Una Famiglia, Due Tenute
We continue our series on the traditional cuisine of Maremma. Here are some of the more unique recipes that will impress your dinner guests!
We’ve already gone over the CIAFFAGNONE and SCOTTIGLIA; now, we’d like to present several other typical Maremman recipes. These are tasty, rustic dishes that make for a satisfying and filling meal using simple ingredients—like acquacotta, or cooked water, and pannunto, or moistened bread; or the simple and fragrant festival dessert called the “mice” of Castell’Azzara, a sweet treat that is indelibly tied to its place of origins.
Acquacotta is a dish from another era, its flavors and preparation reminiscent of a Tuscany centuries ago, when the butteri, or the herdsmen that rode horseback through Maremma, would traverse long distances for many days at a time away from home with their animals. They loved this simple, rustic food, whose origins probably go back to the ancient Etruscans. To get the full experience of this dish, one must think of the untamed lands of Tuscany, where the herdsmen gathered wild herbs to boil, adding sautéed onions and—if they were lucky—a bit of lard. They softened their hardened bread, which they always brought with them, in this aromatic broth. The recipe naturally altered with the changing of the seasons, and the herdsman would use what was available: green beans, wild greens, broccoli, dandelion greens, and dandelions. Sometimes, they allowed themselves the “luxury” of adding a bit of meat or salt cod to their dish, both dried. Acquacotta was obviously consumed by people other than the herdsmen, but it was most widespread through the land of Maremma and Tuscia. Over time, housewives began cultivating their own gardens and would make this dish, enriching it with eggs. As simple as this stew can be, this ancient recipe has withstood the test of time, and today is part of the Maremma culinary heritage.
Domenico Romoli, famous Renaissance gastronome who also worked for Pope Leo X, wrote in 1560 in Venice an essay entitled “La singular dottrina”, in which he described this particular recipe: “Boil the pork loin. The guanciale from a young pig should be half-cooked. Take a wide, short loaf of bread that has been cut in half and a slice of lard; slice the bread with the lard, put it on moistened bread, cut it very thinly, and eat with strong vinegar and sweet spices.” This specialty was very successful (and acquired its own name, the Panunto), and still represents the classic panunto recipe of Maremma today. It even became a common word in some vocabularies; for example, some Treccani define it as a “slice of moistened bread with the fat from a pork roast or from being in contact with pork, liver, and sausage while cooked; or, a toasted slice of bread with salt, garlic, raw olive oil, and pepper (to taste).”
Don’t turn your nose up at the Mice of Castell’Azzara—they have nothing to do with rodents! Instead, the “topi,” or mice, are a traditional dessert for celebrations. These delicious treats are half-moons of puffed pastry, soft and golden, filled with walnuts, honey, cinnamon, and orange peel, baked until just done. Its unexpected name comes from the dessert’s shape after it has been cooked, which resembles a mouse. And they’re extremely rare: the topi are only produced in one bakery in Castell’Azzara and by family members, but the town’s population is steadily declining. The topi are generally sold during Christmastime. Finally, one last interesting tidbit: up until just a few years ago, the “Theatrical Company of the Mouse” went around the Grosseto area with a show called “Taglioli, topi e tagliole” (roughly translated to “snares, mice, and traps”) during which the famous mice of Castell’Azzarra were given to the audience.