Pollo alla Contadina

Pollo alla Contadina

After preparing this dish, from Carol Fields’ In Nonna’s Kitchen, I am forced to question its attribution to a contadina, the Italian word for a farmer’s wife. Indeed, given some of the recipe’s ingredients like nutmeg and lemon zest as well as some of its directions like using a separate skillet to sweat the aromatics and a fine-mesh sieve or a food processor to puree the sauce, the only farmer’s wife I could imagine making the dish is Lisa Douglas, played by Eva Gabor in the ‘60s television show, “Green Acres.”

Eddie Albert and Eva Gabor in Green Acres
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Tuscan Meatloaf with Wild Mushrooms

Tuscan Meatloaf with Wild Mushrooms

I first made Marcella Hazan’s Tuscan meat loaf almost 45 years ago. I was a graduate student on a research fellowship in Cambridge, Massachusetts and had kitchen privileges at the home where I was rooming.  As the owners were away for the summer, I felt free to invite a couple over for dinner who were as passionate about food and cooking as I was. At that time, pre-internet, I only had a few cookbooks in my room and Hazan’s The Italian Classic Cookbook was my most recent acquisition.  I combed through the book looking for something different, something that might surprise my guests as much by its novelty as by its flavor. About midway through, I found it: Polpettone alla Toscana, Meatloaf Braised in White Wine with Dried Wild Mushrooms. Read more

Tuscan Shrimp and Beans

Tuscan Shrimp & Beans

During this pandemic, we have watched television more than ever: movies, documentaries, opera from the Met, and, perhaps not surprisingly, cooking shows. Indeed, ever since we “cut the cable” and turned to streaming, I’m amazed at just how many television chefs there are. And although we’ve discovered a few new channels like Tastemade and Bon Appetit, none has in my opinion provided higher quality than good old PBS.

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Tuscan Lamb & Peas

Tuscan Lamb & Peas

Once again during this pandemic, the result of placing an online order for groceries changed our dinner plans. In the mood for a lamb stew, I ordered three pounds of lamb shoulder; what arrived were two netted boneless legs of lamb. One was a little more than two pounds; the other, about one.

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Tuscan Fried Chicken (Pollo Fritto)

Tuscan Fried Chicken

When it comes to cooking, Tuscany may be famous for its Florentine beefsteak, crostini with chicken-liver spread, thick ribolitta soup, and even its panzanella bread salad, not to mention extra-virgin olive oil and truffles. I believe few, however, would associate the area with fried chicken. Indeed, even after numerous trips to this region and having enjoyed many meals there, I never came across it. In fact, I only discovered it recently while preparing a recipe for a chicken and onion stew from Wilma Pezzini’s The Tuscan Cookbook, which I wrote about here a few weeks ago.

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Chicken & Onion Stew

Chicken & Onion Stew

When I saw this chicken recipe on Diane Darrow’s Another Year in Recipes blog last week, I knew I had to make it. Diane is among the most intelligent and eloquent food writers I know. Along with her wine-maven husband Tom Maresca, she’s authored two cookbooks on Italian cooking and can always be relied on for expert advice on the subject of authentic Italian cuisine.

Diane found the recipe in Wilma Pezzini’s The Tuscan Cookbook, published in 1978 and has been writing a series of three posts from it that cover three standard courses of an Italian meal (primo, secondo, dolce). Her description of the book, along with the posted recipes, motivated me to purchase a used copy of it, which I’ve found to be an unsung gem, both instructive and engaging to read.

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Peppery Tuscan Beef Stew, Peposo


Sunflowers brought home by husband from our local farmers market evoked intimations of Tuscany that motivated me to prepare the subject of today’s post, peposo, a peppery Tuscan beef stew with a long history.

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Braised Pork “Black Rooster”

Braised Pork “Black Rooster”

Serendipity triggered this post. A few weeks ago, a loyal reader in a comment recommended Mario Batali’s 2005 cookbook, Molto Italiano, averring it to be his best ever. I ordered a used copy of it online, and on the day it arrived in the mail, my supermarket had a half-price sale on pork that made a 4.3 perfectly butchered shoulder roast irresistible. This confluence of events ultimately led me to a recipe in Batali’s book for “Braised Pork Black Rooster.” The barnyard moniker derives from the Gallo Nero, Italian for “black rooster,” the emblem of the consortium for Chianti Classico, the wine called for in the recipe. Given my predilection for Chianti, I simply had to make this dish.

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Drunkard’s Spaghetti

Drunkard’s Spaghetti

My brother recently sent me a link to a recipe in the New York Times for “drunken spaghetti,” or spaghetti all’ubriaco and suggested that I do a blog post about it. I’ve seen the dish prepared several times on television by celebrity cooks like Rachael Ray and, over the years, have read about it in the press. Recipes for it also abound on the internet, some posted by travelers who first encountered it in Tuscany, others by food writers like Mark Bittman, who wrote a column about it in 1998, after having enjoyed the dish at Osteria del Circo in New York City.

I must admit that the dish, as well as its preparation, has a lot of wow factor, which makes for good television, especially when a celebrity chef dumps, with a flourish, an entire bottle of wine into a pot for cooking the spaghetti. As you might expect, some cooks go overboard and call for using status wines like Barolo or Rosso di Montalcino and the audience soaks it up with oohs and aahs. Indeed, all the razzle-dazzle associated with this dish may be the reason I’ve avoided making it until now.

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Pork Chops Smothered in Creamy Onions


Often my choice of what we’ll have for dinner is determined by what’s in the market. Such was the case yesterday, when I went to our butcher and found some pretty good looking heritage pork chops sourced from local farms.

Locally sourced, heritage pork chops
Locally sourced, heritage pork chops

I wanted a recipe for them that would do justice to their juicy fat and rich flavor. It didn’t take long before I settled on one from Carol Field’s In Nonna’s Kitchen. What attracted me to the recipe was its Tuscan austerity, using essentially only one ingredient other than the meat, onions. The onions are sliced very thin and are stewed for about an hour until they become a creamy sauce for the chops.

This sauce, however, reminded me of Marcella Hazan’s Smothered Onions for pasta, which is quite similar to Field’s except that at the end of the stewing, the onions are browned on high to sharpen their flavor. I thought this would work well with the chops.

One other influence on last night’s dish was James Peterson’s new book, Done.: A Cook’s Guide to Knowing When Food Is Perfectly Cooked. It had just arrived in the mail and I thought why not see what he says about pork chops. The section on sautéed pork chops illustrates with detailed photos exactly when to turn the chops (“When juices start to form on the top and sides. . .”) and suggests an internal temperature of 130° F as opposed to the typically recommended 145° F for the perfect medium. I incorporated Peterson’s instructions for cooking the chops into the original recipe from Field.

I am happy to report the results were. . .extraordinary. The pork chops came out perfectly cooked and juicy; the sauce was sweet and piquant. It may have taken three cookbooks to turn out this dish, but the prep and cooking were minimal.

Braciole di Maiale Contadine
Pork Chops Smothered in Creamy Onions Adapted from In Nonna’s Kitchen

3 onions, sliced very fine (I used two rather large Vidalia onions sliced 1/8” thick with a mandolin.)
4-5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (I used 4 tablespoons of oil and 2 tablespoons of butter.)
1-2 tablespoons of water (I skipped the water as my onions were quite moist.)
Freshly ground black pepper
6 pork chops (about 2 3/4 pounds) (I used 2 bone-in chops, about 1.5 pounds total.)
All-purpose flour with salt and pepper for dredging
1/2 cup dry red wine
1 – 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter (As I used butter when cooking the onions and did not puree the onions, I did not use it here.)

Put the onions in a large heavy sauté pan with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, a tablespoon or two of water, salt, and pepper. (I used the oil but added 1 tablespoon of unsalted butter and omitted the water.)

Cover the pan and cook the onions at the lowest simmer over the lowest possible heat for 45 minutes to one hour, stirring occasionally. At the end the onions will be smooth creamy. (I cooked the onions for a full hour and at the end uncovered them, raised the heat to medium high and cooked them until they were deep gold in color. I then added a little dry vermouth and cooked until the wine evaporated and followed this with a tablespoon of chopped parsley.)

Set the sauce aside.

Dredge the pork chops in the the seasoned flour so they won’t stick while cooking. Drizzle the remaining oil into a heavy sauté pan large enough to hold the chops comfortably without crowding, add the pork chops, and brown them, turning so they cook evenly. (I used 2 tablespoons of oil and 1 tablespoon of butter. Following Peterson’s book, I heated the fats and cooked the chops on a medium heat about 5 minutes a side; they were about 3/4 of an inch thick. I turned them only once, when juices and blood started to appear on top of the bones and the meat—about 5 minutes and cooked the second side for about another 3 minutes.)

When they have browned, 2 to 3 minutes a side (again, note my comments about browning above) pour in the red wine and boil until it evaporates. (Before adding the wine, I drained off most of the accumulated cooking fat.)


Pork chops after adding the wine.
Pork chops after adding the wine.

Put the cooked onions on top of the pork chops, cover and cook together briefly on top of the stove so the flavors meld, turning the chops several times. (I cooked the chops for about 2 minutes covered and turned them only once.)

The onions cook into a really thick sauce; at the end puree them in a processor or blender, adding a little water or a tablespoon or two of butter. (I skipped this step altogether because I wanted the sauce to have a little more texture and had already used enough butter in the sauce and in the browning of the chops.)

I know that with my commentary, this recipe may appear complicated; but trust me when I say it really isn’t difficult.

I served the chops accompanied by oven-roasted broccoli.

Wine Pairing: Morellino di Scansano, Chianti Classico