Tag: Prato

Prato biscuits: don't call them cantucci! – Italian Cuisine

They are famous all over the world thanks to the fame of the Prato fabrics, and they preserve the historical recipe. Even today at the Mattei Biscuit Factory they are made like they used to be, by hand, tile after tile

In 1858 Italy did not exist yet, Tuscany was a Grand Duchy and a Meadow, in Via Ricasoli 22, Antonio Mattei opened his own Biscottificio with resale. Baked up a dry almond biscuit with a recipe developed by him, and certainly he never imagined that that biscuit would become the traditional biscuit of Prato, which would have survived for over two centuries and that would have traveled far beyond the borders of what a few years later would have become a nation.
Prato has always been known throughout Tuscany for bread, and the bakeries that produced the Bozza Pratese (the typical local silly bread) also produced biscuits. In addition to all the historic biscuit factories in fact, in Prato it is common practice that the ovens also make the biscuits, so there is a vastness of offer and declinations that have always been, then become ecellence. Thanks to the fame of the fabrics before, and then in the years of the Italian economic boom, the city has become one of the most famous and studied textile districts in the world, and the industrialists of the time have contributed not a little to the spread of Prato biscuits, sending them and giving them away in every part of the world. Even today in Prato it is not Sunday unless a blue bag of biscuits "di Mattonella" is discarded.

Cantucci or biscuits from Prato?

The first documented recipe of this cake is a manuscript, preserved in the State Archives of Prato, and bears the signature of Amadio Baldanzi, a Pratese scholar, dated 1779: here the biscuits are called Genoese. The Accademia della Crusca in 1691 had already defined the cantuccis as a "sliced ​​biscuit, flour flour, with sugar and egg white". The almonds were not present and only appear at the home of Caterina De ’Medici.
Both the cantucci and the Prato biscuits are dry cakes made with a mixture of eggs, sugar and whole almonds, neither roasted nor peeled, and are obtained by cutting a piece of dough into pieces while it is still hot after cooking. The difference is in the cut, which is twisted diagonally in the Prato biscuits, and in the ingredients. "The Biscotto di Prato, the one we pack in our famous blue bag – explains Francesco Pandolfini of Biscottificio Mattei – follows a slightly different recipe from that of the cantuccio: it is somehow a simpler product without the addition of yeasts, fats or aromas, which inherits the tradition of Prato bakers". The substantial difference compared to the codified recipe of 1779 is that today the biscuits are no longer "biscottati", that is cooked twice, and this time a time necessary to give greater conservation to the product is today skipped.

The Mattei Biscuit Factory

Prato biscuits are made with flour, sugar, almond, eggs and pine nuts – they do not contain preservatives, animal fats or vegetable fats. The fame of Mattei products began to spread beyond city limits, traveling together with the precious fabrics that merchants bought in the city. The merit medal was won in 1861 at the Italian Exposition and the honorable mention at the Universal Exposition in Paris in 1867 and illustrious fans such as Pellegrino Artusi, who reported the recipe for their Torta Mantovana in his famous recipe book, and mention the products of Antonio Mattei also Malaparte, Ardengo Soffici, Sem Benelli, Hermann Hesse, and the Presidents Carlo Azeglio Ciampi and even Bill Clinton. In 1904 the business passed to the Pandolfini and Ciampolini families, and it was in the 1920s that new products were born, such as the Candone Filone, the Brutti Buoni, the Biscuit of Health, which today are classics, rigorously disciplined in receiving and cooking almost as much as the Prato Biscuit. Even today the Biscottificio of Antonio Mattei is owned by the fourth generation Pandolfini. As has always been the case since 1858, the production is still done in the same laboratory, in the 13th century family palace in the historic center of Prato, with the same quality raw materials and artisanal methods: in addition to having preserved the same processing methods, the cookies in the traditional blue bag, for example, are still closed and hand-tied one by one. Novelty, from pichi years in biscuit factory you can also sleep in one of the four apartments above the laboratory, Le Dimore di Casa Mattei.

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the best restaurants in Prato – Italian Cuisine

World famous pastry shops, a new finedining scene, cocktail bars and new gastronomy entrepreneurs are renewing the city. Once again and thanks also to its Chinese half

Italy is the country of a thousand bell towers, Prato was the city of a thousand chimneys, today it is one of a thousand food and wine specialties. Prato has been called "the Manchester of Tuscany" for the incredible industrialization that had transformed it in the nineteenth century, but it is also the city of the Chinese, the home of Prato biscuits, Prato peaches and an unexpected series of typical products , new or secular.

The city of a thousand chimneys. Photo Daniele Mari

Prato has always been a rich and cultured city, boasting a cathedral frescoed by Filippino Lippi, the world-famous Contempoeanea Luigi Pecci art center, examples of industrial archeology such as the Fabbricone, now home to a theater and destination for architects on a pilgrimage. Prato has been able to reinvent itself throughout history and today has decided not to leave its destiny to chance. Not even culinary.
At 20 km from Florence, it has about 1/10 of the population and, as tradition has it, there is no good blood between the two. But so much for a level playing field we do not agree historically with Pistoia and this has translated into a programmatic will to create, conserve and protect a unique food and wine heritage.

Eat Prato, the event that twice a year talks about local typicality. Photo Daniele Mari

Local excellence

The concentration of Slow Food Presidia is impressive: there are the Biscuits of Prato (which for heaven's sake even if they look like nooks, they are not at all!), The Bozza Prato, silly bread, typical of the rural tradition, the Mortadella of Prato PGI so special and aromatic due to the addition of Alchermes, the dried Figs of Carmignano. They even invented a supply chain flour, the GranPrato, and a real pride of the local food and wine called Eat Prato, very popular and which takes place twice a year. Obviously there are also the Prato Peaches – which alone are worth the trip.

The Lazzerini Library. Photo Daniele Mari

The pastry shops

The star of the pastry shop hovers over the city, and the pastry shops are the real local flagship. The reason? Professor Daniela Toccafondi, Councilor for Productive Activities, Trade and Tourism with University and Europe of the City, explains this to us: “Prato has always been a rich city, a crossroads of businesses, travelers and astute entrepreneurs. It was a city in which it has always eaten well and that together with the fabrics has exported other excellences bringing them far away and making them famous ". The Biscottificio Mattei has been making Biscotti di Prato since 1858 and boasts in a single city two pastry masters such as Luca Mannori, chocolate guru, World Pastry Champion and holder of the original Setteveli cake recipe. A few hundred meters away, the Pasticceria Nuovo Mondo by Paolo Sacchetti, wife and heir Andrea "Sacchettino" Sacchetti from which come out mythical and unmatched Pesche di Prato and leavened like the Giulebbe. Sacred monsters aside, other young people are also making their way as Luca Borgioli, pastry chef at I Frari delle Logge, won third place in the FIPGC contest at the national level for the Best Modern Single Section.

New Wave from Prato

Other than the province, in Prato there are places like Schiaccino, a place that if you landed in Milan would make a fortune: young boys, enthusiasts, selection of natural wines, large sourdough focaccia with sourdough and special grain flour filled with excellence, of the territory . Beautiful the place, the environment, good food and were even able to organize an event like Winezilla – the first Prato fair of natural wines. You will hear about them. Even the cocktail bar scene wants to emerge, thanks to the Nunquam factory which produces white Prato Vermouth, bitters, bitters, alchermes and even Ju, a Tuscan London Dry Gin, and places like Apotheke Prato, De'Sto or the Cul de Sac – so much so that the Florence Cocktail Week in May has evolved to become the Tuscany Cocktail Week.

The historic center seen from the Emperor's Castle. Photo Daniele Mari

Emerging chefs

There is also an embryonic scene of fine dining in the city, led by the restaurant Pepe Nero (which everyone in the city swears is now in the odor of a star). But not only the suns. They returned to the city to stay, the young people of Paca, a new gastronomic restaurant that alternates insights such as the Sushi of Chianti with more classic Pappardelle with wild boar, shallot and pine nuts – made with a professional hand and with an excellent quality / price ratio. Try the Steak, which here finds its gourmet dimension, becoming a main course for two, with a haute cuisine service. The young chef Francesco Preite has been serving omakase and sake menus to his fellow citizens for eight years (but it is necessary to present them for 9 pm, one time shift), the Dek Bistrot in piazza delle Carceri which serves seafood, raw fish and Mediterranean dishes. At the Pecci Center, Angiolo Barni (patron and chef) has found a home that unites Tuscan tradition and contemporary cuisine, as well as the gastronomic restaurant in the expansion designed by Maurice Nio, and in the new opening of the bistro, with outdoor tables and a suggestive view of the original amphitheater designed by Italo Gamberini.

Chinatown. Photo Daniele Mari

Chinatown today

Prato, however, is also the most famous Chiantown city in Italy, grown in the nineties when local textile industries moved into the industrial area, leaving a whole slice of the city abandoned. Today it teems with life, restaurants and small shops, and given that even "the Chinese" have moved to produce outside the city, now we face the emergence of industrial spaces abandoned for the first time to themselves. Thus cultural associations such as Chì-Na were born, right in the infamous Via Pistioiese, and initiatives such as the WOM, Wonderful Market of vintage clothing, streetware and handicrafts in Corte Genova, in the spaces of the former Lanificio Umberto Bini and now a space shared among young creatives . To them it seems normal, but for those who come from outside to discover spaces like these or like the Lazzerini Library in the former Cimatoria Campolmi, another restored textile factory where students study under a vault of windows and steel.

Table integration

The integration in Prato was a will as well as a duty, thanks to a far-sighted municipal administration that can now reap the benefits of its work. With the 2019 elections, the first two councilors of the Chinese community joined in and there are already so many four-handed businesses that are giving new economic and cultural strength to the city. Trade flows in the blood of new and old Prato, and this may have been the land on which the future of this city will be built. The history of the MySea restaurant is precisely this: two Chinese-born partners who grew up in Milan, two from Tuscany, a restaurant that combines the Italian tradition of raw fish and the all-oriental passion for crabs and lobsters freshly caught from the aquarium. The clientele is as mixed as the property and in the kitchen there is the chef Davide Chen, an almond-shaped eye, a Florentine dialect, a Tuscan DOC (despite appearances). Raw crudités, Mussels au gratin with parsley and roasted lemon panura, Taglierini pasta with fresh lobster with rigorous homemade pasta and the inevitable Catalan lobster. Why inevitable? Because this is the most loved, ordered and consumed dish by the people of Prato. Why Prato is really a surprise.

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Prato Peaches: a typical dessert from Prato – Italian Cuisine

Typical dessert, brought to the fore thanks to the TV and to the maestro Paolo Sacchetti. Three elements, such as tiramisu, and no crunchy parts: the magic formula of Italian pastry

The Peaches from Prato they are not a fruit. I'm a sweet, typical of the city of Prato, and one of the attractions of the city. Thanks to a pastry chef, Paolo Sacchetti.
The first historical mention written on peaches is when in 1861 at the Contrucci inn in Piazza del Duomo in Prato, the inn served a menu dedicated to the recipes of the peninsula during the feast for the Unity of Italy. This was the dessert, hence the name Pesche di Prato.
The sweet it is apparently simple, composed of two hemispheres of Brioche dough immersed in a liquor bath with alkermes, covered with sugar and stuffed with custard, so that it comes out to tie the two halves: a third of dough, a third of syrup, a third of cream, only the best ingredients, for a perfect result. It's a sweet of tradition, it is sweet, soft, crunchy on the surface, never cloying thanks to the liqueur, interesting to every bite thanks to the different consistencies. In the fifties and sixties, with the economic boom and the routine of cabaret of pasta on Sundays, even the Peaches had their moment of glory, then they were almost forgotten. Too long to do, not very innovative and cosmopolitan, too rooted to be renewed … We had to wait for the rediscovery of the typical product, the renewed regional pride, the fashion of tradition to see them appear in the windows of pastry shops, even in those of his city where they had gradually fallen into oblivion. The Tuscany Region has included them in the list of traditional agri-food products (PAT) for the provinces of Florence and Prato but the merit is however above all a pastry chef, not even a Prato but Florentine, who in his pastry shop has dedicated himself to the good and the right without compromises.

The rebirth of peaches

Paolo Sacchetti opened the Nuovo Mondo pastry shop in Prato with his wife Edi in 1979, an outsider with an obsession with quality that managed to bring the “peaches” to the forefront.
"It all started with Dolcemente Prato, the first pastry event at national level, in 2003, Italian TV stations arrived but also English, Japanese … and I, who was one of the organizers, had brought my peaches. By now no one in the city made them any more … They intrigued because they were a typical dessert, then in 2006 with the book Le pesche di Prato (Claudio Martini Editore) their fame spread even more. They started buying me all the restaurants and trattorias, the other pastry shops in the city started to go back to them trying to follow the same recipe and I taught them to do them even to colleagues of the caliber of Sal de Riso ”.

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Merit of television

He tells Sacchetti “Up until the 1980s, there was no talk of pastry in Italy. The first name was that of Ernst Knamm, because he was the pastry chef of Gualtiero Marchesi. When Luigi Cremona came to me, I had just opened, he told me I was worthy of joining ANPI, the Academy of pastry chefs who had just been born and told me to go to Iginio Massari. I didn't even know who he was, yet he is the master of masters for thirty years! But the magazines were few, and there was talk of cooking, pastry was excluded ”. "The press and the television change your life, since 2000 I have been vice-president in the Academy and yet it is from 2012, when I was elected Pastry Chef of the Year, which magically the schools propose to send me the boys on stage, before I do not they were spinning mica! "

The secret of success. The Holy Trinity

But why this happened? "Because they are the classic Italian dessert. It's like tiramisu, it's a genetic thing we have in our hearts, alcohol gives freshness and makes us want to eat them again. My secret, my diversity is that I make them well balanced, with alchermes bono, the best ingredients and balance everything to reach balance. The tiramisu has a third of Savoyard, a third of soaking and a third of mascarpone. Today they tell us what's needed is the crunchy part, the acidity … they don't really serve, it needs to be good and the good is in the tradition because it speaks to us instinctively ”. He cooked them alongside Massimo Bottura, taught them at the ANPI Academy of Italian pastry chefs, served them at events, fairs, dinners and congresses. He studied the recipe, understood chemistry and physics, discovered the magic formula to make them perfect and can't stop, because if it doesn't bring them it's a popular insurrection. "But I can do other things too!" He points out in front of a pastry shop full of sweets. They are magical because they awaken ancestral memories, flavors engraved in national DNA and childhood memories. They awaken the senses, even for those of sweets that do not nourish a passion, explode in the mouth and then leave that sweet spicy and bitter aftertaste.

Word of Iginio Massari

It is foolish to give them the recipe, there are things that it is useless to try to do at home and instead they should be eaten by those who have found the magic formula to do them over the years. "A harmonious, soft dessert, for lovers of tradition – writes Iginio Massari in the book Le Pesche di Prato (Claudio Martini editor). "Quality is not just a point of arrival of a noble mix of ingredients, but a way of thinking, of existing. In practice it means choosing to work with the heart, sensitive and attentive to the well-being of men, creative and imaginative in satisfying desires ". Difficult to find a better definition, the Prato Peaches satisfy desires, even those you did not know you had, and thus make you unexpectedly happy.

Paolo Sacchetti. Photo Daniele Mari.

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