15 Popular Tuscan Foods You Should Try at Least Once
The epitome of the Mediterranean diet, Tuscan cuisine, is renowned worldwide for its simple, fresh, and nutritious foods. This is a region in which history, art, and cuisine are beautifully and inextricably linked.
The Etruscans and Romans fondly indulged in a wholesome diet of cereals, such as farro, and wine, throughout the Renaissance. The Medici family asked its chefs to create incredibly elaborate and sophisticated dishes, subsequently influencing the cuisine of some neighboring countries, such as France. In fact, it was Caterina de Medici who brought the canard (duck) to France from Florence when she married the King of France Henry II in 1533.
Tuscan cuisine still bears the legacy of a culinary culture poor in ingredients but wonderfully rich in flavor, so much so it is known as cucina povera, literally meaning “poor cuisine” or “poor cooking”. This concept stemmed from a time when Tuscany was, by and large, a poor and impoverished region: having very little access to food, peasants and farmers were forced to embrace a “no-waste philosophy”, grounded on the creative capacity of transforming humble ingredients into magnificent dishes.
Tuscan cuisine is known as cucina povera, translating to “poor cuisine”
The staple ingredients that make up most of today’s traditional dishes are indeed fresh and simple foods such as bread, tomatoes, olive oil, and seasonal vegetables.
As we have seen, many determining factors, such as history, society, and culture, have shaped Tuscan cuisine over the centuries, not to mention the geographical morphology of the region, with its long continuous coastline stretching for miles along the Tyrrhenian Sea, making Tuscan cuisine renowned also for its exceptional seafood delicacies.
But now let’s go and discover the major milestones of this culinary itinerary!
Up in the north of Tuscany, close to the border with Liguria and Emilia Romagna, is the town of Pontremoli, and if you’re wondering where you’ve heard that name before, it’s definitely time you tried the wonderful dish of testaroli!
Dating back to Ancient Rome, this is thought to be the first kind of pasta ever made, simply mixing wheat flour, salt, and water. But unlike all other types of pasta, in this case, the batter is added to big round cast-iron containers, which give distinctive porosity to the testaroli. The name of the pasta derives from testi, these flat round containers, which were once made of terracotta.
14. Lardo di Colonnata
South of Pontremoli, nestled in the heart of the Apuan Alps, is Colonnata, a small town surrounded by the quarries of white marble and famous for its high-quality, spiced lard. Colonnata lard is nothing more than the fat of the pig, which is seasoned with salt, pepper, garlic and rosemary, bringing out an incomparable flavor and lightness that will literally melt in your mouth!
The secret of Colonnata lard is undoubtedly the century-old technique with which the lard is stored for up to ten months inside marble basins, which have been rubbed with garlic and act as a perfect natural fridge.
The area around the Apuan Alps, called Garfagnana, is also famous for its typical chestnut flat cake. Made with chestnut flour, water, olive oil, and pine nuts, this egg- and butter-free, mouth-watering cake does not only tickle the taste buds of vegans!
Dating back hundreds of centuries, the original recipe was a rustic and simple landmark for peasants and farmers in the 16th Century, but with the advent of the Renaissance, castagnaccio was soon revived and enriched with raisins and rosemary in order to make it all the more enjoyable for the sophisticated palate of the aristocracy.
12. Tordelli Versiliesi
Continuing further south, we come across the Versilia area, a historical geographical area comprising several neighboring towns, which all share a common interest in the local specialty: tordelli Versiliesi. The tordelli are half-moon-shaped ravioli filled with meat and served with a deliciously rich ragù sauce on top.
This landmark of Tuscan cuisine is traditionally served for big Sunday lunches, and it’s the reason families get together from the early hours of the morning making the ragù sauce, which is said to require at least three hours of simmering!
11. La Trabaccolara
Trabaccolara is a renowned local specialty from the port town of Viareggio. The term derives from trabaccolo, the small fishing boats that fishermen of the area would use. This dish has very ancient origins and it perfectly exemplifies the Italian philosophy of cucina povera. In fact, all the unsold fish was used to make this simple yet incredibly tasty sauce, with garlic, tomatoes, herbs, and white wine, typically served with a specific type of pasta called paccheri.
In order to celebrate this traditional dish, the local government has established Trabaccolara Days: three days in the month of September during which one hundred restaurants around the whole of Italy offer this delicious speciality from Viareggio.
Cecina is a flat savory pancake traditionally from Pisa and later adopted and renamed by several other towns in the region. You will come across la farinata and la torta di ceci, but the ingredients are always the same: chickpea flour, water, olive oil, and salt. The ideal consistency of cecina is super soft inside with a slight crunchy outer layer.
It can be eaten by itself or inside a focaccia bun, and locals typically sprinkle pepper on top and sometimes have it with a bit of stracchino cheese on the side. Cecina is usually found in the typical pizza al taglio shops, which sell slices of pizza and cecina by weight. It has become a real symbol of traditional Tuscan street food.
9. Cacciucco alla Livornese
Probably one of the most renowned and exquisite seafood dishes of Tuscan cuisine, cacciucco alla Livornese is a hearty and chunky fish stew from Livorno, made with up to ten varieties of different fish cooked in a garlicky tomato sauce. Again, another prime example of a simple and humble culinary culture.
According to the most widely accepted legend about origin of the dish, during the 1500s, the Republic of Florence imposed a tax on olive oil, forcing a poor lighthouse keeper not to fry his fish but instead to find alternative ways of cooking it, thus giving birth to this flavorsome fish stew.
Moving inland from the coast, we come across the majestic city of Florence, which offers endless delicious foods, first and foremost, the typical Florentine lampredotto.
Much like tripe, lampredotto is essentially the fourth and final stomach of a cow, slow-cooked with tomato puree, onions, and celery until extremely tender. Today lampredotto is typically served in a bread bun, a symbol of the iconic street food of Florence known as panino co i’ lampredotto.
7. Bistecca alla Fiorentina
Another major speciality from Florence, bistecca alla Fiorentina, is a traditional T-bone steak from Chianina cattle, an ancient Tuscan breed, which is traditionally grilled over hot coals and served rare with chunky flakes of salt on top.
A fundamental criteria for selecting the right steak are the thin filaments of fat, known as marbling, which, once melted, confer that typical softness to the steak. This quintessential Tuscan dish is a must-have for true meat lovers!
A symbolic recipe of traditional Tuscan peasant food, ribollita is a thick and hearty vegetable soup made from cabbage, beans, and bread, perfect for a cold winter’s night! The term ribollita literally means reboiled, as peasants would traditionally reheat the leftover vegetable soup and thicken it with bread the next day.
Though humble in essence, this recipe was made widely popular even on the most prestigious restaurant tables by Giovanni del Turco, a gastronomic connoisseur of the court of the Medici family.
5. Pappa al Pomodoro
Pappa al Pomodoro is a delicious chunky tomato and bread soup, simply made with tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, basil, and stale unsalted bread. The use of unsalted bread dates back to the 16th Century, when, due to a salt tax enforced by the Ducato of Florence, poor peasants had to bake their bread without salt.
Pappa al Pomodoro still represents a quintessential Tuscan dish, to relish as a starter or as a main course.
4. Tartufo (Truffle)
Continuing our culinary itinerary around Tuscany, we come across the beautiful province of Siena, a true treasure trove for expert truffle hunters! Indeed, the sun-blushed hills are laden with these wonderfully tasty gems which grow at the base of trees.
Truffles are divided into four main types, all growing during a distinctive period of the year, but the most prestigious are the tartufo scorzone (black summer truffle) and the tartufo bianco pregiato (prized white truffle), considered to be the king of all truffles with a cost up to 3,000 Euros a kilo! This white truffle should be strictly consumed in its raw state and most Tuscans like to combine it with mushrooms or grate it on top of their tagliatelle all’uovo or even on their steak!
3. Pici all’Aglione
Another traditional speciality from Siena is undoubtedly the pici Senesi, hand-rolled thick pasta, similar to spaghetti, which are simply made from wheat flour and water.
The term is thought to derive from the Italian slang appiciare, meaning to hand-roll and stretch the pasta in order to form your desired shape. Pici can be savored in many ways, although the renowned seasoning par excellence is most certainly the traditional aglione sauce, made with chopped tomatoes, a handful of local garlic, called aglione, salt, pepper, and a dash of white wine. Truly sensational!
2. Cantucci e Vin Santo
In terms of desserts, cantucci and vin santo is probably the oldest and most traditional Tuscan delicacy.
Dating back thousand of centuries, these delicious dry biscuits made from egg, butter, flour, and sugar are enriched with crunchy almonds, which make the combination with vin santo impossible to resist!
Vin santo is a fortified passito wine which goes through an extremely long and complex process. According to tradition, it must be slowly sipped in a small thin glass in order to make it last longer. It is chiefly in Tuscany that cantucci are typically dipped into the vin santo, making the biscuit deliciously soft.
1. Cinghiale alla Cacciatora
And finally, in the south-west of the region, we come across an area called Maremma, commonly known for its abundance of wild boars, hence their traditional speciality, chinghiale alla cacciatora (wild boar stew). What makes this dish so unique is the process of marinating the boar in red wine, vegetables, and spices for nearly twelve hours, and then sautéing it in a pan with garlic, onion, and chopped tomatoes until it becomes a rich and chunky stew.
Typically served on a bed of polenta, known as matuffi, and accompanied with a glass of full-bodied red wine, this dish is a real source of pride for the local community and undoubtedly a point of attraction for a lot of visitors!