The Maremma

Extreme Poverty and Genuiness

The history of cooking of the city of Grosseto and Maremma grossetana is closely tied together, above the endemic poverty that was prolonged in this land for various centuries (a regional song that was very popular at that time called Maremma amara - which means bitter) testifies to the poverty of certain dishes like aquacotta only recently enriched with egg, also in the reclamation works, the only way that gave them contact between the few inhabitants of this zone and the outside world. It is enough to think of the famous lombarda soup (made with beans and pieces of bread flavoured with garlic and sage and seasoned with salt, pepper and oil) in Lombardy is totally unknown; it is thought that it was called this because of the fact that it was a dish prepared for the workers who came from Lombardy who at the end of the 1700s came to Maremma to work on the reclamation of the swampy interior. This extreme poverty was testified to by the writer Renato Fucini who under the pseudonym Neri Tanfucio wrote about the workers who went to work on the reclamation in Maremma those of Tuscan origin where distinguished easily from the others because the head of the family took a shoulder bag, tied with a string, a conditoio and kept tightly in the hand a small sack of beans! The conditoio was an itinerant bone of ham. To give some taste to the minestrone and vegetable soups that were without seasonings, the bone of ham which was always difficult to find, was put into a pan. And so it was used passing from house to house, from pan to pan with the spirit of solidarity that sometimes grows from great poverty. The oldest dishes that of grossetana and maremmana cooking (that are very similar, even if that town was at one time a little richer) are very simple and even today give their pleasantness to the aromatic herbs, to the long slow cooking, to the capacity of cooking the courtyard animals in a way that uses everything, to the wide use of mushrooms in which the zone has plenty. Some dishes have disappeared due to environmental reasons such as the seaturtle soup at one time widely eaten, this turtle was captured above all in the zone of the Argentario; today this use is only a historical curiosity as it is no longer possible to capture these creatures. Very significant is, for example, the preparation of the famous macaroni maremmani (that today is known as pappardelle but for this recipe is used the antique name of macaroni which at one time was the name used for all types of pasta whether long or short); it belongs to a dish rich in flavours, very tasty, a dish of great occasion but little cost because it used the small livers and interior of chicken and rabbit (of which also the head is used, at one time without the eyes), sausages, bacon, nuts and dried mushrooms, besides naturally, the herbs and the unfailing tomatoes of which the Maremma produces high quality thanks to the climate that has only a little rain and the large sunny spaces that it needs. Other food widely used in Maremma, on the land which traditionally was only given to the breeding of animals, is the ricotta that we can find fresh, smoked or worked in various other ways (for example ravioli and gnocchi), but also a seasoning for tortelli and pasta; during the Easter period it is used schiaccia with the ricotta, a bread kneaded with ricotta and egg that is eaten at breakfast with salami or with butter and jam. Talking about gnocchi lets remember that today with probability it is the first form of pasta used by man, round balls formed by a flour dough (that could be from any seed,of millet, panico, sorgo, wheat, or grain) and a little water, widely used in the area where it was easier to cultivate the various grains. The use of gnocchi dates back to Middle Ages and the term was derived from the longobardo Knohha (which is knot, knuckle) and defines whatever flour dough that is spherical. Let us remember that the last gnocchi which made its appearance in our cooking was that of potatoes because the potato came from the New World and so was not known before the 1500s, before the discovery of America (1492). A story of fatigue and extreme poverty, therefore, that of Maremma, land at one time unhealthy and sparsely populated, today fertile and rich (also for the tourism is flourishing for those who are interested in sea and countryside), with a traditional cooking made with typical products and food (wild boar, pig, mushrooms, egg, vegetables, wheat products and - above all in the area of Orbetello - some fish dishes characterised by the femminelle, small sea crabs cooked alla pescatora and the eels of the lagoon of which was traditionally prepared a soup for lunch on Christmas Eve) that permitted the preparation of dishes out of time, that often was not exported and so became strong elements characterising the culture of this land and of its people.