Siena is a beautiful city in Tuscany known to most foreigners for its palio - a colorful horse race that's held each July and August in the city's main square, or campo. I wasn't there this year for the palio but I was happy to return to Siena earlier this month for many reasons.
And when you're in Siena, you can't talk about sweets and not try the city's signature cookie-- ricciarelli. They're made with almonds, sugar, egg whites and orange zest, and you'll find them in shops and bakeries all over town. Nannini's version was about as perfect as you can get - crunchy on the outside with a coating of powdered sugar, yet soft on the inside and bursting with almond flavor. There's a recipe for ricciarelli at the end of this post, but first a detour to Siena's cathedral, one of the most beautiful in the world.
The cathedral dates back to the middle ages is a masterpiece of architecture and art, starting from the ornate marble exterior built in a combination of styles - Tuscan Romanesque on the lower part, and French Gothic above. Many of the features were added in later years, including the three glittering triangular mosaic panels made in Venice in 1878.
Inside the cathedral is so much artwork - from sculptures by a young Michaelangelo, to a magnificent marble pulpit by Nicola Pisano - that it would be easy to include dozens of photos on this post. But I'll confine it to one photo of the stunning Piccolomini Library adjoining the cathedral. The library is surrounded on all four sides by breathtaking frescoes created by Pinturicchio, detailing the life of Siena's favorite son - Cardinal Enea Silvio Piccolomini, who eventually became Pope Pius II in 1458.
OK, so I lied, there's another photo inside the cathedral, but this was so funny I couldn't help myself. This shows the massive black and white marble columns as well as yours truly dressed for the occasion. The similarity in architecture and sartorial dressing was purely accidental -- honest!
Now on to the more important stuff -- lunch! Patrizia guided us to a restaurant she said a lot of locals frequent, simply called "Osteria."
Wild boar, or cinghiale, is common on menus at Tuscan restaurants. This plate of tagliatelle with a wild boar sauce was hard to beat.
But I tried. My eyes zoomed in on an unusual main course of cinghiale prepared in "dolce e forte" - translating to "sweet and strong." The waiter told me that the recipe included chocolate, as well as vinegar, and it was heaped with almonds and raisins too. I was sold after he mentioned chocolate. Well, no surprise - I loved it and will try to recreate it when the cooler weather comes. Stay tuned for a post on it later this year.
Here's another dish you might not be familiar with called "agretti" - plural for agretto. They're sometimes called "barba di fratte" translating to "monk's beard" for obvious reasons. Even in Italy, agretti are not all that common and I've had trouble finding seeds for them there too. But this year I discovered an online source and planted some in my garden. If you're interested in growing agretti, you can buy seeds for them at "Seeds From Italy." Mine are still a bit immature to pick, but I hope to write a post on them after they're a little sturdier and ready for harvest. Let me know if you've ever eaten them.
They taste a little like swiss chard, even though they look like thick chives. I've usually eaten them boiled, then tossed with olive oil, garlic and lemon juice, but at Osteria, they were served with a pesto made from anchovies, capers, pistachios and olive oil - delicious, but a little went a long way.
Patrizia also suggested we stop for a late day snack at this place, which sells a lot of Tuscan products and also has a fresh bakery with some of the best flat breads I've ever eaten.
The flat bread was delicious in its own right, but also a relief from the typical bland Tuscan bread that's made without salt and that hardens like a rock in no time. Legend has it that salt is omitted because of an ancient salt tax, but Tuscans will tell you it's because the bread is a perfect accompaniment to their regional cuisine.
I would certainly eat it with these cinghiale sausages for instance (even though I'd prefer salted bread.)
But for dessert, forget about bread and dig into these ricciarelli instead - a true Tuscan treat.
printable recipe here
Recipe From Story of A Kitchen
For another recipe and photos of ricciarelli, take a look here:
E per quelli che capiscono l'Italiano, ecco una ricetta da Patrizia con delle belle foto: