Life In My Tuscan Village – Chapter 13: Food of the Village

In San Romano most of all food dishes were prepared by each family using their gardens as raw supply and ingredients that were mostly produced from hard work in the fields.

Flour used to make bread and cakes came from the harvest of grain which would then be taken to the local crush/grinder to produce the flour. Chestnut flour was also used for many local delicacies such as “Necci” chestnut polenta and chestnut cake.

Eggs would come from local chickens, milk from the village cows. Lots of these ingredients would be barter on a regular basis depending on the need of each family. If you didn’t have a cow, you would barter milk and butter for maybe flour or sugar. Sugar had to be purchased outside the village and was a valued commodity.
Other bartering items could be rabbits, chickens, eggs, vegetables, wine and fruits.

My favorite recipes were the cakes. The basic ingredient for all cakes is the cake dough.

Here is the basic recipe for cake dough:

This recipe can be used for any basic cake.

Ingredients for baking double amount for two cakes or more. This way, dough can be frozen for future baking:

7 eggs
2 1/2 c. sugar
1 tsp. salt
8 c. flour
4 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. grated lemon rind
2 tsp grated orange rind
2 stick of unsalted butter (if salted, do not add the 1 tsp. salt)
2 tsp. liquor (Anisette or Rum; this is optional)

In medium bowl, mix eggs with sugar. Add lemon and orange rind and liquor. Melt butter and add to eggs mixture. Sift flour and mix with baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add to egg mixture. Mix well, lay on a previously floured board and knead, adding flour if too sticky. When well mixed, form into individual balls of the amount needed to cover the pie dish.

Once the dough is ready, it can be used for any type of cake. My favorite is the chocolate cake or ” Torta di Cioccolata”

Ingredients for chocolate filling:

1 stick of unsalted butter
4 oz. of unsweetened chocolate
3/4 cup of sugar
3/4 cup of flour
2 1/3 c. of milk ( 1 liter )

In a double boiler ( if not available use a teflon covered pan ), melt the butter. add the chocolate. When chocolate is melted, add the sugar, stirring constantly. Slowly add the flour alternately with the milk. When all combined, cook for 5 minutes.

Prepare pie tin by lightly buttering and putting a small amount of flour; shake out excess flour. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Roll out dough and place in the pie tin or dish. Put chocolate in. Trim top by making a lattice top or any desire trim using the extra dough. Bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes or until crust is golden.

When I lived in the village, I watch my mother and grandmother make the dough along with the cake and many other cakes, but I never actually tried to make this by myself until many years later probably in my 40s. I was talking long distance to my aunt Alda to wish her a Merry Christmas and she reminded me that she had made all these wonderful cakes. I then got the urge to try and bake the chocolate cake myself and asked her for the precise recipe.

To my surprise, I actually made a super chocolate cake just exactly as I remember as a young child. I told my father in Chicago that I had actually made from scratch the famous chocolate cake and that it had come out delicious. He then sent me a family cookbook that was put together by Tina Chiappa from the neighboring village of Barga. Her recipes are exactly the same as what my mother used in the village. 

The chocolate cake here is her recipe.

If you are into cooking, I encourage you to try and bake this cake by making the dough from scrath. Do not buy a pre-made dough tin crust. 
Once you have experienced the making of this cake, you will be hooked, I promise


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