Dinner

Dinner

By
Katie & Giancarlo Caldesi
Contains
38 recipes
Published by
Hardie Grant Books
ISBN
9781784881191
Photographer
Helen Cathcart

La cena is eaten at home or out at a restaurant. It is usually a lighter and quieter affair during the week and builds up to a family- or friend-filled feast at the weekend. Here we have included recipes that take a little longer to prepare for family suppers, entertaining and weekend eating. Dinner begins with primi, meaning ‘first’, which consists of soup, a light starter, pasta or gnocchi. Secondi follows, with meat, fish or vegetarian main courses, all served with vegetables or salad, contorni.

Soups & starters

La cucina povera, ‘the poor kitchen’ diet, prevailed among the rural population for centuries and made good use of food leftovers, with ribollita (‘re-boiled’) featuring prominently. This variety of Tuscan soup with peasant origins was made by re-boiling vegetables left over from the previous day, and dates back to the Middle Ages, when servants gathered up food such as soaked bread trenchers from the banquets of their feudal masters and re-boiled them for their own dinners.

A zuppa (from inzuppare, meaning ‘to soak’) is a soup usually served over bread. A minestra is made from vegetables, and could be thin or thickened with potato. Bean soups are ubiquitous, and the Florentines in particular were always known as the mangiafagioli (‘beaneaters’). A crema is a soup that has been passed through a food mill to make it creamy and smooth.

Our best-selling primo at our restaurant Caldesi in Campagna is the torta di grana, a wonderfully light cheese tart. It is similar to the sformati (‘moulds’) that are served either as primi or contorni with main courses. The Cibreo (braised chicken livers) dates back to the time of Catherine de’ Medici and is said to have been one of her favourite dishes.

Pasta & gnocchi

Just over the border into Lazio is the small town of Cerveteri where there are a collection of Etruscan tombs. Far from a dry and dull museum, the Italians have turned these tombs into a piece of theatre as they immerse you in a recreation of Etruscan life. It is brilliant and well worth a visit. It is here that you can see a relief sculpture of what seems to be early pasta making. The carving shows figures mixing flour and water next to a rolling pin and a cutting machine. The Etruscans created pici, a hand-rolled pasta still massively popular today.

We watched Vincenzo Longhitano make tortelli (pasta parcels) in the Tuscan way as he has done for 40 years. He runs the tiny trattoria in Roccatederighi in the Grosseto area. He makes his pasta fresh every day for his customers as otherwise he feels it loses its flavour and texture. He seals the tortelli with a fork so that the grooves catch the sugo (sauce). Then he cuts tagliatelle (ribbons) with a knife to show it is made by hand and not by a machine. Finally, any off-cuts are made into maltagliati (misshapen pieces). Nothing is wasted.

Pasta and gnocchi are economical to make and actually not that difficult. Over the years, Giancarlo and I have taught hundreds of people to make them in our cookery school. If you have a small pasta machine you can make and cook pasta from start to finish in 30 minutes. Stuffed pasta takes a little longer, but in this chapter we show you how to make it.

As for the sauces, always have them hot and ready in a frying pan waiting for the pasta and not the other way around. If they are too dense, let them down with a little hot pasta water, or stock if you have it. Drain the pasta when it is just al dente (firm to the bite) and let it finish cooking in the sauce.

Secondi

Secondi, the ‘second course’, is usually a form of protein in an Italian meal and follows a starter, or primo, of a soup or pasta. Inland Tuscany secondi is likely to be meat, with fish more popular on the coast. We love to tour Tuscan markets and collect ideas from the stalls. The butchers are the most interesting to me as it seems they just can’t leave a piece of meat alone. Neatly tied packages of stuffed tenderloins, turkey rolls filled with cheese, joints ready for the oven tied with rosemary, and rolled and filled rabbit are crammed into chilled cabinets. There are vegetarian offerings like spinach patties and stuffed vegetables available too, showing the rising trend in non-meat-eaters. We have chosen a range of secondi for this chapter, from the ancient peposo to personal favourites such as the Rabbit in White Wine, and our own invention of the porcini loaf, inspired by those market stalls.

Featured Recipes in this Chapter

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