Back in mid-March of 2020, when the pandemic hadn’t quite reached the U.S. yet but was devastating Italy, I interviewed five friends who were suffering through those early days of fear and panic.
One of those friends was Judy Witts Francini, who lives in Tuscany, midway between Florence and Siena. I guess I might describe her as an “Italian Food Concierge,” because she seems to be involved in every aspect of regional Italian cuisine; from shopping at the local markets, to cooking classes, to creating unique foodie experiences for curious travelers.
(And the tourists are back now… BIG TIME!)
But as I’ve mentioned before, “Tuscan food,” perhaps more than any other regional Italian cuisine, gets bastardized the moment it leaves the confines of Italy.
There is a legend that suggests it was the Tuscan-born Caterina de’ Medici who taught the French how to cook—although comparing the two cuisines these days, it seems that the Frenchies were slow on the uptake. Tuscan cooking is simple and contains very little of the elaborate sauces or complex seasonings found in the kitchens of Paris.
The food traditions in Tuscany have their roots in peasant cooking, or “la cucina povera.” The poor folks learned to make the best out of the meager ingredients available to them.
That’s why it’s laughable that so many fancy, high-priced “Tuscan” restaurants have sprung up in the U.S. and U.K., becoming the exact opposite of the real recipes cooked in traditional Tuscan kitchens.
This is apparent in the antipasti where the most common thing is to offer a variety of crostini (little pieces of toasted bread) topped with anything from chicken livers to wild mushrooms to olive tapenade to lardo (yes, that’s exactly what it sounds like: lard, or pork fat).
The bread is made without salt (called pane sciocco in local slang), because once upon a time, salt was heavily taxed and very expensive so they made their bread without it. As a homesick Dante wrote in Canto 17 of Paradiso, “Thou shalt prove how salty is the flavor of other people’s bread.”
But bread eventually goes stale, so being ever frugal, the Tuscans use the day-old bread to make their famous soup, ribollita, with black cabbage (cavolo nero) and cannellini beans.
Or as Judy described in the podcast, a “bread salad,” called panzanella, which under the right conditions takes on the consistency of cous-cous.
Well enough from me. Listen to what the expert has to say about Tuscany Food And Wine:
Tuscany Food And Wine Tours with Witts Fancini!
Originally from California, Tuscany has been Judy’s home since 1984. She had found that the city of Florence held all her passions for food, wine, and art in one place. She shares these passions in her week-long culinary programs, food market tours, and on her blog. When she’s not in Tuscany, she’s often found in Sicily, and always searching for recipes to share.
You can have a look at her tour offerings on her website: Divina Cucina
“I offer a Tuscan week based in the Chianti Wine Region, where I have been living for the past 12 years, and The Sicily program is based at the Planeta Winery in Menfi. But my true love is creating custom programs for clients. I hope to share my passion and love for Italy through these full immersions in everyday life, where you will feel like a local, not a tourist.”
If you can’t make it to Italy this year, consider accessing her considerable knowledge base via her Patreon page.
Or at the very least, follow her on Facebook for some wonderful photos of her latest creations.
Oh, and speaking of photos, all images on this blog post are borrowed with the courtesy of Judy.