THE TUSCAN city of Siena is one that is rich in culture and tradition.

It is known for its medieval brick buildings and the Piazza del Campo, its fan-shaped central square, which is the site of the Palazzo Pubblico, the Gothic town hall, and Torre del Mangia, a slender 14th-century tower with sweeping views from its distinctive white crown.

The medieval city is home to one of Italy’s most famous annual sporting events. Siena’s Palio sees competitors bareback horse-riding in a race that lasts, on average, just 75 seconds. Held in honour of the Virgin Mary, the event takes place twice a year, on July 2 and August 16. Each of the ten jockeys in the race represents ten of the city’s seventeen contrade, or districts.

Then, the seven districts that didn’t race in the previous July or August contest compete by right, and are joined by horses from three lucky ‘repeat’ contrade, drawn at random.The Palio has been held at the Piazza del Campo since at least 1644, taking place each year since without interruption.

There are many dishes that can be traced back to Siena. However, one of the most famous dishes of all that originates in Siena is panforte. Panforte is a sweet dish. The flat round cake is like a cross between a fruitcake and honey cake – however, unlike most cakes, it only contains a tiny amount of flour, just enough to bind the ingredients together.

The name panforte translates as “strong bread”, a name which is likely given due to the strong, spicy flavour the cake boasts. Panforte was originally a Christmas dish, which is obviously apparent in its texture and flavours, however it is enjoyed all year round now.

Panforte dates back to the 13th century and has a very interesting origin story. Some of the first documents, found among Siena’s historic papers dated February 7 1205, mention the dish.

The parchment paper was not found until the second half of the 1800s, in the archives of the hospital of Siena. It had come from the estate of the Castle of Montisi, which belonged to the Cacciaconti family.

It is written that the servant and inhabitants of the monastery of Montecellesi were obliged to bring the nuns a generous amount of Panes pepatos et melatos (bread with pepper and honey) as a form of tax. These documents are now conserved in the archives of the state of Siena.

In the archives of Genoa, it was recorded that Panforte was one of the most famous sweets in Italy. It is now made and enjoyed worldwide, all year round. The great thing about panforte is that, because it keeps well, you can seal it, wrap it up and give it as a lovely gifts to your friends and family.

Try out my recipe for traditional panforte below. The dish calls for several different nuts to be used, but you can always adjust your measurements to exclude ones you do not like/or have run out of in favour of others.