Autumn salumi toscani

Autumn salumi toscani

Fall is upon us. The sweltering heat is long gone, the mosquitoes have calmed down and leather jackets are everywhere. More importantly though, this change in season brings its particular delights of Tuscan cuisine.   With the dawn of colder weather, we often crave food that is rich, comforting and

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Thu 16 Oct 2008 12:00 AM

Fall is upon us. The sweltering heat is long gone, the
mosquitoes have calmed down and leather jackets are everywhere. More
importantly though, this change in season brings its particular delights of
Tuscan cuisine.

 

With the dawn of colder weather, we often crave food
that is rich, comforting and higher in protein. As lighter fare, such as
panzanella or prosciutto with melon become passé in September, Tuscans are
quick to replace them with the quintessential foods that will satisfy the
autumn-lover’s palate. One such seasonal staple is finocchiona.

 

Finocchiona, which derives its name from
finocchio, fennel, is one of the most popular pork products in Tuscan cuisine,
especially in Florence. Although it closely resembles a salami, its sharp
seasoning distinguishes it from others. The meat is ground roughly and seasoned
with salt, pepper and the fennel that gives it a subtle, yet distinct anise
flavor. A variant, sbriciolona, is less firm and crumbles when sliced. Although
finocchiona can be found all year round, it is popular in the fall during the
harvest of Florence fennel, a smaller, sweeter variation of the stalk that is
most abundant in fall and winter.

 

Like other Tuscan cold cuts, finocchiona can be
purchased in supermarkets and groceries by the etto (100 grams), and its stands
out as an essential part of antipasto dishes served in Tuscan restaurants and
households. It is usually listed on the menu as a part of salumi toscani,
paired with prosciutto, salame, crostini, and another fall favorite, soprassata.

 

Soprassata is salami made from the leftover cuts of
the pig, including the head, tail, fat and sometimes tongue. These pieces are
pressed and boiled together with salt, pepper, garlic, rosemary and lemon.
Whereas some types of Tuscan salami look very similar, soprassata stands out
because of its pinkish-gray color and its patchwork look, the result of the mix
of different cuts, which also makes for an interesting and varying texture. The
use of meat scraps is rooted in popular culture in Tuscany, especially
Florence, where wasting food is heavily frowned upon.

 

Soprassata and another of the  salumi toscani, bardiccio, are both
typical of this season: in the past they were produced when pigs were butchered
in fall or early winter to guarantee a supply of meat for the rest of the year.
Bardiccio, like finocchiona, is ground with spices, including fennel, and, like
soprassata, it is made from leftover cuts. Bardiccio, however, is shaped into
long, thin sausages (each one called canella), and can have a deep red color,
depending on how much of the heart is used in production. It is not aged like
finocchiona and soprassata, but must be grilled after purchase.

 

Because of the rich quality of these meats, they
become a special option in the Tuscan merenda, an occasional light meal eaten around
5 p.m. A small portion of one of these decadent meats pairs nicely with
unsalted Tuscan bread or crostini. This seasonal treat is sure to tide one over
between meals on a cold day. They can also be a delicacy for a dinner with
friends in the chilly December and January evenings.

 

Although many wines complement the unique flavors of
these meats, they are best matched with a bold Chianti that can cut through the
sharp seasoning.

 

 

Aperitivo How-to

So how do you turn these tasty fall meats into a
quick and easy Tuscan aperitivo? Simple…just follow these instructions to serve
up an authentic Florentine appetizer.

 

While the key feature is the meats, to have a proper aperitivo, you need
the right ingredients, starting with the bread. Unsalted pane toscano showcases
the meats’ flavors. Although any kind of Tuscan bread will work, we like the
bozza pratese best. While you’re at the panetteria, grab some schiacciata as
well, which goes well with cheese and veggies.

Next, choose an array of salumi: prosciutto
toscano (also called casalingo), finocchiona or sbriciolona, soprassata, salame
toscano and salsiccia cruda, which can be spread right onto the pane toscano

.

 

To balance the richness of the salumi, serve an aged pecorino with
chestnut honey, both made right here in Tuscany, and some fresh baby onions,
sun-dried tomatoes and preserved artichokes.

 

As for wine, because the food flavors are strong, there is no need to go
with anything too bold. Serve a nice young red from your favourite vino sfuso
place, where you can fill bottles straight from the cask for three or four
euro.

 

 

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