Discovering the True Essence of Tuscany
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Posted on September 29, 2016 in Recipes


Everyone in my neighborhood affectionately calls her Nonna Anna, because it sometimes feels like she is everyone's grandma. She's actually my neighbor, Antonella's mom and Anna's grandaughter is my daughter's "amica del cuore", literally "friend of the heart" which is the Italian way of saying "best friend".
Nonna Anna is one of those amazing Italian grandmothers: she's always got a pot simmering on the stove and something baking in the oven. She hustles her grandkids around with a sweet yet authorative manner and everyone has unwavering respect for her. She shows up at 7:30am at her daughter's home to help the family start the day, stays in after everyone's gone to school and works to tidy up the house, hauls their laundry to her house, steps out again to pick up the bread at the baker's and to the market for the groceries. Back home she gets the pots going on the stove, the laundry machine churning and at lunch time she seats everyone at the table as they come back for their lunch break. Her afternoons are spent picking up and dropping off grandkids, and juggling their zillion activities and as I watch her come and go my head spins and it never ceases to amaze me how resilient and dedicated these Italian nonna's are!

Nonna Anna often rings my door to drop off extra tomatoes from her vegetable garden or truffles that her brother found that weekend (he is an avid truffle hunter) and these always come with some special family recipes that I always feel privileged to be let in to. Yesterday I tried out the latest recipe she let me in on: her family's Tuscan mushroom crostini that my daughter loves to munch on whenever she's over at Anna's. The secret is in the unlikely ingredient in this hearty autumn dish! Anchovy paste is a staple easily found at any supermarket in Italy and adds an aromatic flavor to various dishes (or can be simply mixed in with olive oil for a quick and delicious pasta dish!)


500g mushrooms (Anna uses the champignon variety but you can add some porcini in for extra flavor)
1 tablespoon anchovy paste or salted anchovy fillets
1/2 cup milk
2-3 tablespoons flour
fresh oregano
extravirgin olive oil
1 loaf of baguette-type bread
Mozzarella cheese or sliced swiss cheese to top the crostini with

Wash the mushrooms using a brush to help get rid of any dirt. Cut off the bottom of the stems and discard. Thinly slice the mushrooms.
In a large pan heat up 2-3 tablespoons of oil and sautee the mushrooms until half of its liquid is reduced.
Holding the pan by its handle, tilt it slightly and with a wooden spoon push the mushrooms to one side so that the oil and liquid gathers down to the other side.

Add the anchovy paste to this liquid and dissolve it into the cooking liquid by mixing with the wooden spoon. Now stir this mixture into the rest of the mushrooms in the pan.
Add the milk and the flour over the mushrooms and mix. The liquid in the pan should start to thicken, forming a creamy sauce. Add salt and pepper to taste and sprinkle fresh oregano over everything. Remove from flame.

Slice the bread into slices about 1cm thick. Top the slices with the mushrooms and add a knob of mozzarella or swiss cheese on top (some in my family prefer these crostini without cheese so I usually leave half without...they don't know what they're missing though!) Repeat for all slices and spread out over an oven pan.

Bake in oven at 200 degrees for about 10 minutes, until the bread is toasted and the cheese has melted. Enjoy hot!

Buon appetito!