Michael and I studied abroad in Tuscany for a semester in college. It’s where he proposed, and where we fell in love with Italian culture and food. Our study center in Castiglion Fiorentino was our home for four months, and during that time we ate really well. There were two older Italian women running the kitchen and I wish I could have kidnapped one of them and brought them back to live with me. They would have made lovely adopted grandmas and I could have learned all of their cooking secrets. Our cooks somehow managed to make everything taste homey; exactly what you expected everyone else in our little hill town to eat for dinner each night. I’ve dabbled with Focaccia and pasta making before, but the dinner we created really took me back to long wooden tables in the dining room and memories of saltless bread.
The French are best at bread and buttery pastries, the Italians prize their espresso and ability for make delicious pasta from eggs and flour. I could never go gluten free. I’m praying I never have to. I love bread too much. The smell of yeast, the texture, the multitude of shapes and uses. I love bread. We couldn’t find
bland saltless bread for our dinner which is fine since most people complained about it while we were there (myself included), but we did manage to find some delicious traditional Tuscan recipes to share.
Michael and I really enjoy entertaining and decided it would be fun to host a coursed dinner. It might have been a bit much for a Friday dinner, but the four hour prep on Thursday night filled our house with the best aromas. We simmered duck ragout for hours on the stove, and made a traditional white bean and kale soup. If I closed my eyes while eating that soup, I’d have opened them sitting in Castiglion again. We made fresh linguine to accompany the ragout.I have an Atlas pasta machine that doesn’t get a good enough workout. You can’t beat the flavor of fresh pasta. And our third course of pan roasted Sea Bass and Haricot Verts we made Friday night without any big catastrophes.
I’m incredibly thankful Michael and I were able to share our study abroad experience together before we started our marriage journey. I’m also thankful we share a love of food with friends and now have the space to host dinners like this. It brings me joy to serve people in this way, and I’m guessing our friends like it too. I hope you are able to try out some of the recipes – though you don’t have to knock them out in one night.
Ribollita Toscana – White Bean and Kale Soup
1 1/2 C extra virgin olive oil
3 medium yellow onions
6 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 C italian parsley
2 large carrots peeled and minced
2 celery stalks minced
1/2 tsp salt
black pepper and salt to taste
1/2 C strained italian canned tomatoes
2 15 oz cans cannellini beans drained and rinsed
2 quarts water (8 cups)
10 oz kale leaves, stems removed and coarsely chopped
1/2 lb dense italian bread
Add oil to a large heavy bottom pot over medium heat. Add onion, carrots, celery, garlic and parsley. Saute for about 20 minutes or until the veggies or softened. Add the tomatoes and cook for about 5 minutes so they loose their raw scent. Set aside 1 cup of beans and add the rest to the pot. Add the reserved beans to a blender with 1 cup of water and puree until smooth. Add these to the pot, they will thicken the soup. Add the water and kale and bring soup to a boil. Don’t be alarmed if the kale seems to be overflowing, it will break down while the soup simmers. Cover with a tight lid and simmer for 2-3 hours. If the soup seems too thin, uncover and simmer a while longer until you reach the desired consistency. Taste and season with more salt and pepper as needed – I used a lot of salt. Cut up some bread and sprinkle it on top of each bowl and serve.
Ragout d’Antrata con fettucini- Duck Ragout with Fettucini
4 duck thighs skin on
1 T olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, minced
1 carrot, minced
1 celery stalk, minced
1/4 lb Pancetta, diced in 1/4 inch pieces
1 bay leaf
2 T minced Italian parsley
2 T minced thyme
2 T torn basil (or 1 T dried)
2 T + 1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1 C dry white wine
1 1/2 C canned chopped Italian plum tomatoes
1/4 tsp fennel seeds, crushed (optional)
In a heavy pot, place the duck thighs skin side down. Cook on medium high heat until golden brown, then flip. Once the second side is golden remove from the pot and dump out the duck fat. You might be surprised at the amount of fat that comes from these thighs! Return the pan to the heat and add the olive oil. Add the soffrito (celery, onion, carrots) and pancetta, parsley, and bay leaf. Cook 5 minutes, or until it starts to brown. Return the duck to the pot and season with 1/2 tsp of salt and pepper. Deglaze the pan with wine and cook until it evaporates. Stir in the tomatoes and cook over medium-low heat for one and a half hours. Remove the duck from the pot and cool for 15 minutes. Discard the skin and break the meat apart/chop into small pieces. Return to the pan and cook for 30 more minutes. Add cooked pasta to coat and serve.
600g (1lb 6oz) type 00 flour (or all purpose flour)
Place flour in a food processor, and add the eggs on top. Whirl until a ball of dough forms. Don’t add water if it seems too crumbly! Separate the dough into two balls and knead each one until it gets soft and silky. Then combine them together adding flour as needed to prevent it from sticking. Once you have a silky ball of dough, let it rest under a damp towel for 30 minutes. Then take small handfuls of dough and form them into a rectangle. Pass it through the pasta machine 5 times alternating between setting 1 and 2, folding in half after you pass through number 2. This will make your dough more elastic and incredibly smooth. Continue rolling through the machine until you have the desired thickness. We went to 7 or 8, but thinner is nice. Slice them and let them dry overnight or for at least 2 hours.
Boil in salted water until al dente.
Pan Seared Sea Bass with Mushroom Sauce and Haricots Verts
2 T olive oil
1 T butter
1 large onion minced
1/4 C marsala wine (or any dry white wine)
8 oz mixed mushrooms (shiitake, cremini, oyster) sliced thin
1/2 C chicken stock
salt and pepper
2 T canola oil
8 filets sea bass 5-6 oz each
1 T parsley chopped
In a medium saucepan, saute the onion over medium heat until translucent. Deglaze the pan with the wine. Add mushrooms and butter. Cook until mushrooms are tender. Add chicken stock and season with salt and pepper. Simmer until it is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon (30 minutes).
Preheat the oven to 450˚F. For the fish, heat oil in a cast iron skillet or heavy bottom pot. Season with salt and pepper and place skin side down on the oil. Cook at a high temperature so it develops a crust for 5 minutes. Flip and continue to crisp the other side, about 2 minutes. Place entire pan into the oven and cook until fish is done (opaque at the center). Serve on a bed of haricots verts or any other veggie you like with the mushroom sauce spooned over the top.
1 lb french green beans
1 T butter
Boil in water until just tender. Place in an ice bath. Heat 1T butter in a skillet. Return the beans to the skillet and simmer until heated through. Add almonds if you like.