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Italian food is celebrated the world over but it’s when you drill down into regional cuisine that it all gets really exciting. We asked Tuscany-based food writer Giulia Scarpaleggia to talk us through the unique food of this Italian region.
Don’t leave Tuscany without trying…
Tuscan people worship their bread, their olive oil and the traditional bruschetta, which in Florence is known as fettunta. Order it to begin your meal and you’ll have a freshly toasted slice of Tuscan bread generously rubbed with garlic, lavishly drizzled with a green olive oil and sparingly sprinkled with salt.
It’s a mortal sin to throw stale bread away. Tuscan farmers used their bread leftovers to make a summer bread salad with their sun-ripened vegetables: tomatoes, cucumbers and onion, seasoned heartily with olive oil and vinegar. A richer version of panzanella calls for tuna and capers, too.
Try making your own… Panzanella
It’s all about the bread! Another recipe to use up stale bread is ribolita. Everything begins with a bean and kale soup served with toasted bread. The second day the soup is cooked again in a pan with olive oil – hence the name ribollita, which means ‘boiled twice’.
Torta di ceci
Livorno is a lively port city on the Tuscan coast famous for its street food, torta di ceci. It is a thin savory cake, crisp on the outside and soft inside, made with chickpea flour. It’s naturally vegan and gluten-free. Eat the torta with a good sprinkling of black pepper. You can also order the cake to take away – ask for cinque e cinque, the old way to refer to five cents of torta and five cents of bread. This will get you the chickpea cake sandwiched into a round soft focaccia or a crispy baguette. Add grilled aubergines for a delicious meal.
Maremma was historically a poor area, so the people there had to find clever ways to give flavour even to the most wilted vegetables. Acquacotta, which means cooked water, is a vegetable soup enriched with a poached egg. Add a grating of pecorino for extra taste.
Try making your own… Acquacotta
Pappa al pomodoro
Pappa in Italian is baby food, something soft, comforting and easy to eat. Pappa al pomodoro is probably the quintessence of Tuscan comfort food. It’s a bread tomato soup, which differs from town to town, but has three main ingredients which are mandatory for a good result: stale bread, juicy tomatoes and good Tuscan olive oil.
Castagnaccio is a unique chestnut cake made just with chestnut flour and water, a poor sweet treat which comes from the mountains in Tuscany, where chestnut trees used to be the main resource. The sweetness comes from the flour itself and from sultanas and pine nuts. The cake is drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with some rosemary. It is often considered an acquired taste, but Tuscan people in autumn cannot pass a bakery without ordering a slice of castagnaccio.
Next to spinach and ricotta ravioli from Maremma, Tuscany has another typical recipe for fresh filled pasta: potato tortelli from Mugello, a mountain area near Florence. They are usually served with a hearty ragout or game meat sauce, as Mugello used to be Medici’s hunting area.
Chicken liver pâté
Every celebratory meal in Tuscany is opened with chicken liver pâté crostini, know also as crostini neri or black crostini. Chicken livers are cooked with vegetables, made soft and creamy with a knob of butter and enlivened with capers and anchovy paste. The pâté is then spread on toasted slices of bread, which sometimes are also soaked in hot broth.
If you are keen on trying quirky street food, don’t miss lampredotto, which is the fourth stomach of the cow, the Florentine flagship food and the symbol of their love for offal. Queue behind workers, students and tourists and order it in one of the many stands throughout Florence: you’ll have a panino soaked in broth, a generous serving of lampredotto and a good scoop of salsa verde. Add black pepper too.
Giulia Scarpaleggia is a Tuscan food blogger and food writer. She has been blogging for six years at Juls’ Kitchen and she teaches Tuscan cooking classes in her house in the Tuscan countryside.
Have you sampled the food of Tuscany? Would you add anything to our list? Share your must-try dishes below, plus visit our travel section for more globetrotting tips.