Wheat-free in Tuscany: pears, pecorino and porcini

Italian food is unthinkable without pizza and pasta, but Tuscany's cuisine has far subtler delights than an overdose on carbs. Dodging the dough is a necessity for me, as I eat gluten-free, but Tuscany's autumn flavours -- porcini mushrooms, smoked garlic and fragrant truffle honey -- would persuade anyone to surrender the pizza cutter. Here are the flavoursome highlights of this sunny Italian region, without a margherita in sight.

Porcini risotto. With the first cooling breeze, Italian gourmets are quick to rustle through the heaps of autumn leaves to sniff out the season's crop of porcini. These meaty mushrooms are such a national treasure that regulations are being tightened to ensure they aren't harvested away entirely. Porcini mushrooms, in fresh, dried or pickled form, lend an earthy, nutty flavour to countless dishes, but are best served up in a creamy risotto, showered with parmesan shavings.

Garlic-marinated beef. With the summer sun disappearing, Italians are quick to choose a nourishing meaty dish to prepare for the cold. Tender matured beef, dressed in virgin olive oil, smoked garlic, oregano and cracked black peppercorns, is a Tuscan classic. A bed of rocket leaves and potatoes soak up the fragrant juices (see left). A continental twist on the British Sunday roast.

Truffles galore. The pheromonal scent of truffles abounds in everything from oil infusions to aromatic truffle honey. The gnarly gourmet fungus, celebrated in festivals through Tuscany every autumn, adds a heady kick to savoury and sweet dishes. A Tuscan speciality is pecorino studded with black truffles. Some locals even swear that a tiny amount of white truffle can add panache to cake and ice cream. It seems there's nothing this Italian superfood can't do.

Cheese and honey.
The gelato season may continue a while longer in such a mild climate, but savoury desserts are the sophisticated choice for this time of year. The soft cheese marzolino, christened with a drizzle of olive oil, is often served as a treat, but it's the hard, mature cheeses that are in their prime during October and November, such as seasoned ewe's cheese pecorino. After a meal this may be served with pears, nuts and honey to cut through the salty, musky flavour of the cheese.


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