The region of Chianti is famous for its incredible wine. They were once a part of Florence but are now considered part of Sienna which creates some rivalry in the region. They have been producing wine for centuries and are well known for the gallo nero (black rooster) sometimes pictured on their bottles. The region contains government agencies which control the production of all Chianti under DOCG's, Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita. To retain the Chianti name, a wine must follow certain standards which include the rule that Chianti's must contain at least 80% Sangiovese grapes. The other grapes blended into the wine may be chosen on an individual basis.
In Toscano, the food is seasonal and based on local ingredients. Cured meats found in Tuscany are much saltier then elsewhere because farmhouse bread was baked only once a week. In order to keep the bread from getting moldy, no salt was added to the dough. They compensated for this lack of salt by making the ham and salami saltier then most. This tradition lives on today. Tuscany is famous for its pork, beef, and lamb and the wines are the perfect accompaniment for these.
At our cooking class, I learned some awesome cooking tips from Giovannella:
-When cooking kale, it is best to freeze it for 30 minutes to an hour to "crisp" it so that it retains its texture during cooking.
-Ribollita is a dish always made in winter because of the components that make up the dish. It is always made with dry beans because "that's the way it's done." I love typical phrases like this which were quite common during our cooking lesson!
-When you cook the dry beans, they must be simmered, not boiled, overnight so the skin is soft.
-You must use Tuscan bread, not ciabatta, in the ribollita so that the bread doesn't get mushy. It's also best to use day old bread for the same reason.
-It is always better to use canned tomatoes in winter because they are only in season during the summer!!
-When cooking mushrooms, always add salt at the end because it extracts the water from them.
-When cutting endive, cut it down the middle, then cut the rest right side up so you can see the core and keep it attached.
-When you are cooking a frittata, simply turn the eggs over onto the lid to flip it.
-When making batters, always add alcohol (wine, beer, even port) to ensure that the fried result does not turn out mushy- our batter consisted simply of flour, wine, sugar and a bit of Vin Santo. Giovennella informed us we could use this for anything! Another key to crispy fried food is to keep the batter cold until you use it.