Tuscany is bread without salt, is a good extra virgin olive oil, is grilled meat with friends, roasted chicken with potatoes and wild fennel, is cacciucco (a fish soup) on the seaside, panforte from Siena and Florentine schiacciata, it is rosemary and sage… Tuscany, for me, is Grandma Menna’s cooking. Granny Menna is how used to call my grandmother Marcella as a child.
Granny picks up wild herbs to make a salad; as soon as mushrooms come out she runs into the wood to forage them: it is her biggest passion. Granny believes to be an Etruscan woman, with her roots firmly planted in her country.
Granny knows how things are supposed to be done, as it is how they are written in Pellegrino Artusi’s cookbook. Aunt Pasquina gifted granny with this book when she got married: now it is yellowed with age, with some pages missing and old pictures as bookmarks. Granny loves cooking and trying new recipes, but don’t tell her she’s good in cooking because she will shield herself saying that nothing comes as it should be when she cooks.
And yet, thanks to her delicious lunches she would make for me when I would come back home from school, now I am what I am, not skinny and thin, but curious about new flavours and willing to try new things.
Yes, then there is me… curious about Middle eastern cooking, British lover, fond of spices and far away flavours. But it’s time to give a chance to my Tuscan cooking, trying to understand better those recipes that made me what I am, with the help of Granny and old uncle Pellegrino Artusi, a lively old man who will speak through the pages of an ancient book. So, let’s start with thew first recipe.
Chicken liver crostini
These are the appetizers that should be made for special occasions and holidays. When granny was a child, these crostini were made during threshing days, when the farmyard was crowded with people. Men were working in the fields, while women were cooking for them.
These were the days to be celebrated, along with Christmas day and Easter.
Since I was born, these crostini have always been made to celebrate christenings, weddings, birthdays and Christmas days.
This is the simple way my grandma and my mum make the crostini neri, literally the black crostini, a name given after the brownish colour of the chicken liver spread.
The sweet smell of butter that soften the chicken liver reminds me of happy days, early Christmas mornings or my birthdays in summer. It surrounds you and brings you into the middle of the Tuscan countryside. It is supposed to be spread on toasted Tuscan bread slices, just forgive any other refined bread. You can soak the bread with chicken broth (as my Aunt Silvana does), butter them (as grandma does) or use them as they are (as my mum does).
Chicken liver crostini
- 400 g chicken livers
- ½ red onion
- ½ carrot
- ½ stalk celery
- 3 tablespoons pickled capers
- A few sage leaves
- 1 sprig rosemary
- 50 g butter + a knob to cream the spread
- Anchovy paste
- Rinse the chicken livers under running water and put them in a saucepan with the other chopped ingredients: onion, carrot, celery, capers, sage, rosemary and butter.
- There are not strict quantities to be followed when doing this chicken liver spread: just use all the ingredients equally, so that there are no vegetables prevailing over others.
- Season the livers with salt. Use a very tiny pinch of salt, because the real flavour comes from the anchovy paste that you will add at the very end.
- Stir frequently and cook for about 35 minutes, adding some tablespoons of water every so often. The livers should remain soft and wet. When the chicken livers are done, put all the ingredients in a food processor or use a mill to make a pâté.
- This sauce is good when it is quite rough, not too velvety. It should keep its rustic character.
- At the very end, gradually add some anchovy paste and cream with some butter, tasting every time to find the right level of saltiness.
- You can make this one day ahead, and when it’s time to serve it just heat the chicken liver spread with some butter or chicken broth.