Tuscany is among the most beautiful and particularly popular regions in Italy. Its fame is due to both its awe-inspiring nature (Jesus, the views to Tuscany from above are breathtaking) and rich historical heritage from the time of the Medici.
The mighty dynasty ruled many times in Florence between 12th-17th centuries and contributed a lot to the development of the region as well as of art, painting, music, etc. There is also one very peculiar fact again related to the Medici which concerns Tiramisù (or Tiramesù). By the way, a little bit later I will add something else, something about Veneto (another extremely beautiful region in Italy) and the dessert “al cucchiaio” (or “on the spoon“) because there are doubts and several theories on the origin of zuppa inglese and its birthplace.
So, I was talking about Tuscan Trifle, wasn’t I? …. Exactly. 🙂 In the late 17th century Grand Duke Cosimo de’ Medici III (1642-1723) visited the town of Siena. He was well-known for his sweet tooth and that’s why Sienese pastry chefs and confectioners had the hardest task to prepare a dessert in his honour. And they invented a concoction, similar to today’s Tiramisù, which they called zuppa del duca (the “duke’s soup”). Their invention was very successful, indeed, and Cosimo III even brought the recipe to Florence. Later in the 19th century English intellectuals living in the town of the Medici, i.e. Florence, were impressed with the dessert and owing to them it was brought to England where it became extremely popular. As a matter of fact, that is the reason why the dessert’s also called “zuppa inglese”.
Zuppa del duca made its way also to Veneto and Treviso, in particular, where it is claimed to have been prepared according to the recipe we know nowadays in a local restaurant. Classical Tiramisù was invented by Francesca Valori (whose maiden name was Tiramisu) at Le Beccherie restaurant in Treviso. She was a god-daughter and apprentice of the confectioner Roberto Linguanotto – Loli. He was fascinated with the dessert she made and decided to honour her and her culinary skills by dubbing the dessert “Tiramisù”.
After having recounted all this, I can assure you that I had the greatest pleasure eating a Tiramisù (apart from all of the theories on and doubts about its origin) when I was in Siena last year. The town is pretty nice with its winding and tiny streets like a true labyrinth. Il Duomo di Siena (Siena Cathedral) is awe-inspiring with its white marble façade and form of a Latin cross. But, for sure, the most imposing and fascinating is the shell-shaped Piazza del Campo where il Palio di Siena is held twice a year.
Probably you will ask me what a palio is. In brief, it’s a horse race in two editions – Palio di Provenzano (on July 2) and Palio dell’Assunta (August 16) which dates back to medieval times. This Sienese tradition started with public games (named palii alla lunga) such as boxing matches, jousting, bullfights organized by all Sienesecontrade (a contrada is a district). They were always held in the central square of Siena. At the end of the 16th century they were outlawed (especially the fights with bulls) but the local racing tradition carried on. Le contrade organized bufalate (races with buffaloes), asinate (races with donkeys) and palio (horse races). The first true and modern palio was held in the 50s of the 17th century and was called palio alla tonda. Nowadays il Palio of Siena is still preceded by a true spectacle and parade of historical costumes. The event is known as Il Corteo Storico and it really impresses with the galaxy of colours, costumes and thrown flags and all this to the accompaniment of live trumpets.
Yes, it is really fantastic to watch il Palio while eating a Tiramisù nowhere else but in Siena … like a true Medici. Don’t you think? 😉