When you are looking for “true” Tuscan (or Italian) recipes of any kind, you may become very perplexed over numerous versions of the same recipe. Which one is the right one? Which is the “classic?” Let me try to shed some light on this quandary: In Italy, each person or restaurant, puts a personal spin on a recipe. The variations depend on personal taste, family background, specific area of Tuscany (or Italy) and what is easily available and very fresh in that area. Tuscans are notorious for being fiercely independent, even when it comes to recipes.
Again, we can use a musical analogy. Many musicians can play the same piece of music but it is the interpretation that makes one stand apart from another. Each recipe has a personal interpretation. To make it even more complicated, Tuscans will hardly ever be able to give you a precise recipe: It’s “A handful of this, a pinch of that” as cooking is often learned from watching other family members and done “a occhio” (by eye-balling) quantities.
Cooking is not a chemistry formula, it is an artistic experience; it is a way to express your creativity, enjoy all the steps of the process and render a wonderful result.
When Italians do give you recipe ingredients and measurements, it is always in weight (not cups or teaspoons). A perfect example of this is Tuscan Crostini (appetizers). First of all, when you say “Crostini” to Tuscans, they automatically assume you are referring to chicken liver crostini. If the crostini are any other kind, they are referred to by color or by naming the main ingredients (such as Crostini di Tonno – tuna – or Crostini di Pesce – fish). There are probably as many variations on Tuscan Crostini as there are Tuscans.
Have you tried making Tuscan Crostini? You should try the Tuscan way: Take a basic recipe, and adjust it to your taste by using variables or optional items, such as sage or bay leaves, chopped carrots, lemon juice, wine, etc. Just be careful not to overcook the chicken livers (they should not be too dry). Make certain that whatever you use is “in tune” with the rest of the ingredients. Then you will have your own “authentic recipe.” Please write in and let us know if you come up with something you really love!
Crostini Toscani (Tuscan Chicken liver crostini)
Basic recipe (This is one version. There is another listed below in the “Recipes” section)
Preparation time: 20 minutes.
Cooking time: 20 minutes.
- One onion
- ¼ carrot (optional)
- ¼ celery (optional)
- 3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
- 300g chicken livers
- Stock (optional)
- One tablespoon capers
- 4 anchovy fillets
- Freshly chopped Italian flat leaf parsley or sage (or preferred herb) roughly chopped 50g butter.
- Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- 500g unsalted bread, preferably country bread
- Wine (optional)
Chop the onion (carrot, celery) and sauté in the e.v.o.o. Clean and wash the chicken livers, cut them roughly, add to the sautéed ingredients and brown well. If they dry out too much, moisten with a little stock or wine, but allow it to evaporate. Cook until done but not dry or overcooked. Remove from heat. Add the capers, and anchovy fillets, chopped herb leaves and butter. Using a large kitchen knife, chop the entire mixture very finely. Lightly toast the slices of bread and spread with the liver paste. If the slices of bread are crisped under a grill, they may be moistened with a spoonful of stock before spreading with the liver mixture. Some like crostini crisp and some prefer them moistened. The liver paste could also be served in an attractive bowl, surrounded with crisply toasted bread and decorated with herbs.
Manila – Florence, Tuscany, Italy (more recipes from Manila’s repertoire)
Recap: My friend Manila is a beautiful, doe-eyed woman who lives in Florence. Her husband owns the Ancre jewelry store near Piazza San Marco which is a favorite boutique of the locals.
Manila has raised her three sons in Florence and has taught pre-school and elementary school for many years. Her dream, however, is to own a catering business.
Manila’s passion for Tuscan cuisine is well-known and she is considered one of the best cooks around. My cousins and I were blown away by a meal Manila cooked entirely based on fresh Tuscan mushrooms. When she smilingly opened her front door and the aromas wafted towards us, it was heavenly. And I will never forget about the bone-in prime rib cooked in the wood-burning oven in her courtyard in downtown Florence.
Following are Manila’s recipe for the Tuscan Mushroom Soup, Chicken Liver Crostini and Chicken Liver Croquettes, all typical Tuscan autumn dishes. Buon appetito!
Note from Serenella: John and I tested the soup and crostini recipes this week-end. We had fun and liked them both.
For the soup, we chose to put it through the blender but it also looked prettty chopped up with the different vegetable colors. The pictures are from our recipe testing experience.