Though those of us outside of Italy tend to lump all Italian dishes under the term “Italian food,” cuisine in Italy is characterized by distinct regional differences- just as the scenery changes from Lombardia to Umbria, so too will the flavors on your plate.
Italian cooking emphasizes the use of fresh, local ingredients in simple dishes designed to spotlight the natural flavors of the foods and thus, the pride and joy of each region. With access to both the sea and the countryside, Tuscany is a food lover’s paradise. The region’s cooking tradition is centered on the idea of cucina povera, or poor cooking, meaning that traditional dishes are economic, hearty, and leave little to waste.
While the economy has since changed, the cooking traditions have remained the same as they led to the creation of some of the most delicious recipes in Italy.
A platter of mixed meats is arguably one of the most popular types of antipasti in Italy and one of the best ways for a food lover to sample regional specialties. Taste Tuscany’s local ham and compare it to a local, rustic and salty variety of prosciutto. Finocchiona salami is typical of southern Tuscany and will likely be found on most platters. Flavored with the perfect balance of black pepper, garlic, and wild fennel, this cured meat pairs well with a glass of Tuscan red wine.
Crostini di fegatini
This iconic Tuscan antipasto features a base of thinly sliced Tuscan bread toasted to perfection, topped with a scrumptious chicken liver pate. Prepared with capers, onion, anchovies, butter, and broth, this spread is a favorite in the region and definitely worth a try.
A perfect summer dish that can be eaten either as an antipasto or a first course, Panzanella is a cold salad of tomatoes and second-day bread – a perfect example of cucina povera tradition. Basil, olive oil, vinegar, onions, and salt accompany the main ingredients to create a simple and refreshing starter or light meal.
Soups are a local favorite in Tuscany and ribollita, meaning re-boiled, is one of the most common. A mix of local vegetables such as cabbage, onions, and carrots, are brought together with another Tuscan stable, cannellini beans, to create the backbone of this hearty dish. Pieces of second-day bread are also incorporated to complete this quintessential comfort food.
Tagliatelle al tartufo
Though rare throughout the world, truffles are plentiful throughout the hillsides of Tuscany and have long been incorporated into local dishes for food lovers to try without breaking the bank. Enjoy traditional Italian pasta with a Tuscan twist in the form of a decadent truffle sauce. You can find this dish made with a sauce of either black truffles or white because both varieties grow in the region, so pick your favorite or indulge and sample both!
Pappardelle alla lepre
In this dish, a wide egg-noodle pasta is accompanied by a bold sauce of wild hare braised in red wine. Onions, carrots, celery, and herbs, such as bay and fennel, mingle with the main ingredients to enhance their flavors. Scrumptious, rich, and filling, this course may not leave room for more but will leave you feeling beyond satisfied.
Cacciucco alla livornese
Associated with Tuscany’s port city of Livorno, this dish is a robust stew of mixed fish and shellfish. According to tradition, the stew should contain five different varieties of fish to represent each “c” in its name. Incorporating fresh catches from the Tuscan coast, this stew may feature shrimp, mollusks, octopus, cuttlefish, or monkfish, which come together in a base of tomato, garlic, pepper, and sage. Thick, hearty, and hot, this dish once again exemplifies the characteristics of Tuscan cuisine.
Bistecca alla fiorentina
Arguably the most famous secondo in Tuscany, the bistecca alla fiorentina attracts food lovers from all over the world for a tender and flavourful bite of the T-bone steak from the Chiana valley. Simplicity is king in this dish. The steak is seasoned with nothing more than a drizzle of local olive oil and a sprinkle of salt and rosemary, for little else would add to its rich flavor. Measuring 3-4 centimeters in height and weighing in between 1-2 kilograms, this steak is meant to be shared so everyone at the table can experience Fiorentine’s expertise.
Trippa alla fiorentina
Where cucina povera combines with Tuscan ingenuity to create a poor man’s dish that has stood the test of time. Developed out of the need to use every part of their livestock, trippa alla fiorentina takes the edible lining of the cow’s stomach and lets it simmer in a tomato sauce with onions, salt, and pepper. Occasionally prepared with carrots and celery or parsley and white wine, individual cooks prepare it with their own twist but always finish with a dusting of freshly grated parmesan cheese.
Originating in the Tuscan city of Prato, these traditional twice-baked almond biscotti are the perfect end to any meal. Their oblong shape and dry, crunchy texture are perfect for dipping into glasses of Vin Santo as a digestif after a hearty lunch or dinner. Alternatively, these cookies make an excellent companion to your morning cappuccino- who says you can’t have dessert for breakfast?
Common to the Apennine region of Tuscany, this dessert is a thin, dense cake made with chestnut flour, raisins, and pine nuts, seasoned with olive oil and rosemary. With a simple base, other ingredients including orange rinds, fennel seeds, or dried fruits can be added to create delectable variations to please any food lover. It can be eaten hot or cold but is best served with a glass of Vin Santo.
To get an even better taste of the food scene here in Italy, check out one of our food tours below: