Everybody loves Italian food – but what if we told you there is no such thing? The truth is, in Italy there is only regional Italian food. Each region offers delicious and unique dishes based on its long history and location using the most fresh and simple ingredients of the season including many legumes, cheeses, vegetables and fruits.
Tuscan food is based on the Italian idea of cucina povera or “poor cooking.” A concept that started very literally, it is about simple meals that are inexpensive and could easily be made in large amounts. Although the food may be simple, it is rich in flavor, very hearty and quite filling. All meals are served accompanied by the regional bread: a white, plain, unsalted loaf. This tradition dates back to the 16th century when there was a tax put on salt, changing the way locals thought about baking bread. This old tradition of unsalted bread has carried on and now marks Tuscan bread apart from other regions in Italy.
The bread is also flavored by using a variety of ingredients for crostini such as crostini di fegatini (liver paté) or the simple and delicious fettunta, a grilled slice of bread with garlic, olive oil and salt. Other appetizers that you will commonly come across are wooden cutting boards covered with cured meats which include prosciutto, lard from “Colonnata” and different types of sausages, all cured for long periods of time creating distinct, rich flavors.
Also stemming from history, many Tuscan dishes were invented based on the principle of “waste not” such as ribollita – a Tuscan vegetable and bread soup, pappa al pomodoro – a tomato and bread soup or panzanella – tomatoes and stale bread salad (which is soaked in water). The salad usually has red onion, basil and perhaps cucumber added and is seasoned with olive oil, wine vinegar, salt and pepper. Other first course dishes in Tuscany are simple pastas such as pappardelle alla lepre o al sugo di cinghiale, a fresh, egg noodle pasta with either a hare or wild boar sauce.
One Tuscan specialty to which Florentines are particularly beholden is trippa (tripe, the stomach lining of a cow), most popularly served as trippa alla fiorentina, tripe strips or cubes casseroled with vegetables and topped with tomato sauce and parmigiano.
If you are keen on trying quirky street food, don’t miss lampredotto, which is the fourth stomach of the cow. Queue behind workers, students and tourists and order it in one of the many stands throughout Florence: you’ll have a panino soaked in broth, a generous serving of lampredotto and a good scoop of salsa verde. Add black pepper too.
Of course, we cannot talk about Tuscan cuisine and forget to mention the famous Florentine T-bone steak (Bistecca alla Fiorentina), which comes from a special cow breed, the Chianina. Thickly cut and very large, served very rare alongside roasted potatoes or Tuscan beans and is often shared between two or more persons.
For dessert lovers, Castagnaccio is the best option. It is a traditional cake made with chestnut flour, very common in the Apennine mountainous area of Tuscany, and it can be eaten all year round!
Il Salviatino highly recommend you to try all these suggestions if you want to experience the essence of Tuscany.