Tuscany, with its rolling hills and picturesque towns, is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. Countless books and movies have described the beauty of this Italian region.
But Tuscany offers more than postcard views, sunny weather and a rich history and culture. Tuscan cuisine is just as wonderful as everything else about the province. Like elsewhere in Italy, fresh, local and high-quality ingredients are used to make simple, yet flavorful dishes.
Tuscan cuisine is steeped in history and a reflection of the bounty of the land. Historically, Tuscan cooking has been simple, seasonal, and humble. Hard times spawned the so called cucina povera, or poor man’s cooking, in which nothing is wasted and every single ingredient shines. Many of these dishes are still popular today, all around the world. If the Tuscan’s know one thing, it’s to enjoy life and make a lot out of a little.
Although Tuscany is known to be very touristic, there are plenty of hidden gems left. It’s a region that feels quintessentially Italian and offer something for everyone, including the food. If you are planning a trip to Tuscany, let me give you a few recommendations for traditional dishes that you must try. Here a few of the best things to eat in Tuscany:
Bistecca alla Fiorentina
Bistecca alla Fiorentine is one of the most famous Tuscan dishes and definitely one of the most impressive things to eat in Tuscany. This massive T-bone steak is thick and can be up to 2 kilos, so not for the faint of heart. It’s high quality loin meat from a young steer, preferably Chianina which is a local breed. The steak is grilled to rare and seasoned with salt, black pepper and olive oil. Simple, yet delicious, to let the natural flavor of the beef shine.
The decadence of the Bistecca is in sharp contrast with the traditional cucina povera of Tuscany. According to legend, the name bistecca (meaning beef steak) dates back to a feast in Florence in 1565, where an ox was roasted, and some English knights started shouting “beef-steak!”.
Sandwiches are such a versatile dish, and the Tuscan people know this better than anyone. You can get tasty panini (literally “small breads”) to go in cities and villages all around Tuscany. Rather than a full dish, it’s a street food here, best enjoyed on the go or in a salumeria. They’re usually made with fresh bread rolls and high quality local ingredients, like mozzarella, ricotta, prosciutto, salami and tomato. So, usually not like the toasted panini’s sold elsewhere.
I lived in Florence for a few months and ate panini pretty much every day, they are one of my favorite things to eat in Italy. My go-to places were I Due Fratellini (the two brothers), a literal hole in the wall place where people line up at lunchtime for a tasty sandwich and a glass of wine, and Salumeria Verdi, a traditional salumeria that does amazing toasted and stuffed focaccia bread as well as pasta dishes. These are two of my favorite places to visit when I’m in Florence.
The two typical and traditional Tuscan sandwiches are truly an acquired taste, though. Italians don’t shy away from a bit of offal meat, and I admire their dedication to using every part of the animal. Lapredotto is the fourth stomach of a cow cooked in broth. You can also get a sandwich with trippa, which is tripe, the lining of a cow’s stomach. Both are served on bread rolls with a spicy sauce, and look a bit like roast beef.
Panzanella is a perfect example of the Tuscan cucina povera in which nothing is wasted. Panzanella is essentially a bread salad and the perfect way to use up old bread. It was a simple breakfast dish that farmers would throw together with fresh vegetables from the field and a few kitchen staples. These days, you can eat fancy versions in restaurants, but it’s mostly a dish people make at home. It looks unassuming, but it’s one of the best things to eat in Tuscany.
Panzanella is dead simple and so tasty. It’s one of my favorite summer salads, as it is fresh and filling. It’s also super good for picnics and BBQ’s. The main ingredients are tomato, red onion, cucumber, bread and basil. All the ingredients are roughly chopped and tossed with olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. It is actually better with stale bread, as it soaks up the juices of the vegetables. If you don’t have stale bread, you can toast some fresh bread to dry it out.
Soup is the ultimate cucina povera dish. What better way to turn leftovers and scraps into a tasty dish than by slowly cooking it in broth? Tuscany has produced several delicious soups, that may have started out as scraps, but are now immensely popular. The Tuscans must have had lots of stale bread, because all three of these Tuscan soups are made with old bread.
Pappa al pomodoro is a tomato soup, but not just any tomato soup. It’s thick and hearty, like a porridge. The ingredients are simple: fresh tomatoes, bread, olive oil, salt, broth, garlic and basil. It’s one of my favorite things to eat in Tuscany, and I often cook it at home. I prefer to eat pappa al pomodoro hot, but it can also be served cold. I actualkly cook it every now and then as a hangover meal!
Ribollita, is also made with old bread. This chunky and creamy soup tastes better than it looks and is a meal all on its own. Perfect for cold winter nights. The name ribollita means reboiled, because it is made from reheated leftover soup. Apparently, it originates from peasants boiling the bread and vegetable scraps from the plates of their lords. A classic ribollita contains cannellini beans and inexpensive vegetables such as carrot, beans, chard, celery, potatoes, kale, cabbage, and onion.
The last Tuscan bread soup, acquacotta, comes from Maremma in the south of Tuscany. The name means cooked water, which is fitting considering how simple this soup is. Acquacotta is little more than water, bread, olive oil, tomato, onion and vegetable scraps. These days, the soup is a bit more decadent and can be flavored with Parmesan cheese, mushrooms and herbs (amongst other things). It’s one of the best things to eat in Tuscany in the winter.
All of this food has made the thirsty, how about you? No more fitting way to end our culinary trip of Tuscany than with a glass of Tuscan wine. Being both a relatively green and sunny region of Italy, the hills of Tuscany are perfect for growing grapes.
Tuscany is home to 41 DOC’s and 11 DOCG’s, the two most important classifications for regional Italian products. They produce some of the most famous Italian wines, such as Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Vernaccia di San Gimignano and San Vinto. Coincidentally, these wines are produced around some of the most beautiful towns in Tuscany.
The wine culture in Tuscany dates all the way back to the Etruscans in the 8th century BC. Throughout the ages, they perfected the art of the wine. Visiting different vineyards and tasting different wines is a great way to explore Tuscany and get a taste of the culture. You won’t find a bad wine here, because it is not just the certified wines that are good, even the simple table wines are delicious!
There are many reasons that Tuscany should be on your travel wish list, and the cuisine is definitely one of them. Tuscan food and wine is amongst the best in Italy (and therefor the world). Tasting the traditional dishes will teach you a lot about the history and culture of this beautiful Italian region.
Have you ever been to Tuscany? What was your favorite local dish or specialty? Let’s discuss food in the comments.
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