Summer 2014 (Vol. 2)

Slow Food Under the Tuscan Sun

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Slow Food Under the Tuscan Sun

ARTICLE & PHOTOS BY Natalia Torres | SUMMER ISSUE 2014

Culinarian writer Natalia Torres takes a food-centric trip to Tuscany, one that changes both the way she thinks and cooks. Read on for an account of a magical day of cooking in an ancient villa, and a recipe that brings a sweet Italian classic to your kitchen.

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For me, the idea of Tuscan cuisine evoked vague images of dishes with roasted tomatoes, spreading Burrata cheese, well-toasted bread, and copious amounts of olive oil. Yet this doesn’t even begin to capture the experience I had when I visited.

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As I found out in my preparations for the trip, Tuscany is at the heart of an international movement known as Slow Food, an organization whose aim it is to defend the regional traditions of food and drink by supporting local artisans and farmers. At its core is the recognition of food as a unifying force in politics, the environment, culture, and society.

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And after that, I began looking up cooking classes that would give me a view into this movement and the depth of Tuscan cuisine. Half-way through our stay in Tuscany, we arrived at the one-street villa of Manuela (the chef) and Silvio (the translator). Their centuries-old villa overlooked the Tuscan region of Chianti, and dinner was romantically served in the villa’s tower, facing the tangerine-colored sunset.
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That night, our original plans of making fresh lasagna and risotto spontaneously expanded to include ricotta-filled ravioli and fettuccini.

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The fettuccini was mostly an excuse to teach us how to make pesto: blend basil, parmesan cheese, and pine nuts through a food processor while adding heaps of olive oil.

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‘Is there enough oil in the bowl?’ We kept wondering.

“There is never too much oil,” Manuela said, as she poured another third of the bottle into the bowl.

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After all these savory experiments, we ended the night with torta di mele, the perfect sort of cake to have for breakfast with a cup of coffee.

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There’s no denying that the Tuscan countryside is beautiful: the medieval towns with their winding pebbled streets, the succession of small churches and sanctuaries, and being constantly surrounded by vineyards—all are reason enough to make this a wonderful trip. But experiencing a place through its cuisine…I think this is the type of interaction the Slow Food movement advocates; taking the time to learn about culinary traditions abroad and at home, tasting to engage with a culture, and enjoying just how wonderfully deliciously fulfilling a day-to-day task can be.

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Torta di Mele: Italian apple cake

Enjoy for dessert or breakfast! Play around by substituting the apples for any other fruit or nut—I’ve been thinking about  figs and walnuts. Serves 10-12

Ingredients:

5 apples

1 lemon, juiced

1 vanilla pod, seeds scraped (if unavailable, substitute a few drops of vanilla extract)

5 eggs

2.5 cups plain flour

2/3 cups melted, unsalted butter

¾ cup plus 3 tablespoons caster sugar (Substitute plain sugar and grind in food processor until a fine texture is achieved)

½ cup pine nuts, toasted

1teaspoon baking powder

Preparation:

  1. Preheat the oven to 340° Place butter in ovenproof pot into oven, checking frequently to make sure it doesn’t burn.
  2. Meanwhile, place the pine nuts into a nonstick pan at medium heat toast until nuts brown and release oils.
  3. Peel the apples and dice finely. Add the lemon juice and 3 tablespoons of sugar, mix and set aside.
  4. Beat eggs and remaining sugar in a large bowl. Add the melted butter, vanilla, flour, and baking powder. Mix well, then add the apples and combine.
  5. Take a 23 centimeter diameter springform cake pan and line with parchment paper.
  6. Pour the mixture into the pan and sprinkle with toasted pine nuts. Bake for 40 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.
  7. Leave cake to cool completely. Serve plain or with whipped cream, custard, or vanilla ice cream.

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