Every region in Italy has their own unique dishes and flavours – and Tuscany is no different. Tuscan cuisine has its roots in “cucina povera” which means “poor kitchen” or “poor cooking”, originating from the poor peasants from Tuscany’s farming regions. As they had limited access to ingredients, the Tuscans never wasted any food and were able to transform simple ingredients into flavourful dishes. Today, traditional Tuscan food is still all about simplicity and quality and Tuscans take pride in eating seasonally and only using the highest quality, locally-grown ingredients like olive oil, cheese, truffles, meat and vegetables. If you want to get to the heart and soul of Tuscany, you have to eat their food – but where to begin? From truffle pasta and crunchy bread to juicy steak and hearty soup, here are 12 classic Tuscan dishes you’ll fall in love with.
Before you run away to Tuscany to indulge in their delicious cuisine, why not learn how to make it yourself? Watch Trafalgar Be My Guest host, Chef Libero Saracini, teach us how to make his tasty Tuscan tomato sauce using his traditional family recipe.
If you’re sitting down to a meal in Tuscany, it’s got to start with crostini. These little crusty pieces of bread, brushed with olive oil and toasted to perfection, are the most delicious way to kickstart your exploration of classic Tuscan dishes. There are different variations too, like Crostini Toscani, where a tasty chicken liver pâté tops the bread.
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From crostini to fettunta (Tuscan bruschetta), Tuscans love their bread. And this classic dish is no different. Panzanella is a salad with chunks of bread, tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, basil, and a generous drizzling of vinegar and olive oil. The salad works best when the bread is stale and then soaked in water to soften it up. The dish first originated with poor peasants and farmers who couldn’t afford to waste days-old bread.
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Truffles are one of the rarest Tuscan delicacies, used in a range of scrumptious Tuscan dishes like pasta and appetisers. You can’t miss out on a bowl of tagliolini al tartufo, where long ribbons of tagliatelle pasta are drizzled in melted butter, garlic and shavings of black truffle and Parmigiano cheese. It’s simply exquisite!
Since truffles cannot be cultivated, they must be foraged in the forests using trained dogs or pigs to sniff them out… Making them a very exclusive ingredient. Foraging is most common in October and November when the autumn weather provides the perfect truffle growing climate. To get the full Tuscan truffle experience, don’t miss the White Truffle Festival in San Miniato in November.
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4. Bistecca alla Fiorentina
One of the most simple yet exquisite traditional Tuscan dishes is the Bistecca alla Fiorentina. It’s a T-bone steak from the local Chianina cattle, prized for its tenderness. The locals usually season the steak only with olive oil, salt and some herbs like rosemary, to let the natural flavour shine. Bistecca alla Fiorentina is always thick-cut (at least three fingers wide) so the outside of the steak gets a lovely crust while the inside remains soft and juicy. The steak is always rare or “al sangue” and it’s quite scandalous to order it any other way!
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5. Pappa al pomodoro
This beautiful, thick tomato soup is one of the most classic Tuscan comfort foods. “Pappa” means baby food in Italian, and this soup is soft, tasty, and easy to slurp down. While you’ll find different traditional recipes all over Tuscany, they all have three essential ingredients – juicy red tomatoes, quality Tuscan olive oil, and stale bread to thicken up the soup. Some recipes have basil and other seasoned vegetables, some serve it warm or chilled… However you have it, you’re sure to fall in love.
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6. Torta di ceci
If you love street food snacks, Tuscany has got you covered! Street vendors in Livorno and all over Tuscany serve up torta di ceci, a thin, savoury pancake made with chickpea flour. It’s crispy on the outside and soft on the inside and it’s naturally vegan and gluten free. You can eat your torta with a sprinkling of black pepper, or have the torta sandwiched into a focaccia or baguette and topped with grilled aubergines. Delizioso!
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7. Potato tortelli
Similar to ravioli or gnocchi, potato tortelli is pasta parcels filled with mashed potato flavoured with garlic, spices, tomato and Parmigiano. Whether you eat it by itself, drench it in sage and butter sauce, or top it with a rich ragu, you’ll definitely want to come back for seconds!
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8. Pecorino Toscano
Italians are famous for their excellent cheeses and Tuscans are no different. Their exceptional pecorino is one of the best. It’s a hard cheese made from the milk of sheep that are exclusively fed hay or dried grasses in the pastures of Tuscany. Pecorino Toscano has had a PDO label (Protected Designation of Origin) since 1996, meaning that real Tuscan pecorino must be produced, matured and packaged with specific methods to ensure its high quality and Tuscan authenticity. Whether you shave it over pasta or pair it with a glass of wine at the end of the meal, pecorino is an unmissable part of your Tuscan adventure.
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Feeling adventurous? You’ve got to try lampredotto, a traditional offal sandwich dished up from street food stands in Florence. It’s made with the fourth stomach of a cow that’s slowly cooked in a broth made with tomatoes, celery, onions, parsley, olive oil, salt and pepper. The meat is then stuffed into a crispy grilled bun known as a panino and it’s all topped with a tangy salsa verde of garlic, anchovies and parsley.
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A good Tuscan chef wastes nothing and ribollita is the perfect example of it. It’s a hearty soup of leftover bread, cannellini beans, and seasonal vegetables such as kale, carrots, onion, cabbage. The name ‘ribollita’ means reboiled, as the soup was traditionally made by reboiling leftover soup with a dash of olive oil… And this classic Tuscan comfort food is sure to warm your soul.
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Ready for dessert? You can’t go past castagnaccio, a traditional gluten-free cake baked with chestnut flour, walnuts, pine nuts, raisins, rosemary and olive oil. This sweet treat was once very popular with peasants and farmers in Tuscany as they often had access to chestnuts, while fruits and nuts were an additional luxury if available. Today, Tuscans love eating castagnaccio in autumn when chestnut season arrives and chestnut vendors pop up on the street corners. Grab a slice and wash it down with a sweet Tuscan dessert wine. Bellissimo!
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12. Biscotti di Prato
If you’re more of a biscuit person than a cake person, be sure to try Biscotti di Prato. These hard cookies are an iconic Tuscan dessert, made with flour, sugar, eggs and nuts like almonds and pine nuts. Pair it with your espresso or dip it in your dessert wine… Either way, you won’t be stopping at just one!
What are your favourite classic Tuscan dishes? Let us know in the comments below!