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Authentic Tuscan Recipes From an Italian Chef

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Giuseppina Pizzolato is a small woman with twinkling eyes and tendrils of curly hair that have escaped from her chef's hat. Her hands fly as she chops, kneads, stirs, and pinches, and especially as she talks, in quick, heavily-accented English, sometimes brandishing a knife as she makes a point. At the same time she directs a group of Americans in the preparation of an elaborate four-course meal, she's telling stories - stories about cooking with her family, stories about shopping at the market for fresh ingredients, stories about hunting for truffles with her dogs on the hillsides of Certaldo Alto.

Giuseppina's passion for food and the land from which food comes reflects the philosophy of the Slow Food movement. The movement, which originated in her homeland of Italy and has expanded world-wide, strives to preserve local culinary traditions and promote sustainable food. Giuseppina articulates that philosophy just a little bit differently: "The most important thing is to eat well," she says.

Chef Giuseppina Pizzolato

Chef Giuseppina Pizzolato

Giuseppina knows all about eating well. She never attended culinary school. She learned to cook from her Sicilian-born mother and aunt, later honing her skills in restaurants throughout Tuscany. Today she runs a successful catering business in Certaldo, Italy, southeast of Florence, serves as a personal chef-for-hire, and offers cooking lessons to those wanting to learn the secrets to authentic Tuscan food. She highlights the importance of good, fresh ingredients and emphasizes that the best food is prepared with love and care.

Here are four of her recipes for a delicious meal prepared in what she calls "the time-honored Italian tradition," as shared with the fortunate students in one of her classes.

Bruschetta

Chef Giuseppina stressed two things about the first course of the meal. First, the "h" in bruschetta is silent; the word is pronounced with a hard "ch" sound as in "school." Second, fresh produce is key. Choose vine-ripened heirloom tomatoes and fresh-picked basil.

Ingredients:

6 red tomatoes

Bunch of fresh basil

6 garlic cloves

Salt and pepper

Olive oil

Loaf of Italian bread

Preparation:

Dice the tomatoes. Coarsely chop the basil. (To avoid bruising the tender leaves of the basil, Giuseppina applies the "one chop" method: gather a handful of basil leaves and slice through them in one direction only to create long ribbons of basil.) Mince the garlic. Mix all three ingredients together in a bowl. Add 2 "four-finger pinches" of salt (a pinch of salt using all four fingers and the thumb), several grinds of black pepper, and a generous pour of olive oil. (Giuseppina suggests pouring the olive oil into the bowl in the shape of a large letter "C" to get the right amount.)

Slice the bread "one finger-width" (use your index finger to judge the width) and toast in a 400°F oven for 10 minutes.

Top the toasted bread with the tomato mixture, making sure to get some liquid with the solids, and place on a serving platter. Drizzle more olive oil over top and serve.

Bruschetta topping

Bruschetta topping

The finished dish

The finished dish

Ravioli with Truffles and Sage

When it came time to prepare the pasta dish, Giuseppina delighted her class by pulling out a giant black truffle unearthed by the family dog the day before. While most cooks will not have access to this pricey and elusive fungus, known as the diamond of the kitchen, add a few drops of truffle oil to the finished dish before serving to get a hint of earthy truffle flavor.

To make the pasta:

Use very fine (00 grade) flour for best results. For every 2 servings of pasta, use 100 grams flour and 1 egg. On a clean surface, make a well in the flour and add the eggs. Beat the eggs with a fork and add a pinch of salt and one letter "C"-shaped pour of olive oil. Slowly incorporate the flour into the well until a sticky dough forms. Knead the dough until it attains an elastic feel ("like Play-doh," Giuseppina says). Let rest for 10 minutes.

To make the filling:

Wash 1 pound of fresh spinach then cook the wet spinach in a dry pan until it is wilted. In a bowl, combine the wilted spinach with 1 pound fresh ricotta cheese, 3 "three-finger pinches" of salt (a pinch of salt using three fingers and the thumb), 1/2 whole nutmeg grated, a few grinds of black pepper, and 3 eggs. Mix with a fork and add 1/3 to 1/2 cup fresh grated Parmesan cheese.

To make the ravioli:

Roll the dough through a pasta machine three times, then fold over and roll through three more times. Carefully lay the pasta sheet out on a well-floured surface (to prevent sticking). Spoon the filling onto one long half of the sheet, being careful not to use too much filling (use about 1-1/2 teaspoons per ravioli). Fold the other side of the sheet over the filling so the two long edges of the sheet meet with the filling in the middle. Cut the pasta into individual pieces and seal by moistening the seams with a little water.

Cook the ravioli in boiling salted water for seven minutes. Remove from the water with a slotted spoon and drain.

While the pasta is cooking, melt butter in a pan over low heat. (Use one tablespoon of butter per serving.) Add fresh sage leaves to the melted butter and continue to cook over low heat until the leaves become slightly crispy. Before serving, toss the ravioli with the sage butter and top with freshly grated black truffle (if available) and Parmesan cheese.

Chef Giuseppina demonstrates how to make pasta

Chef Giuseppina demonstrates how to make pasta

Chef Giuseppina demonstrates the "four-finger pinch" as a student prepares the ravioli filling

Chef Giuseppina demonstrates the "four-finger pinch" as a student prepares the ravioli filling

Making ravioli

Making ravioli

The finished dish topped with shaved black truffle

The finished dish topped with shaved black truffle

Pork Tenderloin in the Old Style

Pork tenderloin, one of the leanest, tenderest cuts of meat available, is cut from the loin of the pork near the spine. It's cylindrical in shape and measures about a foot long and three to six inches in diameter. Tenderloins often are packaged in pairs and injected with saltwater. For best results, ask the butcher for a fresh cut that has not been brined. Use fresh rosemary and garlic for the dry rub. Smashed red potatoes make a good side dish.

Ingredients:

Fresh rosemary

Fresh garlic – 1 clove per three servings of pork

Salt and black pepper

Whole pork tenderloin

Olive oil

Red wine

Preparation:

Make a dry rub with chopped rosemary, minced garlic, salt and lots of black pepper. Massage the rub into the tenderloin. Let stand.

Cover the bottom of a large skillet in olive oil and heat over medium-high heat. Drop a sprig of fresh rosemary into the skillet to test the temperature of the oil. If the rosemary sizzles and crackles, the oil is hot enough to cook the pork.

Cut the pork into medallions the width of a finger and add in a single layer to the hot oil in the pan (cook in batches if necessary). Cook the pork medallions on one side for two minutes, then turn and cook on the other side for two minutes. Add 1/4 cup good quality, dry red wine to the pan. (Giuseppina advises not to pour the wine directly on the meat, but off to the side.) Cook for another minute, then turn again and cook for a final minute on the other side. Remove to a serving platter and garnish with fresh rosemary.

Port tenderloins with a dry rub of rosemary and garlic

Port tenderloins with a dry rub of rosemary and garlic

The finished dish

The finished dish

Tiramisu

This traditional Italian dessert makes a scrumptious ending to a Tuscan-style feast. Make it several hours or even a day ahead of time to let the flavors soak in.

Ingredients:

10 eggs, yolks and whites separated

2 pounds mascarpone cheese

1-1/2 cups sugar

A package of crisp ladyfinger cookies

Espresso or strong coffee

Unsweetened cocoa powder

Note: This recipe makes 10 servings, but Giuseppina offers an easy-to-remember 1:1:1 ratio for increasing or decreasing the recipe. Use 1 part mascarpone cheese (100 grams) to 1 egg to 1 "Italian tablespoon" (heaping tablespoon) of sugar.

Preparation:

Beat the eggs whites into stiff peaks. Add the yolks and beat to combine, then add the sugar. Beat in the mascarpone until just blended (don't beat too long, Giuseppina warns). Set aside.

Dip the bottom half of the cookies in espresso then place in a baking dish, using enough cookies to cover the bottom of the dish in one layer. Pour the egg and cheese mixture over the cookies. Sift unsweetened cocoa powder over the top. Chill for at least 2 hours prior to serving.

The class makes tiramisu

The class makes tiramisu

A student adds the cocoa powder to the finished dessert

A student adds the cocoa powder to the finished dessert

Comments

Nyesha Pagnou MPH from USA on April 03, 2020:

All of these dishes look lovely! Thanks for sharing the information about the chef and the recipes.

Deborah Neyens (author) from Iowa on May 13, 2013:

Thanks for your comments, Audrey, tillsontitan and point2make. Sorry my response has been so delayed. I just heard today that my friends who got married in Tuscany and lined up the class for the wedding party will be celebrating their anniversary this year by recreating that wonderful meal! I live too far away to attend, but may have to recreate it myself in honor of them!

point2make on April 27, 2013:

Great recipes and great food. I would love to take that class!. I enjoyed your hub..well done.

Mary Craig from New York on April 27, 2013:

Not only are the recipes scrumptious but your presentation is professional yet personal and enticing! Ravioli and

Pork for everyone.

Voted up, useful, and interesting.

Audrey Howitt from California on April 27, 2013:

This is an area that I would love to visit--and eat my way through--The ravioli looked wonderful!

Deborah Neyens (author) from Iowa on January 23, 2013:

Thanks, Glass-Jewelry. I agree with your assessment of Tuscan food. I never had a bad meal while I was there. And I ended up taking photos of most of my meals before I even took a bite!

Marco Piazzalunga from Presezzo, Italy on January 23, 2013:

Tuscany is one of the Italian regions where the food is better. The quality of the restaurants is of the highest level. When you go out for lunch or dinner is very difficult to be disappointed or worse dissatisfied with the cuisine of the Tuscan restaurants. This is not true in other Italian regions where the cuisine is not as good.

I am very pleased that you mentioned a Tuscan chef!

Deborah Neyens (author) from Iowa on January 15, 2013:

Thanks, Peggy. I was so fortunate to have the experience. And you can come to dinner any time. :)

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on January 10, 2013:

What a fabulous experience to have been able to take cooking classes in Tuscany and then repeat these delicious sounding (and looking) recipes back home with friends and family. What fun! These all look and sound delicious! Wish we were your dinner guests! :)) UUI votes and sharing!

Deborah Neyens (author) from Iowa on April 30, 2012:

Thanks, Danette! Yes, Giuseppina set us all straight on the correct pronunciation. Now I can't go back to saying it the other way even though everyone else I know does. I just have to sound like some sort of food snob. : )

Danette Watt from Illinois on April 30, 2012:

The bruschetta (thanks for the pronunciation lesson) recipe looks easy and delicious. I remember watching my aunt (from Turin) years ago make ravioli. Voted up and if there were a "delicious" button I'd hit that one too!

Deborah Neyens (author) from Iowa on April 30, 2012:

Thanks, Jools. The best part of the meal was the giant truffle she pulled out and grated on to the pasta. Wow! That truffle would have sold for big bucks here in the States, but she found it with her dogs the day before. Amazing! We've recreated the meal several times back home (most recently on Valentine's Day with some of the friends with whom we took the class), but it just isn't quite the same without that fresh truffle.

Jools Hogg from North-East UK on April 30, 2012:

Wow Deb, this hub is great, loed the photos and the story about Giuseppina is amazing - what a thrill to learn about Italian cooking the real way like this. I love Bruschetta and this bruschetta looks so delicious. I love that about Italian food - everything is so fresh and you can taste the difference from normal store bought stuff. I love Tiramisu as well - my tummy is growling now.

Voted up and shared.

Deborah Neyens (author) from Iowa on April 15, 2012:

Thanks, aviannovice. It seems the conversation and companionship is as important to an Italian meal as the food.

Deb Hirt from Stillwater, OK on April 15, 2012:

Voted awesome and up. This is good info for a wonderful Southern Italian meal, from one cook to another! There is also nothing like a good meal with an Italian family. They will NEVER let one leave hungry and very warm when you are in the home.

Deborah Neyens (author) from Iowa on February 22, 2012:

Thanks, vespawoolf. I'm glad you enjoyed it. I appreciate the comment.

Vespa Woolf from Peru, South America on February 22, 2012:

Thank you for sharing these delicious recipes! I loved your intro and felt like I was in the kitchen with Giuseppina Pizzolato. Voted up and awesome!

Deborah Neyens (author) from Iowa on February 20, 2012:

Thanks, Maddie and ChefDeHome. If you think the pictures look yummy, just wait until you try the recipes! I appreciate your comments. Thanks for stopping by.

ChefDeHome on February 20, 2012:

Delicious sounding recipes and yumm looking pictures. Bruschetta topping looks mouthwatering good.

Maddie Ruud from Oakland, CA on February 20, 2012:

Beautiful pictures and yummy-sounding recipes. A seriously mouth-watering Hub.

Deborah Neyens (author) from Iowa on February 20, 2012:

Thanks, Linda. And it all tastes even better than it looks!

Linda Bilyeu from Orlando, FL on February 19, 2012:

Superb! Authentic! Bravo to you on another hub masterpiece. I need to go work out now just from reading it and viewing the photos! Delish!!

Deborah Neyens (author) from Iowa on February 19, 2012:

Thanks, Aurelio! You should give it a try sometime. Very easy.

Aurelio Locsin from Orange County, CA on February 19, 2012:

Love these recipes, especially the pork tenderloin old style. Voting this Up and Useful.

Deborah Neyens (author) from Iowa on February 19, 2012:

Thanks for stopping by, Giuseppina! We were just out to visit Kendric and Mara and recreated the meal with them and another couple from the trip (Dawn and Mike) on Valentine's Day. Once again it was fabulous. (Although we missed your truffle!) Thanks for sharing your recipes and giving us such a memorable experience.

Giuseppina on February 19, 2012:

Grazie Deborah, I am very happy you still enjoy my recipes, the cooking and eating with friends!

Deborah Neyens (author) from Iowa on January 13, 2012:

Yum is right, tailgatingguru. Just wait until you try one of these recipes! Thanks for reading and commenting.

tailgatingguru from Atlanta, GA on January 12, 2012:

YUM!

Deborah Neyens (author) from Iowa on January 10, 2012:

Agreed. I love it when the self-taught chefs end up winning the T.V. cooking competitions, like "Chopped" and "Top Chef."

jenubouka on January 10, 2012:

A natural or self taught chef, to me, is a true chef for it comes from the heart. Wonderful recipes and great story!

Deborah Neyens (author) from Iowa on January 10, 2012:

Thanks for all the great comments. Sorry to have made everyone hungry! The cooking class was a highlight of my trip to Italy. We've recreated the meal at home a few times since then. It's really fun to get your dinner guests involved in rolling out sheets of pasta to make ravioli. (As you can probably tell from some of my other hubs, I'm a big fan of interactive dinner parties.)

rjsadowski on January 10, 2012:

I love authentic recipes. All of these look very interesting so I am saving a copy for future reference.

Donna Cosmato from USA on January 10, 2012:

Excellent hub and backstory on the chef, and like the others, I'm ravenously hungry now! Voted up.

Maria Giunta from Sydney, Australia on January 09, 2012:

OMG I am now so hungry. You have touched my Italian heart (and stomach), thanks Deborah. You must have loved being a part of that class, voted up and awesome. Also bookmarking for the recipes.

Arlene V. Poma on January 09, 2012:

So it's almost 10 p.m. here in Sacramento, and all of a sudden, I want to have the bruschetta and ravioli pictured. You have no mercy, Deborah, but thanks for this Hub. Wonderfully written and photographed. Voted up and everything else. Bookmarked for the daylight hours!

Jim Dorsch from Alexandria, VA on January 09, 2012:

Very nice, and looking at the photos isn't helping me on my diet! Cheers.

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