History of Tuscany Cooking Part 1: From the Roots to the Oil

The Florentine culinary traditions surpass ephemeral fashions, unscathed by trends and fads. The roots of Florentine cuisine are ingrained in the beautiful countryside, where the simple ingredients have been the basis of our recipes since the beginning of time. The history is a fascinating explanation of the Florentine culture, as in the words of philosopher Feuerbach ” We are what we eat.”

So, what are the traditional recipes? Immediately we think of ribollita, or the lamprey, or for the more experienced, the cibreo, fricassee, castagnaccio, migliaccino, panzanella, and cod. In short, the usual list that you expect when it comes to the flavors of Florence.

Yet if you look closely at every food, you cannot miss a single commonality: cucina povera; food of poor origins, born in the country, made of scraps, and very little foreign influence with the exception of the Habsburg legacy. We might attribute stew with potatoes to the period when Austria took the throne of the Grand Duchy, and the dynasty of Habsburg-Lorraine infiltrated Florence. This was made without paprika because of the high cost of spices. We might also link Austria to the Florentine version of pâté, and who knows if Lorraine’s two centuries in Florence brought forth the very sweet “donuts” similar to Austrian donuts. Other characteristics are evident: frugality and nourishment. Florentines relied on the cultivation of vegetable crops, and due to their brief seasonality and the fact that the year could be cruel or lenient, they viewed each ingredient as a prized possession, creating infinite recipes with one vegetable and ways in which to make the meal as filling and wholesome as possible.

Let us now discuss the prince of Florentine cooking: extra virgin olive oil with its characteristic green note, due to the first pressing of the olives. The oil is the basis of all Mediterranean cuisine, and each region has its distinctive “golden green.” A Florentine and Tuscan dish without its flavorful oil is unthinkable. It did not take much to affect the olive harvest: a frost, a drought, or the olive fly. Another important characteristic of the extra virgin oil is its ability to store food. In the autumn months, Florentines rushed to pickle artichokes, whole olives, mushrooms of the Great Lawn, and preserved tomatoes. This way, they could enjoy the seasonal ingredients for many months, preserved as they were in earthenware jars whose internal glazing simultaneously allowed for ventilation and defense against pathogenic germs.

Fettunta :
The scent of the essential oils of garlic and oil on toasted bread makes fettunta the perfect snack for a trip to the country, an evening with friends, summer dinners, and winter feasts. Another version is with diced tomato and basil leaves. This version has become internationally known as bruschetta, but in Florence, we endearingly refer to it as fettunta; our go-to nutritious and inexpensive snack that anyone of any age or experience can quickly put together with a few fresh ingredients.

Translation by: Annalee Archie – Tavola del Mondo

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