Published on: 9 February 2014 | Last updated: 7 January 2020
Food: regional specialities
Many Tuscans (indeed many Italians) will tell you that Catherine de Medici, when she became Queen of France, took with her a squadron of cooks and was responsible for teaching the French how to cook. Although Tuscan cooking has been influential there are still plenty of dishes that you won’t see outside Toscana.
The Italian equivalent of the expression ‘as good as gold’ is ‘buono come il pane’ - as good as bread. Bread has an importance in Tuscan cooking that it doesn’t have in other regions.
Crostini - toast with tomatoes or liver paté (fegato) or chicken liver paté (fegatini) are the most obvious dish but there’s also:
- ribollita which is a soup of tomato and vegetables cavalo nero (cabbage) and beans bulked out with bread. According to wikipedia the dish would be made in a big batch on Friday and then reheated on the following days hence the name which literally means ‘reboiled’;
- acqua cuota (literally ‘cooked water’) comes from the Maremma and is similar to ribollita but with an egg that is cooked by the heat from the soup;
- pappa col pomodoro - a soup made with breadcrumbs and tomato - as opposed to the chunks of bread used in ribollita;
- panzanella a salad made with tomatoes, onions, basil and yes, you guessed it, breadcrumbs. It’s very good - a bit like couscous.
And on the subject of bread there’s a also schiacchia - the Tuscan version of focaccia (the verb schiacciare means to squash or to flatten.
When it comes to pasta there are the distinctive pici - fat handmade fresh spaghetti. Look for pici caccia e pepe - pasta made with a sauce using pecorino (goat’s cheese) from the area around Pienza in the Val d’Orcia in southern Toscana, and pepper.
In and around Firenze you’ll see peposa a beef stew from Firenze - or rather from Impruneta a village in the hills - so you may see it on menus as peposa d’Impruneta. Impruneta is also a centre for the production of bricks and terracotta - and in the past the peposa was cooked in the kilns. According to peposa.it it may have been introduced to Firenze by the fornacini (brick makers) employed on the building of the Duomo.
On the subject of beef you’ll also see the word ‘chianciano’ on menus these are the white long-horn cattle that are native to Toscana (although you’ll find them in other parts of central Italy as well). You can see them grazing in the higher pastures (although sadly not that often - and not often enough to give you much confidence that the beef you eat in a restaurant will be from a cow that has grazed in mountain pastures).
You’ll also see the words ‘cinta senese’ this is the traditional breed of striped pig from the Siena area.
Of course in the areas nearest the sea have their own specialities including Cacaccio (or Cataccio) a fish stew from Livorno (image opens in overlay).
There’s more to wine from Toscana than Chianti. Although you probably won’t have heard of most of them, there are other wine-growing areas in Toscana and they produce some pretty good wines.
- Scansano - Morellino (red)
- San Gimignano - Vernaccia
- Bolgheri - red and Vermentino (white).
- Montalcino - Brunello (red)
- Montepulciano - Vino Nobile (red).
Confusingly, the vino mobile is not made from the Montepulciano grape which in fact is mainly grown in the Abruzzo region of southern Italy.
The Brunello is one of Italy’s most expensive wines. The Rosso di Montalcino is made with the same grapes in the same area but aged for a much shorter period, and tend to be a lot cheaper. Brunello was once thought to be a separate grape variety but it turns out that it was the same as Sangiovese the main ingredient in most Tuscan red wines.
Another wine that is a Tuscan speciality (OK, Toscana and neighbouring bits of Umbria) is the sweet Vin Santo drunk after dinner with cantucci biscuits (made with almonds or with chocolate).
… and talking of Chianti
There are a number of varieties of Chianti. There’s the Chianti Classico which comes from central Toscana with the original Chianti at its core, and then there are the Chiantis that come from other areas of Toscana:
- colli Senesi
- colli Aretino
- colline Pisani
- Montespertoli (on the road between Firenze and Volterra)
They all have the Sangiovese grape as their base but differ in the proportion of Sangiovese, in the maximum permitted output per hectare and the minimum time that the wine has to be aged.
Turismo enogastronomico is seems to be big business, and most areas have a wine road (strada del vino) to promote wine tourism - and the wine roads often include local food producers of local food specialities.
If you’re cycling the scope for visits to vineyards are maybe a bit limited, but there’s nothing to stop you staying at an agriturismo or agricampeggio on a vineyard. Or simply finding your way to an enoteca in the evenings. Some links you may find useful: