Some Tuscan Classics: Ribollita, Tuscan Chicken Liver Crostini and Panzanella, all adapted from Saveur magazine.
No need to let a little thing like a so so book also bring down the cooking! Of course a novel set in Tuscany during the end of World War II is not going to be filled with food - people were suffering and there were food shortages. That said, the central feature of each of these three dishes was likely widely available - bread. Ribollita is the classic Tuscan soup which is both comforting and thrifty - it uses no meat, is thickened with bread, and is filled with hearty greens and white beans, the quintessential Tuscan ingredient. Now that I made this soup I will make it year round using the vegetables that are most in season. Here, I used locally grown chard and kale. This is stick to your ribs food that is also incredibly healthy. Chicken liver crostini is the most classic Tuscan crostini, and as a Jew I can't resist chicken livers, so I was excited to try a sightly gussied up version of my beloved chopped liver. It was yummy but I was surprised that I preferred the plainer Jewish version (which is really just chicken livers, tons of onions, and eggs, oh, and chicken fat of course!) Finally a simple panzanella salad - the recipe called for roasting the peppers, but I prefer fresh peppers in a panzanella. All three of these dishes were simple, beautiful (well maybe not the liver) and delicious.
1 loaf ciabatta bread, torn into pieces
6 ripe plum tomatoes
2 cloves garlic
4 tablespoons of vinegar
2 red peppers, chopped into large pieces
2 yellow peppers, cut into large pieces
1 tablespoon capers
1/4 cup black olives
1 cup fresh basil leaves
salt and pepper
- Put the torn bread pieces into a large bowl.
- Halve the tomatoes and seed them in a sieve over a bowl to catch the tomato water. Discard the seeds. Cut the tomato halves into smaller pieces and set aside.
- Combine the tomato water with the garlic, two tablespoons of vinegar, salt and pepper and 1/4 cup of olive oil.
- Toss this mixture with the bread.
- Add the chopped peppers, capers, anchovies, olives and basil. Toss with additional olive oil and vinegar.
- Either let sit for an hour for the flavors to mingle or serve immediately. The bread is purposefully soggy, but if you prefer a crisper bread, toast the pieces before you toss them in the dressing.
Ribollita (note you need to start this a day ahead)
1 lb dried white (cannellini) beans
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic
4-5 fresh sage leaves
4-5 whole black pepper corns
salt and freshly ground peppers.
- In a large bowl, cover the dried beans with water and let soak overnight.
- When ready to cook, drain the beans.
- Put the beans in a large dutch oven and fill with 10 cups of water.
- Add the olive oil, garlic, sage, black peppercorns as well as salt and ground pepper to taste.
- Bring to a simmer over medium heat and cook 1 hour, covered.
- Lower heat to low and simmer gently, covered, 1 - 2 hours more, until beans are tender.
- Let cool.
- Remove 1 cup of beans from the mixture (you will need to use a slotted spoon because there is still a lot of water, but you need to save the water). In another bowl, place the rest of the beans with 2 cups of the cooking liquid. Save and set aside whatever remaining cooking liquid there is. (got that, the beans and water are put in three separate bowls - one bowl with 1 cup of beans, no liquid, one large bowl with rest of beans and two cups of liquid, and a bowl with whatever liquid remains.
Cooked beans, as described above
2 medium onions, roughly chopped
2 carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
2 stalks of celery, trimmed and roughly chopped
2 potatoes, peeled and sliced
1 bunch Swiss chard, chopped
1 bunch Tuscan kale (cavolo nero), chopped
1 cup chopped canned plum tomatoes
3 thick slices stale country bread
salt and pepper
- Take the majority of the beans and the two cups of water (in a large bowl) see above, and puree with a hand blender or in a regular blender, set aside.
- Heat 1/4 cup of olive oil in a large dutch oven until medium hot. Add onions. Cook until soft, 15-20 minutes.
- Add the carrots, celery, potatoes and greens and stir until mixed.
- Add the tomatoes.
- Cover and cook until the greens are wilted, 20 minutes.
- Add the bean puree and the cooking liquid and simmer, covered for about 1 hour.
- Add bread and reserved beans, stir and cook, covered, until bread is incorporated into soup, about 10 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.
- Serve, drizzled with olive oil.
- This soup is also often served the day after it is made, warmed up in the oven.
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 lb chicken livers, cleaned and trimmed
4 anchovy fillets
3 shallots, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
2 tablespoons vin santo or sherry
1/4 cup chicken stock
1/4 cup finely chopped parsley
2 tablespoons capers
2 tablespoons lemon juice
salt and pepper to taste
baguette cut in slices
- To make the crostini, hear oven to 250 degrees, brush baguette slices with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and toast bread until dry and toasty about 10 minutes.
- Cut the chicken livers into smaller pieces.
- Heat three tablespoons of olive oil in a 12 inch skillet over medium high heat and add the chicken livers. Cook for 8-10 minutes, flipping a few times so that they are evenly cooked.
- Remove the chicken livers with a slotted spoon and set aside.
- Return the pan to the heat, add the anchovy fillets and cook for 2 minutes until they dissolve in oil.
- Add the shallot, carrot, celery and garlic and cook for 5 - 10 more minutes.
- Add the sherry and cook until evaporated, about 30 seconds.
- Add the chicken stock and cook until the liquid is evaporated, about two minutes.
- Add back the livers along with the parsley, capers and salt and pepper (careful with the salt, we've already added capers and anchovies.)
- Stir until and cook until the flavors meld, about 2 -4 minutes.
- Remove from heat and let cool 10 minutes.
- Pour this liver mixture into a food processor and processor until chunky or smooth - your preference.
- Refrigerate until cool and then spread on crostini.