In 2019, a YouGov poll found that Italian cuisine is the most popular type of food in the world, beating out Chinese and Japanese cuisines for the top spot. However, there's so much more to Italian food than simple spaghetti and meatballs or pizza. The country is home to 20 different regions -- each with its own storied history, agricultural output, and traditional recipes, just waiting to be discovered and savored by people the world over. And, one of the most famous of these regions is Tuscany
While keeping a tight hold on long-held culinary traditions, Tuscan cuisine evolved over many centuries. By the time of the Renaissance (which originated in the region and lasted from the 14th to the 16th centuries), favored Tuscan dishes were beginning to resemble modern-day Tuscan fare, comprising hearty soups, porridges, breads, and plenty of meat dishes.
Rooted in the so-called cucina povera -- literally "poor cooking" -- of the preceding centuries Tuscan food is distinctly different from anything else you're likely to find further south in Rome or Sicily or even further north in Venice or Milan. Tuscan cuisine today is renowned for its fresh, simple ingredients and mouth-watering flavors that tend to place focus on local (and seasonal) offerings–like wild game and, of course, the prized Tuscan truffles. So, consider this your sign to skip your tried-and-true spaghetti al pomodoro and immerse yourself in the hearty flavors of Tuscany.
No self-respecting Italian meal can begin without a suitable appetizer (or antipasto), and in the realm of Tuscan cuisine, the crostini Toscani is the name of the game. So, just what does this Tuscan appetizer entail? Like all Italian crostini, the dish starts with thin slices of crusty bread, usually brushed with olive oil before being toasted or grilled to golden perfection. The crostini are then topped with a creamy spread of chicken liver pâté, which can and usually does involve favored Tuscan herbs and additives like sage, onion, or dry wine. Even if liver isn't typically your thing, the careful balance of flavors in the pâté is less bold than in other liver-centric dishes.
Though the basic recipe is a staple of Tuscan cuisine, individual chefs often put their own spin on the dish, which can include changing up their preferred wine with a local Chianti, a Marsala, or even a sweet Vin Santo. Celery, carrots, capers, and even salted anchovies are sometimes added to lend the antipasto a new depth of flavor.
When it comes to comfort food, your first thought probably goes to some of the old classics like mac 'n cheese, meatloaf, or even a quick-and-easy pizza delivered straight to your door. It's likely not very surprising to hear that plenty of other cultures have comfort foods, and Tuscany just might be home to the king of all comfort food: coccoli. Coccoli are small balls of dough filled with prosciutto ham and creamy stracchino cheese, which are then fried in olive oil. The result is a warm, creamy, savory snack to beat all snacks. No wonder the word coccoli translates to "cuddles" in Italian!
The Florentine snack supposedly started out in the 1950s as an accompaniment to the locals' afternoon drink. Since then, it's become one of the most popular street foods in the city. Over the years, sweet variations of the dish involving fruit jams, cream, and even Nutella have gained in popularity right alongside the traditional savory variety. If you happen to spot this one on a menu near you, do yourself a favor and indulge in some Italian cuddles.
It's hard to beat a healthy serving of panzanella any time of year, but especially in the summer months, when the dish is most popular in its native Tuscany. You might know it as the salad with the bread. Yet another example of "peasant fare" delicious enough to be enjoyed by anyone, panzanella is a chopped salad that utilizes plenty of seasonal vegetables, including tomatoes and especially onions, as well as pieces of dry or even stale Italian bread soaked in water, olive oil, vinegar, or a combination thereof. Like all salads in Italy, the dish is dressed with simple oil and vinegar.
Though panzanella's origins are somewhat clouded by the centuries, we know that early versions were at least around by the time of Florentine poet Giovanni Boccaccio in the 14th century, who wrote of dishes comprising "washed bread." The history of the dish's name is equally uncertain, though it's generally believed to have come from the words "pane" (meaning bread in Italian) and "zanella," which is a type of deep soup dish the salad is typically served in. Regardless, the recipe is obviously tasty enough to stand the test of time.
Pappardelle Al Cinghiale
If you're in the mood for a hearty pasta dish brimming with quintessential Tuscan flavor, pappardelle al cinghiale is the dish for you. Pappardelle is a broad, flat type of pasta similar to very wide fettuccine, while cinghiale is the Italian word for "boar." As you might gather, the recipe is traditionally made with wild boar, which is simmered for hours in a sauce of tomatoes, red wine, carrots, onion, celery, juniper berries, garlic, bay leaves, sage, and a whole slew of other mouth-watering ingredients and spices.
Here in the States, of course, wild boar can be difficult to come by, leading some chefs to substitute lamb or various other cuts of pork. Even so, it's not impossible to find an authentic ragú di cinghiale outside of Italy, so if you happen across one, order it immediately and prepare for a culinary treat that you're not likely to forget anytime soon.
Ravioli Al Burro è Salvia
Though it's possible to find pasta dishes with a burro é salvia (or butter and sage) sauce throughout Italy, you're not likely to stumble across a ristorante in Tuscany that doesn't offer this scrumptious dish. It's a stunningly simple recipe, utilizing just three ingredients for the sauce, plus the pasta of choice -- usually a filled pasta, such as ravioli or tortellini.
All you need for this one is butter, fresh sage leaves, and a good quality cheese such as Parmigiano Reggiano or Pecorino Romano (or Pecorino di Pienza, if you don't want to stray from the borders of Tuscany). The butter is melted in a skillet, and then simmered with the sage before it is poured over the pasta and topped with grated cheese. It's a simple, light, and herby pasta dish perfect for enjoying the al fresco summer months. It's also incredibly easy to make at home if your favored local Italian joint doesn't offer it on their menu.
Tagliatelle Al Tartufo
It's difficult to think of anything quite as classically Tuscan as the intensely distinct savor of truffle. We're not talking about the chocolate variety -- the underground mushroom is one of Tuscany's most prized exports, giving rise to hundreds of seasonal festivals around the region to celebrate the harvest of -- and let's be honest, the very existence of -- this sought-after delicacy.
And, of course, there are plenty of Tuscan dishes that put the area's truffles front and center. Top of that list is the classic tagliatelle al tartufo (tartufo is Italian for truffle), which utilizes a wide, flat pasta with a simple sauce of olive oil, minced truffles, and salt, usually topped with a sprinkling of Parmigiano Reggiano. This dish typically uses black summer truffles, which are available from June to November, though there is plenty of room for variation if you or your favored ristorante can get your hands on other truffle varieties.
Bistecca Alla Fiorentina
Meat lovers, listen up! Forget your prime rib and your New York strip -- the bistecca alla Fiorentina is absolutely the king of steak. The cut is taken from the loin to just above the rib cage, with the higher cuts nearer the rib cage typically also containing the filet. This T-bone bistecca (Italian for steak) is truly massive, typically serving at least 2 people, and usually about three to four fingers thick.
Traditionally the bistecca alla Fiorentina comes from the Chianina, a Tuscan breed of cattle, though some other breeds can be used as well. The dish is almost always served rare -- though you can certainly request a more well-done steak, expect a grudging look from your server. And, be warned that because of the thickness, over-cooking the bistecca will result in the outside becoming tough. A sprinkle of salt is all this Tuscan favorite needs to be an unforgettable experience for any and all steak-lovers.
Is there anything more satisfying on a rainy or gloomy winter day than a hearty bowl of your favorite soup, stew, or chowder? Allow us to introduce you to Tuscany's solution to rainy day blues, also known as ribollita. Another example of Italian "peasant fare," it's a classic white bean soup made with mixed vegetables (typically veggies like cabbage, kale, carrots, tomatoes, and onions) and thickened with bread. It's also pretty much the ultimate leftover -- the name ribollita even means "reboiled" in Italian!
The dish has its origins in the Middle Ages, when leftover bread was given to servants of the Italian nobility. The servants would then combine the bread with whatever vegetables they had on hand for a cheap and (relatively) easy meal that could last for days. The soup is healthy, hearty, and full of delicious Italian flavor that is sure to brighten up your day, cold and rainy or not!
Pecorino Di Pienza
You've likely already heard of the cheese known as Pecorino Romano -- you know, the salty sheep's milk cheese used in carbonara and cacio è pepe. Pecorino di Pienza is similar, but also distinctly different from what is perhaps the better known and more widely available Romano version. Pecorino di Pienza is the pecorino for the discerning cheese connoisseur -- it has a deeper, more complex flavor which is both mild, salty, and slightly nutty.
As you might deduce, Pecorino di Pienza comes from the small Tuscan town of Pienza, where it has been in production for centuries. What makes the cheese special, and specific to this one small area of the country, are the herbs and grains in the local sheep's diet that, in turn, produce the milk the cheese is made from. The result is a unique flavor profile you won't find in a pecorino from any other area of Italy. If you happen upon a charcuterie board offering a sampling of Pecorino di Pienza, do yourself a favor and order it immediately.
Chianti isn't exactly a secret: The dry red wine is perhaps one of, if not the, most famous Italian wine out there. Produced from Sangiovese grapes in the Chianti region of Tuscany, Chianti Classico features high levels of tannins, medium body, and sharp acidity that make it a perfect pairing for steak, tomato-based sauces, and a plethora of different cheeses.
But, not every Chianti is created equally. While a standard Chianti, aged at least 3 months, provides a respectable baseline for the world-famous wine, we highly recommend opting for a Chianti Classico or Riserva. What's the difference? Classico is aged at least 10 months, while Riserva is generally aged around 38 months. Both wines offer a deeper, more complex flavor than your standard Chianti, though the elder riserva clearly wins when it comes to smoothness and an overall bouquet of aromas and flavors. If you're in an adventurous mood, you can even opt for a Chianti Superiore, which utilizes much stricter rules of production than other versions of the same wine variety.
Cantucci è Vin Santo
When it comes to Italian desserts, tiramisu and panna cotta tend to take up quite a bit of the limelight -- and rightly so! But, if you're in the mood to try something a little different for your after-dinner dolce, or even combine it with your digestivo, we have the dessert for you. Cantucci è vin santo is a traditional Tuscan combination of dessert and after-dinner drink consisting of almond biscotti served alongside a small glass of sweet wine.
Originating in Prato, cantucci can be rather plain, or they can be spruced up with additives like amaretto, lemon, or anisette -- regardless, they're usually made with a mix of nuts and dried fruits. Because the biscotti are quite hard, they're typically dipped in the sweet vin santo (or saint's wine) before being eaten. The wine is labor-intensive and ages for a minimum of 3 years (and up to 12 years), so be sure to savor every sip!
Fior Di Latte Al Rosmarino Gelato
Honestly, is there even such a thing as a bad flavor of gelato? We certainly don't think so. Gelato itself is hardly peculiar to one specific region of Italy, but each region does tend to have their own specialities depending on local tradition and agricultural output. For Tuscany, the Florence area in particular, the name of the game is fior di latte al rosmarino.
You can easily find fior di latte gelato available in gelaterias throughout the country -- meaning "flower of milk," it's made with whole milk and heavy cream and forms the base for a huge array of other gelato flavors. But in Tuscany, gelato artisans love to infuse their fior di latte with the herbal taste of rosmarino, or rosemary. The result is a unique and creamy blend of herby deliciousness that you're not likely to find in too many places outside of Tuscany itself. So, if you do happen across this Florentine specialty, be sure to buy yourself an extra cup or cone–trust us, you'll be craving more than one serving.
Everyone knows about biscotti -- the sweet, hard, Italian cookies that pair perfectly with a frothy cappuccino or caffe latte. Ricciarelli are a lesser-known, but equally as delicious, Italian cookie originating in Siena. They are far softer than the biscotti you're likely familiar with -- made from a dough of almond flour, egg whites, honey, and sugar, ricciarelli are often topped off with a dusting of powdered sugar or cocoa powder.
The resulting confectionery is chewy and sweet, but not overwhelming, with a subtle mix of flavors that can include more non-traditional ingredients like dried fruit or orange extract. Unlike the biscotti you know and love, ricciarelli don't need to be dipped into a hot beverage in order to soften them for eating -- they're ready to eat straight out of the oven or your bakery of choice. They're also dangerously addictive, and a little too easy to make at home, even if you don't consider yourself an at-home baking star.
Autumn in Tuscany is a magical time when the heat of summer (not to mention the flocks of tourists) is beginning to subside, the grapes and truffles are being harvested, and all things chestnut are back on the table. The area has an abundance of palm-sized nuts, so much so that they've become a favored street food come the cooler months. In particular, the availability of chestnuts also means that castagnaccio is back at the forefront of Tuscan baking.
Castagnaccio is an autumnal dessert found throughout Tuscany and made from a base of chestnut flour mixed with pine nuts, raisins, and olive oil -- rosemary, orange rind, fennel, and honey are also popular additives. Some recipes even add a crunchy layer of chopped and toasted nuts to the top of the cake, which is dense, spongy, and oh-so-addicting. The flavor is unique and typically pairs well with a side of ricotta cheese or sweet vin santo.
Read the original article on Daily Meal.