Spaghetti Westerns & Tuscan Cowboys
The original cowboys were Italian! Oh yes they were! The Butteri of southern Tuscany have been an intrinsic part of the Maremma area for centuries, riding and roping long-horned cattle on horseback. Maybe that explains, in part, why Italians have always been intrigued with the American West.
The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, recognized as one of the top ten films of all time, was an Italian-made Western, emblematic of the widely popular genre of movies directed by Italian, Sergio Leone, in the 1960s and 70s that were ultimately dubbed "Spaghetti Westerns." They were a stark depiction of the Old West, featuring characters who possessed both heroic and villainous traits, the most prominent being "The Man with No Name" portrayed by Clint Eastwood.
This week's menu is inspired by simple, straight-forward foods that could have been eaten in the marshes of Maremma or on the Plains of the American West.
Insalata di Fagioli
Cannellini & borlotti bean salad, spring radishes, fresh herb vinaigrette
Stracci all' Intingolo
Homemade egg pasta "rags" in meat gravy
Stracotto alla Fiorentina
Slow-braised Florentine pot roast with onions, carrots, and potatoes
Torta di Fragole
Skillet strawberry cobbler
Castello Querceto, Chianti Classico 2019
Amidst the oaks (for which it is named) and the olive groves lie the vines that are the source of the superior wines of Castello di Querceto. Produced in Geve in Chianti, this wine is matured in casks for 10-12 months. The wine is then refined in the bottle for a minimum of three months.
A ripe red, showing aromas of sliced strawberries, black cherries, and sweet licorice. Yet, this is energetic and fresh. Full body, chewy tannins, and a medium finish.” James Suckling 92 pts
One of the first things I realized when I moved to Italy was that Italians have long been fascinated with the American frontier. Roy Rodgers jeans were the extremely popular Italian version of Levi’s and Tex Willer, a vigilante comic book character, was and still is after 72 years, beloved to little Italian boys and men alike. He is an Italian made interpretation of the American Old West – a tough guy with a strong personal sense of justice, righting wrongs and protecting the underprivileged.
And then there were the cowboy movies, directed by Sergio Leone and filmed in Italy, thus earning them the label “Spaghetti Western.” They depicted a violent gritty Old West, featuring characters who possessed both heroic and villainous traits. Fortuitously, a relatively unknown American actor, Clint Eastwood, was cast as the lead “Man with No Name” launching his superstar movie career and an entire genre of films that continued for 20 years. It is also important to note that the films were elevated by the innovative and matchless scores of Ennio Morricone, considered one of the world’s greatest film composers.
Maybe even more surprising than the Italian’s infatuation with American western culture is the fact that Tuscany boasts its own cowboys! The “butteri” have been an intrinsic part of the region’s southwestern flat marshes of Maremma for centuries, riding and roping long horned cattle on horseback. For thousands of years, they lived a solitary life working the land herding sheep and cattle. These Italian cowboys reached international fame when Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show arrived in Rome in the 1890s. It is written that there was a competition rodeo and the Italian butteri out skilled the famous American cowboys! Che vergogna!
Much of what both the American and the Italian cowboys ate was born out of poverty. It had to be easily transportable and equally easy to prepare. It was about getting the best out of a few ingredients, providing filling and nutritious meals. This week’s menu is inspired by the simple, straightforward foods that could have been eaten in the marshes of Maremma or on the Plains of the American West. Dinner had to include beans, probably the mainstay of the traveling cowboy’s diet. Tuscans are famously known as “mangia fagioli”, or bean eaters, and are well known for their many dishes made with cannellini. For our Insalata di Fagioli, we combine them with the darker borlotti beans and spring radishes, tossing them with fresh parsley, dill, and extra virgin olive oil.
“Stracci all’ Intingolo” are “rags” referring to the uneven shapes of fresh homemade pasta that we combine with the flavorful pot roast sauce that follows. One-pot dishes are a preferred way of cooking in the Maremma as it certainly was over the cowboy’s campfire. “Stracotto alla Fiorentina” is the Tuscan’s version of pot roast, enhanced with rich red wine, tomato puree and a soffritto of carrots, onions, and celery, served with root vegetables.
We can envision our cake-like strawberry cobbler, Torta di Fragole, being made in a cast iron skillet where the macerated strawberries are haphazardly combined with butter and a pancake-like batter. I have taken some artistic license by adding a side of whipped cream, but you could add your own ice cream at home after warming it up for a few seconds in the microwave.
Chianti Classico DOCG, Castello di Querceto is a great accompaniment for our rustic dinner. Made in the Chianti Classico area of Tuscany (just north of Maremma’s marshes), this wine is a brilliant ruby red with a soft and elegant texture. It has fruity aromas, balanced with herbal notes and an interesting finish.
The enjoyment of a good Spaghetti Western was something I had forgotten since those early days in Tuscany. They may seem a little sophomoric now compared to the movies of today, but maybe that is what makes them so special. Good guy vs bad guy – the strong helping the weak - good always prevails. Simple and somewhat comforting themes that, in these uncertain and confusing times are certainly welcome. I encourage you to take a break, escape and watch The Good, The Bad and the Ugly with us. It is available for free if you have Amazon Prime or NETFLIX. Otherwise, you can rent it on various other platforms for $2.99.