Sunday, September 27, 2009

Going Native (Without Being One)

Peter Mayle single-handedly made Provence a Must Destination. Since that time, others have clearly thought, "I could do that for Tuscany!" hence a spate of books from people who decided to move there, the diffeences in life, etc.

In "Alvaro's Mamma Toscana - The Authentic Tuscan Cookbook by chef Alvaro Maccioni (Pavillion, 224 pages, $24.95) we have the reverse. Maccioni IS a native, telling us about his country.

I found his comments more interesting than his recipes which run strongly toward peasant thrift -- bread salads, bread used as a thickener, lots of pasta and rice dishes.

On Soup: It's a way of life there. He tells us that dinner is almost always soup followed by the leftovers from lunch re-fashioned. But be warned, "soup" doesn't always mean what we're used to eating. The British trifle is called "English Soup."

Celery: Italians tend not to eat raw celery and if you try to sell them some wihtout any leaves, "they will think you are a mad person." Celery leaves are often used as a seasoning.

Poultry and Game: The Tuscan people are famous game hunters; unfortunately this includes hunting song birds. Maccioni says, "That's why it's very rare to hear a bird singing in Tuscany." Historically, chicken was a dish for the rich who were served the breast and legs, the rest was diced up for the servants.

Lamb: It's cooked very young-- three or four days old. "Lamb" means a lamb which has only fed on its mother's milk. Once on grass? Mutton!

Rice: They tend to associate it with desserts more than with main courses. Rice pudding with lemon and cinnamon is served with one's morning coffee.

Visiting: Tuscans don't say, "When are you coming to visit?" Instead they say, "When are you coming to eat the clams?" or whatever seasonal food it might be.

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