August 19th , 2010 → 5:51 pm @ Susan

Casa Lucia is situated in the area known as the LUNIGIANA, a triangle of Tuscany squeezed between Liguria and Emilia.  For hundreds of years pilgrims and merchants travelled throughout this region – indeed, the Francigena that runs through many of the villages of the Lunigiana was the major pilgrimage route in medieval times between Rome and Canterbury in England -  and the result of these exchanges is noticeable throughout the region in the architecture, the language, and, best of all, the food.  From the three regions, Lunigiana has taken the best of each.  Here is a quick guide to the local specialities:

TESTAROLI are the pride of Lunigiana cuisine.  You will not find them anywhere else in Italy.  They are made from a batter of wheat flour, water, and salt and look something like pancakes.  They are boiled in large cast iron pans with lids, cut into small strips and usually served with Pesto.

Another speciality of Lunigiana is PANIGACCI. The nearby village of Podenzana is famous throughout Italy as the home of Panigacci.   Like Testaroli they are made of a batter but one which is cooked in red hot clay dishes over an open fire. They are served in two different courses: first, as a pasta with a selection of pesto, ragu (meat sauce) and olive oil and cheese, and second as hot crispy pancakes on which you spread the soft Stracchino cheese and fill with mixed cold meats such as Parma ham, salami, bresaola,  etc.  FOCACETTE are similar to panigacci but made with maize flour and can be sampled at the many local festas and sagras.

FOCACCIA is well-known throughout Italy and is particularly good in this region. It is leavened bread cooked with olive oil and salt and is particularly good when just out of the oven and still warm in the mornings for breakfast. Focaccia can also be found made with onions, olives, and sausages.

TORTA D’ERBE or, literally, ‘grass pie’ is actually just that – a local pie made with a base of very light pastry and filled with edible field grasses, leeks and spinach.  This is a delicious dish which you can often buy at the bread or deli counters of the supermarkets.  Perfect for lunchtime with some fresh tomatoes.

Pasta is, of course, an important part of the meal.  In this region, there are the famous TORTELLI or TORTELLONI which are similar to ravioli but stuffed with ricotta (fresh goats’ cheese) and spinach and served with parmesan cheese, fresh sage and melted butter.  

You will see on many stalls in the local markets and festas and in many of the local grocery shops (alimentari) the surprisingly large PORCINI mushrooms in wicker baskets lined with chestnut leaves.  You will find them frequently served in restaurants with pasta in a sauce.  These are a great delicacy of the area and are pretty expensive, fresh or dried, but always well worth it.  I tend to buy the dried ones to bring home, reconstitute in milk, hot water and a porcini stock cube (an absolute ‘must’ purchase if you like porcini – they are readily available in the supermarkets) and then throw in a risotto.  Delicious!

Cheeses are a major feature in Lunigianan food.  The famous PECORINO, made of sheep’s milk is served in most restaurants and sold in the grocery stores and supermarkets.  Pecorino Toscana is particularly good.  Our family favourite is the wonderful GORGONZOLA, which can be bought piccante (sharp) or dolce (mild) and either with or without MASCARPONE (very soft, creamy cheese.  STRACCHINO (creamy cheese) and fresh PARMIGIANO complete the perfect Italian cheese board.

Much of the Lunigiana is covered by chestnut woods, and chestnuts at one time constituted the local peoples’ livelihoods before and during the war.  There are many local dishes in which the main ingredient is chestnut flour, but the most popular is probably PATTONA – a chestnut batter cooked in clay dishes and served with ricotta and salami.  Many of the festas held in the region will serve dishes based on chestnuts.

Although Lunigiana is not famous for its wines, most restaurants make their own from grapes they collect from the South of Tuscany.  The Lunigiana is surrounded by well-known vineyards.  To the south is Chianti, which produces the most famous wines of Italy; other Tuscan wines worth a try include Vernaccia, Aleatica, Brunello di Montalcino and Nobile di Montepulciano.  The Cinque Terre produce pleasant dessert wines such as Sciacchetra.




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