For holidaymakers who love to base their adventures around food and wine, Italy is one of the world’s most sought-after destinations. While the basic staples, such as the ubiquitous, ever delicious pizza and pasta can be found throughout the country, every province has its own proudly regional dishes and specialities that have been passed down through generations.
Tuscany is no exception, and has a unqiue, exceptional cuisine all of its own. The region’s fertile landscape gives rise to an abundance of fresh produce and, of course, the grapes used in its renowned wines. While not quite as simplistic as the cucina povera of the southern Italian region of Puglia, Tuscan food is good, honest fare, allowing the quality of the earthy produce and ubiqitous olive oil to shine through.
Should you be visiting the region and are keen to delve deeper into the cuisine, then you’ve come to the right place; here’s how to eat like a local in Tuscany.
SHARING TASTERS & SMALL PLATES TO START
Long before ‘small plates’ graced the tables of every hip city in Europe, the restaurants and family homes of Tuscany were enjoying the art of sharing a few nibbles.
For the Tuscans (and all Italians), every meal is an event, and every event tends to start with the very sociable sharing platter. Sharing is a wonderful way to loosen up the mood and can be an endless source of inspiration for conversation, not to mention the fact that the bread and fresh vegetable led culture of Tuscany lends itself perfectly to sharing.
For foodie travellers, this type of spread offers a great chance to sample some as much of the Tuscan cuisine as possible early on. We love the ever popular (and extremely more-ish) lardo di colonnata; pork lard cured in marble and usually served alongside the crusty bread known as crostini. Another delicious starter is crostini toscani, which is bread topped with a creamy chicken liver pâté.
Yep, these guys take great pride in their bread and Pane Toscano is a very particular load; round and unsalted, then wood fried, it’s designed to be an apt focal point to a rich pate or simply to allow a drizzle of the region’s famous olive oil to properly shine. Bringing all of these elements together, bruschetta is a popular anti-pasta here.
PRIMI – FIRST COURSES
Italian primis are quite often a modest serving of pasta, but in Tuscany there are some hearty traditional dishes as an alternative. Ribollita is one of the most famous: a rustic, thick soup consisting of seasonal, fibrous vegetables, cannellini beans and torn chunks of white bread. Panzanella is a lighter, summery primi, made from fresh tomatoes, onion, basil, balsamic soaked bread and tossed in the best quality olive oil.
But that’s not to say the pasta dishes aren’t pretty special, too. Our favourite is tortelli di patate; pasta parcels filled with a potato and parmesan mixture and often topped with a rich ragu of game meat, which incidentally, is so popular in the region.
SECONDI – MAIN COURSES
Secondi are where things get serious (so you’re advised to leave plenty of room after your primi) and usually consist of some kind of a meat dish. Wild boar is a true Tuscan speciality; cinghiale in umido is a deliciously rich wild boar stew with a strong flavour and melt-in-your-mouth texture.
The reputation of the traditional bistecca alla Fiorentina often precedes it – many say you haven’t eaten the true taste of Tuscany if you don’t face down this huge slab of premium beef. The dish consists of a huge steak, served rare and on the bone with roast potatoes and beans. The steaks are often in excess of three to four pounds so it’s a good sharing dish. Or, if you’ve a particularly veracious appetitie, maybe not…
You know that strange human appetite trait that always leaves a little room for dessert? After all the amazing food that’s served up as primi and secondi, in Tuscany you’ll only need to save a small space, because the traditional way to finish is surprisingly light.
Indeed, meals in the region are quite often simply capped off with some cantucci (crisp almond biscuits similar to biscotti) dipped in a glass of smooth, sweet vin santo. Of course, if there is still a space wanting to be filled, you could try a slice of castagnaccio, a traditional local cake made with chestnut flour. Both delicious and a beautiful way to cap off a true Tuscan feast.
Back-Roads Touring are a company with 25 years’ experience creating tailor-made small group holidays that go off the beaten track to delve a little deeper into the true heart and soul of a destination. Travelling in comfortable mini-coaches with a tour size of generally no more than 18 people, their holidays provide a flexible, friendly and relaxed way to tour.