Italy: The Masterpieces of Tuscany

Welcome to Tuscany, the land of art and of Renaissance culture, but also the place to fall in love with all the elaborate dishes of the Tuscan culinary tradition. Let me introduce you to the least known and most spectacular parade of Tuscan masterpieces.

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When people think of Tuscan cuisine, two dishes probably come to mind; the Florentine Steak and Ribollita. The first is a large, rich, juicy steak, at least four fingers thick, grilled five minutes on each side and ten minutes standing on the bone (by standing it on its side you can cook the meat without drying it). The second is Ribollita, a spectacular vegetable soup typically made during the season of the Black Cabbage, from late November through February. This bread-enriched soup is best if it rests overnight and is eaten hot the following day.

To be very honest, these dishes are great, but they only represent Florence and not the whole of Tuscany, and sometimes they preclude the tasting of other spectacular dishes of this region. One example is a delicious meat dish which was originally prepared in the small rural town of Impruneta a few kilometres from Florence; generally known for the artisan craft of Cotto-making and terracotta pottery, the workers of this town used to take advantage of the ovens in which the terracotta was baked and used the cooling oven for the preparation of a very full-flavoured and spicy dish, the “Peposo alla Fornacina”. This is a slow-cooked stew made using beef tenderloin and leaving it in the cooling oven to cook overnight, covered with a large celery, carrots and onions, and lots of pepper.

Please don’t think it is all sophisticated and expensive; the reality of the Tuscan cuisine is that nothing should be wasted and plates must be tasty. Come to Florence and as part of your visit include the “Mercato Centrale”, where you can see and smell the quality of what you are buying and where one can actually taste some of these dishes. Nerbone, for example, inside the Mercato Centrale is an open kitchen where all the food available is prepared that day and needs to be sold before closing time. Market hours are from 7 am to 2 pm, Monday through Saturday (hint: if you are really hungry and on a strict budget go around 1.30 pm when prices tend to fall ) and, most importantly, everything is prepared from fresh products, purchased the same morning and in their full seasonality.

Here are a few suggestions for where to find great Florentine specialities:

Osteria dei Benci via dei Benci 41/r –  Piazza Santa Area

Trattoria il Garga  Via del Moro 48/r – ten minutes from Piazza Repubblica  center of town

Ristorante Il Guscio Via dell’Orto 49 - San Frediano Oltrarno area       

So, next time you are in Tuscany, remember to go beyond the most well known dishes, and to explore the deeper culinary traditions this land has to offer!

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