“To beef or not to beef,” proclaims Dario Cecchini, Italian butcher extraordinaire, as he slices a thick, juicy steak. It’s meat and drink for the Tuscan Bard of Beef, as he seasons the choice cuts, but this is no ordinary steak. He’s interpreting the painting Pantry with Cask, Game, Meat and Pottery by Jacopo Chimenti (Jacopo Da Empoli) as part of an exciting new series of collaborations between some of the top names in Italian food and the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.
The online #uffizidamangiare series aims to reimagine food as depicted in a number of famous masterworks, wth the help of some of Italy’s most acclaimed food personalities. Taking place each Sunday, the weekly video series illustrates the intimate connection between the arts of painting and gastronomy.
In the second episode Dario Cecchini presents his recipe inspired by Empoli’s vivid painting, known as Dispensa (pantry). The painting shows a clean light illuminating some game, meat and salami, along with a variety of foods and pottery on a table. A closer look offers a deeper understanding of the typical foods eaten in a wealthy Tuscan household during the first decades of the 17th century. Pantries - as areas used for food storage and preservation next to kitchens of 17th-century palaces and villas - had large wooden tables, shelves and long wooden boards over the walls, fitted with hooks for hanging meat for curing. This table is covered with a fine cloth and adorned by various foods, possibly for the preparation of a lavish meal: an elegantly decorated pie, half of a loaf of bread, pig trotters, kidneys on a platter, two sausages, a bottle of wine in its typical straw basket fiasco, all displayed between a pig’s head on one side and a calf’s head on the other. On top we see hanging a bunch of grapes and a pomegranate, telling us that it is wintertime.
Pantry with cask, game, meat and pottery (Dispensa con botte, selvaggina, carni e vasellami), Jacopo Chimenti (Empoli), 1624.
Cecchini told us he selected the painting because it is a triumph of good food. It shows the bounties of the land and the air, including a bistecca hanging from a hook on the upper left corner. In his video he gives a recipe for a beautiful piece of costata alla Fiorentina cooked on the grill - crisp on the outside and rare on the inside. Cecchini calls Costata the sister of the more famous bistecca alla fiorentina – the classical Tuscan beefsteak, made from the region's Chianina breed of cattle in a thick cut including the T bone and the fillet, and in this differing from the costata. “Costata is the excellence of meat after butchering,” he says. “No salt is needed, no oil, just fire. Cooking on fire is the most archaic form of cooking. It connects us to our primitive past.”
Eight minutes on each side, over oak and holm oak, a couple of minutes’ rest to distribute its juices, and then the steak is ready. He cuts the steak in thick slices, showers it with ‘Essence of Chianti’ (salt and aromatic herbs) and then baptises it with a stream of extra virgin olive oil. Finally he recommends pairing it with a Tuscan noble wine to match the noble meat: a Chianti, a Brunello or a Nobile di Montepulciano. This to him is the best expression of Tuscan culture, with its hospitality, friendship and celebration of life at the table.