Books – Tuscany by Katie and Giancarlo Caldesi

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Katie and Giancarlo Caldesi opened Caffe Caldesi in 2002, as an informal bar and restaurant showcasing Italy’s regional cooking and great wines.  In 2005 they launched La Cucina Caldesi Ltd, a cookery school where the couple and guest chefs could share the secrets of their trade.  A television series, “Return to Tuscany”, aired on BBC2 in autumn 2006, and accompanied the book of the same name.  Caldesi in Campagna opened in Bray, Berkshire, in 2007.  Giancarlo is behind the stoves on a regular basis, and the emphasis is on seasonal Italian food using local produce.  They are the authors of several cookery books.  Locavore is pleased to present an extract and a recipe from their new book “Tuscany”, a culinary journey exploring the traditions and cooking techniques that make Tuscan cuisine so extraordinary.

Around 15 per cent of Italians grow their own food and 17 per cent of these started in the last five years, coinciding with the financial downturn. Combined with the economic benefits of growing your own, Italians are increasingly worried about the quality and purity of food. The phrase cibo genuino crops up again and again, and Tuscans tell me that they want ‘natural food’ that is uncontaminated with chemicals. The organic aisle in the Tuscan supermarket stretches far further than in my local supermarket in the UK. Biodynamic and organic wines are readily available, too.

There is something elemental about planting a seed, watching the plants develop and tasting the ripe fruit. It seems to me that Tuscans have never been as disconnected with the production of food as we have become. From medieval times to the present, Tuscan cuisine, just like the Etruscan cuisine before it, is tied to the agriculture of the area. The real wine movement in the UK and the farm to table trend in the US seem quite new to us but the Tuscans have been growing, buying and cooking food in this way for generations. Our friend Fabrizio Biagi thinks we should all be ‘moving towards the future with the methods of the past’. He gave us an example: his friend catches fresh anchovies at night by lamplight in Viareggio. He gives them to Fabrizio who preserves them in jars under salt, and he in turn gives some jars back to his friend. Fabrizio then uses them (we ate one on thickly buttered bread – heaven) and each time he opens the jar he has a connection, a relationship with that food and its origin, and knows every ingredient in it.

Many Tuscan families still have an orto – an area for growing food – whether it is outside the back door or on an allotment. There is a small but burgeoning movement of people choosing to grow in an orto sinergico, meaning to grow in synergy with the natural rhythms of the world. Our friends Livia and Nello, now in their seventies, have always farmed like this. Far from being a little cuckoo, it is a holistic approach that harnesses the power of nature by farming in harmony with insects, using mixed planting between flowers and vegetables and sowing according to the phases of the moon, the ciclo lunare, to help plants thrive. Even our friends’ local town newspaper suggests when it is best to cut your hair or when to plant seeds according to the phases of the moon. In towns where Tuscans can’t grow their own food, there are an increasing number of ‘zero kilometre’ restaurants specialising in locally sourced produce.

To ensure the quality of the food they put into their bodies, Italians are prepared to spend 14.4 per cent of their income on food compared to 8.9 per cent in the UK. They are also prepared to spend the time gathering ingredients. On a recent visit to Siena, our friend Antonella Rossi pointed out of the window and told me where all her ingredients were from. She grew the vegetables in her orto, the chillies were from a pot outside her front door, her olive oil was made from olives on the trees outside her window and the pigeons for the ragù came from the farm down the road. While she was telling me this I was wondering what I would have to say to a friend who came over for supper – ‘This is from this supermarket,’ ‘This I got online,’ and ‘This is from the local corner shop.’ I know I couldn’t name the exact provenance of most of my food.

Antonella and her husband Fabrizio took us to buy cheese and salami for Christmas direct from the producers. They live on a budget but none of the food they bought was a bargain – that wasn’t the point. They weren’t trying to save pennies; they wanted to ensure they bought safe and good-quality food. Again, I couldn’t imagine doing this back home. Here, in general, we seem more preoccupied with bargains than quality.

It might seem like I am looking at Tuscany with rose-tinted glasses, that we have formed an idealised view of Tuscan life and that we are not giving the real impression of Tuscany today. It is true that obesity is on the rise, as is diabetes (particularly in children), and I know some people in towns are hurriedly buying a panino for lunch and a ready meal for supper, but the numbers are less than in the UK and the US. And we are interested in those that are still living as people have done in Tuscany for thousands of years; those that are in pursuit of a good meal. We want to capture what we thought was special about Tuscany. To do this we have worked with family, friends and chefs who are passionate about their food and land. In Italy, someone like this who appreciates good food is called a buona forchetta – ‘a good fork’ – and happily Tuscany is full of them!

Kale & sausage pasta sauce

If you can, find Italian sausages to give this sauce a more genuine Tuscan taste; however, we frequently make it with good-quality English ones, as long as the meat is coarsely ground and they are not stuffed with rusk. Italian sausages are made with 100 per cent meat, have a good fat content and are flavoured with salt and garlic, and are
 often used in Italian recipes as sausage meat or instead of minced meat. If you do find them you may not need any extra garlic or salt in the recipe. This recipe comes from Raffaella Cecchelli who runs the smallest osteria in Italy called La Tana dei Brillo Parlante in the stunningly pretty town of Massa Marittima. In the photo we have used fresh papperdele, but this sauce is also ideal with penne, fusilli or rigatoni dried pasta.


300 g (101⁄2 oz) cavolo nero
 (or other cabbage), washed, tough stems removed and leaves roughly chopped

6 good-quality (over 90% meat) pork sausages

5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 fat garlic cloves, peeled and lightly crushed

fresh red chilli, sliced, to taste, or 1⁄4 teaspoon dried chilli flakes

480 g (17 oz) dried pasta

3 tablespoons white wine 100 ml

(3 1⁄2 fl oz/scant 1⁄2 cup) double (heavy) cream (optional)

salt and freshly ground pepper

25 g (1 oz) grated Parmesan

Bring a large saucepan of salted water to the boil, add the cavolo nero and cook for 5–10 minutes until soft. Drain well and set aside. When cool enough to touch, cut the leaves into shreds.

Make a shallow incision along the length of the sausages with a knife and peel away the skin. Discard the skins and crumble the meat into a large frying pan, then add the oil, garlic and chilli. Put the pan over a medium heat and cook until the sausage meat is lightly browned, breaking it up with a wooden spoon as it cooks.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta according to the packet instructions, and time it so the pasta will be just cooked when the sauce is ready.

Add the white wine to the sausage mixture in the frying pan and allow this to evaporate for around 5 minutes, then add the shredded cavolo nero and stir through. Pour in the cream, if using, bring the sauce to a gentle boil and taste for seasoning (sometimes there is no need to add more salt if the sausages are already salty). Stir hot, drained pasta into the sauce and serve straight away with the grated Parmesan.

Tuscany by Katie & Giancarlo Caldesi (Hardie Grant, £25) Photography: Helen Cathcart

For more from Katie and Giancarlo Caldesi, click here.