Caterina de’ Medici (in English Catherine), of the infamous Florentine Medici family, was married to Henry II, King of France during the transition between medieval times and the Renaissance. Though she was nicknamed “the Italian grocer,” her small army of chefs that she brought from Florence was hardly on grocery store level. Catherine was responsible for transforming French cooking into cuisine. She did this by incorporating her favorite dishes and ingredients from Italy, including peas, beans, artichokes, and even duck with orange.
However, Caterina de’ Medici is most famous for her influence of French pastry and dessert. During medieval times sweets were eaten with meats and fish, and Catherine singlehandedly made dessert an important part of French tradition. This new elegance changed French dining forever. She introduced exquisite table settings, silver ware, glasses, and fancy desserts including sorbets, marmalades, fruits in syrup, ice creams, and of course the innovative pastries that France is so well known for. Many of these traditions are today associated with first-class French cuisine, which undeniably would not be the same without Caterina de’Medici’s influence.
Featured Recipe: Cantucci Biscotti (copyright 2005-2006 The Basic Art of Italian Cooking by Maria Liberati)
2 cups sugar
1 cup almonds, whole and not peeled
4 eggs, beaten
1 tablespoon of grated orange peel
½ teaspoon vanilla flavoring
½ teaspoon baking soda
Preheat the oven to 360 degrees F. Place the almonds on a baking sheet and toast them until they are golden brown. The, chop them into large pieces.
Place the flour on a wooden board and make a well. You will place the following ingredients into the flour well: beaten eggs, baking soda, sugar, and a pinch of salt. Mix these ingredients with floured hands until the dough is smooth. Then, add the almonds.
Place a piece of baking paper on top of a baking sheet. Butter it and then dust it with flour. Form the past into long fingers on the baking sheet. Bake the long fingers for 15 minutes and then remove from oven. Cut the long fingers into slices about ¼ in. thick. Place the cut slices on a baking sheet and put them back in the oven for 25 minutes. When they are a golden brown on one side, turn them over and allow them to become a golden color on the other side.
Recommended wine selection: Vin Santo or sweet wine