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Everyday Gourmet

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Secrets of the Tuscan kitchen

Oct. 21, 2010

By Kim Dannies

Piano, Piano, Pieno (Slowly, Slowly, Full) is a lovely Italian phrase that captures the essence of Tuscan cuisine. Food that slows us down and fills us up is the stuff of life; a proper meal, at a proper table, with wine, surrounded by loved ones. I recently indulged in this delightful routine while eating my way through Tuscany — a seductive place of lavender infused hillsides rimmed with olive trees, grapevines and sunflowers all bathed in extraordinary coffee-colored hues.

I talked to chefs and did a little cooking, too, and learned some “secrets” of the Tuscan kitchen, things we’ve all known all along, but sometimes forget to practice.

Cibi locali: Local, seasonal food. Italians know no other way; there is no locavore fad to embrace, they’ve lived it forever. What they do with a neighborhood pig is mind-boggling: vast selections of salamis, roasts and sausages right on down to a simple whipped lardo on toast — it’s a gastronomic marvel.

Ore: Time to spend, not save. Time to chop tomatoes, zucchini, porcini mushrooms. Time to mix flour and boil water. Time to read; “The Silver Spoon” is Italy’s cooking bible.

Dolci: Great desserts. Vin Santo wine, paired with Biscotti, is the perfect endnote to a meal; hazelnut studded panforte with a cappuccino is a must for morning fortification, and several almond ricciarelli cookies complement teatime.

Controni: The essential side dishes. Passion, respect, culture and love are ingredients that will never be found on a menu or in a cookbook, but they transform our everyday lives piano, piano, pieno.

Ricciarelli (reach-a- rell-ee)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grind up 6 ounces of blanched almonds and pour into a prep bowl. Add 1 cup confectionary sugar; fold in 1 tablespoon of flour mixed with 1/2 teaspoon of baking powder. Beat 2 egg whites until stiff and fold into mixture. Add 1/2 teaspoon of almond extract and blend until a soft paste forms.

Place some confectionary sugar on a clean, dry surface. Form 1 tablespoon of dough into a small ball; roll in the sugar, then place cookie on a baking sheet covered with parchment. Repeat. Flatten each cookie lightly with a fork. Bake 10 to 12 minutes until golden. Yields 16 cookies.

Kim Dannies is a graduate of La Varenne Cooking School in France. She lives in Williston with her husband, Jeff; they have three 20-something daughters who come and go. For archived Everyday Gourmet columns go to kimdannies.com.

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