Italian cooking traces its origins back to a Florentine noble lady, Catherine de’ Medici. Born in Florence 500 years ago, on April 13, 1519, Catherine de’ Medici created a world at the dining table that was admired for its beauty and munificence. When she moved to Paris to marry Henry II of France, the new queen immediately gained recognition for her refined taste, taking with her a retinue of cooks and pastry chefs and introducing dining rituals and manners to the French court. The most important of which was the use of the fork, which she had learned in the cultured world of the Florentine court. Florence’s Queen of France taught the local cooks to make Béchamel, a sauce that would become the basis for French cooking. Even crepes are actually a version of an Italian dish called pezzole or crespelle. Other delicacies that Catherine brought to France include an onion soup, a liver sauce that became a version of pate and ratatouille, as well as duck à l’orange, sorbet, zuppa inglese and profiteroles. Catherine was interested in many aspects of cooking, not just how delicious the plates were. She had trouble becoming pregnant and began to study the different characteristics of foods, including their powers as an aphrodisiac, such as onions and artichokes as well as cardoons, spring onions, courgettes and mushrooms. She eventually gave birth to ten children, but her influence on table manners and food culture still continues to outlive the Medici line today.
This sumptuous Florentine dish owes its origin and name to the Council of Florence in 1439. Representatives of the two largest Christian churches unsuccessfully tried to repair the schism that had taken place in 1054 between the Western and Orthodox communions in Constantinople. During the lavish banquet, the best Florentine dishes were brought to the table, including a noble piece of roast pork loin, served cold. The dish went down very well, so much so that the prelates said in Greek: “árista!”, which means “excellent!”. The recipe was perfected by Caterina de’ Medici, who established a version with her beloved bitter oranges.
1kg pork loin with bone / 1kg pancetta / 1 lemon / 1 orange / Sprig of sage / 2 sprigs rosemary / Garlic / Coarse sea salt / Black peppercorns / 250ml white wine / Extra-virgin olive oil / 1kg garden peas / 1 tsp caster sugar
Separate the pork from the bone on the rib side. Insert the slices of pancetta and a few thin slices of lemon and orange, salt and peppercorns, sage and rosemary between the meat and bones. Tie the meat to the bones with kitchen twine. Make holes in the centre and insert slivers of garlic, some peppercorns and salt. Place the pork in a frying pan with olive oil and begin cooking over high heat to brown the meat all over and seal in the juices. Pour in the wine and leave to evaporate. Turn down the heat and cook for 40 minutes, drizzling with some vegetable stock if needed. Put the peas in a pan with a whole clove of garlic, a sprig of rosemary, sugar and salt. Drizzle with olive oil and leave to simmer for about 20 minutes, adding water as needed.
Onion soup is a popular dish of ancient origins. The 16th-century artist and art historian Giorgio Vasari wrote that Leonardo da Vinci was particularly fond of it. The dish was raised to the rank of an exquisite court recipe by Caterina de’ Medici. The peasant dish known as carabaccia became the sophisticated soupe à l’oignon.
1.5kg white onions / ½ tsp ground cinnamon / 50g ground almonds / 2 litres meat stock / Extra-virgin olive oil / Salt and freshly ground black pepper / Tuscan bread, sliced and toasted
Slice the onions thickly and sauté in extra-virgin olive oil until lightly browned. Add the cinnamon and ground almonds and leave to develop flavour for 1 minute. Cover with plenty of meat stock and season with salt to taste. Cook for at least 40 minutes over low heat with the lid on. Serve with slices of toasted Tuscan bread, drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil and a generous seasoning of black pepper.
Pair these Caterina de’ Medici dishes with Ruffino Chianti Riserva DOCG.
Since 1877, the year in which it was first produced, Chianti Vecchio has always been a selection of the best Chianti, a wine for special occasions: the birth of a newborn or a Sunday lunch with the family gathered around the table. On the occasion of its 140th anniversary, Ruffino decided to celebrate the pioneering vision of the winery’s founders Ilario and Leopoldo Ruffino by launching Chianti Riserva DOCG, whose refined retro look was inspired by its important forefather, the famous Chianti Vecchio. It’s a nicely bodied wine, which pairs well with traditional Tuscan dishes, especially meat and mature cheeses.
Where to taste Ruffino wines:
Poggio Casciano – Tenute Ruffino
Via Poggio al Mandorlo 1,
Quarate-Bagno a Ripoli (Florence)
Open daily for lunch and dinner; closed on Tuesday and Sunday nights.
For reservations, email email@example.com or call +39 378 3050220.