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Leonardo da Vinci & Caterina de’ Medici

by Ippolita Douglas Scotti:

Leonardo da Vinci and Caterina de’ Medici—two genial minds who revolutionized the way we cook.

The recipe for a peasant soup below is the perfect example of how the Tuscan tradition of cooking sparked French Cuisine, thanks to the geniality of Leonardo da Vinci and, later, the innovation of Caterina de’ Medici.

Leonardo was not only a genius and incredible artist, but he was also a fine chef and liked to experiment with new dishes. According to Leonardo, a good cook must always keep the kitchen in order—a fire always on, a continuous reserve of boiling water, a clean floor, and kitchen utensils washed and ready for chopping, slicing, peeling, and cutting. He also believed that music was essential, because with music, the cook worked better, and the clients would better appreciate the food.

For Leonardo, the essential ingredients in the kitchen were always seasonal herbs and spices such as turmeric, saffron, cinnamon, poppy flowers, pepper, basil, thyme, and oregano. He even enlightened us with cooking tips:

"Every time you put a pot on the stove, you must cover it with a damp linen cloth—which must be changed often to prevent the steam from being absorbed by the contents of the pot and altering its taste." — Leonardo da Vinci

Carabaccia is an ancient, traditional food, not an invention of Leonardo. This comfort dish was the favorite of the artist, who was vegetarian. He insisted that at every banquet in his honor, Tuscan Carabaccia must be served!

Caterina de’ Medici also very much liked Carabaccia, and brought it with her to France when she married King Enrico II d'Orleans in 1533—thus giving the French the first original recipe of the Soupe a l’oignon.

Yes, one of the symbols of French Cuisine is, in reality, the Carabaccia—or zuppa di cipolle—a traditional peasant dish very common in the Renaissance and adapted into a royal delicacy.

The recipe has never changed. Here is the original recipe of Tuscan Carabaccia, a healthy, comforting food for the first cold days of Autumn. You’ll love the warm, pampering flavor of this hearty soup.

Tuscan Carabaccia

2 lbs golden onions

3 tbs extra virgin olive oil

Salt and Pepper

½ cup of shredded almonds

2 tbs of vinegar

2 tsp ground cinnamon

2 tbs of brown sugar or honey

4 cups (1 liter) vegetarian broth

Peel and finely slice the onions. Braise them in a large pot with broth and oil until golden and starting to caramelize. When the onions are done, add the vinegar and let it evaporate.

Add the broth. It has to be soupy! Then add cinnamon, sugar or honey, and a good grind of black pepper and salt. Add the almonds, and mix the flavors.

Lay a slice of toasted bread in the bottom of each bowl, then ladle over the onion soup.

Enjoy! Baci!


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