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 region 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.
Cannellini beans, spring vegetables, parmesan and croutons
Homemade pasta "rags" in meat gravy
Slow-braised Florentine pot roast with onions, carrots and potatoes
Soft strawberry cobbler
Tenuta di Arceno Chianti Classico Riserva 2016, Tuscany, Italy
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 very popular 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. 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 the world’s greatest living film composer.
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 Maremma for centuries, riding and roping long horned cattle on horseback. These Italian cowboys reached international fame when Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show was touring Europe in the 1890s. It is written that there was a competition rodeo and the Italian Butteri out-skilled the famous American cowboys! Che vergogna!
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 start with 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 from cannellini. Here we combine them with the darker borlotti beans, tossing them with spring radishes, fresh parsley, dill and extra virgin olive oil.
“Stracci” or rags, refers 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 area 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.
We can envision our cake-like strawberry cobbler being made in a cast iron skillet where the macerated strawberries are haphazardly combined with butter and a pancake like batter. I’ve taken a little 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.
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.
The enjoyment of a good Spaghetti Western was something I had forgotten. They may seem a little sophomoric compared to the movies of today, but maybe that’s what makes them so special. Good guy vs bad guy – simple and somehow comforting in these uncertain and confusing times.
I encourage you to take a break and 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.