Tuscany Part 1: Garfagnana & Tuscan risotto recipe
This was where we stayed on the upper floor in a farmhouse in Pescia with our own pretty walkway filled with the frangrance from the Oleander.
Tuscany has been on my wishlist years ago since I watched the movie “Under the Tuscan Sun”. Last week I finally got a chance to spend a week there. A week stay is actually too short to see everything. Tuscany is so big that it is divided into 5 regions: North, East, South, West and Central. This time we stayed in a very pretty farmhouse in Pescia, Northern Tuscany. We only managed exploring our nearby surroundings, Western Tuscany (Pisa) and just touched on Chianti (Central Tuscany).
To get there, we drove down there from Switzerland in less than 7 hours. The only thing we have to pay attention is that the traffic through the San Gottardo tunnel can be so busy that you can be stuck in the traffic for hours so that morning we left home pretty early and arrived Pescia at about 3 o’clock in the afternoon.
I am grateful that I was recommended by my friend Carmen to this farmhouse: Agriturismo a Pescia – Azienda Agricola Marzalla and saved a lot time to look further. Another big advantage is that Peter and Ann who are responsible to take care of this place, they can speak multiple languages and English of course. Through this trip I have learnt a lot from them, not just about the surroundings but also a lot of cooking and gardening tips. Peter used to be a chef in Switzerland, once we started talking about food and cooking, we could not stop.
On our first day we did not do much apart from settling ourselves comfortably in the apartment, unpacking and had a very nice Tuscan dinner just nearby. Unfortunately I was too tired that day and forgot to take my camera with me, so you have to use some imagination here I am afraid.
- Complimentary salad which is a typical Tuscan bread salad with tomatoes, tuna and onion. The typical Tuscan bread is unsalted, it’s not commonly eaten at breakfast,taste very plain but more so used in their cooking such as salads or soups.
- Tuscan antipasti (cold meat & crostini)
- 1°secondi: zucchini flowers tagliolini
- 2° secondi: smoked carpaccio with wild porcini mushrooms (freshly picked) and parmesan cheese.
We were then so full that we were not able to have any desserts. The restaurant’s owner was very friendly and offered us a limoncello as digestivo. Here in most restaurants, they always cook what are available that season and in the surrounding. You do not need to go a very fancy restaurant to have good food. The best is to ask the locals there for recommendations.
We had a relaxing scenic drive to mountainous Garfagnana, it was said this part of Tuscany is the least explored and it is very true as we did not see crowds of tourists. The weather was hotter day after day, we had to have gelato every day to cool down a little.
Castelnuovo di Garfagnana
Ponte del Diavolo at Bagni di Lucca
On our way, we passed by some mobile farmers selling and of course we have to stop and have a look. We bought some Tuscan tomatoes and local honey. Later we all thought that the tomatoes we bought that day were the most tasty.
I have taken Jamie’s Italy cookbook with me, at first I thought would it be rather silly to take a whole hardback with me. Peter asked me just to take along with me. And I can tell you that I am so thankful that I have taken this with me, I understand so much more about Tuscan cooking.
As usual I could never follow the recipes totally, I was inspired and adapted one of his risotto recipes and created our dinner that evening. Thanks to Peter & Ann of letting us to pick their garden herbs, it made my Tuscan cooking experience more real. We had tomato mozzarrella as starter and then risotto as our main course.
Risotto with Italian sausage, Pecorino cheese & Thyme
- 2 fresh Italian Pork sausages, cut into small pieces and discard the skin
- 12 cherry tomatoes, cut into halves
- 1 Tuscan tomato, cut into small pieces
- 2 cloves garlic. finely chopped
- 3 stalks celery, discard leaves, finely chopped
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 3 spring onions, cut into small pieces (separate the green and white/ purple parts)
- 1 small piece of pecorino cheese, using your fingers make into crumbles
- Parmesan cheese, for grating (Parmigiano-Reggiano or Grana Pandano which is very similar but not exactly considered to be parmesan)
- 2 small glasses of white wine
- 2 tbsp freshly picked thyme
- chicken stock (dissolve a cube of bouillion in a litre of water)
- 1 cup risotto ( I used Carnaroli risotto which has a high starch content and makes the creamiest risotto; it is often preferred by chefs as the starchy centre stays chewily firm in spite of absorbing plenty of liquid.)
- Heat up a large pan, cook the sausages and set aside.
- Keep the fat coming out from the sausages, add in the garlic, celery and onion. Stir fry for a few minutes at medium high heat or until the onion and celery look transparent.
- Pour in a small glass of white wine and let it bubble and evaporates. Then add in the risotto and stir until throughoutly mixed. I personally like wine a lot of I added a 2nd glass of wine to it and let it continue to bubble.
- Now as like normal risotto cooking, gradually add in the stock and keep stirring from time to time.
- When the risotto is about 75% cooked, add in the tomatoes and stir to mix.
- Add more stock where necessary, in the final stage, add in the sausages, spring onion (white/ purple parts) and lastly the pecorino cheese.
- Adjust to your cooking time according to your personal taste if you like al dente or more cooked.
- Sprinkle the thyme and green parts of the spring onion,stir to mix.
- Serve immediately with grated parmesan cheese.
My thoughts on this Tuscan risotto:
- We felt the pecorino cheese is rather too strong for us when eating alone or on bread, by adding to the risotto, it makes the risotto more creamy and we are surprised that it did not few cheesey at all.
- Normally you may not add spring onion to risotto but Peter told us that you can be as creative as you can imagine. With the rarely found purple spring onion, how can I resist : )
- Also adding celery on top to the onion in the risotto which learnt from the cookbook is a must-try, it adds more flavor and texture to the risotto, I will surely adapt this to my future risottos.