Too often we underestimate what lays just a stone’s throw from us. I grew up in Tuscany and spent most of my summers on its coast. Maremma was the region that hosted all my swims, sun-tans, and afternoon ice creams and for years I simply took it for granted. But only recently have I fully appreciated the beauties that this region offers to the curious traveller, a tourist who is in search of peace and old flavours.
It is not surprising that the New York Times describes it as one of “the best destinations for those seeking nature, clean waters, and tranquillity”. Maremma is the wild heart of Tuscany, a region of melancholic beauty where white cows resting under olive and cypress trees and the butteri, the traditional shepherds, leading herds of buffalos along gentle sand dunes, and among pine trees and chestnut woods. Those who are able to ride can even join them at dawn and watch them working.
But peace is not only in the landscape. The food of the region relies on local and genuine ingredients as well as traditional methods and recipes. Wild-boar, rabbit, and Cinta pig, a special breed of the region, are only a few of the specialities that can be sampled in any old taverna washed down with a glass (or two) of the equally extraordinary wines that dot the area like Morellino di Scansano or Rosso di Bolgheri.
But it’s not all about meat. Vegetarians should not fear to find a suitable meal. Ravioli Maremmani for example are a light and delicate dish of large pasta squares filled with ricotta and spinach. The secret ingredient is a touch of nutmeg and a generous dusting of pecorino.If you have tried them or are curious about them here is the recipe to experiment in your own kitchen.
For 4 people
400g “00” flour; 4 eggs; 1 tbsp olive oil
1kg fresh spinach; 500g ricotta; 1 tsp grated nutmeg; 200g grated Pecorino Toscano
Make the pasta by breaking the eggs in a well of flour and beating them with the rim of a fork to incorporate the flour until it becomes thick and which point you can use your hands and turn it into an elastic dough. You can also add the oil to the eggs before starting mixing. Wrap the pasta in cling film and leave it in the fridge to rest for at least half an hour.
Destalk the spinach leaves, wash them, and cook them quickly in a pan with a little amount of simmering water enough to wilt them. Blend them in a mixer with the ricotta, adding to the mixture a few pinches of salt – according to taste – the cheese and the nutmeg.
Roll the pasta into sheets of a few millimetres and obtaining a good number of rectangles. Spoon onto the sheets a plum sized dollop of mixture in a row making sure they are a few centimetres apart. Fold the pasta sheet and seal on all sides cutting square shaped ravioli almost 5 cm wide. They are so large that you will probably only need three or four on a plate! Dress with melted butter, a few leaves of sage and grated Pecorino.