For some years now we have visited a delightful restaurant in Tuscany called La Scottiglia in the village of Pescina on the side on Monte Amiata. We have always been looked after exceedingly well there and it is a place we frequently recommend. They do an excellent wild boar dish, and sometimes a delightful wild boar ragù. It has reached the point where when we arrive, if these are available they tell us straight away and the wild boar dishes are invariably chosen for the meal! Interestingly, the name of the restaurant had no specific meaning for us, a slightly embarrassing point as you will see. On our last visit as we were not offered ‘Chingilare’ – wild boar, we were forced to consult the menu and there we found a dish called ‘La Scottiglia’. When we asked what it was it was described as a ‘traditional meaty soup’.
This needed to be tried!! When it arrived it was very interesting. It looked like a meat ragù, without any pasta – just the ragù with a little parmesan sprinkled on the top and served with some crusty bread. Diving into the dish the initial thoughts were confirmed, a really good meaty ragù, but poured over some bread (probably stale) in the bottom of the dish, but in the ragù there were also good size chunks of ‘other meats’ – it was delicious and a staggeringly generous starter. It was a dish that immediately made me think of rich autumnal meat-based soups in front of a log fire on a cold weekend ……. the only thing was, this was August and the temperature was 34C!! It was delicious and very moreish!
We initially thought the dish had been named after the restaurant, but this was far from the truth. The origins of the scottiglia are not very clear. Some point to medieval origins, while other trails lead back to the Etruscan era!
Clearly we had some work to do to get to the origin of the dish whose very name had been adopted as the name of the restaurant rather than the other way round! There’s no doubt that this dish started out as a “piatto povero,” or a humble dish enjoyed by the poorer parts of society. It seems to have been created by farmers who thriftily saved every last cut of meat, even the poorer quality ones (the high quality cuts presumably went to the rich). With these leftovers, they made a delicious dish that deserves a wider audience today. After much searching it is clear that there is not one recipe for the scottiglia, because it utilises whatever meat scraps you have on hand. Its name, which comes from the Italian word “scottata,” or “scorched,” was given to it because of its method of preparation: the meat is put into an iron pan and cooked directly in the flames with hardly any cooking oil, scorching the meat. The recipes we found seemed to fall into 2 general camps: those that were based on large chunks of meat, and those that were based on a ragù like dish with smaller chunks of meat in it. As we were trying to reproduce the one we had experienced in Pescina, it was this latter direction that we were doing to take.
We decided to build this on a base of a tomato rich pork ragù, but mixed with rabbit and pheasant all coarsely minced. This then picked up the essence of what might have been traditionally available for the ragù. It was in the later half of the last century under the guidance of local restauranteur Señora Vichi PalmiraInto that other meats were added together with some extra virgin olive oil the “Olivastra Seggianese” which is the predominant olive in the region. We were therefore going to do the same and so we added some of the less fashionable cuts of other meats: shin beef and beef cheek and a little ox tail, pork cheeks, venison shoulder and some pheasant
Whilst this could be cooked as a one pot dish we took a 2 pot option.
In the cast iron dutch oven we fried off some homemade pancetta and then added to this a standard soffritto of finely chopped onion, celery and carrot. This was sautéd in some olive oil of the region, which we normally only use for salads. It has a really distinctive taste and is claimed to be an important part of the dish (though I am sure any olive oil would be OK!). These were sautéd a little more than I would normally do until they took on some distinctive colour. Basil, thyme, parsley, rosemary, garlic and oregano where also added partway though this stage. The next thing was to crumble in the minced meats to allow them to break up and take on some colour too.
In a separate heavy bottomed pan we started to brown off the meat that had been cut into bitesize pieces. There was no addition of oil to the pan, but again we started with some pancetta, and browned off the rest of the meat in batches. Whilst I would normally brown meat off anyway, as the name of this dish comes from the Italian word “scottata,” or “scorched,” the meat was browned more than usual over direct heat in a dry pan. It is important not to add too much meat at a time or it will release water and boil rather than fry! Once browned the meat was added to the soffritto & mince mix, and the process repeated. This could have been done directly on the BGE and would have been very good on one of the cast iron surfaces, but as the weather was anything but inviting this part of the process was done on a domestic hob!
Now everything was in the one cooking pot it was time to add the liquids. Before adding the water based liquids this is a good opportunity to add some really good olive oil and stir through the meat and vegetable mix. Then add the other liquids. Firstly, a large glass or so of wine – most of the recipes go for red wine, though on this occasion we used white as that is what we have been using recently in our Ragù. We allowed the alcohol to boil off before adding the tomato paste, a can of chopped tomatoes and 200ml of passata and a small splash of worcestershire sauce for some additional umami flavours. All that was left was the addition of some good stock and for this we used a beef stockpot and a chicken stock cube in about 500ml of water. The whole pot was then transferred to the Big Green Egg which had been set up for indirect cooking at 130C with a couple of pieces of beech wood for additional gentle smoky flavour. The dish was left to gently cook until the larger pieces of meat were soft enough to break up with a fork. It took around 7hrs – during this time we also cooked some beef short ribs sat over the top of the cooking pot (similar to the ones here) so as to make most use of the available heat.
At the end of the cooking period there was a wonderful sense of richness in the sauce and just a gentle hint of beech smoke. Although we added a little water during the cooking as we have added a very concentrated stock initially we needed to add a little more hot water to the sauce just to let it down a little.
The dish was served in a terracotta bowl. We toasted off some olive bread and added this to the bottom of the bowl, moistened with a little more of the olive oil.
The sauce was ladled over the top of the bread allowing the rich sauce to soak into it. The whole thing was then simply served with some fresh basil and some parmesan cheese and a little more toasted bread. We were immediately transported back to a summer in Tuscany
On balance I would add a little more water to let down the sauce a little further as a lot of the liquid is quickly taken up by the toasted bread at the bottom of the dish, but that is just a matter of personal choice. However you choose to finish the dish I am sure you will enjoy the taste and hopefully………
……..enjoy the recreating of a little bit of almost lost Tuscan culinary history!
We learned sometime later that the current restaurant opened as a trattoria in 1890 but that in 1972 when the restaurant was past to the next generation of the family, the name of the old trattoria was changed from Da Momo to La Scottiglia in honour of the dish that had become the symbol of the locality – The current propriortors are the 5th generation of the family that continues the tradition of hospitality and more specifically this eponymous dish. I do hope they will feel that our recreation of the dish does appropriate homage to the essence of this tradition!
La Scottiglia - hearty Tuscan mixed meats soup
This is a wonderful meaty ragù with large slow cooked meaty chunks of mixed meats
- Pork Mince 500g
- Mixed Rabbit/Pheasant mince 300g
- A little ox tail
- Pork cheeks 8,
- Venison shoulder 100g
- Pheasant thigh meat 50g
- Mixed beef casserole meats 500g (beef cheek, chuck, feather and shin)
- Pancetta 50g
- Onion 1 large
- Celery 3 sticks
- Carrots 2
- Olive Oil
- Basil, Thyme, Parsley, Rosemary, Oregano
- Garlic 4 cloves
- Worcester sauce 1tbs
- Large glass or so of wine
- Tube of double concentrated tomato paste
- Chopped tomatoes 1 can
- Passata 200ml
- Concentrated stock (equivalent of 2 stock cubes in 500ml)
- Salt & pepper
- Parmesan cheese
- Toasted bread
- Step 1 In a cast iron dutch oven fry off the pancetta and then add a standard soffritto of finely chopped onion, celery and carrot. Sauté in some olive oil. Allow this mix to take on some nutty colour then add the basil, thyme, parsley, rosemary, garlic and oregano. Crumble in the minced meats to allow them to break up and take on some colour too.
- Step 2 cut the meat into bitesized pieces and In a separate heavy bottomed pan brown off the meat. Don’t add oil to the pan, but again start with some pancetta and brown off the rest of the meat in batches. Brown off the meat well until it takes on a distinctive nutty colour. Once browned add the meat to the soffritto mix. Add some more olive olive oil and stir through the meat and vegetable mix.
- Step 3 Then add the other liquid elements, firstly a large glass of wine. Allow the alcohol to boil off before adding the tomato paste, a can of chopped tomatoes and 200ml of passata and a small splash of worcestershire sauce. Finally add the concentrated stock in about 500ml of water.
- Step 4 Transfer the whole pot to the Big Green Egg set up for indirect cooking at 130C. Gently cook until the larger pieces of meat are soft enough to break up with a fork. Add a little water during the cooking as necessary and if the sauce is still stiff at the end of the cook add a little more before serving.
- Step 5 Toast off some bread and add to the bottom of the serving bowl. Moistened with a little more of the olive oil. Ladle the sauce over the top of the bread allowing the sauce to soak into the toast. Simply serve with some fresh basil and some parmesan cheese and a little more toasted bread.