The bone-chilling Tuscan Winter doesn’t only strengthen our vineyards: it also livens our appetites! Our region is renowned for its culinary specialties, which masterfully combine simplicity, seasonal ingredients and unique gusto. Staples of the wintertime table are olive oil, wine, bread and tons of healthy cooked winter vegetables like cabbages and root vegetables. While for some, this peculiar cuisine is an acquired taste, for others it’s love at first bite. Here is a list of easy to make Tuscan Winter dishes that we recommend to warm your palate and boost your energy levels as you venture through the many local attractions our region has to offer. Buon appetito!
The absolute queen of winter soups, Ribollita is healthy, filling and incredibly tasty. The ideal power food during the harsh Tuscan cold spells, it was first documented at the beginning of the 1900s, although its origins are said to date back to the Middle Ages. The name literally means “reboiled”, because of the widespread peasant tradition to make the most of the week’s leftover vegetables. Although the recipe has many variants, the main ingredients always include hardened bread, cannellini beans, cabbage, kale and onion. Stir in a hearty dose of extra virgin olive oil and if you want to make it extra savory add a piece of parmesan rind during the cooking. See the classic recipe by Giulia of Juls Kitchen here, or try this gourmet rivisitation by Dievole’s chef, who made ribollita macarons – yum!
Pappa al Pomodoro
Pappa al Pomodoro, the thick Tuscan bread soup, is an all-time favorite, and – unlike panzanella – can be served year round as long as you have preserved your tomatoes at the end of the summer. Prepared with fresh tomatoes, leftover bread, garlic, basil and olive oil, this well-known “tomato mush” is traditionally linked to the province of Siena, although it can be found in restaurants and eateries all over the region. It also has its very own song: “Viva la Pappa col Pomodoro” sung in 1963 by famed showgirl Rita Pavone and composed by legendary composer Nino Rota (who penned film scores for Fellini, Zeffirelli and “The Godfather” trilogy). Its warm yet fresh tomato flavor is a perfect match with olive oil and lush red wine.
This tasty onion soup actually is the ancestor of the famed Parisian onion potage that was brought by Caterina de’ Medici to the French king’s court in the 16th century. They also say that this warm first course was one of Leonardo Da Vinci’s favorite dishes! Its sweet-and-sour flavor stands on the cusp between modern culinary research and Renaissance tradition, where cinnamon, almonds and sweet spices were used on a daily basis in the kitchen. There are many contemporary variants, but the addition of a slice of toasted bread is a timeless must, together with a drizzle of zesty extra virgin olive oil and a glass of Chianti to wash it down.
A classic Tuscan variant of ravioli, gnudi actually means “naked” because of the absence of the typical home-made pasta sheath. Hailing from the rich gastronomical areas of Siena and Grosseto, this flavour-packed recipe is quite simple and involves spinach, ricotta cheese, eggs, flour, parmesan and a dash of salt, pepper and nutmeg. Also known as “malfatti” (which literally translates into “badly made”) because of their irregular, lumpy shape, consistency is key and topping it with the best quality Extra virgin olive oil is of crucial importance.
According to some, the chestnut-based sweet called Castagnaccio goes back to the ancient Romans who prepared it as a nifty travel snack, but what we know for sure is that it has been a widespread poor man’s recipe in Tuscany ever since the 1500s. A cross between bread and unleavened cake, Castagnaccio is usually prepared in the months of November and December and is quite easy to make: raisins, pine nuts, salt, walnuts, rosemary, olive oil and, naturally, chestnut flour – which is harvested in Tuscany and was used in times of war as a substitute for grains. Because of its dense consistency and somewhat oily, bitter-sweet taste, it is usually served with a nice glass of red wine to wash everything down. Here’s the classic recipe from Giulia of Juls Kitchen.
Risotto with seasonal vegetables
Any kind of risotto will warm you to the bottom of your heart in the wintertime, and while rice isn’t a staple of Tuscan cuisine, we do eat risotto quite frequently since it’s an easy dish to make. Winter squashes of any type make a great base for risotto – just cook it up in the bottom of the pot with a bit of water or broth, and if you wish, a sprig of rosemary to cut the sweetness. Then add your rice and toast it, and cook it with vegetable broth. Here’s a video recipe that our chef Monika made years ago in our old kitchen – the kitchen is long gone but the recipe is still one that our staff makes at home (it’s that easy!). Another easy winter variant uses kale (cavolo nero) – just blanch it in boiling water, chop it and make the risotto with it.