Tuscan food is world renowned. Any time we go to present Dievole around the world or meet people internationally, they say “oh, you’re so lucky to live in Tuscany! I had the best food in my life there!”. We can’t deny it. Really, food down the Italian peninsula is exceptional and we love traveling to the different regions to sample their specialties, but there’s no doubt that our favourite is traditional Tuscan food. It’s what’s in our hearts! But what is it that makes Tuscan food so particularly good? We’ve thought about it a lot, and also asked a few knowledgeable bloggers and chefs for their input on the matter.
Topping the list of “causes” is fresh ingredients. As Giulia from Juls’ Kitchen points out – and many chefs would agree: “Tuscan food is all about the freshest ingredients. Once you choose these wisely, it is just a matter of respectful cooking methods and seasonings. Dishes are not over-complicated but let each ingredient shine through.” Indeed, being blessed with the famous “Tuscan sun,” there’s always something good growing in our kitchen garden. From tomatoes in the summer to cavolo nero (kale) in the winter, the weather is mild enough for agriculture year-round.
Which brings us to another point: seasonality. Tuscans – and probably many Italians – feel strongly about eating in season. If you’re shopping at a local market, you can’t get strawberries in January or cauliflower in June. To each fruit and vegetable corresponds a month or a few months. Some availability lasts literally a few weeks (like those delicious really thin asparagus). True, at the larger supermarkets you can find just about everything year-round, but the dishes we prepare are always seasonal.
Giulia also mentions the simplicity of Tuscan dishes, and indeed this is true. Even if the preparation may take many steps – as is the case in some of Dievole’s chef Monika’s masterpieces like these ribollita macarons – traditionally, Tuscan food does not contain many ingredients. The quintessential delicacy, T-bone steak, should be prepared with literally nothing more than some salt and pepper, and a bit of olive oil brushed on the grill. You might serve this with a side of white beans, which are just slow cooked and maybe flavoured with garlic and salt, or you might have some boiled and sautéed spinach – two side dishes that Tuscans love to eat plain. In terms of primi, fresh pasta reigns, with simple toppings like kale pesto or just tomato sauce.
Perhaps it’s a matter of the “culinary culture” that can be applied throughout Italy. “Food is a way of life in Tuscany…” notes Helen Farrell, editor in chief of The Florentine. “What is so special about the region’s food is its aura and awe, the fact that local families still haven’t finished lunch when they are already debating what to eat for dinner. Food is a way of bringing people together, even the most diverse group, for a mutually pleasurable experience that never seems to end.” Indeed, in my family we often joke about the fact that we are already planning dinner while making breakfast. Sometimes actually preparing parts of it!
You notice this same culinary culture any time you sit down at table with food-loving Tuscans. Italians may be the only people who talk about food… while eating. Constantly. You talk about the food on the table as well as other great meals, or what you’re growing, or how you prepare this or another thing. At a recent lunch-turned-dinner with friends in the Tuscan countryside, I observed how the conversation wove in and out of food related topics, but in the end, a fisherman, a (female) food blogger and a Tuscan father were all trading recipes and tricks for making the best pizza.
Along with their fresh, simple and seasonal food, Tuscans enjoy a good glass of Chianti Classico, taken in convivial company!