Hand-made Pasta … Truffles … Wild Boar …
Hand-made pasta is the ultimate in Italian pasta cuisines. Why?
It enables the maker to express him or herself through the art of pasta-making.
Personal preferences in the selection of ingredients; style and passion in kneading; firm and flexible … gentle handling … decisive cutting and separating the pasta …
And you can taste the difference on first bite.
The most popular pasta in Tuscany is the Pappardelle; large, very broad, flat pasta noodles – like a wide fettuccine; pappardelle pasta can be long or short, plain or filled, with or without eggs, with or without fluted edges …
This regional pasta is usually served with a porcini sauce (mushroom), wild boar ragu or a ‘hare sauce’ (as in rabbit variety), known as ‘… on the hare’.
I had it with a porcini sauce – the pasta was delicate, tender, retaining the ‘el dente’ texture … the tomato based porcini sauce was served with chunks of porcini mushrooms, coarsely cut and lightly cooked in olive oil, garlic and finely chopped parsley … firmness of mushrooms, with a light ‘spring’ to the palate …
Pici pasta, thick spaghetti, but stretched by hand … at times could reach three metres in length.
Rustic, hand-made and stretched; long and irregular, thick and ‘juicy’ in taste, usually made with just flour and water – a poor man’s pasta; and with egg to enrich – reserved for special occasions or Sundays.
Typical Sienese dish; Pici pasta is widely served in homes and restaurants these days.
Try the ‘Pici alla Dado’ with Dado’s special sauce at Nona Gina’s in Siena – wholesome home-styled meals, without entering your own kitchen … a treat not to be missed when in Siena.
Recommended to us by a local, the meals were excellent … so good that we went back the second evening to sample the rest of the pasta menu!
Favoured by locals and tourists, be sure to book; as Nona Gina’s is usually booked out especially over weekends.
Or, try the Gnocchi alla Lella – filled with mashed potatoes, parsley, garlic and parmesan … served with yet another speciality sauce created by Lella (wife of Dado) – the pasta just melts in your mouth … over and over again!
Truffle of the White Madonna (Trifola d’Alba Madonna)
Also known as Tuber Magnatum, White Truffle is found mainly in Langhe and Montferrat areas, Piedmont region, countryside around Alba and Asti cities, northern Italy.
Truffles are entomycorrhizal fungi (a symbiotic relationship around the root tip of the plant); found amongst tree roots; some species are highly prized as food … in the French gourmet circle truffles are considered ‘diamond of the kitchen’ … well-known in the international ‘Haute Cuisine’.
Truffles have been around since 20th century BC; faded into the background in the Middle Ages and re-gained popularity during the Renaissance period.
‘Trufficulture’ – the cultivation of truffles is widely practiced these days, where truffles thrive at the foot of select oak trees.
White truffles grown around the hills of San Miniato, Tuscany are usually smaller than black truffles, with a maximum12cm (5 inches) diameter and about 500gm (1.1 lb) weight. Pale cream or brown flesh with white marbling, the Italian white truffles are held in high esteem, and value in the culinary markets.
Harvested in October through to late December by dog, not pigs; as the dogs tend to reduce damage around the trees, quality truffles reportedly sold for 4,500 Euros per kilo in 2017 …
However, watch out for some of the ‘truffle-like’ species also available in the marketplace … similar, but not the same …
Truffles have a pungent aroma and should be used sparingly – especially when used fresh.
Generally served raw, shaved over steaming buttered pasta (not oil), salads or fried eggs, paper-thin sliced truffles may be inserted into meats, under skins of roasted fowl, pates, stuffing or in speciality cheeses.
Most kitchens brush the truffle clean, maybe a gentle wipe with a moist soft cloth, then shave or roughly grated onto the dishes.
The skin is the most prized ingredient; usually used for sauces.
‘Truffle has to be the King of the dish’, according to a third-generation Italian truffle hunter.
No other flavours should overwhelm it …
And it is absolutely true – served over pappardelle pasta stirred through with porcini mushroom pieces lightly cooked in butter-egg sauce … the earthy musky flavour melding with the el dente pasta … a treat to the senses …
And there are annual truffle festivals held in towns throughout Italy around late November … a celebration not to be missed!
The ‘Cinghiale’ or wild boar numbers are large in Tuscany – and they feed on almost anything, especially grapes in vineyards.
Wild boar meat is also very popular in Tuscany.
Wild boar hunting is a passion and a tradition – hunting season changes depending on the numbers in the area and usually occurs from October to late January in specified areas, on specific days.
Tuscan specialities made with wild boar are celebrated at food festivals or ‘Sagre Del Cinghiale’ throughout the region.
… Wild boar with olives and greens; slow-cooked wild boar stew with bay leaves, rosemary, juniper berries and wine …
‘Pappardelle Cinghiale’ – wild boar meat sauce served clinging to Tuscan Pappardelle … is hailed as one of Tuscany’s national dish.
It is a real treat to be able to enjoy all these scrumptious delights with the locals; hear stories of forgotten era; imagining knights and maidens, castles and fortresses, food and more food to sample … with Italian wines of course.
O, what a life in Tuscany!