Posted in Lifestyle, Recipes, The Foods of Italy

Mother’s Day with the Medici

caterina de mediciCelebrate Mother’s Day with a Medici feast for a taste of the Italian Renaissance. Follow the traditions of the Renaissance tables of the Medici who introduced the concept of the well laid table to the people of Florence. Dinner with the Medici would be served in several courses and include roasted meats of game or fowl like capon, pigeon or peacock. Pine nuts and raisins were common in Italian Renaissance cooking and were used in both sweet and savory dishes. Tarts, custards and puddings made with cherries sweetened with wine were popular. There would be no tomatoes, peppers, kidney beans, turkey or potatoes! These ingredients native to the Americas were not yet known in Europe.
The Medici’s epicurean tastes were transferred to France when Catherine de’ Medici wed King Henry II, bringing with her Italian cooks, recipes and the fork! Her influence reputedly reformed the antique style of French medieval cooking and gave rise to the science and art of cooking practiced today. Here is a recipe for a historically delicious salad written of in history books as Catherine de’ Medici’s favorite salad.
Insalata di Caterina
Wash and dry well a variety of mixed salad greens and place in a large wooden bowl. Toss with a few pieces of Pecorino Toscano (a soft sheep’s milk cheese), anchovy fillets packed in oil and a few capers. Make a dressing using the best Italian extra virgin olive oil you can find, red wine vinegar, coarse ground salt and pepper. Garnish with wedges of hard-boiled egg,

 

 

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Posted in The Foods of Italy, Travel

Maturus, Fucus, Siccatus, Sauvis and Rubens

Maturus, Fucus, Siccatus, Sauvis and Rubens? At first you might think these are names of Senators from the time of the Roman Empire but rather than conveying the power and prestige of the Roman Senate these names refer to an illustrious group of cheeses from Pienza, an ancient Renaissance city a few miles from the wines of Montepulciano. Pienza is the capital of Tuscan pecorino, a sheep’s milk cheese (cacio di pecorino) that is one of the most prized and favored cheeses of the Val d’Orcia. Known for its inviting and mild flavor, even when aged, Pecorino Toscano is the Tuscan relative of the more well-known Romano which because of its stronger flavor is preferred for some pasta dishes with highly flavored sauces.

Both are sheep’s milk cheeses (pecora means sheep in Italian) and both have PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) status but the similarity stops there. Pecorino Toscano thrives under the Tuscan sun surrounded and influenced by vineyards, olive orchards and the clay soil of the Crete Senesi.  The characteristic flavors and aromas of the grass, herbs and wildflowers (wormwood, meadow salsify, juniper, broom, burnet) on which the sheep graze create a taste of Tuscany that is incomparable.

You can taste some of the best pecorino cheeses in Tuscany at Zazzeri, one of my favorite cheese shops in Pienza, where Maturus, Fucus, Siccatus, Sauvis and Rubens debate the best wine and honey pairings and whether apples or pears are to be chosen as an accompaniment. Walnut leaf wrapped or anointed with Tuscan olive oil, seasoned on wooden tables and displayed like a still-life from the Renaissance, these cheeses of Pienza were favored by Lorenzo the Magnificent and remain an evocative taste of Tuscany.