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Portrait Michela Botasso

Michela Bottasso

French? Nah. From crêpes to orange duck, to onion soup, some of the dishes traditionally believed to originate in France, actually originate in Italy, and more precisely, in Tuscany. Chef Michela Bottasso – at the Tenuta di Artimino in Carmignano – has studied the history of these dishes. Piedmontese by origin, Michela has been working for years at the 'Biagio Pignatta', a restaurant in a former hunting reserve of the Medici dynasty. And Michela has been enthusiastic about the cuisine of the Grand Duke of Tuscany since 2007.


Michela Bottasso began this research because at the heart of the estate is the famous Medici Villa 'La Ferdinanda'. Also known as the Villa of a Hundred Fireplaces, it was built in 1596 by Ferdinando I de' Medici and designed by Bernardo Buontalenti, and is included in the UNESCO World Heritage assets.
Having organised themed dinners after coming across the figure of Caterina de 'Medici, Michela discovered that a series of dishes she had always considered French were very definitely from Tuscany.
Catherine left Florence in 1533 to travel to Marseille to marry Prince Henry II of Orléans, who went on to become the King of France. Amongst her necessities – such as ladies-in-waiting, friars, and guards – Catherine also took cooks and an ice cream maker to France. Thanks to them, the Queen influenced the then crude but gorgeous French cuisine, presenting them with a range of her favourite recipes, along with the use of cutlery – in particular, the fork.

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Among the many influences Catherine was said to have had on French cuisine, some of the most noted were the uses of béchamel – which in Florence is referred to as 'gluey sauce', canard à l'orange – duck à l'orange, soupe d'oignons – known in Florence as 'carabaccia', this onion soup was another of Catherine's favourites, spinach, crêpes, and 'iced water' – the ancestor of today's ice cream.
Reportedly, another of Catherine's favourites was omelettes, which on the shores of Florence's primary river, the Arno, were already known as the 'grandmother's picks'.
"Always with eggs," explains Michela, "there are the crêpes, and the French version of 'pescovo' – a type of fritz filled with ricotta and spinach, covered with béchamel. The zuccotto, also known as Catherine's helmet, is a reworking of a sweet made with iced fruit, and zabaione which was recreated in Spain with a local bread, candied, hazelnut, and vanilla ice cream."

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However, not all recipes brought to Paris by Catherine found success. The Queen was considered 'greedy' for 'cibreo' – a plate of eggs enriched with meat broth, onions, sage, liver, crest, bark, and chicken hearts – which did not meet the taste of the French. This is also the dish that has been attributed to the Queen getting pregnant, hence her appetite for it.
Catherine is not only responsible for taking food to France – she is also attributed with importing Cabernet Sauvignon vines to Tuscany. Known as the French grape, it is vinified in a blend with Sangiovese to obtain the precious Carmignano wine.

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