With all the amazing fresh produce available in the local produce markets in Florence and Tuscany in general, organising a dinner for friends is a fun thing to do in Italy. In fact, our social calendar revolves around extending and accepting dinner invitations.
In our house, cooking in Tuscany for our friends begins with sitting around the large wooden dining table together long after Thursday night’s dinner in Tuscany has been enjoyed, with a spread of recipes before us, some from our much-loved Italian cookbooks, some handwritten recipes that have been passed down through the generations of our family.
If life in Italy revolves around the food, the food itself revolves around the seasons that produce each fabulous ingredient. So it is that we must always consider what in-season ingredients we will find at the local food markets in Florence and specialty food stores.
Then we discuss the guest list, the meals we have prepared for them in the past and their meal preferences – such as Marco, the food and wine connoisseur who only likes Tuscan cuisine and top-quality but who also brings great wine to pair with our menu and is really great (and thus, regular) dinner-table company, or Letizia who loves trying new recipes and always brings great home-made Italians dessert that are almost as sweet as she is! Then there is Paolo who loves food, and always asks for second and even third helpings, which always makes a host feel like they’ve done a good job!
With Italian meals consisting of a light appetizer, an entrée (such as soup, pasta or risotto), a main meal with side dish, and something sweet to complete the perfect Italian meal, finding recipes that are simple yet impressive is important.
One of our staple dinner party entrées is risotto. The stock can be prepared in advance (even the week before and frozen), the ingredients chopped and measured well before our friends arrive, to then be cooking so it needs not much more than a quick stir and it is ready to be served.
The many risotto recipes mean this great starter dish can also be made in so many different ways to always be interesting and impressive.
Rice was actually bought into Italy by the Arabs during their reign over the Italy during the middle ages. It was not long before it was introduced as a common ingredient in Italian recipes.
Being that it was initially a difficult item to produce and was thus quite scarce, rice was then a food for the wealthy upper classes, whilst the poor dined on bread, and later pasta. However, with improvements in rice production, we’re now thrilled to say it is a much more common yet delicious Italian dish to make!
The first secret to making a good risotto lies in making a great homemade stock. Depending on the actual recipe you are making, stock can be vegetable, chicken, beef or seafood.
Vegetable stock is made by firstly taking an onion, halving it and ‘burning’ it a little in an un-oiled pan (non-stick is recommended!), then adding it into a litre of cold water together with 2 sticks of celery, a carrot, some whole black pepper corns, a tomato, a splash of olive oil, 2 bay leaves, a good handful of rock salt and fresh parsley. Bring to the boil and then allow to simmer for around 30 minutes.
From there, there are thousands of wonderful and traditional risotto recipes to choose from to please even the most fussy eaters, the gastronomic thrill-seekers, the traditionalist eaters, they will all seem like the easily pleased.
Below is one of our favourite Tessa Kiros risotto recipes which has proven to be a total crowd-pleaser at one of our recent dinners in Tuscany…
To learn about the traditional Italian ingredients and learn to make delicious, typical dishes before indulging in a delicious meal made by you, we have hands-on cooking classes in Florence.
If you are looking for some great things to do in Tuscany to explore the Tuscan countryside in a small group, you can visit a Tuscan villa on the Taste of Tuscany at the Villa wine tour. Explore the historic wine estate before undertaking a wine tasting. Tread through the terrain, enjoying spectacular views of the Tuscan countryside up-close and personal.
Stroll through the Tuscan countryside, join us for a Perfect Morning in Tuscany small-group walking tour. Leaving from Florence’s city centre and heading to the surrounding countryside, this small-group walking tour includes, well, walking in Tuscany, as well as lunch with wine at a stunning Renaissance Villa Estate, accompanied by an expert tour guide.
To explore other areas of Italy, can check out our Artviva Walking Tours website to read more about the tours we have to offer in Florence, Rome, Venice, Cinque Terre, Umbria, Naples, Pompeii and more.
Artviva is a proud supporter and member of Slow Food
Risotto alla Fragola – Strawberry Risotto
from Twelve by Tessa Kiros
1.5 litres meat or chicken stock
1 medium French shallot, peeled and very finely chopped
250g ripe strawberries, washed, hulled and halved
3 Tbsp good quality brandy
500 risotto rice
50g freshly grated Parmesan cheese plus extra for serving
Heat the stock in a large saucepan and keep it on a gentle simmer.
Heat half of the butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Sauté the French shallot on a low heat until it has softened and add half of the strawberries. Cook gently for a couple of minutes, then add the brandy. When it has evaporated, add the rice and stir with a wooden spoon to coat all the rice. Season with salt and pepper and add a ladleful of hot stock, stirring almost continuously to prevent the rice from sticking.
When the rice has absorbed the liquid, add another ladleful and continue stirring, making sure you move all the rice at the bottom of the pan with the spoon. After about 20 minutes, taste the rice. It should be soft yet firm, and the texture should be creamy and slightly liquid. You may have to continue cooking it for a few more minutes.
Add the remaining strawberry halves, the butter and the 50g of Parmesan cheese and stir in. Serve immediately with a grinding of black pepper and extra Parmesan cheese.