Over the Tuscan stove

Viva la cioccolata

Judy Witts
January 26, 2006

Tuscany is a food lover’s paradise. Each village has a speciality worth travelling to taste -- great wines, extra virgin olive oil, artisan cheeses, organic herbs. All make great gifts to bring back home to create your own fabulous dishes and share a “Taste of Tuscany” with family and friends. Put Tuscany’s fabulous food together with its beautiful scenery, incredible architecture and art, and wonderful people and you have all the reasons you need to travel!

 

One of my most passionate reasons to explore Tuscany is CHOCOLATE! Having been a pastry chef, for me one of the most important parts of the meal is dessert. I’m always disappointed when at the end of a fabulous dining experience the last bite isn’t memorable. This is what you should remember.

We are very lucky in Tuscany to have so many expert chocolate makers. Just as there are Super Tuscan wines, we have Super Tuscan Chocolates throughout our Tuscan Chocolate Valley. Some are chocolatiers, making candies, cakes and sweets from chocolate and some actually produce chocolate from the bean! In Tuscany, the valley between Pisa and Florence has provided a home for many of my favorite chocolate makers. Here (is a list for future trips of some of the best!

 

Throughout Tuscany, artisan choco--late makers of international repute abound, and a new generation of young chocolatiers guarantees  keeping the quality level high. When we speak of quality chocolate we speak of  Paul de Bondt from Pisa, Simone De Castro of Montopoli (Pisa),  Vestri from Arezzo with a  shop in Florence, Andrea Bianchini on via dei Macci in Florence, Andrea Slitti of Monsummano Terme (Pistoia), the company “Cioccolato & C.” of Massa e Cozzile (Pistoia), and Corsini di Pistoia. Let’s not forget the pioneer of chocolate in Agliana outside of Florence, Roberto Catinari and the patisserie champion of the world in Prato, Luca Mannori.

 

Cinghiale in Dolce Forte

 

Before Columbus discovered the New World and brought back the fruit from the “money tree” (cocoa beans were so valuable they were used as currency and as an unsweetened drink in Aztec religious ceremonies), chocolate was used to enrich stews. This classic dish resembles Mexican mole, but is much lighter. It is my favorite dish to serve at a formal party.

 

Marinade:

2 cups red wine

1/2 cup red wine vinegar

1 bay leaf

1 sprig fresh thyme

I tbs pumpkin pie spice (cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice)

1 carrot, chopped

1 onion, chopped

1 celery stock, chopped

3 pounds wild boar, venison, or pork shoulder, cut into 2-inch cubes

4 tbs butter or olive oil

1 onion, finely chopped

I tbs pumpkin pie spice (cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice)

2 ounces bittersweet chocolate

1 tbs pine nuts

3 ounces dried prunes, cut in half

1 tbs chilli pepper

Grated zest of one orange

1 tbs raisins

1 tbs sugar

 

If using wild game, the meat should definitely be marinated. With other meats, this step is optional but recommended.

 

Bring the marinade to a boil and let cool. Cover the meat and let it sit in the marinade for 48 hours. Remove the meat and remove the solids from the marinade. Sauté the onion in butter or olive oil until golden. Add the meat and brown lightly. Add the rest of the ingredients, the strained marinade liquid, and cook until the meat is tender, stirring occasionally. Add water if needed. Taste and adjust seasonings.Serve with creamy polenta or on a thick slice of toasted country style bread.

 

Salame Dolce

 

This is one of my favorites to keep in the freezer as a back-up dessert! Richer and fancier versions sold in pastry shops now have melted chocolate and chopped nuts added to make it more of a candy version. Rolling the outside edges in powdered sugar makes it really look like salame.

Here’s the recipe for an Italian salame even vegetarians will love!

 

6 ounces cooking crumbs (best are small rectangular cookies called Marie in Italy, and Petite Beurre in the U.S.)

1/2 cup sugar

5 ounces melted butter

2 egg yolks

6 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

1 ounce grappa (my preference), or Grand Marnier, Amaretto di Saronno, Kahlua, rum, or whiskey

 

Melt the butter and let it cool.

Beat the egg yolks with the sugar until it resembles cake batter. Add the melted butter and cocoa powder. (And more cocoa powder if you want it really dark.) Crush the cookies in a food processor or with a rolling pin, leaving some pieces a little larger than others so they resemble the fat in a salame. Form a salame-like shape and roll it in aluminum foil. Place in the freezer for 30 minutes or until firm. Unwrap and slice. Serve with soft whipped cream and fresh berries.

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