, tired to death by the labors of a whole summer, I put in the attic all my working equipment ready to take it up with the Spring.

Friday, March 13, 2015

#Pisa: Olive Oil Sponge Cake with Mascarpone and Nutella filling; nonna Rossy strikes again!

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Y' all know Rossy, my mother-in-law and my ideal partner in our job adventures. You also know that, in our work, traveling a lot is a must: in effect our mission is: "...We come directly to your holiday home in Tuscany to prepare the tasteful dishes with you" .
Well Rossy (or granny Rossy, as my daughters call her) never says "no". Need to go to Florence for a cookery course with a shopping trip to the market? Need to go to Radda in Chianti for a private dinner in a vacation home? Need to cross a forest and walking 5Km before arriving in a vacation home where we're going to run a cooking class? Rossy always says "yes!" and goes with me ...It's very difficult beeing sure you can trust someone or just rely on her availability, that's why I appreciate this woman above all else.
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