While Italian food is perhaps the best known and widest spread worldwide, many are sadly unaware of the immense regional diversity that characterizes the nation’s cuisine. The more you travel in Italy, the more you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the immense range of ingredients, styles, dishes, desserts, wines, and more that are endemic to each area. We’re hesitant to declare any one of them superior to others, but it’s difficult to argue that the food in Tuscany is anything short of heavenly.
Tuscan cuisine stems from the region’s history as a lower class agricultural area. The people were dubbed mangiafagioli—bean eaters—from their tradition of peasant fare. Based around beans, bread, and other inexpensive ingredients, the name may be accurate, but it doesn’t even begin to capture the flavor of their dishes. Much of this richness is the result of perfecting old recipes over a great deal of time. A Tuscan proverb states that “to cook like your mother is good, but to cook like your grandmother is better,” and this mentality of authenticity and tradition contributes to the cultural importance of family meals and the old methods of preparation.
Start with the beans, of which there are countless varieties grown throughout the region. In the hilly region around Pescia, there are fagiolo di Sorana, which are delicate white beans used for minestra di fagioli (bean soup) and paste e ceci (a unique and delicious chickpea pasta). Even without being prepared into a specialty dish, these and other local legumes are delicious just drizzled with fresh olive oil and herbs.
Next to beans come the funghi. Truffles are an important part of the cuisine. The best black ones are grown in Norcia, and the most delicious white ones can be found around San Miniato. They can be served fresh and whole, or shaved over any variety of pasta. Porcini mushrooms, which bloom in force in autumn, are another popular choice. Try them with taglierini or any other local pasta for an authentic meal. If you want something more substantial, sample bistecca alla Fiorentina, a char-grilled t-bone seared after being rubbed with olive oil, and served bloody with copious salt and pepper. This dish from Florence is perhaps the heartiest thing around for carnivores.
Tuscans know how to do dessert, as well. Don’t miss out on locally made castagnaccio, a chestnut cake found in every bakery. Cantucci, sweet and hard biscuits with almonds, apricots, or chocolate, are another delicacy. They are best enjoyed with a liberal amount of Vin Santo, Tuscany’s best and most famous dessert wine.
To truly get to know a place like Tuscany, you have to spend some time there and become intimately familiar with the food and culture. One excellent way to do this is to rent a comfortable villa that matches your budget. Click here for some great value holiday villas of the region. Buon appetito!