Cacciucco di ceci – Chick pea and chard cacciucco

Usually cacciucco refers to the Livornese fish soup.  But this is a vegetarian version that you can eat far from the coast, made from chick peas and chard.  Like the original, it is a hearty soup served over slices of day-old or toasted bread.

To make cacciucco di ceci, boil 400g of chick peas in unsalted water – about 75 minutes in a normal pot or 35 minutes in a pressure cooker – drain but reserve the cooking water.  Take one third of the chick peas and blend them in a food processor with one cup of the cooking water.

Wash 300g of chard under cold running water, separate the green from the “legs” of the chard, julienne the leaves and slice the legs into small pieces.

Slice and sauté one onion and one clove of garlic with olive oil and two anchovies (washed, deboned, and mashed with a wooden spoon) or a squirt of anchovy paste.  Add the chard legs first, followed by the chick peas – drained and the blended mixture – and two peeled, diced tomatoes.

After this has simmered for a minute or two, add the remaining cooking water from the chick peas, cover and allow to cook for about another 15 minutes.  Add salt and pepper to taste, and add the chard leaves with a pinch of chili flakes.  Five more minutes on the stove.  Take dried or toasted tuscan bread – it needs to be the dense crumb type and not the airy kind – rub a slice garlic clove over it, and place it in the bottom of the bowl.  Serve the soup over the bread, and add a few drops of your best olive oil.

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Cenci

 

 

 

Cenci (CHEN chee) are a typical Tuscan sweet, prepared during the Carnival, pre-Lent period.  They are usually eaten on Berlingaccio – or Fat Thursday or giovedì grasso – the Thursday prior to Mardi Gras.   Cenci are a kind of fried, sweet pasta, served with powdered sugar, and can be found in other regions, by different names: cenci  (rags) in Tuscany, chiacchere  (gossip or chat) in Umbria, frappe (no obvious meaning) in Lazio and bugie (lies) in Piemonte.  Party food!

Different families and regions vary the recipe – some are made with butter but ours are made with a touch of olive oil.  The butter makes them too heavy for our taste.

The fun part of this recipe is rolling out the pasta.  When I was a girl, I stood by as my grandmother kneaded, added flour, rolled and re-rolled the pasta.  With my rotellina in hand, I was like a tiny soldier waiting for my orders, for him to give me the go-ahead to me to cut the pasta into the shapes that look like torn rags.  Some families make braided strips, knots, or small wads, but the Florentine tradition is to cut them in strips two fingers wide and then cut along a diagonal, irregular lengths and non parallel lines keep them interesting.

At the time of the Medicis, Berlingaccio was the day when Florentines were allowed to let their vices go unchecked.  They took advantage of the excuse to explore the sins of gluttony (among others)!

On a work surface, make a well from 300g of flour.  In the hole, but 50ml of oil, 2 eggs, a small glass of vin santo (Tuscan dessert wine), 50g of sugar and a pinch of salt.  Work the ingredients together into a compact, elastic and homogeneous ball.  Let the dough rest for about an hour under a tea towel.

Roll out the pasta with a rolling pin, until it is thinner than a £1 coin.  (This can also be done very well with a pasta machine.)  Cut into irregular strips around 7-8 cm long and 3 cm wide.  If some are folded or knotted it give more texture to the cenci.
Fry the ribbons a few at the time in plenty of hot oil, so that they have a golden colour and drain them on kitchen roll.  When they have cooled a bit, spread them out on a tray and sprinkle with normal or vanilla powdered sugar.  Let them cool fully and serve with a glass of vin santo.

enjoying cenci

Sformato di Gobbi – Cardoon flan

A favourite vegetable in Tuscany is cardoons, which, in local dialect, are known as “gobbi.”  “Gobbo” also means a hump and as these vegetables are curved, they’ve taken this nickname.  These are in season in winter, and the legs are firm, full, and pale.  They have a slightly bitter taste, and are a a relative of the artichoke.

I wanted to make a gobbi flan today, as the winter is nearly over and soon the gobbi will be gone!  As my friend Jill was visiting me at home in Florence, I had a great excuse to make something special.

della

I took 2 kg of gobbi and pulled off the leaves and the tough fibres – as you would do with celery.  I cut them into 4-5 cm long pieces and boiled them for about 35-40 minutes in salted water.  I drained them and put them aside.

In a sauté pan I melted 50g of butter and then added the gobbi, cooking them a further 30 minutes until they have released their water and are dry.  They should not be brown.  But the gobbi in a food processor and blend into a smooth texture.  In a bowl, mix with 250g of béchamel, two eggs, 50g of parmesan cheese, and  a pinch of salt.  Pour into a buttered pan, sprinkle breadcrumbs on top and cook in an oven on 170C for 35-40 minutes.  Let the flan rest when you remove it from the oven and serve warm.

The cardoon is unusual, full of umami mouthfeel.  We had it as an accompaniment to polpettone and roasted potatoes.  Delizioso!

 

sformato di gobbi

DINING IN ITALY

BOOK COOKING LESSONS OR DINNER IN A TUSCAN FAMILY HOME 

If you are planning a trip to Florence, you can book a dinner with Cinzia in a private home.

Cinzia does the cooking and you are welcome to plan and dinner for your group on its own, or join in for dinner in famiglia.

Cinzia also offers Tuscan cooking classes, starting with shopping in the market, continuing with the actual cooking, and wrapping up with dinner at her home.


DINE LIKE A FLORENTINE!

Come share a relaxed meal with your group, other guests, or a local family.  Enjoy the Italian table!

Up to 12 seats can be booked each night.

Dinner will include: appetizers, a first course of pasta, a second course of meat with vegetables, dessert, bread, water, wine, finished off with an italian Moka caffè.

The dishes are planned according to the season and availability of products in the market, but they will be strictly homemade according to authentic Tuscan traditions.

Dinner will start at 8 pm.

Location details will be sent to you upon booking.

BOOK NOW BUTTON



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We’re back! Dinner on 20-21 May!

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Dinner at Cinzia's house in Florence


Hello Cucina Cinzia diners!  Eccoci!!

As many of you know, we have stopped doing regular Cucina Cinzia dinners, but we had said to a number of you that we would eventually do some special seasonal dinners.  Our collective mojo made a reappearance and so we are planning to host two dinners the weekend of May 20/21st!  We would be delighted for you to join us and we are planning something very special.

Aperitivo and antipasto will be decided at the last minute, depending on what looks good at the Mercato delle Cure the week before, but is likely to include Cinzia’s famous fried sage leaves.  For the primo we are planning an unusual lasagne, made with carrots and gorgonzola.  And for the main, Stracceti di maiale con rucola e balsamico, a pork dish with rocket and balsamic vinegar.  Dessert, again, will depend on the market.  The price will be £35 pp and please bring your own wine.  Hopefully the weather will cooperate and we can start the evening out in the garden!

Meanwhile, we are looking forward to some travel down to Tuscany in April, (and wishing we were down there right now for the marzolino cheese season!).  We look forward to seeing some of our familiar faces and also some new diners in May!  Please get in touch on info@cucinacinzia.com if you have questions, and bookings can be made on Eventbrite by clicking here.  (Please note that we are not planning to offer alternative menus in May.)

The Last Supper

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Last weekend we held the last, and quite possibly the best, Cucina Cinzia suppers.  All the stars were aligned.  The menu was original, authentic, and exquisite (if I say so myself).  The diners were charming and delightful (as usual).  Cinzia and I were in high spirits, putting out of our heads the fact that this might be the last of our suppers.

So if we love it so much, why stop?  Well, we may still do them from time to time, once a season, or on the side when Cinzia is coming to London for something else.  In fact, if you would like to invite Cinzia to cook, to cater a party or to organize a cooking lesson for you and a group of friends, should would be more than delighted.  And we’d probably do a supper on the following night.  Cinzia was quite happy to keep going despite the travel and having to be away from her family.  She found in the supperclubs something that she doesn’t always get back home – a houseful of strangers and friends, people enjoying discovering her special gifts and family recipes, an outlet for her passion for cooking authentic Tuscan food.  I was the one getting bogged down.  Not by the suppers, but by the rest of my life.  My two kids, my husband, my dayjob – a new business that needs my full attention at the moment in order to be successful.  I was running low on bandwidth and I’ve had to pare things down a bit.  I love the suppers, but now I will have more time to go as a client, rather than running ours.  Any of our former diners reading this, let me know if you need a supperclub buddy as I would love to try out more of them and now I’ll have a little more time and foodie energy.  The final thing was that part of the joy of the supperclub is the spontaneity of it.  As ours was getting more mature, it was feeling more and more to me like a business (albeit a not-very-profitable one!) and less like a culinary jam session.  So, we move on from here.

But first, let me bask in the moment of our  last regularly scheduled dinner.  It was awesome was it not?   We had our signature fried sage leaves.  It’s just flour, water, salt and sage.  But… wow.  Then we had crostinis – crostini toscani as usual, but also some cavolo nero (black cabbage) crostini.   These are what Tuscan food is all about.  Just boiled/steamed black cabbage, toasted bread rounds, rubbed with garlic, soaked with a bit of the cabbage water, piled high with cavolo nero and dressed with a wonderful green olive oil from Marcello Paoli.  After that, we had our primo, which was for this particular supper the main dish.  Polenta from the Molino Grifoni, stone ground just a few days before.  “What’s in it?” asked the diners!  “Nothing but corn,” I responded.  Corn, with all of its oils, zero processing, fresh off the stone presses just above Florence.  It was creamy, light, in fact, I’m eating some it as leftovers right now!  The fab polenta was topped with a sauce of wild boar.

Sugo al cinghiale (Wild Boar Sauce)

Take 1 wild boar from your local huntsman (5 kg or so of it, cut into pieces).   Add red wine and juniper berries, carrot, celery, onion and bay leaf.  Marinate for three days.  Take out the boar.  Stick it in a pot with some bay leaf and slow cook for a day or two.  Voila!  Boar sauce!

It seems like it has special spices, maybe some tomato or oil or… something.  But it’s just boar.  In this case, a particularly good boar.  Not a gamey or stringy one, this must have been a beautiful young one.  It was delicious and I think you’d be hard pressed to find anything like it on any menu in London.

Since the primo was pretty substantial, we had a cheese plate for the secondo.  We had a young pecorino (ewe’s) cheese and a more mature pecorino.  We served these with a selection of jams that Cinzia had made – spicey onion, sweet chili, red pepper, and my personal favorite miele di castagno – bitter chestnut honey.  Along with that we served zucchini al funghetto, or roughly translated, courgettes made like mushrooms.  They are cooked with oil, garlic and nipitella, an wild herb (kind of a minty thyme) that grows alongside porcini mushrooms.  The classic porcini dish is with this herb – which is not sold but given away or foraged with the porcinis.  Once the porcini season is over, the herb is used with courgettes and recalls the porcini dishes.

DSC00184

We wrapped up the meal with our espresso mousse, and vin santo, followed by tiny ristretto coffees..  Then we hung out chatting, getting to know one another, enjoying the company around the table, thankful for a warm spot, new interesting friends, and a full belly.  And thankful for Cinzia for bringing it all to London.




Do check back with us as we may have further dinners from time to time – which we will advertise mainly through a direct email to people on our list!  If you would like to be added, drop an email to info@cucinacinzia.com.  If you dined with us, we’d love to get your comments on our guestbook!  Thanks to all of our diners for making it the wonderful year that it was!

Un bacio,

Jill & Cinzia