Most of the questions I get about Italy are about where to stay, where to eat, and what to see. Given Italy’s diversity, I think another good thing to know is what to eat in each region- what not to miss in each area that you would not be able to experience elsewhere!
I grew up split between Tuscany, where my mother is from, and Romagna, where my father grew up. To me, Tuscany is synonymous with grandmother’s cooking, and the comfort food of my mother’s side of the family. Tuscan cuisine is fiercely flavorful, but made with very poor ingredients, historically harvested or foraged in the vicinity of the family’s house. It is really hard to boil it down to only 5 dishes- actually almost impossible! I am taking the inland route of Chianti and the Apennines, and I am picking my favorites: leaving Tuscany without having tried these dishes is a real shame!
- Bistecca alla Fiorentina, aka Fiorentina (Florence-style Porterhouse Steak). This is the most characteristic dish of Tuscany. Tuscan butchers pride themselves in butchering the beef differently than in other regions, and the resulting cut is very characteristic! Legend says that a real Fiorentina cannot be less than 1kg (2.2lbs), will include the t-bone and and can only be cooked rare/ medium rare. Fiorentina will be shared among the table, sliced, and each will get a chance to try the different pieces. It might not be the best steak you’ll eat (hey, you’re used to US steaks, among the best in the world!), but people come from all over Italy to have a Fiorentina in Tuscany and you won’t forget the experience!
- Crostini Neri. Tuscan bread is another staple of the local diet, and something Tuscans are really proud of: they don’t put any salt in it to prevent it from molding when kept for multiple days. A use for stale bread, and possibly the best use for it in my opinion, is with crostini neri, the dish of big occasions, prepared for Christmas lunch and the Sunday meals when all the family comes together. My Grandma Fernida made the best crostini in the world, the taste of coming together as a family! The pate’ is made with chicken livers, capers and anchovies, and spread over the Tuscan bread first grilled and then soaked in chicken stock. You will find it everywhere served as an appetizer, and you just can’t miss the wonderful flavor profile!
- Finocchiona. This is a “fresh” salame that substitutes to the characteristic black peppercorns with fennel seeds, a very characteristic ingredient of Tuscan cuisine since it is found growing wild everywhere! Fennel gives the salame a very strong flavor, and it will be hard to find it in restaurants- but stores, little alimentari will make you an impromptu sandwich with only bread and finocchiona- a treat!
- Pappa al Pomodoro- a bread soup with tomatoes. Another fantastic use for Tuscan stale bread is the pappa col pomodoro, a rich bread soup made with a lot of garlic, tomatoes, fresh basil and tomatoes- and dressed with extra virgin olive oil and black peppercorns. This is a soup you can eat with a fork!
- Coniglio (rabbit), Cinghiale (wild Boar) and anything with porcini! I know this is a bit cheating, but how else to include them all?? You want to eat something hunted, something foraged and something raised at home- because these characteristics encompass the real soul of Tuscan cooking.
Have a great time in Tuscany then, and eat a lot!