If you’re already a fan of Tuscan cuisine, probably you’ve heard of, or even tried, bistecca alla fiorentina and ribollita. But have you ever tried crostini neri? Or schiacciata alla Fiorentina, a typical Carnival sweet bread? We listed for you the 12 Tuscan foods you have to try in 2019, either on the streets of Florence, at a sagra in the hills of Maremma or in a small trattoria in a remote village in the Chianti area. Any excuse is a good one to travel around Tuscany guided by your stomach!
The Tuscan crostini neri, literally “black crostini”, are the most classic appetizer that you will always find at a family gathering or on the menu of a local trattoria. Its name comes from the brownish colour of the chicken liver spread. The main ingredient in crostini neri is chicken liver. This paste is traditionally made with chicken liver and hearts, onions, celery, carrots, capers, fresh herbs and some butter. Capers and anchovy paste add a perfectly balanced savouriness.
The gentle and buttery chicken liver pate is usually slathered on toasted bread, previously spread with butter.
Winter calls for stews. There’s a town near Florence, Impruneta, which is renowned for their meat stew. The craftsmen of Impruneta have always been famous for the jars, tiles and vases made with their renowned earthenware. Along with this Tuscan terracotta, they became famous also for the just as glorious peposo, a black peppercorn beef stew: the meat was simmered with patience, for a very long time, at the mouth of the old ovens. The ingredients were few and simple, just marbled meat, which takes some time to be cooked but eventually turns out soft and juicy, black peppercorns and red wine. No tomato sauce though, since the import of tomatoes from America was still far in the future. Peposo is said to have been Brunelleschi’s favourite dish, so why not make it yours?
Schiacciata alla fiorentina
As soon as Carnival comes, the schiacciata alla fiorentina appears in every bakery, pastry shop and bar in Florence. There is even a competition to find the best Florentine schiacciata. Despite its name that is the same as that of the savoury flatbread so typical of all Tuscan bakeries, the schiacciata alla fiorentina that you find at this time of year is a sweet cake, fragrant with orange and vanilla. Dusted with icing sugar with the Florence lily on the surface, now it is increasingly served filled with whipped cream, chocolate or custard inside.
Crespelle alla fiorentina
The crespelle with ricotta and spinach are a typical Florentine dish. They descend from Caterina de’ Medici and related to the age-old French-Florentine dispute on who influenced whom in cooking. Crespelle, the Italian cousin of the French crêpes, are first stuffed with a spinach and ricotta filling scented with nutmeg, another favourite of Caterina de’ Medici, then either rolled like a cannellone or folded like a handkerchief, hence the other name pezzole delle nonne.
Bistecca alla fiorentina
When it comes the time for sagre, the informal food festivals so loved in Italy, you can start smelling in the air the aroma of coals and grilled meat taking over the Tuscan hills. It is impossible to find a more emblematic dish of the Tuscan cuisine than the fiorentina, the thick Florentine beef rib steak which is originally from Maremma. From there, appreciated by many, it was later brought to Florence, where it took on its current name that elects it a representative food of the region. Now it is served al sangue, rare, barely seasoned with extra virgin olive oil, salt and black pepper.
Another food which you can find in a sagra is usually tortelli maremmani, one of the most common shapes that fresh pasta takes in Tuscany. They are large, generous, filled with fresh ricotta and spinach, with a handful of grated pecorino or parmigiano, a hint of nutmeg and often a few leaves of fresh marjoram. You can find them simply dressed with browned butter and sage, or topped with a rich meat sauce.
Pappa al pomodoro
Summer is time for tomatoes, so that means pappa al pomodoro. Pappa al pomodoro is the hallmark of traditional Tuscan home cooking. It was invented to use up ingredients that would otherwise have gone to waste, such as stale bread, placing emphasis on seasonal fare in a straightforward recipe that calls for a generous dash of the finest Tuscan extra-virgin olive oil. What makes pappa al pomodoro a flagbearer of Tuscan cooking is its chameleon-like nature: the recipe varies from area to area, from family to family, sparking debate and disagreement, as is always the case when Tuscan town rivalries are provoked.
Panzanella is another summer dish, a refreshing one, which sees tomatoes as one of the main ingredients. This Tuscan dish of peasant origin celebrates stale bread and the best seasonal produce. If you ask anyone here in Tuscany how they make their panzanella, you will have endless versions. They are as many as the tables where we meet for dinner. The basic ingredients are essentially three: stale bread, ripe tomatoes and basil. Additions to these three ingredients are based on family tradition and what’s in the pantry or garden!
Cacciucco is a fish soup typical of Livorno cuisine, a soup made with various types of poor fish, usually too bony to be cooked on their own. It is then served on toasted bread slices previously rubbed with garlic, to be soaked with the thick fish sauce. It seems to have originated from the fishermen’s habit of putting together all that was left after selling the catch of the day. As with any other traditional recipe, there are various versions spread along the coast. The cacciucco in Livorno is characterized by the presence of sage, garlic and chilli pepper. In Viareggio, the cacciucco calls for fishes that can be caught on sandy shores rather than on reefs like those of Livorno; it is lighter and less spicy and there’s no trace of sage. Both versions are made with red wine.
Panino al lampredotto
This offal sandwich is considered one of the most representative foods of Tuscan cuisine, at the same level as Florentine steak and pappa al pomodoro. If you want to experience Florence like a real Florentine, you must eat your panino con lampredotto e salsa verde (lampredotto sandwich with green sauce) with a glass of “vino della casa” on the street, and blend in with locals, students and other tourists. The preparation of this dish follows strict rules: the bread is soaked in cooking broth and then filled with lampredotto, salsa verde, salt and pepper. You can choose to add spicy sauce if you’d like to give it extra flavor.
Winter again. With the first cold days, Tuscan restaurants start serving ribollita (here’s our recipe), the classic bread soup with beans and cavolo nero. Ri-bollita in Italian means re-boiled, re-cooked. This very name is the secret to the dense and satisfying consistency of this soup that often becomes a meal. It’s part of the tradition of “poor cooking” in Tuscany’s countryside (cucina povera), low in fat and made exclusively with seasonal ingredients – essentially with whatever was growing in the kitchen garden or that could be found as a spontaneous green. Ribollita toscana is much more than a soup and even more filling than a “minestrone”.
Panforte, along with ricciarelli and cavallucci, is one of the most typical sweets of the Sienese Christmas. It is a thick and dense cake of medieval origin. At first it was made by the monks in the monasteries and given as a symbolic gift in special occasions, then passed into the hands of the apothecaries: sugar, almonds, candied fruit and spices were ingredients as precious as gold. The spices are what make it unique, a Tuscan gingerbread.
So there you have it. For lovers of Tuscan cuisine, 12 new dishes to try this year. Mark your calendar!