Italy is a foodie paradise during any time of the year, from the rich ragus creates with wild boar and preserved vegetables in the winter to a light summer dish of sautéed vegetables and a glass of refreshing white or rose wine. Summer means so many things to those who live and breathe Tuscany: staying active and taking time off from the everyday stress of life is so important to us all.
Every region in Italy has their gastronomic seasonal specialties and Tuscany is no different. Discovering the summer menu for a foodie is as easy as heading to a local morning market and asking a local what’s available this season. The key to cuisine here is ‘keep it simple’ the focus being on the quality of the ingredients as most of the dishes here originate from poor farmers. Let’s explore the art of eating wonderfully during the summer months in bella Toscana.
Ask a Tuscan nonna (grandmother) what dish typically describes summer and 9 times out of 10 she will probably say ‘Panzanella’. A simple salad made with chunks of stale bread soaked and mixed with onion, basil, tomatoes and dressed with vinegar and olive oil. The history of this recipe dates back until the 16th century, a poor man’s dish (originally made with onions and no tomatoes) but one light and full of flavor – today’s variations can be truly impressive and certainly never hesitate to make our own mouths water.
A famous dish in Tuscany which also includes stale bread (often a staple here) is the wonderful ‘pappa al pomodoro’ a tomato and bread simple soup. Making it is as simple as combining the bread with olive oil, garlic, plenty of ripe tomatoes, a bit of pepperoncino spice, basil and extra-virgin olive oil to garnish. Singer Rita Pavone even sang a tribute to this popular dish, it’s a must-try for any foodie!
Less of a ‘recipe’ and more a beginning to a great meal is ‘Pinzimonio’- Fresh vegetables with olive oil. We adore this because if the olive oil is extra-virgin and fantastic, you won’t want to eat anything else. We like to liven up our oil with a little rosemary and lavender and highly recommend making this a staple on your summer table.
Next on our list isn’t particularly only Tuscan but is on menus all over the region. A very refreshing beef tartare (the best made with chianina beef, a very high grade typical from Tuscany, Lazio and Umbria since 2,000 years). Some might imagine that raw meat may be the last thing they want to try, but that just means you haven’t tried a bite of truly fresh tartare, infused with onion, capers, spices and topped with lemon juice. A perfect pairing along with a glass of Tuscan wine.
For those looking for something a little heartier, ‘fiore di zucca fritto’ (fried zucchini blossoms) are always a wise choice. Some might never have known but zucchini actually have flowers attached to them. These ‘flowers’ aren’t meant to just look pretty, that first crunch when biting into one of these is as close to foodie nirvana as you can get. One thing to keep in mind is that they are very delicate so typically you want to purchase them the day you want to eat them, the simple recipe just covers them in a light batter and fries on each side until golden brown though you can also stuff them with ricotta or mozzarella and anchovies if you are looking for a unique twist.
Whatever takes your fancy, dining this summer in Tuscany is likely to be a real treat for those who enjoy the simplicity of seasonal cuisine. When you are too full to even think of dessert, make a little room for gelato which can be found virtually anywhere in a Tuscan town, why not get a cone and embark on a pleasant after-dinner passeggiata, or walk. After all, you only live once right?