How I Taught My Brother To Cook

Improvisational Tuscan-Provençal-Catalan Cookery (and other good stuff to eat)

Tuscan food has been around long enough in America now, so that most restaurant goers should have a fair idea of what it's all about. Once upon a time (since just about all Italian immigrants, including my grandfather, came from southern Italy) Italian food meant spaghetti, eggplant parm, pizza, clam sauce, garlic bread, and marinara. Still, there are precious few restaurants that I've seen that can truly be called "Tuscan" here in the States. There is "il Cantinori" in NY, and "Zuni Cafe" in SF. There's two! But when I ask just about anyone what the most classic dish of Tuscany is, they can't name it! It's this! A 3 inch porterhouse grilled on hot coals, with an aftersplash of salt.


So, last night I invited some folks over for dinner who said they wanted some Tuscan food (having read our book, and knowing that I like to cook). And here are the dishes I cooked. All Tuscan classics.

To start, we had a pureed orange, yellow, and red bell pepper "crema". Chopped peppers, potatoes, and onion are stewed in broth, run through a food mill, and doused with a dollop of basil, pepper, and some pecorino (pecorino BTW is the most famous cheese of Tuscany - not parmigiano, which is from Emilia-Romagna). There are no beans, tomatoes, or kale in this soup (which are the more well-known Tuscan soup ingredients). Though Tuscans are called the "bean-eaters" because of their dietary staple.


Next came gnocchi made with spinach. Coated with a brown butter sage "sauce". Made right, people call these "little pillows" because when you bite them, they're soft, light, and melt in your mouth.



Next, one of the most classic of Tuscan meat dishes (aside from chianina beef and chicken, most Tuscan meat dishes are actually made from game - hare, duck, etc.) "Duck (or "annatra") all'arrancia". Yes, that's right, duck a l'orange. They cook it in France I've heard, Laura ;-) But it comes from Tuscany. I used legs well browned and rendered of most of the fat, then braised in white wine, fresh orange juice, orange zest, bay, and thyme. The lightly steamed asparagus came with a sauce of pureed parsley, capers, anchovy, garlic, and olive oil.


And to "wash" it all down, some fresh, young, soft herbal pecorino cheese (made with sheep's milk) and slices of pear.

So, that's Tuscan cooking! Surprise you? I thought so.

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Tags: arrancia, duck, gnocchi, l'orange, orange, pepper, sauce, soup, spinach

Comment by Patrick on January 24, 2009 at 2:50pm
Unless one has eaten in the home of an Italian in Italy in a specific town within a region, one has no idea of the "authenticity" being served them in a restaurant here (or as a tourist at an Italian restaurant in Italy, for that matter) regardless of how the restaurant classifies their cuisine. As far as I am concerned, good food (for me) is only served at ones home or a very small family operated business where recipes are handed down from generation to generation.
Comment by Laura on January 27, 2009 at 11:54pm
Hum ! John ... the more I read your cooking stuff, the more I think we're not going to stay at Kyra & Brian's ... but at their neighbour ... LoL !
Kyra you have to learn from John, hurry up !
That right, we cook "le canard à l'orange" en France. Its very good.
Comment by John Barrows on January 28, 2009 at 7:53am
Kyra will be very jealous ........

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