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PISA ARTE
Versione Italiana

A cuisine that follows the rules of the sea 
by Davide Paolini

Versione Inglese

Fish is the supreme element of Pisa’s cuisine, but it also includes “earth” specialities from the local peasant tradition.
The province of Pisa is varied and full of contrasts. Its gastronomy also reflects these contradictions, represented by two opposites: “land” and “sea”, in the sense that one is a cuisine of simple, peasant origin while the other uses the produce of the sea. Pisa is not just the river Arno, the Leaning Tower and the famous university - the city’s make-up still reflects its past as a maritime republic. Thus seafood is the heart of its gastronomy, though the province of Pisa also presents a series of fine traditional “earth” products, such as Montegemoli bread (a round, ochre-yellow and fragrant bread cooked in a wood-burning oven, used to make bruschetta and in soups, and goes well with Tuscan pork products), black-eyed beans, Lari cherries and “extra-virgin” olive oil, used to prepare excellent local dishes. Last but not least, the hills of the province are beginning to produce fine wines.
Yet fish reigns supreme in Pisa’s cuisine. In the past, one of the great traditional specialities was cee alla pisana, the term in dialect for the baby eels caught in the river Arno. According to this recipe, the eels were sautéed with garlic, olive oil, sage and Parmesan cheese, but nowadays they are no longer to be had (“cee” fishing is prohibited) and have been replaced by whitebait.
Surprisingly, stockfish is also popular. It features in local dishes with leeks or chickpeas or with a sweet-and-sour sauce or onions and tomatoes. Chickpeas are also widely used, especially to make the speciality known as cecina (though Genoa and Leghorn also lay claim to its invention), a sort of flat bread very similar to the Genoese farinata made with chickpea meal cooked in copper baking-tins in a wood-burning oven. Vegetables grow in abundance here, given the mild climate of this part of Tuscany, and are used mostly to make delicious quiches. Pulses are very popular and provide the flavours of an inland gastronomy. San Michele bean soup, bordatino (a soup made of red beans, black cabbage and corn meal) and al fiasco beans are some of the dishes in which they feature. The fresh pasta dishes seasoned with strong sauces based on game and poultry such as boar, hare and duck are also of great interest.
From the local peasant heritage come recipes like maggese, made with diced shoulder of Pisan pig and pecorino cheese, pig’s cheek mousse, excellent spread on warm toast, and testicciola alla pisana, head of calf or lamb cooked in water with spices and herbs, boned and seasoned with capers, anchovies, pickles, salt, pepper and olive oil. An interesting example of the “poor” peasant cuisine, minestra sull sciò is typical of Volterra. A sautéed mixture of finely chopped garlic, “extra-virgin” olive oil from the Pisan hills, rosemary, tomato and water is used to prepare a broth in which home-made pasta like quadrucci or tagliatelle is cooked. The result is a soup served piping hot, sprinkled with grated cheese.
Towards the heights of Monte Pisano, near the Colline Metallifere, the woods produce delicious products such as mushrooms (especially honey mushrooms, used to make a tasty purée) and above all truffles from the area of San Miniato, where a fair is held every year, during the last three weekends of November, to celebrate this delicacy.
As to Pisa’s sweets, the famous torta coi bischeri is a cake made of short-crust pastry with a rich filling of rice cooked in milk flavoured with lemon zest, vanilla, candied fruit, chocolate, currants, maraschino, pine-nuts and a touch of nutmeg.
Finally, the province of Pisa also includes among its varied resources a flourishing wine-making industry: typical local wines include the Chianti Colline Pisane (protected by the DOCG label), Bianco Pisano di San Torpé, Colli dell’Etruria Centrale and Montescudaio on the border with the province of Leghorn.

Davide Paolini, “gastronaut”


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