TO celebrate the launch of their latest cookbook, husband and wife team Katie and Giancarlo Caldesi share some of their Tuscan cuisine secrets.
Giancarlo Caldesi is all about detail, and all about cooking with emotion.
The Tuscan-born chef and his wife Katie, a cookery writer and former artist met in 1997. Two decades on, they have two sons, two restaurants, La Cucina Caldesi and Caffe Caldesi, and their own Italian cookery school.
But today, they are buzzing around their slick teaching kitchen, demonstrating how to make a whole menu’s worth of dishes from their latest cookbook, Tuscany. It is their fifth book in a series that each take one Italian region as their focus; they’ve already covered the Amalfi Coast, Venice, Rome and Sicily.
Homegrown vegetables are key in traditional Tuscan cuisine.
Giancarlo was born and raised in Montepulciano Stazione, near the Umbrian border.
“They only ate organic, seasonal, fresh, homegrown food,” Katie says, describing her husband’s childhood. “Giancarlo’s mother would cook in a cauldron over a fire – we still have it, we serve pasta in it at parties – and then the outdoor oven for baking would only be fuelled every 10-14 days, and the whole village would come and help.” It sounds idyllic, but it was a way of living dictated by poverty, combined with the tradition of eating what you’ve grown yourself.
Don’t be afraid to combine savoury with sweet.
For example Katie’s sweet Swiss chard tart – yes, a greens stuffed dessert. “It’s a traditional recipe from Lucca,” she says, explaining how post-war poverty led to people bulking out dishes, savoury and sweet, with vegetables that were more readily available.
Italian cooking takes time, patience and care
“In Italy there is a feeling to the food – you can tell if an Italian chef made it or not, ” Giancarlo explains.
Taking the right amount of time over food – whether it’s a joint of meat or a simple pasta sauce – is important too he explains, and rushing is not the done thing in Italy. “You cannot be English in Italy, you must go with the flow. If you can’t embrace the culture,” he adds thoughtfully, “you can’t embrace the food.”
Here are a few recipes from their book to try at home.
PORK TENDERLOIN WITH FLAVIO’S TUSCAN ‘DUST’
A smart and straightforward week-night supper option.
“This is our speedy version of an arista, an ancient dish made from loin of pork roast with rosemary and garlic,” the chefs explain. “Our son Flavio makes a Tuscan rub or ‘dust’ that can be used on potatoes, chicken or meat dishes such as this.
“The quantities given here make more rub than you need for this dish, but it will keep in the cupboard for as long as other dried herbs. The rub can also be made with fennel seeds, which Giancarlo loves but Flavio doesn’t – the choice is yours.”
1 x 600g pork tenderloin
1/2tsp fine sea salt
1/4tsp freshly ground black pepper
1tbsp chicken fat or extra-virgin olive oil
For the dust:
2tsp dried or Fresh rosemary needles
1tsp dried sage or 3 large fresh sage leaves
1tsp fennel seeds, crushed (optional)
1. Start by making the dust. If you are using dried herbs, crush them with the seeds (if using) with a pestle and mortar or a spice grinder. If using fresh herbs, finely chop them together with the seeds (if using) on a board with a sharp knife.
2. Evenly sprinkle one tablespoon of dust on the tenderloin over a piece of baking parchment with the salt and pepper. Trim away any tough silver skin from the tenderloin and roll it in the dust on the paper. Roll up the loin in the parchment, place it on a plate and set aside in the fridge for at least 30 minutes (or up to eight hours).
3. Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F/Gas 4). Remove the pork from the fridge and allow it to come to room temperature. Heat the chicken fat or oil in a large non-stick frying pan and, when hot, add the pork and brown it all over to seal in the juices.
4. Transfer to a roasting tin and cook in the oven for 12-15 minutes or until it is firm to the touch. Remove from the oven and set aside, covered in foil and a tea towel to rest for 10 minutes. Cut into roughly 1cm-thick slices and arrange on top of warm lentils, with any cooking juices poured over the meat.
SWEET SWISS CHARD TART
A sweet but savoury tart that will surprise you.
“Long before anyone put beetroot (beets) into a chocolate cake and claimed vegetables in puddings a modern invention, the Lucchese were putting Swiss chard in a sweet tart of crumbly pasta frolla (shortcrust pastry) filled with ricotta, dried fruit and nuts, sugar and lemons,” explain the Caldesi couple in their new book, Tuscany. They learnt to make it at the home of a local, Franca Buonamici, the way it was traditionally made in Lucca.
“Franca told me that after World War II, there was great poverty in the area and this tart was only made for a treat once in a while. The contadini (peasant farmers) had a lot of vegetables to hand, which were used to pad out dolci such as this. Pine nuts and raisins were used sparingly as they were expensive.
“Once a week, her family would light the big outdoor oven and make this tart, bake bread and cook other dishes from the neighbours. She told me it was a wonderful time – a party when everyone came together and enjoyed a once-a-week ‘bake off’ in the 1950s.”
For the pastry:
200g ’00’ flour
200g chilled butter, cubed
100g caster (superfine) sugar
1 level tsp baking powder
Finely grated zest of 1/2 lemon
For the filling:
50g walnuts, roughly chopped
50g pine nuts
600g Swiss chard leaves and thin, tender stalks, or 300g spinach leaves and tender stalks, roughly chopped
Pinch of salt
10g salted or unsalted butter, cubed
500g ricotta, drained
75g caster sugar
1tsp ground cinnamon (optional)
Finely grated zest of 1/2 lemon
Ice cream, cream or custard, to serve
1. To make the pastry, put the flour and butter in a bowl and rub the butter into the flour with your fingertips until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add the egg and the remaining ingredients and mix again to blend (make the pastry in a food processor if you prefer). Form the pastry into a ball, wrap it in cling film (plastic wrap) and leave it to rest in the fridge for one hour.
2. Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F/Gas 4) and line a 24 x 3cm tart tin with baking parchment so that it protrudes above the edge of the dish by 2cm.
3. To make the filling, put the walnuts and pine nuts in a roasting tray and toast them in the oven for five minutes. Remove and set aside to cool.
4. Put the Swiss chard or spinach leaves in a pan with a little water, the salt and butter, cover and cook until soft and tender (Swiss chard will take longer than spinach). Once soft, drain and leave until cool enough to handle. Squeeze the leaves really well between your hands to rid them of excess water. Put the leaves on a board and chop them finely with a sharp knife. When cool, mix them in a bowl with the remaining ingredients. Taste and adjust the flavour with more cinnamon (if using) or lemon zest as necessary.
5. Remove the pastry from the fridge, unwrap it, roll it out to a thickness of around 5mm and use it to line the tart tin. Prick the base of the pastry with a fork and spoon in the filling mixture, smoothing the surface with a fork or palette knife. Trim away the excess pastry. Roll out the leftovers and cut strips about 1cm wide with a pastry wheel cutter or a knife. Create a lattice pattern on the top of the tart with the strips. Bake for around 45 minutes or until lightly browned.
6. Remove the tart from the oven and leave it to cool in the tin, then serve with ice cream, cream or saffron custard.
COFFEE AND RICOTTA SHOTS
Sweet, simple and small equals the perfect dessert.
This “is an old way of eating ricotta in Tuscany as a breakfast or merenda (an afternoon snack)”, explains chef and cookery school owner, Katie. “It is simple and effective as well as light to eat and not too sweet. I like to serve this in shot glasses for breakfast or after dinner.”
So no need to make a fancy pudding next time you have guests, just whip this up.
(Serves 4-6 people)
250g ricotta, drained
4tbsp cold espresso
3tsp caster sugar (superfine), plus more to taste
20g dark chocolate (minimum 70% cocoa solids)
1. Whisk the ricotta in a bowl with the coffee, sugar and the Cognac. Taste and adjust the sweetness as necessary, adding more sugar if you wish.
2. Spoon into small glasses, taking care not to splash it onto the sides of the glass. Use a sharp knife to shave curls of chocolate and scatter them over the top.
3. Keep them in the fridge for up to one day until you are ready to eat them. Serve chilled.
Tuscany: Simple Meals And Fabulous Feasts From Italy by Katie and Giancarlo Caldesi is published by Hardie Grant Books, priced £36. Available now.
Source : BournemouthEcho