Let’s Talk Food: A foodie in Tuscany

  • Courtesy of AUDREY WILSON Cheeses of Tuscany

  • Courtesy of AUDREY WILSON Panaforte

  • Courtesy of AUDREY WILSON Pici pasta

Last year, when the boys asked my husband, Jim, where he would like to go this year for his birthday, without hesitation he said Tuscany. He had great memories of the region, where we celebrated his 70th birthday in Florence a few years ago with the three boys. Unfortunately, son Dean could not join us this time, as he is busy with his catering business, as well as being a father of two very young children.

Son Neil started to plan a year ago to find the best location to stay. He chose Siena. Siena is in central Tuscany, with medieval brick buildings. It is smaller and less crowded than Florence.The main town is up a hill, which we either went up with the bus or taxi.


Every meal was delicious! There are many restaurants scattered around the Piazza del Campo, a huge square that slopes into a basin for drainage.

Siena is known for “pici” (pronounced “pee-chee”) pasta, which is similar to spaghetti but bigger. Neil, Betty Saiki and I went to a cooking class to learn how to make pici. The recipe for fresh pasta is simple: 300 grams of “OO” Italian flour, 150 grams water, 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil and and pinch of salt. After kneading, the dough will come together and needs to be further kneaded until smooth and pliable. It is then cut and rolled, by hand, until perfectly round pasta is formed. This pasta needs to cook for only about 3-4 minutes.

With this fresh pasta, we made carbonara, a favorite pasta dish of Rome. It was made with Pecorino Toscano, quanciale, salt and black pepper.

Pecorino Toscano cheese is the cheese of choice for pastas. It is made from goat’s milk, and in Tuscany it comes from the region of Grosseto. It was a staple food of ancient Rome.

Gianciale, or cured hog jowl or cheek, is cooked until the fat is rendered out and is part of the flavor of the carbonara.

We often find recipes for carbonara with eggs. We did not use any in our dish, but instead achieved the creaminess with the cheese — a whole block of Pecorino Toscano!

We also learned about some of the pasta, some I have never heard of: paccheri (smooth tube pasta, looking like a cut up garden hose), calamarata (resembles calamari rings), chiocciole (“snail”) and maltagliati (“badly cut”).

For dessert, “ricciarelli,” or a cookie with almonds, as well as panforte, a dense fruit and nut cake that reminds me of Christmas fruit cake.

Every Wednesday is market day in Siena, the largest market in Tuscany. It is put on at La Lizza, near the old fortress, from 8:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. The market is crowded, with locals buying clothing, shoes, hats and kitchen gadgets, as well as a small section for food vendors. The fresh mushrooms were amazing and I wished I had a kitchen to cook from. The porchetta, usually a suckling pig that has been boned, seasoned with garlic, herbs such as fennel pollen or flowers and sliced to make a crusty, chewy sandwich, was a great meal while walking around.

Son Reid, who loves to drive, drove us to Florence to visit a couple of museums. A must for me is Mercato Centrale, where I had wonderful memories from when we were there before. I took a cooking class then, and everyday we would go to Mercato Centrale to see what the freshest foods would be available to cook for the day. There were changes since we were there and the upstairs is now a fabulous food court with a cooking school at one corner. You can order all kinds of foods there, even a cheeseburger and sushi!

But why eat that when you can eat wonderful Italian cuisine!

One of my favorite restaurants in Siena was La Fine Stra, very close to the Piazza del Campo. Pappa was in the back cooking, Mamma was serving, along with two sons. The food was just “malto bene,” or delicious. Nothing fancy, just good Italian food. There were 15 of us, including my sister, Myra; brother-in-law, James; friends, Leo and Terry, Grant and Rick, Peggy Nakagawa and Betty; along with Reid and Neil and their partners. We ordered spaghetti with truffles; ravioli with spinach in walnut sauce; vongoles with bottarga, or dried, pressed roe of the mullet; asparagus risotto; suckling pig; and gnocchi with mascarpone, an Italian cream cheese coagulated with the addition of some acidic substance such as lemon juice.

On a non-foodie note, I had great memories of just walking into the Colosseum, the Vatican and the Sistine Chapel many years ago. I don’t remember paying any fee to get in or waiting in lines. So needless to say, I was surprised at the entry fees to every attraction and the mobs of people, even during the off-season. There were a lot of tour groups, many from China, Korea and Japan, and therefore constant lines! Many of the groups were not made aware of certain etiquette and were rude and loud.

Foodie bites

Hawaii Community College’s Culinary Program not only has pumpkin pies, but on Wednesday, Nov. 27, it will have turkey and prime rib plates that can be picked up from 10 a.m.-12:30 p.m.

The turkey plates will have roast turkey, dressing, gravy, baked ham with pineapple glaze, buttered corn, cranberry sauce, steamed rice, fresh dinner rolls and pumpkin crunch for $11.95.

The prime rib plate includes rice, buttered corn, au jus prime rib and a fresh dinner roll for $14.95.

Rolls are available for purchase for $5 a dozen; whole pumpkin pies for $9.95.


Call 934-2559 to pre-order.

Email Audrey Wilson at audreywilson808@gmail.com.

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