While there are few certainties in life,
there is one thing that we can be sure of: it is impossible not to love the
Tuscan cuisine! Tuscan delicacies can be enjoyed whether you are in big cities,
in the small taverns of medieval villages, in the farms or in the Tuscany villas that have been turned into restaurants.
But what are typical Tuscan dishes? Well,
there are many...
Nobody can claim to know the Tuscan cuisine
without first having tasted a Fiorentina steak, or a plate of Acquacotta ,
Ribollita, or having tried a slice of Pecorino Toscano (Tuscan sheep’s cheese).
But today we want to talk about desserts,
in particular one delicious sweet dish that has become a symbol of Siena:
Panforte is a type of Christmas cake with
origins dating back to medieval times. At that time it was called “Pane
natalizio” which translates as “Christmas Bread”. For many centuries it was
considered a dessert for the rich and could only be found at the banquets of
nobility who lived in castles and in the Tuscany villas. The original recipe
contained expensive spices that only the affluent could afford.
There are many different flavours in the
mixture including pepper, honey, sugar, candied fruit and almonds. The recipe
remained unchanged for many centuries, until 1879. In that year,
"Margherita di Savoia" who had recently been crowned Queen of Italy,
paid a visit to Siena. It was customary in Italy to devote a revised version of
a typical dish to famous or royal people when they visited a city. In Siena,
therefore, the classic recipe of Panforte was changed to make it lighter and
vanilla icing sugar was added on top.
And so, “Il Panforte Margherita” was born
in Siena and it is the same recipe that we are familiar with today. In fact,
for the same reason ten years later, the world famous Pizza Margherita was born
Of course, now Panforte isn’t exclusive for
the noble and rich of the Tuscany villas. Panforte has become a popular sweet
and can be easily found in shops around the region.
A final curios thought: To make Panforte
correctly, in accordance to the Sienese, you must include precisely seventeen
ingredients, one for each of the seventeen districts (Contrade) of the famous
"Palio di Siena"!
March is the season of the Camelias & the historic Villas in the Lucca region are open for viewing these beautiful flowers (which love the local climate). Alongside the Camelia Villas tours there are also music, art exhibitions, cultural events & tastings of Camelia tea. Events take place in the Pieve di Compiti & San Andrea di Compiti locations on 9-10, 16-17 & 23-24 March.
Our accommodation, which cost less than £800 for the week, is in a converted stone farmhouse next to a 12th Century Franciscan chapel. There is a pergola shaded by vines round the back here we quickly settle into a rhythm of eating long pasta suppers while the shadows lengthen.