Italian Comfort Food
by Ippolita Douglas Scotti:
Autumn in Italy is just beautiful, and the Tuscan countryside is incredibly romantic. In our rich Chianti vineyards, this is the time for vendemmia ("wine vintaging") and time to pick mushrooms and chestnuts on the hillsides. It is also the time to sit in front of the fireplace and taste a fantastic bruschetta with the delicious green and spicy olio novo ("new oil") made from the last olives of summer.
During fall, our hills and forests are painted in beautiful colors and, when I can, I love to go for a horse ride in the woods or collect chestnuts and find precious Porcini mushrooms. I'm good at finding them and am an expert on distinguishing the safe from the poisonous ones. (Never try to do this one our own! It can be extremely dangerous.)
Even in the center of Florence, you will smell the autumn arriving. You'll find delicious autumnal street food on the street corners and piazzas.
The "caldarroste," (hot roasted chestnuts) are served in a cone of raw yellow paper. They are so good and comforting with a glass of "Vin Novello," the fresh first wine made right after vendemmia.
We also cook caldarroste at home with a particular pan used especially for the task. It's a taste that reminds me of childhood. My mother, like every Florentine mother, cooked them for us, and the house would fill will the irresistible aroma.
Autumn comes with wind and rain, wiping away the summer, but it also offers a variety of delicious, seasonal products—a feast for the eyes and the palate. Here are some recipes to warm your heart during autumn’s rainy days.
Pecorino al Miele e Noci
(Pecorino with Honey and Walnuts)
We have many kinds of sheep’s cheese (pecorino) in Italy. I'm a huge fan of the aged ones, and I absolutely love the strong flavor combined with honey and walnuts.
6 slices aged Pecorino cheese
2 tablespoons chestnut honey 3 pears, sliced and peeled
1 cup walnuts
Place Pecorino, pears, and walnuts on a tray.
Drizzle with honey.
Filetto in Balsamic Vinegar Sauce
A beautiful, aromatic steak you can find in every elegant Italian restaurant. The original balsamic vinegar comes from Modena, a little town in north central Italy, where this unique vinegar is aged in oak casks for many months.
4 filet mignon
1/2 cup Balsamic vinegar 3 tablespoons butter
Salt and ground black pepper
Grill each filet to a medium rare.
While you’re cooking the meat, heat butter in a sauce pan.
Stir in salt, balsamic vinegar, and pepper.
Let it cook on low fire, mixing well until it becomes a dense gravy.
Pour the gravy on top. Serve immediately with greens.
Italian Mashed Potatoes
We call it, "purè," and everybody loves it! It is a classic side dish for meat and fish. So soft, warm, and comforting.
2 pounds potatoes 2 cups milk Dash of nutmeg
Peel and boil potatoes in salted water until tender to fork.
Place potatoes in a saucepan, adding butter, milk, nutmeg, salt, and pepper.
Mash with a masher or a fork. Add Parmesan. Heat for 5 minutes and serve.
"Castagnaccio" means "evil chesnut" in Italian. Here is a recipe from the Tuscan middle ages.
2 cups chestnut flour
1 cup water 2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons pine nuts
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, finely chopped
Preheat oven to 200°C (400° F).
Combine water, chestnut flour, and a pinch of salt to make dough.
Place the dough in an oiled pan and sprinkle with pine nuts and rosemary.
Bake for 20 minutes until medium brown.