Gathered around a round table, places were elaborately set for the entire extended family.
Our napkins were rolled up to look like crackers on the elaborate spread, with the tablecloth a traditional one made by the host’s grandmother and used at every Christmas lunch for generations.
One wall of the dining room was taken up by a gigantic window that faced out into the rolling Tuscan countryside, spread out like a gift before us.
But as soon as the food started arriving, the view was forgotten as all eyes, and forks too were on the great traditional Tuscany recipes lovingly prepared in the days leading up to Christmas in Italy.
Food in Italy is great at any time of the year so you can imagine that at Christmas time it is even more wonderful – traditional Tuscan recipes passed down through the generations, prepared in days passed in the kitchen, cooking in Tuscany in the lead-up to arguably the greatest food day in the year.
On this special day, we enjoyed a traditional Tuscan Christmas menu featuring a starter of crostini breads and some fresh prawns (shrimp), peeled all bar their tales and coated in extra virgin olive oil and lemon juice with salt and pepper.
At Christmas time in Tuscany, the entrée is usually tortellini served in broth, with a sprinkling of freshly-grated parmesan cheese.
Our wonderful host and passionate cook decided to go for a lighter traditional starter, which given we had three (yes, three!) main courses, we were very happy about the menu decision!
As such, our wonderful Christmas menu included a delicious dish by Tuscany’s most famous cookbook author, Artusi, of home-made Minestra di Mattoncini di Ricotta – Soup with little ricotta ‘bricks’.
Pellegrino Artusi (1820-1911) lived most of his life in Florence’s city centre, where he penned his famous cookbook, ‘La Scienza in cucina e l’Arte di mangiar bene’ – Science in the kitchen and the art of eating well, first (self-) published in 1881. Over time, it became one of the most loved and famed cookbook in Italy and is still much in use even to this day – so much so that there is even an iPhone Artusi application!
Following on from our starter, we enjoyed the first main course of Tuscan meatloaf and ‘Bollito’ served with sides of home-cooked artichokes, sundried tomatoes and pickled onions, as well as the accompanying green sauce and mayonnaise.
Bollito is the most popular Christmas recipe – a mix of various boiled meats served with the a variety of sauces, the favourites being ‘salsa verde’ (green sauce made with parsley) and home-made Italian-style mayonnaise which is creamy but not tangy.
When a dish of Cinghiale in umido – wild-boar stew – was presented, one family member piped up that this dish was just what we needed to cleanse the palate after such an extravagant meal!
With each course, the wine changed to be perfectly paired with the dishes. We started with a light Chianti, followed by a Rosso di Montalcino (the Brunello’s baby brother) and the big-daddy of wine, Barolo for the mains.
Dessert was home-made mousse with candied orange peel, followed by vin santo sweet wine and home-made biscotti, before concluding – some 4 hours after the meal began! – with a bitter espresso coffee.
As we put our coats on to leave, giving ‘baci’ – a kiss on both cheeks – it was nearly time for dinner but we felt like we may never want to eat again (well, at least until tomorrow!). The sky was already darkening, the air crisp around us as we went home for another wonderful Christmas tradition – a nap!
Here is the Artusi recipe:
Minestra di Mattoncini di Ricotta
(Soup with little ricotta ‘bricks’)
200 g ricotta cheese
30 grams grated Parmesan cheese
salt to taste
lemon zest and a dash of nutmeg
Pass the ricotta through a sieve. Add the other ingredients – the eggs one at a time. Mix well and pour the mixture into a buttered mould, with buttered paper lining the bottom. Cook in a bain-marie. When cool, remove it from the mould, discard the paper, and cut it into cubes of approximately one centimetre square. Place the cubes in a soup tureen, add boiling broth, and send to the table. These amounts serve five to six people.
The Artusi recipe we enjoyed as part of our extravagant Tuscany Christmas menu calls for the ricotta bricks to be placed inside a soup tureen and then served. Our host was a little more theatrical, placing the bricks on our plates first, then ladling the broth over the top before us to a wave of ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ with each steaming spoonful.
To learn about food and have fun learning discovering tasty ways to use seasonal Italian ingredients to make delicious, typical dishes before indulging in a delicious meal made by you, we have hands-on cooking classes in Florence and Cooking Classes in a Tuscan Villa.
If you would like to immerse yourself in the Tuscan culture, we have a small-group Best of Tuscany tour visiting Siena, San Gimignano and Monteriggioni too, as well as stopping for lunch and wine tasting at an award-winning wine estate. See the highlights of Tuscany in one spectacular day tour from Florence – Best of Tuscany small-group tour.
Join us to have fun on an exhilarating bike ride from Florence to the Tuscan countryside, whizzing up and down the rolling Tuscan hills that form the stunning Tuscany countryside as you tour to a great Tuscan villa wine estate to visit their wine cellar for a Tuscan wine tasting, and dine at an award-winning Tuscan restaurant. During the warmer months, you may want to add a splash of extra fun to your Tuscany bike tour with our unique Tuscany Bike Ride with a Villa Swim. Should you wish to skip the Tuscan bike riding altogether and head straight pool-side, we have our Wine Tour and Villa Swim with lunch or simply enjoy a Villa Swim and Lunch in Tuscany.
Visit a Tuscan villa on the Taste of Tuscany at the Villa wine tour. Explore historic wine estates 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.
If you would like to have a private guide accompanying you, we have private tours that cater to your every desire. From Florence (and Tuscany) to Rome, Venice to the Cinque Terre and beyond, we are at your beck and call.
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.