Born as a Roman military hill fort, Siena had the merit of teaching to those same Romans many methods of cooking. In fact it seems that the senesi, paid much attention to the art of cooking, which they learnt from the Etruscans and, if you pay attention to the frescoes, we see many experts and we come to know the creators of the pastasciutta (pasta with tomato sauce) because in one fresco there is a drawing of a servant who is offering this to the diners on a golden plate. The city of Siena was given its full independence by Federico I Barbarossa who in 1180 acknowledged the right of batering money. And it was those senesi who in the year 1200 brought on board the sailing boat of Federico II meat serbata and the widely used dry foccacia and very salty cheeses, lean meat of pork treated with lots of pepper and garlic, matured near the fumes of the embers of a fire; these meats may be considered the forerunner of the dry pork or wild boar sausages that are still today a typical delicacy of the senese table. The golden period for Siena was in the XIII century; it became important for its grand commercial expansion and for its banking activities (remembering the Piccolomini, the Salimbeni, the Buonsignori and the Tolomei) present in numerous Italian and French centres, frequentators of many international exhibitions, bankers that had the merit of giving loans to the community and convents, to the empire and to the papacy. In these years the culinary arts also flourished using new flavours and becoming more simple, and this tradition is still alive today. The meat is cooked on wood fires of oak and scopo; from Belgium arrived the spices, above all pepper; the aromatic herbs dominated indisputably: of laurel and rosemary, nepitella, thyme, basil, the dragoncello with other herbs used in medicines entered into the cooking; but also cinnamon, myristica (also known as nutmet), the cloves etc.,etc. Already dried sausages were packaged - a senese invention - of lean meat rich in garlic and pepper that, together with salt, stopped it putrifying. The seasoning and spices gave a revolution to our culinary arts and not only in the conservation of food, but also in its daily use. In this century Siena had to challenge the envy of Florence with whom they competed to be ‘caput mundi’ in every area. For this reason we are obliged to remember the battle of Montaperti of 1260 in which the Gibellina Sienese were victors over the Guelfa Florentines, but nine years afterwards Siena was defeated at Colle Val d’Elsa and the governing of the city was taken over by the Guelfo sustained by Florence that was holding the supremacy in all of Tuscany. Until the middle of the 1300’s Siena secured for its citizens a good government and was also able to maintain a good relationship with Florence. The cooking flourished at the same time as the arts: banquets lasted for days and days with courses enriched by a great number and great quantity of spices that characterised the tables of the rich senese. From the pharmacies of the convents - where they were given as tithe offerings to the Church - the seasonings were passed to the food prepared for the rich and used with such abundance that they became ingredients for the fire, like that of a senese house that had a banquet that lasted some months and was spent a good 200.000 florins. This fact is significant in the squandering that in this century the luxururious senese comported, luxury that Dante condemned in his Inferno with the verse “There have never been people so vain as the senese....”. And it was a sense, Niccolò Salimbeni, one of the participants of that famous banquet, who discovered cloves (Dante confirms this and condemns him to the inferno with this verse “Sir Niccolò with the costume rich/of the clove who discovered first”) and on the branches of these cloves were cooked pheasants that cheered up the tables of these immortal pleasure in the verses of Folgore from San Gimignano. The meat that was wasted on these tables: other than pork, let us remember the hare cooked in various ways, also with chocolate and the crane, that in those days was widely used in the banquets of the rich, also thrushes and other birds. Next to this waste the cooking of the less rich are recorded and of the more humble classes, the daily cooking of whom it was not possible to have the luxury of eating meat and so other species were substituted with herb flavours, and so the basic food was bread, with all the dishes that came from that: from the soup “alla bruschetta”, the small pieces of toasted bread etc.,etc. The Plague of 1348 brought to an end this period of wealth and the political scene was conditioned by pressure from Florence; which brought about anti-Florentine feelings that Siena participated in after the middle of the 1300’s and many wars between the different states on the peninsula, until in 1559 this city (excluding the dominion of Maremma) passed to the Lords of Florence governed by Cosimo I of the Medici. In this period the senese cuisine became enriched collecting dishes such as the “biancomangiare” (composed of the pancreas and thymus, almond paste, broth, milk and spices) in which is countered with the “ginestrata” (a vegetable soup reconstituted, from an ancient recipe: one egg yolk to every cup of broth, a small glass of vinsanto dry wine, a little cinnamon, a little coriander powder, a little nutmeg and a pinch of cloves in powder. The egg yolk is beaten with the vinsanto, and flavoured with the spices and then it is all diluted in the very hot chicken broth. The “ginestra” by tradition was also the “introito” given to the daughter-in-law by the mother-in-law, when for the first time she enters the house. Also reborn was the sweet “soup of the duke” named so because it was prepared for the first time in honour of the Duke of Coreggio who came to Siena by the order of Cosimo I of the Medici to attempt to calm a brawl between the Senesi and Spanish. This sweet at the end of the 1700’s was rediscovered in Florence by Doney who re-named it “zuppa inglese”, because it was appreciated by many English who found at the end of the XVIII century a second homeland in Florence. Of the sumptiousity of some 15th century banquets the author Bartolomeo Scappi left some precious written testimonies in one work titled “Opera” (published in Venice in 1570) in six books that built up “the synthesis of an accredited doctrine of a work of every day, of a educative teaching translated by examples”, (wrote Emilio Faccioli. The Banquets) tied to his name, and those that remain in history were those prepared by the Papal Legate Lorenzo Campeggi in honour of Carlo V and that in 1567 a lavish meal was prepared on the occasion of the first anniversary of the Pontificate of Pious V, who reached the grade of “secret cook”. And with the title of “The Secret Cook” in this century this work was published as a partial edition. With regard to these great convivial movements one banquet is to be remembered - testified to in a document conserved at the State Archives of Siena - kept at the public building of the Palio of 15th August 1536. At that time the Ascension was celebrated by a solemn procession to give the offering of candles to the Cathedral: in this occasion affluent Siena was also represented by many of its surrounding communities (Capalbio, Massa Marittima, Orbetello etc.) obliged to give an offering in equal proportion to their socio-economic situation. The offering of candles in fact was not only an ecclesiastic tribute but also of the “citizen”; the Council on this occasion confirmed its supremacy and also made note of the offerings given and by whom and those who had not given and their expiry date. For these subjects there was offered a banquet that was held in the Council palace. For the Palio of the 15th August 1536 there were provided 13 lavish tables: at the centre that of the Priory of the Lords, and at one end the Captian of the people, and the other end was reserved for the representatives of the Empire and all the guests around this table. The list of the dishes testifies to the senese cooking on grand occasions and was based mainly on meat: those valuable courtyard animals (fifteen capons and ten pairs of pigeons), animals of domestic breeding (two goat kids, six pork brains, one pork spine) and finally the wild animals (partridge, thrushes, hares). The list also speaks about a good seventy eggs, some mozze (the mozza was a small cheese enclosed in a bladder and tied in the middle) of fresh pork sausages and of two spleens for the sauces, the spleens are still used today in the typical senese crostini. To cook all it is also documented the acquisition of large quantities of condiments made with the special “pepper, spine (cloves) cennamon (cinnamon) and .....eight ounces of lard”. There were also an abundant number of sweet dishes: pound of biricuocolo (a sort of biscuit), two pounds of marzipan paste, three pounds of sugared almonds, three pounds of sugar, three marzipans.” The wines came from various localities of the surrounding senese countryside; it is documented that there was also acquired a guastardina (glass vase) of rose water and one canfa water for the hands: it was necessary to wash as at that time it was the habit to eat with the fingers. Sauces were used greatly and accompanied every dish; one of these was the sapa, the savore of mortina and the savore of giusciole. The sapa was made (and for some recipes was still used) until the 1950’s in the high Maremma. In 1500’s in Tuscany the sapa was prepared with “take three quarters of juice of the grapes well matured and sweet pressed by hand or feet, boil for a long time together, so two parts are boiled away and one part remains; that which remains is called sapa”, so wrote Francesco Marescotti (recipe from 1580). The savore of mortina or mortella was a sauce with a base made from an evergreen shrub to give flavour to the meat and particularly of game. Of the savore of guisciole (of a particular cherry of slightly acid flavour) - wrote Bartolomeo Scappi - “take these cherries...put them in a vase of seasoned copper....and leave to boil until nearly dry slowly slowly without stirring; and when they are well broken, passing through a sieve without spreading it, it is enough the juice that is made. For every pound of juice put one pound of sucaro a half quart of entire cinnamon and one quart of pepper cloves and nutmeg paste and leave to boil”. Bartolomeo Scappi was the author of the precious recipe book title “The Cook” published secretly in Venice in 1570, a book of nine hundred pages that collected the titbits that were prepared for the Pontifico Pious V Piccolomini (founder of the city of Pienza) using Scappi in his service as a cook. He is the one responsible for introducing to Tuscan cooking, baccalà, which is still widely used today, cod preserved in salt after being partially dried and “stoccafisso”, which is a particular way of preparing the fish which comes from Germany where the baccalà is completely dried on a stick; of which derives the name “stoccafisso” from stock (stick) and fisch (fish). Above all during the harvesting of the grapes, baccalà, other than being cooked, was also eaten raw, accompanied by grape seeds, and it is also possible to see today in some parts of the countryside this tradition continuing. Still today the end of the Palio is celebrated with a feast, reserved for the inhabitants, in which each quarter of the city celebrates the victory or defeat with dishes of the most authentic and antique senese cooking; for those most widely used are the: bread pieces with milza (spleen), the coratella of lamb, the frogs in stew, the nodini of lamb (roasted budelline), the buristo (a dish prepared with pig’s blood), beans with cotiche, the migliaccio (a sort of tart made with the head of a pig, dried bread, sugar, pig’s blood) and finally the castagnaccio (a cake made from chestnut flour and pine kernels). This food that is eaten in abundance and with absolute indifference to cholesterol levels or to the heat of the summer. A cooking varied and rich in flavours, in which Siena maintains today many ancient characteristics: cooked roasted directly on the embers of the fire, crunchy fried foods, stews, skewered meats and vegetables, game, the “gosling with orange” (that of Siena that flies to Florence and from here to France to be returned more seasoned but perhaps with less flavour and with the exotic name of “canard à l’orange”), but also lots of soups and sweets like the ficattola (a bread of figs that may be served with ham), and many others such as melatelli (a type of apple fried in batter) and the very famous panforte. It is to be remembered that in the first years of our millenium the panforte was a very simple sweet made from flour and of sweet fruit cooked in the oven and was called strong (forte) because when it was left to mature it developed an acid flavour. It was probably the spices, the possibility to have candied fruit first with honey and then with sugar that transformed this rustic cake into a masterpiece of confectionary that became more enriched and differentiated between various products. The last date that is recorded of panforte was in 1879 when the Queen of Italy Margherita di Savoia came to Siena for the Palio and was offered a new panforte and from which it was given the name; the panforte Margherita. Today the senese cakes from panforte to panpepato, cavallucci, ricciarelli etc., etc., are known and exported worldwide, but in our land it is still possible to find an original handmade cake able to preserve the ancient flavours and fragrances, and able to cheer up the Christmas table, but not only. And so for all senese cooking the tradition is very strong, the novelty that is the mode do not take over from certain dishes well rooted in traditional uses and customs of the senese inhabitants who will not renounce hare in dolceforte, or the quail in nests, or pan co’ santi, but also the “stiracchio”, belonging to simple cooking, when boiled meat is served three times. As boiled meat, as broth that with a little stale bread becomes vegetable soup, with added, perhaps - in good times - a little grated cheese. But the boiled meat has to be left and becomes another dish: broken up, coated in flour, and fried with a little oil and onions, and then drowned in tomato sauce; after ten minutes of cooking, a little wine is added, a pinch of salt, pepper and is it served with lots and lots of bread...At one time this main course was called “stiracchio” as if the meat was minced for the meat to be used again. This dish survived and is often called “lesso rifatto”,but today fortunately it is a dish that is prepared when the boiled meat is left spontaneously, without it being necessary to “tirarlo”. There is a dish in use today whose origin is lost in the mists of time, it is “the cake of the medici”, its denomination derived probably from the fact that it was very nutritous and so was proposed by the medics (or perhaps it was used in the court of the Medici?) It is formed with a stuffing that was enclosed inside two layers of bread dough, today puff pastry is used. The actual ingredients are many: spinach, Tuscan mustard, sugar, icing sugar, currents of Corinth, candied orange peel, amaretti of Saronno®, chopped nuts, egg yolk, lemon peel, flour, pine kernels, nutmeg. At one time they were content with a lot less: spinach (or wild erbette), crushed grapes thickened with cooking (“sapra”), renette apples cooked with water and honey, white mustard, virgin honey, toasted and chopped almonds, and for the garnish fennel seeds. And it was served as a sweet, at one time it appeared in banquets as a “tramezzo” course. Many however are dishes that in the senese area you may taste; some of these in other Tuscan cities or were never used or where forgotten...., sometimes for an excessive adjustment to the supposed requests of the tourist. The senese cooking, to not move away very much from that of Florence and the other nearby zones, has a definite character - above all the more simple - for the research of natural flavours and the adding of particular aromas: for its frequent use of wild small fennel, of dragoncello, of certain salads taken from the fields, of certain erbette forgotten elsewhere, for the faithfulness to the most traditional and antique roots of Tuscan food and which has always reserved particular attention and that merits a live appreciation. How is it not possible for example to forget the dragoncello sauce that is still offered today? Or the migliacci of pig’s blood? Or the cipollata? Of the nana (as the duck is known in the Tuscan countryside and particularly in Siena) in roasted piglet? Finally the cooking of Siena - and of this its inhabitants are well aware and proud - may boast in being the true Tuscan cooking, that which has become enriched through the centuries without losing its antique use.
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