tuscan ribollita in Florence
Italian cuisine starts to get really interesting once you start breaking it down region to region. What you find in Rome or what you find in Venice will be completely different to food in Florence. This is what makes Italy so fascinating- that there is an endless amount to discover city to city in a country no larger than the state of California! As far as regions go, Tuscany is a central region of Italy with Florence as the regional capital. Tuscany is blessed with a beautiful seaside, a diverse countryside boasting a variety of colorful produce and passionate countrymen who procure the region's most coveted artisanal goods such as pecorino cheese, heritage cattle and fennel laced salami. There is plenty of good Tuscan food to be had in this stunning culture mecca and it would be a shame to come without experiencing the local cuisine. One of the best ways to ensure tasting the local cuisine is to take one (or two) food tours in Florence, of course!
If you are coming to Florence, here is a handy guide for must-try traditional Tuscan dishes and foods:
1. Antipasti Toscani: Antipasti refers to appetizers and on menus in Florence, you'll find the term "antipasti toscani" written. Tuscan appetizers usually include: sheep's milk pecorino cheese, cured meats like prosciutto toscano, fennel salami finocchiona, bruschetta toasts but the most Tuscan toast are crostini toscani that have a chopped liver pate slathered on. I quite like when places do warm crostini with lardo della colonnata- a prized lardo (pork back-fat) cured between slabs of Tuscan marble and herbs.
2. For pastas, look for Tortelli di Patate (ravioli-like pillows stuffed with potatoes typical to the Mugello region) or Tortelli Lucchesi (same thing but stuffed with meat and topped with meat- a luxury from Lucca) also tagliatelle with just about anything especially fresh tartufo (truffle), spaghetti con bottarga (fish eggs- sounds weird but promise its a delightful delicacy), or pasta dishes from Siena like pappardelle and pici in wild boar sauce (cinghiale) or anatra (duck), pici pasta anything (especially cacio e pepe for cheese lovers) and tubular maccheroni in a rabbit sauce or other game meat ragu'. For something a little more familiar to foreign palates, try Gnudi which are a spinach and ricotta dumpling otherwise known as "naked ravioli" which are served deliciously with a fried sage butter sauce. And did you know that marriages of spinach and cheese goes back to the Renaissance times when foodie/Florentine noblewoman Caterina De' Medici is said to have preferred spinach on just about everything? Hence why you see "Florentine eggs benedict" (although I doubt authentic Tuscan food would endorse such breakfast things.) That lady was great. Thanks to her we have delicious delights such as crespelle (spinach, ricotta and bechamel drenched baked crepes) as well as other items like duck, rabbit, rich pastries like Fedora, gelato and more.
3. Tuscan cuisine is very traditional and aside from being richly flavored from the Renaissance, it is firmly rooted in la cucina povera (peasant cuisine) Apart from pastas, you'll be pleasantly surprised with bean and bread based rustic soups. Soupy indulgences with the greatest amount of fame include no other than Ribollita (twice-boiled bean, veggie and leftover bread soup) and pappa al pomodoro (tomato and bread stew.) For something a little fishy, try Cacciucco alla Livornese - a seafood stew with local catches and in a savory tomato bath or anything you see "zuppa di pesce." Of course, Tuscany is renowned for vegetable minestrone. Other soups worth trying are zuppa di farro (spelt soup- did you know spelt is a Tuscan grain?) pasta e ceci (pasta with chickpeas) zuppa di orzo (orzo grain and bean pasta) and some places do a sort of Etruscan soup with chestnuts, honey and beans.
4. Fried things. Prior to coming to Florence, I didn't understand the great world of fried foods beyond potatoes. Italy in general does really wonderful fried things. If you see fried zucchini flowers and other seasonal vegetables, fried rabbit, fried polenta, COCCOLI with stracchino and prosciutto (fried dough balls slathered in the middle with fresh cheese and salty prosciutto- so. good.) fried polpette meatballs, frittelle di mela (which are battered and fried apple rings!!) fish fry-ups and so much more. Tuscany does not joke around with frying- they even fry tripe and lamb brains!
5. Meats. lots of meats! But in special occasion quantities. The key meat dishes in Tuscany: bistecca fiorentina, (that massive T-bone...) peposo (beef peppercorn stew cooked for hours in wine) arista (roasted pork), involtini (one of my favorite things- slices of meat stuffed and rolled. There are also vegetarian involtini made with cabbage.) Polpette (meatballs- it sounds basic but when a place does polpette right they are quite magical) Lampredotto (forth cow's stomach!!) brave it if you have a curiosity for bizarre foods...
6. Dessert. This was supposed to be about Tuscan dishes- but I really believe gelato deserves to be a food group. I don't think you could miss gelato even if you tried. Did you know the stuff was born in Florence? Again, Caterina de Medici strikes again. One famous gelato recipe original to Florence that you must try is: Buontalenti: a sort of cream, egg, honey and a touch of sweet wine zabione-type named after the architect who is another suspect in gelato's invention.
Are you hungry yet? Want to taste all these Tuscan dishes in Florence? Why not discover the best restaurants in Florence who do these dishes right on our progressive dinner crawl? A lot of these foods are also experienced on our Food Market Exploration. Come and mangia with fellow food lovers!