10 Typical Tuscan Dishes You Must Try
Traditional Tuscan food harmonizes two inseparable principles – simplicity and quality.
Typical Tuscan dishes are based on the so-called “cucina povera,” the peasant traditions that arose out of necessity during hard times.
Even now Tuscans prefer to stay close to their roots as natural localvores who take the time to find the best quality meat and produce, even if it means going to a different store for each one.
They take pride in knowing where their food comes from, and believe in eating seasonally. In fact, one of the specialities below is only available for a few weeks every year!
• Typical Tuscan Dishes
There is no single recipe, every homemaker seems to have her own variation. However; what all versions of acquacotta that literally means “cooked water”, have in common is that they all come from the poor soup that the cowherds, shepherds, coalmen or lumberjacks, seasonal workers who went in Maremma from Casentino – or people who worked far from home – prepared with what they could find in the woods.
They boiled water from a stream or river, and poured it over slices of day-old bread, maybe even an egg and added a sprinkling of aged pecorino cheese. In those days acquacotta was based on chicory, spinach and wild garlic or asparagus, dried broad beans and maybe even mushrooms if the season was right.
Today, this dish has become fashionable like other humble foods. It is made with a generous amount of chopped onion, celery and carrots, various vegetables (zucchini, broad beans, beet greens, mushrooms) and one egg per serving, dropped into the hot soup so that it barely sets.
Place a slice of toasted bread in each bowl, pour the soup over it and, don’t forget a sprinkling of grated pecorino cheese.
Crostini con la milza (Tuscany)
The original recipe calls for spleen, but now chicken livers are more widely used. The chicken spleen and livers are sautéed with a little onion and a drop of wine.
Then they are finely chopped together with anchovies and capers and put back on the stove for a few minutes, and diluted with a tablespoon or two of broth. The result is a tasty pâté to spread on toasted bread (some people add a splash of vin santo).
Along with Tuscan salami and other cold cuts these crostini are the tastiest and most traditional antipasto served il local trattorias.
Bistecca alla Fiorentina (Tuscany)
This traditional Tuscan dish, the Florentine steak is the utmost in simplicity and yet it requires some skill in preparing – as well as first quality meat.
The muscular loin of Chianina cattle – the finest Tuscan breed is the original of the typical T-bone cut that cannot be less than 3 centimetres thick (and it can even be 8 0r 10!) left at room temperature for two hours before use and then cooked over hot coals, 5 minutes on each side so that the outside is dark, while the inside is “rare”.
Another fine Tuscan breed is Maremmana, it is lean and has an excellent flavour, but since it tends to be a little tougher than Chianina it is recommended mainly for stewing and braising.
Ribollita means “boiled again” and that is exactly what happens. It probably originated in the farm economy that did not allow people to throw away leftovers. Indeed, they went back on the hearth and were served the next day, after having put it back on the hearth.
Like acquacotta and panzanella, ribollita is a humble dish made with lots of variations, according to the availability of greens and vegetables in season.
The basic ingredients of this soup are potatoes, black cabbage, beans (mashed and whole) and onion, along with other ingredients according to taste like beet greens, carrots and celery.
After cooking very slowly, this liquid minestrone is poured into a tureen over thinly sliced day-old bread so the bread soaks up the liquid. The next day, the leftovers are reheated – reboiled – and become even more tasty.
Panzanella (Florence, Siena, Pisa)
Day-old bread, soaked in water, squeezed out, crumbled and dressed with sliced tomatoes, cucumbers, a little red onion, lots of basil, olive oil, vinegar and salt – is all there is to panzanella.
And yet, it is a delicious and delightful summer dish when vegetables are freshly picked and their flavours haven’t been dulled in the refrigerator. It seems to be an old dish, perhaps from the sixteenth century even though the tomato was not among the ingredients back then – it was unusual, colourful fruit that had just arrived from America.
Panzanella was, and is, a humble, farm food and in some areas it is better by its other name pan molle that literally means “moist bread”.
As in the past, even today the “tripe”, the less prized parts of beef such as stomachs and intestines, are washed and boiled in water with herbs prior to being used to prepare some typical Florentine dishes.
Favorite cuts are the croce and cuffia the spongy, rumen and the honeycomb stomach, respectively as well as the delicious lampredotto which is simply the stomach with dark meaty folds.
If the classic trippa alla fiorentina calls for cooking with carrot, celery, onion and a little tomato purée, there are a great many dishes to prepare with these cuts – without neglecting the tasty, spicy tripe sandwiches available in the city’s outdoor markets.
“Al fiasco” (in a flask), with oil, “all’uccelletto” (with tomato sauce), in country soups: Tuscan love their beans in all shapes and forms. And as with all truly simple dishes, it takes experience to cook them well: the ingredients are simply water (if possible spring water), garlic, sage, boiled without a lid on the pot, and the bean should not split and break but be cooked “al dente“.
The most popular bean is the white haricot, but each area has its own speciality and for true gourmets in search of a real speciality there are the yellow zolfini of the Valdarno and the delicate fine skinned piattellini from the hills and dells of Sorana.
This is the king of Sienese sweets. Travelling through Tuscany it is available mainly during the Christmas season, but in and around Siena it is practically a staple – it is such a great favorite.
Like ricciarelli, cavallucci, copate and pampepati it is made according to a really old recipe. The ingredients include small amounts of the Oriental spices that were already being imported during the Middle Ages, from cinnamon to cloves. from nutmeg to pepper.
The mixture is based on honey (the original sweetener used in ancient times) that is slowly heated on the stove with sweet and bitter almonds – part crushed and part whole.
The flour, candied citron and other citrus fruits, the spices and confectioners’ sugar are blended into the honey, the mixture is the spread over a sheet of wafer that lines a pan and baked in the oven, then the finished cake is sprinkled with confectioners’ sugar.
Castagnaccio (Pisa, Florence)
Castagnaccio is a traditional Tuscan dessert made with Chestnut flour, raisins, and pine nuts, seasoned with a bit of salt, olive oil, rosemary.
The ingredients are mixed with water and baked to make a thin, dense cake. It is eaten warm or cold, and is perfect paired with a sweet Tuscan dessert wine!
Oil, Wine and Vin Santo
The simple and fresh cookery of Florence and Tuscany uses almost exclusively olive oil as a condiment and for cooking avoiding, with some rare exceptions, animal fats (butter and cream etc.)
Tuscany is one of the most important producers of oil in the world and Tuscan oil, protected and controlled from the moment of planting the trees to pressing the olives, is light, flavoursome, easily digested and non-fat.
The term “extravergine” means taht the oil is from the first pressing and has a maximum acidic level of 1% (the lowest possible).
The wine produced is superb, starting with Chianti, a red DOC wine that is famous throughout the world, produced between Florence and Siena in the Chianti region, home to many famous labels.
In addition to the supreme Brunello di Montalcino there are other excellent red wines ideal for drinking with roast and grilled meats (including the Florentine steak) such as Bolgheri-Sassicaia, Carmignano, Morellino di Scansano, Pomino and the Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.
White DOC wines that go well with fish include the fine Vernaccia of San Gimignano, followed by Ansonica Costa dell’Argentario, the white from Empoli, Valdinievole, Pitigliano as well the Pisan white San Torpè and Candia from the Apuan Hills.
Other fine wines, both red and white, are labelled Capalbio, Colli di Luni, Cortona, Montedarlo, Montecucco, Monteregio di Massa Marittima, Orcia, Parrina, Sovana, Val d’Arbia, Val di Cornia and Valdichiana.
The best dessert wine is the Vin Santo, sweet or dry, made from grapes that are partially dried, left to age in special sealed kegs, and ideal to drink with the cantucci biscuits of Prato.
The sophisticated Moscadello di Montalcino and the Aleatico from Elba and the Argentario are also good dessert wines. But be careful – the cost of the finest wines, especially if vintage years, just might be a bit of a surprise.
These are just some of the typical Tuscan dishes that you can enjoy during your stay in Tuscany.
Which of these typical Tuscan dishes have you already tried? Write them in the comments 🙂