The kitchen is the heart and soul of the Tuscan home. In the countryside, the kitchen is also where animals are tended, medicines are made and often, unfortunately the TV rules.
I used to be fascinated by the disorder in the kitchen- how could such amazing food be created in such chaos! Why do Italians seem so disorganized?
But after many visits, I understand better how things work and know that they are more methodical than I will ever be.
Tuscan kitchens can be small, the size of a clothes closet, so storage of pots and pans must be tackled with creativity, outside on window ledges or on rooftops. But when there is room, there is always the long wooden work table- where vegetables are prepared, pasta is kneaded and dried herbs and recipes books are gathered.
Nothing is ever wasted or thrown away. If the family cannot eat it, the dogs, cats or chickens will, and if they don’t, the last resort is the compost.
When the meal is ready, a colorful tablecloth, a bottle of local wine and golden- green olive oil transforms the table.
I have witnessed spontaneous dinner parties when there was only a speck of cheese, a slice of ham and old bread in the pantry. The Tuscan cook is creative and able to make something wonderful out of nothing.
Most of the time, the produce and the eggs come from the backyard. Italians eat only what is in season which means cavolo nero in winter, (this black cabbage is only grown in Tuscany but is similar to kale) asparagus in the spring and tomatoes in the summer. Olive oil and wine are made on the property or purchased from a neighbor. Bread is bought every day. Herbs are plentiful all year but can be dried and preserved in salt.
When I watch my friends cook, their recipes are basic and are seasoned with salt, pepper, olive oil and maybe a fresh herb and garlic. I’m so accustomed to adding everything in my spice cabinet, overshadowing the taste of the food.
I eat less in Tuscany – maybe because my palate is truly satisfied and I don’t eat out of boredom or anxiety, two conditions that accompany me in North America.
I have had gelato three times this stay- always the smallest cone and my sweet tooth is perfectly satisfied.
But now that my last week has arrived, I will have one more gelato. I’m considering right now what shop to visit and what flavor to sample.