A picnic fit for Tuscany
The folk at To Tuscany have challenged a group of bloggers to create a Tuscan-inspired recipe, which got me thinking about what Tuscan food actually is...bean soup immediately springs to mind. Sausage pizza? Chicken and pasta? Boring! There must be much more to Tuscany than that!
It's been on the radar for years but unfortunately we haven't yet had the pleasure of visiting Tuscany but Mr Foodie spent some time in Orvieto and the surrounding Umbria region just over ten years ago and has fond memories of wandering the streets utilising the only Italian he'd remembered: "Vorrei comprare una pizza al taglio per favore?" or something like "can I buy a slice of pizza please?" He survived the trip and a decade later we were researching, ready to create something interesting and original based on the authentic flavours and ingredients of Umbria's northen neighbour...
The grape harvest is an important time in Tuscany. It’s hard work, but there is also the satisfaction of seeing a year’s work come to fruition, and an opportunity to enjoy some of those fruits al fresco in an annual specialty bread. We love Italian bread, and grapes seem like an unusual ingredient so this is the start of our recipe...
Rosemary is another late summer Tuscan flavour. Fragrant and rich, it is best picked in the sun when the oil is sticky on the surface. Coupled with honey it creates an intoxicating delight. Just close your eyes and imagine the smells and sounds of the countryside. No surprise then that they both find their way into our Tuscan picnic. We could have searched out a Tuscan chestnut or acacia honey from the Tuscan honey capital of Lunigiana, but Scotland produces some fine honey too. So on this occasion we decided to go local and have some Glasgow Honey (courtesy of Ed's Bees).
All that sweet fruitiness works perfectly with Tuscan Pecorino. A sheep’s cheese made in late summer when the grass is sweetest. Pecorino comes in a dizzying variety of finishes from creamy young Toscano to ripe Romano (an excellent alternative to Parmesan). You can also find very special Pecorino studded with truffles or wrapped in walnut leaves. For our picnic we settled on Pecorino Brigante for a creamy and soft texture plus some Pecorino Erborinato for some tartness to combine with the sweet bread.
Chianti is the wine of the region, and since the 70’s modern wineries have done much to capture the essence of the terroir. If you are feeling particularly flush, you can spend over £100 a bottle. If you do please remember to invite me around! For most mortals, a Classico or Superiore at about £10 a bottle will complete your picnic: some good bread, cheese and wine which could just about be Tuscany on a plate (or in our case, slab of randomly-shaped wooden cheeseboard thing!).
Tuscany Villa Recipe
- 500 gr strong white bread flour Italian 00 “Pizza” flour would be a nice touch.
- 350 ml lukewarm water.
- 14 gr dried yeast.
- 800 gr of black grapes – the sweetest juiciest ones you can find.
- 50 gr sugar.
- 4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil.
- 4 sprigs of rosemary.
- Start by making some rosemary flavoured oil.
- Put the olive oil and 3 sprigs of rosemary in a pot and place on a low heat.
- Continue to heat the oil and rosemary. At the first sign of a sizzle, remove the pot from the heat and pour the mixture into a cold bowl to cool.
- Remove the grapes from the stalks and wash them. Pat them dry with a paper towel and leave them aside to dry completely. Do not split them to remove seeds as this will allow the juice to escape and make the bread soggy.
- Mix the water and yeast in a large bowl.
- Add the sugar and stir to dissolve
- Add the flour and mix until you have a sticky dough.
- Cover and leave aside for 20 minutes.
- After 20 minutes, pour the cooled rosemary oil over the dough and knead for about a minute until the dough is smooth and elastic.
- Cover the bowl and leave it in a warm place until the dough doubles in size.
- While the dough is rising:
- Preheat your oven to 240 C / Gas Mk 9.
- Line a large roasting tray with greaseproof paper.
- When the dough has doubled in size, split it into two halves.
- Place one half in your tray and pat it out to cover the tray with your fingertips. (Schiacciata means “flattened down”)
- Spread half the grapes evenly across the flattened base (yes – just like a pizza)
- Flatten out the other half of the dough on a lightly floured board and flip it on top of your “pizza”.
- Spread the rest of the grapes on top.
- Sprinkle needles from the remaining rosemary sprig on top.
- Bake at 240 C / Gas Mk 9 for 20 minutes then reduce the heat to 220 C / Gas Mk 7 for a further 30 to 40 minutes or until the bread is nicely coloured and the grapes are releasing their juices
- Allow to cool and serve drizzled with honey.
This bread is perfect sliced with cheese or ham, dipped into oils and vinegar or just eaten in chunks (cat fluff not essential!). Whatever way you eat it, this bread can't but make you think of sitting on a terrace somewhere, even Fred (the cat) approved of the need to relax and think of flowing wine, rolling fields and sunny days...
I want to win a week in one of your Tuscany villas!