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cucina sostenibile

The Origins of Tuscan Cooking

The origins of cooking – Its conservation, flavors and variety

The preservation of food has always been one of the greatest problems in the history of cooking. Various processes were used to make food last throughout the year, for example, salting, smoking and drying of meat and fish, or the conservation of fruit and vegetables in vinegar, brine, juice or honey. New methods were introduced with the arrival of spices, ginger and pepper aimported from the East. Many people think that food in the Middle Ages was extremely simple, usually roasted and smothered in spices to hide the nauseous flavors that came from the primitive methods used to preserve food. However Italian cooking was constantly experimenting with flavors, colors, and matches even then, to ensure that all the dishes gave the greatest pleasure possible. People preferred unusual flavors in this period, with specialties like the delicate milk of almonds or rose water or stronger sweet and sour dishes, and exotically fascinating and long forgotten spices. An enormous quantity of dishes were carried out for the banquets, most of them meat-based, and of course many foods we normally eat today were still unknown, like tomatoes, potatoes, chilli peppers, maize and coffee, all imported after the discovery of America.

Bread – From crushed acorns to wheat flour

Our primitive ancestors used to mix the powder of crashed acorns with water and then cook the dough on red-hot slabs of stone, to make the rather hard flat bread that was the predecessor of the bread we eat today. The Egyptians accidentally discovered how to leaven the dough by leaving it outside and cooking it the next day. They found that bread cooked this way was much softer. The ancient Greeks instead started to add other products, like milk or spices, to the simple flour and water dough; they opened the first public bakeries and made the first rules for bread-making. Bread became so generalized a food in ancient Rome that laws were even made to establish the price of wheat flour to be sold to the population, to keep the making of bread below market price. The culture of bread and bakers was lost after the fall of the Roman Empire. In the Middle Ages bread made with wheat flour was limited to the wealthier members of the population, and other cereals, like barley, spelt and rye etc., were usually used for making bread dough. During the Renaissance, the introduction of beer yeast and higher qualities of flour led to an increasingly large use of this type of bread. This development has since continued thanks to the rediscovery of cereal flour, previously considered too humble, that today enriches the range of traditional types of bread.

Etiquette – Remember to wipe your mouth before drinking

This classical recommendation is part of a series of rules for good table manners that were drawn up in the Middle Ages. In those days the tables, covered by two sets of tablecloths, were placed on top of two trestles. Each table setting was laid with a bowl, made of pottery or seasoned wood, placed on top of a flat plate. Everyone was also provided with a spoon, but tankards had to be shared between two and it was up to guests to bring their own knife, a piece of cutlery that was only included in table settings from the 17th century onwards. The fork was instead invented in Venice in the late 14th century, while although napkins already existed, they were only used on the more luxurious tables. This type of setting also called for some good manners, soon leading to the birth of so-called etiquette and the creation of a handbook of rules for the table that, even in medieval banquets, were as important as wearing a decent suit of clothes.

Tuscan Cooking – Simple ingredients beautifully cooked

Plain, simple and basic, the Tuscan cuisine needs little elaboration to be able to conquer new admirers. The care given to the quality of the basic ingredients is an essential part of Tuscan cultural traditions, still closely linked to country cooking and genuine products. You only need taste a slice of Tuscan bread soaked in olive oil to appreciate the essence of this cuisine. The locally produced extra-virgin oil is in fact of exceptional quality, wonderful whether cooked or raw, and accompanies almost all the most characteristic recipes in the region. A Tuscan style lunch starts with a meaty appetizer based on cold cuts (including savory salted ham), and croutons, slices of toast spread with a pate made with chicken livers, spleen of veal, capers, and butter. Traditional first courses include simple but delicious vegetable soups like the `pappa col pomodoro`, made with tomato, garlic, basil, and pepper, or the `ribollita`, made with vegetables cooked for hours, the flavor brought out by a last minute topping of oil. Pappardelle (ribbon pasta) served with a hare sauce made with red wine, oil, and tomato, is just one of the typical pasta dishes. The world famous Florentine steak, a special cut of prized Chianina beef, is a symbolic second course, though we should also include characteristic Tuscan tripe, flavored with bacon, tomato, and Parmesan. The most popular legumes are beans, cultivated here from Etruscan times and either cooked `all` uccelletto` (in tomato sauce with sage) or in a wine flask. Like the soups, vegetables are almost always tossed in a frying pan with oil and garlic – spinach, artichokes, baby marrows – or fried, like, for example, the crunchy marrow flowers. Typical dishes in the summer months are the `pinzimonio` or sliced fresh vegetable dip of oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper, or classic fresh field salads.

Renaissance Cooking – The Art of Cooking

Banqueting was one of the expressions of Renaissance court culture and is why we can find some of the most famous artists and craftsmen of the time (Buontalenti for example) dedicating themselves to their staging and or organization. Culinary art became a science and, thanks to the recipe books, instructions for etiquette and manuals on table-laying and decoration that were published, it was also passed down to posterity. The dominating taste was apparently based on sweet sugar-based flavors, which, for the court society, became a sign of social distinction and linked more to ostentation than the palate. Cooks, on the other hand, discovered that the use of spices was indispensable for cooking the dishes requested with greater creativity, thus adapting themselves to the tastes of their masters and to the established rule that prefers whatever is rare and costly according to the principle of magnificence and luxury. Compared to the past, the Renaissance cuisine stands out above all for the extraordinarily rich ingredients that were used. Despite the fact that they were not yet completely integrated into the culinary culture, products, like maize, tomatoes, and marrows began to arrive from the Americas, while turkey quickly replaced goose, queen of the medieval table. There was also a much wider use of butchered meat in this period, especially beef and veal, together with a growing passion for entrails and offal from butchered animals, birds and even fish. Although milk and its derivatives were rarely used in noble kitchens in the past, during the Renaissance they became the basic ingredients for preparing many dishes. Butter and cream almost completely replaced lard in the kitchen and cheeses, made in a wide variety of ways, at last, appear on the table.

Game & Chocolate

The game was cooked in a sweet and sour sauce up until the Middle Ages. One of the first recipes to be written in that period tells us that the various ingredients included raisins, almonds, vinegar, ginger, honey and cooked must, later replaced by cinnamon. This sweet and sour sauce, however, was notably changed after the Spanish started to import chocolate from America. It arrived in Tuscany in the late 16th century and became a real inspiration for alchemists of cooking, who started to elaborate it by adding other ingredients like the peel of fresh limes, cinnamon, vanilla, amber, and musk. In the 17th century, scientist Francesco Redi invented an exquisite recipe that mixed chocolate with jasmine. Grand Duke Cosimo III dei Medici reserved it for his court and the fame of this culinary masterpiece lasted for many years. The exclusive recipe, which listed all the ingredients, quantities and preparation in detail, became a carefully preserved State secret that was kept in the strongbox in the Foundry of the Pitti Palace by the noble members of the Medici family.

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Known for its diverse palate and regional cuisine, Italy’s culinary identity can be quite difficult to define. But pasta forms an integral part of its gastronomical personality and comes in a variety of different shapes and sizes. From the ‘priest-hats’ of the north to the ‘bridegrooms’ of the south, here is a region-by-region guide to Italian pasta.

Agnolotti: Piedmont

Most commonly crimped, square-shaped and stuffed with meat, agnolotti (or ‘priest hats’) is the primary pasta of Piedmont, in the northwestern region of Italy. Located in the lush-green foothills of the Alps and the Apennines, and surrounded by a wooded wilderness, Piedmontese cuisine is typically tinged with the musky aromas of its mountainous backdrop. Perfect for poaching, agnolotti can also be added to a broth, but are best pan-fried in a sage and butter sauce and finished off with a dusting of white truffle.

agnolotti Toscana Divino

Farfalle: Lombardy

Universally recognised as the ‘bow-tie’, farfalle borrows its name from the Italian word for ‘butterflies’. Despite its intricate design, this good-looking variety remains the signature pasta of the northwestern Italian region of Lombardy. Habitually blended with beetroot, spinach or squid-ink, farfalle is also available in an array of brilliant colour combinations to include the vivid hues of the Italian flag. Owing to its sauce-holding-abilities, this pasta is best served with a simple tomato and basil concoction.

farfalle Toscana Divino

Curzetti Stampae: Liguria

Originating from the pastel-coloured coastal stretch of the Italian Riviera, curzetti stampae (or Corzetti stamps), are a fresh pasta unique to the northwestern Italian region of Liguria. Often referred to as, sroxetti, crosetti, or cruxettu, curzetti stampae became fashionable during the Italian Renaissance, when noble families would stamp their heraldic badge on their pasta. Conventionally coin-shaped, curzetti stampae are embossed with an elaborate design, which is effected by a specialised artisanal hand-stamp. Commonly coated in a meat sauce, curzetti stampae also marry well with pesto genovese (Ligurian basil pesto).

curzetti Toscana Divino

Strozzapreti: Emilia Romagna

Strozzapreti, (or ‘priest-choker’), is a hand-rolled variety of pasta from the northern Italian region of Emilia-Romagna. Its dubious name origin is unclear; one legend suggests that ‘Strozzapreti’ stems from the story of the gluttonous priests who choked on their pasta as a result of their insatiable appetite, another claims that housewives ‘choked’ the dough in such a rage, violent enough to ‘choke a priest’. Irregular in size and shape, strozzapreti is the larger version of cavatelli (‘little hollows’), and is made of flour, water, parmigiano-reggiano, and egg whites.

Strozzapreti Toscana Divino

Gigli: Tuscany

Gigli, (or ‘lilies’), is a type of dried pasta from the lush-green patch-worked pastures of Tuscany, in Central Italy. Honouring the Giglio (‘lily’) of Florence, this Toscanini triumph dates back to the Italian Renaissance – a time when Florentine gastronomy was plush and profuse. Not only does this beautiful bouquet of pasta look stunning on the plate; but, with its delicately ruffled edges and fluted form, it is also adept at capturing thick and creamy sauces. For something lighter, though, try mixing it with fresh zucchini, garlic, and parmigiano-reggiano.

Gigli Toscana Divino

Bucatini: Lazio

Bucatini (from Italian ‘buco’ meaning ‘hole’), is a spaghetti-like pasta with a hollow centre, that derives from the central Italian region of Lazio. Closely related to macaroni, (another cylindrical pasta), the stretched-out tubular structure of bucatini – made of hard durum wheat flour – makes it robust and versatile and pretty much perfect for any sauce. Principally complimented by full-bodied flavours, its seemly size and shape also makes it ideal for baking, and teams up particularly well with mozzarella and meatballs.

 bucatini Toscana Divino

Spaghetti alla Chitarra: Abruzzo

Spaghetti alla chitarra is a variety of egg pasta from the Abruzzo region of Central Italy. Unlike the better-known cylindrical form, alla chitarra is square-shaped. As the etymology of its name suggests, spaghetti alla chitarra is fashioned by a ‘chitarra’, (or a ‘guitar’), which when draped in fresh pasta, is pressed with a rolling-pin, and plucked to form a bundle of perfectly shaped strings on the sloped platform below. Best served al dente, this pasta is customarily co-ordinated with an Abruzzese ragu.

Spaghetti al chitarra Toscana Divino

Penne: Campania

Penne (or ‘pen’) is a well-known variety of Italian pasta that is said to have arisen from the south of Italy, in the region of Campania. Otherwise known as ‘quills’, this tubular Napolese variety is cut diagonally at the ends, which creates its quill-pen likeness. Available in other sizes – ‘pennette’ (smaller penne) and ‘pennioni’ (bigger penne) – this pasta can also be smooth, or ridged (penne rigate). Ideal with heavy sauces, penne is traditionally served with a flavourful arrabbiata (spicy tomato sauce).

penne Toscana Divino

Orecchiette: Puglia

Head southeast to Italy’s ‘heel’ and you will find the pasta speciality of Puglia: ‘orecchiette’ (or ‘little ears’). This home-made, durum wheat variety has a somewhat hazy history, but with its concave thumbprint, this exemplary sauce holder forms a principle part of Pugliese cuisine. Influenced by the region’s agricultural tradition, the typical way to eat orecchiette, in Puglia, is with broccoli rabe (grown in the area), and is often referred to as orecchiette alle cime di rapa (orecchiette with turnip tops).

orecchiette Toscana Divino

Ziti: Sicily

Ziti (or ‘bride-grooms’) is the chunkier Sicilian version of Campanian penne, from the rugged, southernmost region of Italy. Generally, three or four inches long, and hollowed out, ziti can also have a ridged exterior (ziti rigati), which makes it the perfect accompaniment to a thick sauce. Owing to its size and durability, this staple of Sicilian cuisine is typically baked in marinara sauce (tomato-based), and combined with ricotta and mozzarella cheese; but it can also be supplemented by a salad, or served with asparagus, pesto and a good handful of walnuts.

Ziti Toscana Divino

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Florence’s most iconic dish is, without a doubt, bistecca alla fiorentina: an enormous porterhouse steak, minimally seasoned with salt and pepper, grilled and served bloody rare. It’s a showstopper, for sure. But it’s not for everyone, or for every occasion. Less well-known, but just as worthy, are the simple roasts served in the city’s cozy trattorias, in family-run restaurants in the countryside and in home kitchens throughout the Italian region of Tuscany.

During a visit to Florence last summer, I was reminded of just how appealing a roast — beef, pork, veal — can be, thinly sliced and adorned only with pan drippings. My jet-lagged family and I followed my friend Emiko Davies on a hot day in late July as she ducked through a doorway beneath a green-and-white-striped awning. Davies, a longtime resident of the city and author of the cookbook “Florentine: The True Cuisine of Florence,” was taking us to Trattoria Mario, one of her favorite spots for traditional Florentine food.

Although it was barely lunchtime, the place was already packed with a mix of locals and intrepid tourists sitting elbow to elbow at communal tables. The menu, handwritten (in Italian only) on butcher paper and taped to the wall, listed the day’s selections. Seeing that we weren’t quite ready to face a bloody bistecca, Davies instead ordered several platters of sliced roasts to share, plus traditional sides of roasted potatoes and stewed cannellini beans. The food, like the trattoria itself, was no-frills: no special sauces, no fancy garnishes, no clever twists on classics. But, also like Mario’s, it was genuine, and really, really good. Especially those roasts, all juicy and tender and succulent — just what you want a good roast to be. We polished them off.

A few days later, another roast stole the show. This one, a turkey breast, was the centerpiece of a luncheon prepared by my friend Giulia Scarpaleggia, a food writer who shares recipes and snippets of life in the Tuscan countryside on her blog, Juls’ Kitchen. She served it sliced and cold, with a tonnato (tuna and mayonnaise) sauce on the side. Even without the dollop of sauce, the turkey was tender and rich, with meaty flavor.

Weeks after we had returned home and gone back to our usual habit of grilling steaks and chops, I was still thinking about those roasts. With winter in full swing, I decided it was time to crack the code on how to make them.

Simply prepared roasts have a long history in Tuscan cuisine. Arista di maiale, a bone-in pork loin roast seasoned simply with herbs, garlic and white wine, dates to at least the 15th century, when it was served at an assembly of bishops in Florence. “Rosbiffe,” the Italian adaptation of roast beef, is a more recent import, arriving in the 1800s with a large British expatriate community that settled in Florence. Pellegrino Artusi, author of the famous 19th century cookbook “La scienza in cucina e l’arte di mangiar bene” (“Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well”), lived in Florence for most of his life and devoted an entire chapter to roasts. “Roasting preserves the nutritional qualities of meat better than any other method of cooking, and the meat is also easier to digest,” Artusi wrote.

The success of a roast depends on the quality of the meat, says Andrea Falaschi, Davies’ butcher in San Miniato, not far west of Florence. “Our recipes aren’t complicated,” he says. “Simplicity is our strength; it’s the beauty of our cuisine. But we start with the best primary ingredients.”

Florence is famous for its Chianina beef, says Davies, which comes from an ancient breed of cattle raised in Tuscany and in parts of Umbria, Lazio and Abruzzo. One of the world’s largest breeds, Chianina are known for the creamy white color of their hide and their lean, flavorful meat. The region’s best pork, she says, comes from Cinta Senese pigs, a slow-growing heirloom breed prized for its fatty meat: “Whenever you eat anything made with Cinta Senese, you can tell, because it has a richness and juiciness to it that comes from that amazing layer of fat.”

Davies, who tested recipes for her book in her native Australia, says she used Berkshire pork, a heritage breed that originated in England and has characteristics similar to those of Cinta Senese, to make her arista di maiale. The breed has been raised in the United States since the 1800s and in recent years has become more widely available, including at local butcher shops such as the Organic Butcher of McLean and Red Apron Butcher in the District and Virginia. It is noticeably fattier and juicier than standard mass-produced pork, which is bred for leanness. Arista, with its rack of rib bones, makes an impressive roast for very little effort. For that reason, it took the place of turkey this year at our Thanksgiving table, and it might make an encore performance next year.

As for “rosbiffe,” it is possible to buy U.S.-raised Chianina beef, but it is not easy to find at retail markets. Grass-fed beef, which is available at many farmers markets and supermarkets, makes a good substitute. It is leaner and not as buttery-soft as typical beef raised on grain, with a more pronounced beefy flavor. Because of its leanness, it is best cooked slowly at a moderately low temperature.

Dave Burton, a butcher, offers an alternative for those willing to splurge a bit: Wagyu roast beef. Derived from a Japanese cattle breed, Wagyu is richly marbled with fat. However, the whole-muscle cuts typically used for roast beef, such as top round and eye round, are not as fatty. Wagyu eye of round makes an especially good roast beef, Burton says, because it gives a typically lean cut, one that’s prone to dryness, just enough fat to ensure a good roast. At $12.99 a pound, it isn’t cheap, but it is certainly less costly than prime rib or tenderloin.

Veal is more complicated; it is more expensive and less popular in the States than in Italy. Italian veal is older — more like young beef — and is rosier in color and tastier than the young milk-fed veal sold here. Many Americans are put off by the poor, cramped conditions in which veal calves are raised. But it is getting easier to find humanely raised veal that is more like what is sold in Italy.

If you are not tired of turkey, try roasting a boneless turkey breast. Scarpaleggia’s turkey roast sold me on this less-expensive alternative to veal or pork. You can buy a butterflied boneless breast to roll and tie yourself, or look for one that it is already tied in mesh; some Whole Foods Markets stock them on the weekends (best to call in advance). Once you’ve chosen your roast, follow a few simple steps (see sidebar below), and within a couple of hours you’ll have a beautiful Tuscan-style roast at your table. All that’s left is to open a bottle of Chianti.

TIPS FOR ROASTS

I consulted with Tuscan cookbook authors Giulia Scarpaleggia and Emiko Davies, as well as Davies’ Florentine butcher, Andrea Falaschi, and David Burton, a butcher at the Organic Butcher in McLean, to compile this list of tips for successfully making a Tuscan-style roast:

• Make sure the meat is at room temperature.

• Tie the meat with kitchen string. (I tie at 1-inch intervals.) This will ensure even cooking, plus it makes for a more attractive roast that slices neatly. If the roast is encased in plastic mesh, discard it for cooking and tie the roast with kitchen twine. If the mesh is cotton, it can stay in place.

• Season with a mixture of fresh — not dried — herbs, plus salt and pepper. Rub the seasoning all over the meat (think of it as a massage), making sure to coat it evenly.

• Choose the right roasting pan or pot. Many Tuscans cook their roasts in a pot on the stove top, in a method (oddly) known as arrosto morto, or “dead roast.” Choose a heavy-bottomed pot into which the roast fits snugly, so any juices that accumulate during cooking don’t evaporate, but is not crowded. For oven roasting, select a hefty roasting pan, a ceramic baking dish or an ovenproof skillet. Again, be sure the roast fits snugly in the pan but is not crowded. A roasting rack is optional; it promotes even cooking, but pan drippings tend to evaporate more quickly, especially in a hot oven.

• Sear the meat. Most roasts benefit from an initial browning on the surface to enhance flavor and create a crust. This is easily done on the stove top in a little hot oil or fat. Turn the meat to brown it on all sides. (The exception here is the accompanying recipe for the pork, which is browned in the oven at the end of roasting to crisp the skin.)

• Roast at a low to moderately low temperature: low heat for the stove top and anywhere from 275 to 350 degrees in the oven. That will allow the roast to cook properly and evenly without becoming tough.

• Let the roast rest for 15 minutes before serving; it helps redistribute the juices and makes for a juicier roast.

• Slice the meat thinly, arrange the slices overlapping on a warmed serving platter and spoon the pan juice on top. (Again, the exception here is the pork, which can be either cut into thick chops or removed from the bones and sliced thinly.)

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What distinguishes an Italian meal?

Although Italy was not united under one law and considered a single country until 1861, its cuisine has long since been an element uniting all of Italy’s regions together by taking pride in its respect for good, fresh, simple ingredients. When we commonly think of Italian food, we think of pasta, olive oil and lots of fresh vegetables, which does in fact make up the base of this mediterranean diet, stemming from ancient Etruscan, Greek and Roman cultures. Other common ingredients that we often consider staples such as the tomato, potato or bell pepper were not introduced until much later but, nonetheless, have earned a special spot in the Italian pantry.

Italian cuisine is much like their language – there is a national language that every region speaks but every region has their own dialect that they speak between one another. You will see this same phenomenon in food. As you travel through Italy, you will notice how each region has specific dishes and ingredients that they are best known for, yet there are basic ingredients such as pasta, cheese and olive oil that all of Italy uses.

The Basics for Tuscany

Tuscan outdoor market

Like all Italian cuisine, Tuscan cooking is based upon using the most fresh and simple ingredients of the season including many legumes, cheeses, vegetables and fruits. Typical dishes are based upon what Tuscans find fresh and local at the market that week, making them often very easy to prepare and involving few ingredients. Although the food may be simple, it is rich in flavor, very hearty and quite filling. All meals are served accompanied by the regional bread: a white, plain, unsalted loaf. This tradition dates back to the 16th century when there was a tax put on salt, changing the way locals thought about baking bread. This old tradition of unsalted bread has carried on and now marks Tuscan bread apart from other regions in Italy. It may seem flavorless at first but its real job is to soak up all the leftover juices left on your place, giving it all the flavor it needs and leaving your bread basket empty at the end of the meal.

The bread is also flavored by using a variety of ingredients for crostini such as crostini di fegatini (liver paté) or the simple and delicious fettunta, a grilled slice of bread with garlic, olive oil and salt. The fettunta is a great way to take your hand at olive oil tasting too – there is nothing better than unsalted bread to truly indulge in the pure flavor of local olive oil, which is the base for all Tuscan dishes. Other appetizers that you will commonly come across are wooden cutting boards covered with cured meats which include prosciutto, lard from “Colonnata” and different types of sausages, all cured for long periods of time creating distinct, rich flavors. A wonderful place to get a taste of Tuscan bread and different crostoni is at Fuori Porta, a wonderful restaurant in the area of San Niccolò, just before heading up to Piazzale Michelangelo with great outdoor seating and a long wine menu. They are famous for their crostoni, which is a larger version of a crostini topped with either set ingredients or with whatever you please such as roasted ham, mozzarella, fresh tomatos and porcini mushrooms.

Primi or Pasta Dishes

pappa pomodoro

Also stemming from history, many Tuscan dishes were invented based on the principle of “waste not” such as ribollita – a tuscan vegetable and bread soup – and pappa al pomodoro – a tomato and bread soup (in the photo above). Both use stale bread as the base that is flavored with a variety of vegetables and legumes. Ribollita, traditionally a poor-man’s food, is hearty and thickened with the leftover bread, cannellini beans and inexpensive vegetables that you can often find year-round such as onions, carrots, celery, kale and cabbage. Pappa al pomodoro is another very traditional dish made simply with the day old bread, tomatoes, olive oil and sometimes a hint of garlic, depending on the recipe. As simple as these dishes sound, they are flavorful enough to have become a favorite among locals and also among tourists throughout the decades. Other first course dishes in Tuscany are simple pastas such as pappardelle alla lepre o al sugo di cinghiale, a fresh, egg noodle pasta with either a hare or wild boar sauce.

Another common dish coming from this principle is Trippa and Lampredotto, particularly in Florence. It is served both as street food as well as in five star restaurants. Trippa is the cow’s stomach lining which is often tenderized by stewing it in a tomato sauce for a long period or served marinated as a salad. Lampredotto is served mostly as street food, which you can find at one of the many food kiosks throughout the city or in the markets during lunch time, and is also made from the stomach and served as a sandwich with a green parsley sauce and the juice from the broth in which it was cooked. Both of these are very typical Florentine foods but do take to only a certain crowd. If you are feeling experimental and love trying new things, either stop off at the indoor food market of San Lorenzo at Nerbone or at the Kiosk that you will find in Piazza dei Ciompi outside of the other food market, Sant’Ambrogio. Another option is to sit down at Trattoria da Rocco inside the Sant’Ambrogio market, where they serve up steaming plates of Tuscan classics including trippa, but don’t expect to linger as this place likes to keep things moving and get people fed and on their way. It is certainly, though, one of the most authentic places to sample a variety of local dishes without breaking the bank.

Secondi or Main Course

fiorentina steak

Of course, we cannot talk about Tuscan cuisine and forget to mention the famous steak that comes from Valdarno and Mugello called “bistecca alla fiorentina”. The Tuscan steak, which comes from a special cow breed, the Chianina, is served very rare alongside roasted potatoes and beans. It can be found at most Tuscan restaurants throughout the region but some are better than others. If you truly want to experience a grand meat meal, head to Dario Cecchini in Panzano in Chianti, who is famous for his steaks. In Florence, some of the best known restaurants for a Florentine steak are the Cinghiale Bianco, located in the Oltrarno or Trattoria 13 Gobbi, near Santa Maria Novella. The bistecca is cut and served based on how many people there are at the table and, to show off as well as have you approve the size of the steak, they will typically come and show you the steak before they cook it.

Tuscany is also known for its wild game such as wild boar, hares, pheasants and other birds. They are often tenderized in a stew such as cinghiale in umido (stewed wild boar), roasted such as faraona arrosto (roasted guinea-fowl) or served as a sauce over pasta, as mentioned above. Cinghiale is definitely the most foreign to travelers and often most well liked as it is rich in flavor but not too gamey tasting. You can often find this dish at many Tuscan restaurants such as the Trattoria del Carmine in Florence. My personal favorite is Trattoria Casalinga just off the Santo Spirito piazza. Their menu is full of classic Tuscan dishes that are always well prepared and it is one of the few old restaurants that has not inflated its prices with increased popularity. Because of this, you will want to make sure to call ahead and reserve or else you will find yourself waiting for an hour!

Contorni or Side Dishes

side dish Tuscan food

Tuscan side dishes don’t vary too much from other regions but you can be sure to always find beans and some kind of hearty green vegetable sauteed in olive oil on the menu. You will often see sauteed spinach or chicory in olive oil and garlic, which they do very well – you will never have guessed you are eating a vegetable! You will also always find side salads, roasted potatoes and when in season, artichokes prepared in various methods, grilled mixed vegetables such as eggplant and fried zucchini flowers in the summer months.

Dolce or Dessert

Tuscan desserts
Tuscany isn’t famous for their desserts and meals are generally finished with a simple piece of fruit or bowl of fresh berries when in season. After all, having just packed in all those courses, it may be hard to find room for a rich dessert. This being said, the most traditional dessert comes from a nearby town just 20 minutes north of Florence, Prato. Plates of cantucci, small hard, almond flavored cookies, are served alongside the Vinsanto wine for dipping. Between the sweet wine and the crunchy cookie, the pairing is unbeatable and a nice, light way to finish a Tuscan meal. If you are a dessert lover, head to Trattoria Camillo where you will not only find very good Tuscan food but also very good deserts that change regularily. Of course, we cannot mention an Italian meal without mentioning coffee. Meals are always closed with an espresso no matter what the hour.

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