Pino Luongo, prolific and irrepressible restaurateur (Le Madri, Coco Pazzo, Tuscan Square, and Centolire) and author of A Tuscan in the Kitchen and Simply Tuscan, has written a highly personal, completely innovative take on the food of his native region.
For more than two decades, Pino Luongo has been one of New York City’s most renowned restaurateurs. Inspired by the many culinary crosscurrents in this most cosmopolitan of cities, he has devised an original version of the food of Tuscany that draws on ingredients and inspiration from Italy, America, and even Asia. Grouping recipes by key ingredients (such as grains and legumes, mushrooms, spring vegetables, and fall vegetables) instead of by courses, he explains the Old-World “Il Classico” roots of his recipes, then takes them in exciting new directions with his own vibrant, New-World versions. In this brand new approach, the thick Florentine soup ribollita becomes a delectable filling for ravioli. Polenta replaces bread in pappa al pomodoro (tomato and bread soup). The farro grain finds a new role as the basis of a warm salad made of mushrooms and arugula. Shellfish is happily married with the usually vegetarian dish caponata. There are poultry (Rigatoni with Chicken and Pea Ragout with Prosciutto), pork (Pork Short Ribs, Tuscan Style), and meat dishes (Lemon and Oregano–Marinated Lamb Chops with Roasted Peppers) and for an unusual finish to the meal, he gives advice on serving cheese with unexpected accompaniments. A luscious selection of dolci includes desserts such as Chocolate Pudding with Cherry Sauce and Citrus Zest and Almond Biscotti. Occasionally Pino Luongolooks back to Tuscany’s glorious past for inspiration, as with the dessert dating from the Renaissance, Tagliatelle Torta with Apples and Raisins. Based on dishes served in Pino Luongo’s popular and acclaimed restaurants as well as recipes he has created at home through improvisation, La Mia Cucina Toscana will delight anyone interested in exploring something new from one of Tuscany’s favorite sons.
A native of Tuscany, PINO LUONGO moved to the United States more than twenty years ago and now owns acclaimed restaurants in New York City and Chicago. The author of three previous books—A Tuscan in the Kitchen, Fish Talking, and Simply Tuscan—he lives in Purchase, New York. ANDREW FRIEDMAN, who also collaborated with Pino Luongo on Simply Tuscan, is the author or coauthor of several cookbooks. He divides his time between New York City and Chatham, New York. MARTA PULINI was born in Modena, Italy. She has worked with Pino Luongo for fifteen years in several of his New York restaurants. She is currently executive chef at Centolire.
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About the Author
A Tuscan baby cries. He's hungry. So he cries. He shrieks. He screams. Then something finds its way into his mouth. Initially hard and dry, it grows soft and moist as he sucks on it. It feels good, and, though he hasn't swallowed a thing, his appetite is sated. He stops crying and focuses his full attention on the pleasure being unleashed on his new, rapidly developing palate.
Our little friend has just had his first taste of pane, or bread, a piece of crust that his parents have given him as a pacifier.
Tuscans get to know bread at the same time we get to know our own families, like this little boy sucking on his first crust. In a few months he will enjoy the most enviable baby foods in the world, panelatte (bread cubes soaked in warm milk and tossed with sugar, cinnamon, or powdered chocolate) and pappa al pomodoro (tomato and bread soup).
When he becomes a teenager, he will discover more sophisticated pleasures, like a thick slice of country toast, lightly charred where it met the hot grates of a grill and spread with cool, creamy ricotta cheese as an accompaniment to his morning cappuccino. As an adult he will be eating dinner one night and realize that, as part of his maturation, bread has become his third hand, used to push food onto forks or soak up the last little puddle of soup in a bowl or the oily tomato sauce that clings to a plate after the pasta is gone.
There are hundreds of varieties of bread throughout Italy, and the people of each region are very particular about theirs. In the South, where Tuscany is situated, peasant bread with a hefty dough and hard crust is the favorite. Most households bake theirs oncea week, use it until it grows stale, then--in a miracle of pragmatism--resurrect it in soups and salads, where it absorbs broths and tangy, acidic dressings.
Pasta gets more attention around the world, but to a Tuscan bread is just as important. Perhaps even more important. We love bread so much that, despite what the history books say, I like to think that we originally invented olive oil as a condiment for bread alone. Those two Tuscan staples are, when you stop to think about it, one of the most perfect dialogues between mankind and nature in all of gastronomy.
A crostino is a slice of Tuscan bread spread with a topping such as chicken liver pate or pureed white beans. In most countries a crouton is a supporting element, something to be floated in a soup or served alongside a salad. While a crostino can also be used for this purpose, it is most likely to be employed as a stand-alone hors d'oeuvre when you sit down to a meal at a home or in a restaurant.
LA MIA VERSIONE 1
CROSTINI DI CAVOLO NERO CON PANCETTA
BLACK CABBAGE AND BACON CROUTON
serves 4 as an appetizer
Black cabbage is one of the classic crostini toppings, especially as a counterpoint to the freshest olive oil, which is available just after the November press. This first press, or cold press, harks back to ancient times, when hand-picking and stone-mashing kept the oil cool throughout production, maintaining its character and reflecting the personality of the land, geography, and soil from which it hailed. This recipe makes one major adjustment to the original: the addition of bacon. (We use American bacon here in place of the Italian pancetta; it works just as well in this context and is easier to find.)
1 Bring a small pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Cook the black cabbage leaves in the water for 5 minutes, then strain through a fine-mesh strainer set over a bowl. Set aside the cabbage leaves and cooking liquid separately.
2 Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a saute pan over medium-high heat. Add the onion and bacon and cook until both are browned, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the cabbage and 2 tablespoons of the reserved cooking liquid. Season with black pepper and saute for 2 minutes. (The mixture should be juicy; if it appears dry, add some more reserved cooking liquid.) Set the pan aside, covered, to keep the mixture warm.
6 black cabbage leaves
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 small onion, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons minced bacon
freshly ground black pepper
four H-inch-thick slices tuscan country bread
3 Toast the bread. If serving as an hors d'oeuvre, cut the slices in half. Divide the cabbage leaf-bacon mixture among the slices. Drizzle with the remaining olive oil and season with a few grinds of black pepper. Serve at once, either on small plates or from a platter.
IN SEARCH OF . . . CAVOLO NERO
Cavolo nero, or black cabbage, is very difficult to find in the United States, although it is grown in the Boston area. It is very similar to kale and can be replaced in this and other recipes with an equal quantity of kale, Swiss chard, or broccoli di rapa (broccoli rabe) leaves.
vino Serve this with a full-bodied Chianti Reserve from Tuscany that is at least three years old.
LA MIA VERSIONE 2
CROSTINI DI ACCIUGHE E MOZZARELLA
ANCHOVY AND MOZZARELLA CROUTON
serves 6 as an appetizer
The ingredients for this recipe mirror those in another classic crostino, which stacks an anchovy fillet and a slice of mozzarella atop the bread. The difference here is in the preparation, which allows you to make all the crostini at once, baking the bread in loaf form and then separating the slices just before serving.
1 Preheat the oven to 300¡F.
2 Slice the baguettes crosswise at 1-inch intervals, being careful not to cut all the way through. Place slices of mozzarella in the spaces between the bread slices.
3 Place the baguettes on a rimmed cookie sheet without crowding and bake until the cheese is melted and the bread crispy, 8 to 10 minutes.
4 Meanwhile, melt the butter in a small saute pan over medium-high heat and, with the help of a wooden spoon, dissolve the anchovies in it.
6 small baguettes
I pound mozzarella, cut into
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
12 anchovy fillets packed in olive oil, unrinsed
12 to 18 caper berries
Separate the slices of each baguette and arrange them on a platter. Pour some foaming anchovy-butter mixture over the crostini. Garnish with caper berries. Serve at once.
vino Serve this with the youngest Vermentino that you can find from Cinque Terre, Liguria.
LA MIA VERSIONE 3
COUNTRY BREAD WITH TOMATO-MUSHROOM STEW
serves 6 as an appetizer
This recipe uses the same ingredients you might find in a traditional acquacotta but varies the proportions to create a crostino. Reducing the amount of liquid in the "soup" makes it thick and spreadable. This recipe references the regional variation of acquacotta made in Maremma, where an egg is poached in the soup. We did not choose a quail egg here to be trendy; a chicken egg is simply too big to fit atop a crostino.
Incidentally, acquacotta is a zuppa di pane (bread soup), one of a family of Italian soups in which bread plays a central role. The most celebrated example is pappa al pomodoro (page 11), where bread is one of two primary ingredients. But often a zuppa di pane is simply a soup spooned over a slice of toasted country bread placed in the bottom of the bowl just before serving, as with a cacciucco, a soup made with olive oil, garlic, rockfish, and other ingredients.
1 Wipe the mushrooms clean with a damp towel. Remove and discard the stems and slice the caps G inch thick. (If using porcini, keep the stems; peel them with a paring knife and remove any spoiled part, then slice them to the same size as the caps.)
2 Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a saute pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook until lightly browned, about 3 minutes. Add the mushrooms, stir, season with salt and pepper, and cook over medium heat for 3 to 4 minutes. Add the tomatoes and cook until wilted, about 30 seconds. Add the vegetable stock, give the mixture a good stir, and cook for 5 minutes or until the mixture is fairly dry but still a bit moist.
1 1/2 pounds wild mushrooms, ideally fresh porcini or morels
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
4 garlic cloves, crushed and peeled
fine sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
12 ripe cherry tomatoes, halved
H cup vegetable stock
few drops white vinegar
12 quail eggs
6 slices tuscan country bread, toasted
3 Meanwhile, bring a small pot of water to a boil. Add a few drops of white vinegar. One by one, crack the quail eggs into a tablespoon and lower them into the water. Let them poach for 1 minute, then remove with a slotted spoon and gather them on a plate.
4 Arrange the warm croutons on a platter. Spoon some acquacotta (mushroom-tomato mixture) over each one and place 2 quail eggs on each. Drizzle with the remaining olive oil. Serve at once.
vino A full-bodied Australian Shiraz is a big, bold match for the rich quail egg in this recipe.