Florence, Italy: Meeting the Legendary Pasqualina (and RECIPES from the Ideal Tuscan Mamma)
Cinghiale in Umido
Pasqualina & Mauro (with me in the middle)
Intrigue and betrayal in Renaissance Florence
Pasta con Ragu di Cinghiale
Reincarnation, 16th c Lisbon, and an alien unite to create a unique and compelling tale
Pasqualina's Easy Tiramisu
Sophisticated vampires vie for power in this exciting story
Pretty Zucchini Flower
Toni and I in the Olive Grove
Generous Parting Gifts
My expectations were exceeded...
I had heard about Pasqualina from my friend Toni, who described her as the ideal Tuscan mamma (domestic diva and cook extraordinaire). Naturally, I really wanted to meet her and taste her famous cooking, of course. Toni arranged for my husband and I to meet Pasqualina, who graciously offered us lunch (and what a memorable lunch it was).
Pasqualina's husband, Mauro, is a hunter and had recently caught a wild boar. Since this is one of our favorite meats in Tuscany, we were thrilled. Wild boar lives in the forest and has an organic diet (including various fungi and even truffles!). The meat is much more flavorful and earthy than regular domestic pork.
It was a beautiful sunny day as we drove out of Florence's crowded city center and into the surrounding green hills. The fresh, crisp air only served to heighten our appetites. We were greeted warmly and treated with the fine hospitality that is so prevalent in the countryside. From the moment I entered Mauro and Pasqualina's immaculate home, I was aware of the mouth-watering aroma of wild boar stew emanating from the kitchen. I also noticed a collection of various horns and antlers decorating the mantle of their fireplace. Mauro proudly announced that they came from various animals he had hunted in the past (and eaten, of course). They were a friendly couple with a good sense of humor and I could see where Gionni and his brother, Jacopo, got their simpatico personalities from (by the way, ladies, Jacopo is single- but with Pasqualina as a mother-in-law you risk losing your figure. Brava, Toni, for hanging on to yours against all odds!).
OK, back to the food...in addition to artisan finocchiona (fennel salami) and prosciutto made by the local butcher, there were two types of crostini: (1) salsiccia (Italian sausage) squeezed out of its casing and mixed with stracchino cheese, spread on sliced rustic bread and then toasted in the oven (yummy) and (2) mascarpone cheese (homemade) mixed with anchovy paste, spread on sliced rustic bread and topped with a walnut half. Delicious.
First course: Ragu di Cinghiale (wild boar ragu) served with fresh, hot chiocciola pasta (shaped like a snail shell). Very hearty and tasty. To get rid of some of the gaminess, Pasqualina adds a lemon rind to the pot as the ragu is simmering.
Second Course: Cinghiale in Umido (wild boar stew). This was by far the best wild boar stew my husband and I had ever tasted. It was rich in flavor, aromatic and oh, so tender. Since the chunks of meat are bigger, a little lemon rind isn't enough to remove the gaminess as is the case with the ragu- although she did add some, and the result was a delicate lemon flavor that lingers on the palate. To make this stew, you need to prepare the meat the day before by doing the following: (1) in the morning, cut the meat into pieces and wash well. (2) place meat in a bowl, cover with vinegar, place in fridge and let it sit all day long. This removes most of the wild, gamey flavor. (3) at night, dump the vinegar, rinse the meat thoroughly and place it back into the bowl. Cover with milk and let it sit in the fridge overnight. The milk tenderizes the meat. On the morning of the second day, remove the milk, wash meat and pat dry. Brown meat in oil and then make your stew base (onion, garlic, parsley, bay leaf, red wine, etc). Simmer on low for a few hours until liquid is reduced to a nice thick sauce and the meat is tender.
When Pasqualina placed the wild boar stew on the table, she motioned to the old, chipped crockery that she cooked it in and smiled apologetically. Mauro explained that the piece is actually a family heirloom that belonged to her great-grandmother and it has been passed down to the women in her family. Traditionally, it is always used to cook selvaggina (wild game) and that's why it always comes out so delicious. Hmmm...I wonder where I can get one!
All of this amazing food was washed down with very good wines- a Nero d'Avola riserva from Sicily and a Sangiovese riserva from the Chianti Rufina. Elixir of the gods.
For dessert, we had homemade Tiramisu made with that amazing homemade mascarpone and fresh eggs from their own organically fed hens (does food get any better than this???) Here is the recipe for this delicious dessert:
PASQUALINA'S EASY TIRAMISU
(please keep in mind that she made enough for at least 12 people with this recipe-unless you plan to make it on Thanksgiving or Christmas, you may want to reduce it to 1/2 or 1/3)
500 grams mascarpone cheese
5 eggs- as fresh as you can get them (like at a farmer's market)
10 heaping T sugar
Pavesini biscotti (like Lady Fingers)
make a pot of espresso coffee and set aside
1. Separate yolks and whites into different bowls.
2. Mix sugar and egg yolks until smooth. Mix in mascarpone. Set aside.
3. Whip egg whites into stiff peaks and gently fold into egg yolks-do not over mix.
4. Line the bottom of a large pyrex with biscotti, dipping them into the espresso first.
5. Layer some of the mascarpone/egg mixture.
6. Repeat a few times to make a few layers.
7. Grate some chocolate or sprinkle with cocoa on top if desired.
The day could have just ended right there and I'd be happy. Instead, we were in for a big treat- Pasqualina and Mauro's son, Gionni, took us to his family's terreno (piece of land) where they have their garden.
We parked across a rural field and walked along a dirt road through olive groves and stone fences. Blessed silence and beautiful, green Nature was all around us. When we arrived at their property, I saw a big, fenced off space that housed chickens and guinea fowls (I can imagine what Pasqualina can do with one of those! YUM!) I was surprised to see such a large variety of things growing (organically, of course) like zucchini, different types of tomatoes, black kale, grapes, apples, cauliflowers, leeks and more! They even had one of my very favorite vegetables- pumpkins (Hmm, I wonder if Pasqualina makes homemade pumpkin filled raviolli- if you haven't tried it, then do!). Their terreno was quite large and had a lovely stream running through it. We collected several kilos of chestnuts and nibbled on various fruits and veggies- they all tasted so good. Much better than what we buy at the supermarket.
Of course, we did not come home empty-handed. Our hosts were beyond generous and gave us armfuls of gifts, including porcini mushrooms, some of the ragu and stew, veggies and lots of chestnuts (some of which I am boiling today to make chestnut cream and the rest will be roasted- and we will remember to slit their skins so they don't explode in our oven).
I only wish that I could offer everyone a perfect day in Tuscany like the one we had: great friends, warm hospitality, amazing food, beautiful Nature and lots of happiness. Thank you for reading!
C. De Melo
Author & Artist