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Tuscan of the earth

Tuscan olives on the tree

Table for a Tuscan lunch

Pecorino cheese from Tuscany

A selection of Tuscan meats

By Pat Kennelly

Tuscan food is of the earth. The fertile, rocky soil not only produces some of the best grapes and olives in Italy but the rolling hills are also home to abundant farmland.

Unlike most of Italy where meat is used for flavoring, the Tuscan diet is heavy with wild game, cured meats, and home made sausages including ones made with wild boar.

The most famous of Tuscan meats is Bistecca alla Fiorenta, or steak Florentine. This is traditionally a three inch Porterhouse, marinated simply in olive oil and garlic, grilled over hot coals, until medium rare and served over a bed of arugula or grilled vegetables.  

Another Tuscan favorite is porchetta or roast suckling pig. Tender suckling pig is flavored with aromatic spices such as rosemary, thyme, sage and pepper and roasted leaving a crisp, crackling crust surrounding the succulent meat. Served with a crusty loaf of the local traditional bread pane toscano and a wedge of cheese made with sheep’s milk, Pecorino Toscana, this simple meal reflects the bounty of the region.

Pappardelle, a flat homemade noodle is often served with a rich sauce such as hare, wild boar or duck sauce and will be found on most menus in the Tuscan region. Another restaurant favorite is fritto misto. Small pieces of food such as chicken, rabbit, artichokes, cauliflower and mushrooms are dusted with flour, lightly fried and served with lemon wedges.

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Vegetarians can also find rich, hearty food in the region. The classic bean soup, ribollita, literally meaning re-boiled is a flavorful peasant style vegetable soup thickened with day old bread.

Bruschetta is another favorite that reflects the Tuscan love of the grill with their insistence on using only fresh, seasonal ingredients. Thick bread is coated with the best olive oil, grilled over coals and then rubbed with fresh garlic while the bread is still hot. The garlic scented bread is then topped with items such as sautéed wild mushrooms, fresh tomatoes and basil, or simply a grating of the finest local cheese.

A culinary visit to Tuscany would not be complete without sampling the local truffles. Strong and pungent, the white truffle is cut very thin and used to flavor risotto’s, pasta and meat dishes.

White Truffles from San Miniato

The desserts of Tuscany use the best of the region in simple ways. Most of them use simple ingredients such as figs, raisins, ricotta cheese and sweet wines such as Marsala. Paneforte di Siena is probably the most famous of all Tuscan desserts; this flat sweet confection dates back to the Middle Ages. 

If you really want to experience Tuscany through its food, try a cooking class, such as the one offered by five ladies at Tutti A Tavola.

This is a unique experience in the heart of the Tuscan region, in the town of Radda in Chianti. Olive oil tasting, wine tasting and market visits enhance the classes.