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The traditional cuisine

The traditional cuisine of Bagno a Ripoli - From the Medici to farmers: a history of flavors and imagination

The local cuisine of Bagno a Ripoli is that of the traditional country fare typical to the rural hills of Southeast Florence. It is a cuisine that is composed of simple, genuine products that are rich in flavor and imagination.
To recount the story of the local culinary tradition entails telling the history of the city itself, from the time of the Etruscans, through the poverty of the Middle Ages to the splendor of the Medici. It means telling the story of the local bread, without salt originally due to the high taxes imposed by the hated Pisa, or of tripe, lampredotto, cibreo and chicken liver pate - a cuisine built on scraps and simple ingredients, that when prepared with skill, become delicious meals. To enrich the dishes, the spices and herbs that grew in family gardens were cleverly used, representing the true secret of local cuisine.
The Etruscans, whom the Romans had defined as heavy drinkers addicted to the pleasures of the table, used great qualities of olive oil, in addition to legumes and cereals, still important ingredients of the local cuisine. They also prepared pappardelle, steak, soups, and even the "schiacciata con l'uva" (a sweetened focaccia with grapes).
The birth of what is known as "cucina povera" can be traced back to the Middle Ages, when the Lords ate their food in bowls of unleavened bread. After meals the bread bowls were given to servants, who would boil them in giant pots of water with whatever other scraps they could find, especially herbs and vegetables.
This was how forefather of the famous ribollita was born.
Bread and olive oil continued to be the protagonists of the medieval tables of the richest and the poorest citizens. After the year 1000 the civilization flourishes, and with Florence's return to the center of trade and commerce, the favorite Florentine dishes become the fettunta (bread and oil), castagnaccio (a flat bread made with chestnut flour, olive oil, rosemary and pine nuts), the ribollita and the panzanella. Sweets such as the schiacciata con l'uva and pan ramerino (bread with rosemary) would also have been prepared. Many of these delicious dishes were already enjoyed with a new instrument that would eventually enjoy great success around the world: the fork!
Florence became increasingly important for trade and culture, and with the discovery of America the surrounding countryside was among the first to see many exciting new crops; tomatoes, potatoes, and beans were soon cultivated in the gardens of Bagno a Ripoli. This small gift from Pope Clement VII soon became the king of the tables, just as much for the Grand Dukes as for the peasants. Some years later Catherine de' Medici, who had married Henry of Orleans, moved to Paris, bringing with her both the cooks and recipes that would become the foundation of French cuisine as we know it. The white sauce made with milk and flour became béchamel sauce, paparo al melarancio became canard à l'orange and crespelle became crepés.
It would be the great-granddaughter Mary to finish what Catherine had started. She exported the bigné, a pastry which could be filled with numerous varieties of cream, including gelato, which had been recently invented by Florentine architect Bernardo Buontalenti by mixing cream and honey in the ice houses of the Boboli gardens.
Meanwhile the Florentine countryside was the protagonist of another small revolution. Cosimo III established the boundaries of what would become the Chianti region, which went from Bagno a Ripoli all the way down to Siena, in 1716. He marked the borders of where each type of wine could be produced, essentially creating the first wine-growing region defined by law, and anticipating the "DOC - Controlled designation of origin" concept.
This brief history of the cuisine and flavors, and the passion that our people have always had for "sitting at the dinner table" (stare a tavola), can only fittingly conclude with Pellegrino Artusi. Romagnolo by birth but Florentine by adoption, he wrote the cornerstone of Italian culinary literature: La Scienza in cucina e l'Arte di mangiar bene in the middle of the 19th century. Through this work Artusi attempted to rejuvenate Italian cuisine, along with the use of traditional and wholesome ingredients such as olive oil, with the conviction that even a poor Italy could still enjoy the pleasure of really good food.