Each month here on the Cookies con Amore blog we dedicate one of our cookies to a region of Italy. It’s an opportunity for you to learn a bit about the Italian culture that is baked into each of our cookies—whether they are gluten-free, sugar-free or classico.
The Ricciarelli is a traditional Tuscan cookie that is naturally gluten-free and combines orange with almond flavors. This cookie has an Arabic influence and dates back to the Crusades, when almonds were introduced to Italy by soldiers returning home. In the spirit of adaptation to local taste and flavors, Cookies con Amore head chef Fernanda has also created a chocolate version of the Ricciarelli made with cocoa powder, “because who doesn’t love chocolate?”
You will find Ricciarelli in every bakery in Siena, a purely preserved Medieval walled city in Tuscany. We love Siena! It’s walkable (in fact automobile access is limited within the city walls), charming and the cuisine is both hearty and delicious. It boasts a beautiful duomo that dates to the 11th century and is home to one of the oldest Universities in Europe.
Siena is best known for its magnificent Palio horse races that take place on July 2 and August 16 in the Piazza del Campo (city square). It’s a grand spectacle complete with medieval costumes and pageantry. A thick layer of dirt is laid down on the square to create the track and more than 28,000 spectators pack the Piazza for the race that is televised throughout Italy.
Today there are 17 contrade (neighborhoods) in Siena represented by a mascot or animal such as the panther, owl or wolf, and each enters a horse in the race. The jockeys are outfitted in the traditional colors of the contrada and race three times around the Piazza. The winner earns a prized silk banner and—more importantly—honor for the contrada. Competition is so fierce that even today marrying someone from a rival contrada can conjure up as much drama as Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliette.
If you visit Siena during one of the Palios you are sure to be swept up in the froth and revelry that continues for four days.
Ricciarelli are Seina’s traditional Christmas cookies. Visit during the holidays to find an elegant and festive atmosphere with many free concerts in the churches. Over the month of December, Siena holds several Christmas markets in the Piazza which is decked out with lights and musicians.
Palios aside, the center of life in Siena is found in the Piazza. Locals gather and catch up with each other here. Take a dinner or apertivo at one of the restaurants or cafes for a great vantage of the goings on.
One of our dear customers who recently moved from Siena to Fort Worth, Texas told us about the things she most misses and offered some recommendations for visitors who want a quintessentially local culinary experience:
The cafes in the Piazza will serve it with a garlic-infused olive oil which is pressed in the autumn after the harvest, a real treat if you are visiting at that time.
In autumn, you will also find wild mushrooms on every menu: fried, on bruschetta, served with pasta etc.
The Cinta Senese is a breed of pigs native to Siena that is bred in the wild hills and pastures outside the city. Cinta Senese salami is dry, with very little fat, and is quite flavorful.
The dough is typically made with flour and water only. Cacio e pepe is a basic cheese and pepper sauce. For more adventurous diners, order the cinghiale (wild boar) ragu. You won’t find that in Fort Worth!
You can’t make a mistake with wine in Tuscany. Chianti and Vin Santo are both locally produced.
Each baker’s recipe is a closely guarded secret. Be sure to sample from a variety of bakers. Run your own Palio of cookies!
Of course, you needn’t book a ticket to Italy to enjoy a taste of Siena. Simply order a box of our gluten-free Ricciarelli and we’ll deliver some Tuscan dolce to your door.
If you have things you’d like to share about your visits and experiences in Siena, please add them to the comments. We’d love to hear from you!