Traditional Tuscan Cuisine

Traditional Tuscan Cuisine

Tuscan cuisine is one of the wonders of this land and is the gateway to our culture. Mostly of peasant origins, the Tuscan dishes make the most of what the territory offers. Tuscan cuisine is called "povera" - poor, of humble origins - mainly because of its core ingredients, but it definitely doesn’t lack in flavours and nuances, as you will discover in this guide to traditional Tuscan cuisine.

Despite following a typical method, each recipe can vary from town to town, and even from village to village. This has to do with the way in which recipes are passed down through generations, and local pride, which is very distinctive of our region.

The cornerstones of this cuisine are aromatic herbs, fine olive oil, seasonal vegetables, meats, and unsalted bread (pane sciocco, or pane toscano), which is perfect for accompanying strong flavours like cured meats and game.

In this article, we will give you a comprehensive guide on the main categories of the Tuscan tradition: pasta dishes, meat and game, fish and seafood dishes, soups, sides, and traditional sweets. Let’s dive in!

Traditional Tuscan Pasta Dishes

uncooked pasta, close up

There are thousands of ways you can cook a good pasta dish: you can use fresh or dried pasta, meat, or vegetarian sauces, serve it warm or cold, and so on. Below you will find some typical Tuscan pasta dishes, including meat, fish and vegetarian options.

Tordelli Lucchesi - meat
Tordelli is one of the most famous and loved traditional dishes of Lucca. This filled pasta has a characteristic crescent shape and a very distinctive taste. The dough is spread relatively high and is filled with stale Tuscan bread, salt, minced beef and pork, and spices; it is served with meat ragu sauce. There is also a Versilia version, in which chard is added to the filling.

Pici all’aglione - vegan
Pici is a rustic pasta format, made with only water and flour, in the shape of coarse and thicker spaghetti. This traditional dish, typical of Tuscan cuisine, is originally from the Val di Chiana and Val d'Orcia - areas between Arezzo and Siena. Aglione is a variety of garlic grown only in the southern part of Tuscany; it is larger than garlic but has a more delicate flavour. The aglione sauce is prepared by adding olive oil, tomatoes, and a hint of chilli pepper, and the result is a strong but simple flavour.

Pappardelle al ragù di cinghiale - game
Pappardelle al ragù di cinghiale (wild boar ragu) is traditionally from Maremma, in South Tuscany. Pappardelle is a long handmade pasta (perfect for retaining the sauce). Wild boar ragu has a more decisive and very particular note, thanks to its slightly wild flavour, compared to the classic Bolognese ragu. As with traditional ragu, wild boar meat is also cooked for many hours over low heat, so the meat is flavoured and softened.

Spaghetti alle arselle - fish
This simple seafood first course is a typical recipe from Versilia, the stretch of the northern coast of Tuscany. Arselle are molluscs - similar to clams but smaller - found under the sand. Versilia is famous for its long sandy beaches, so arselle is abundant in the area. The recipe is simple: the clams are cooked in olive oil, garlic, chilli and sometimes cherry tomatoes, and sautéed with spaghetti. As one can imagine, the quality of the shellfish is fundamental for the dish's success.

Gnudi - vegetarian
Gnudo, in the Tuscan dialect, means "naked". Gnudi are made with the same dough as the ravioli filling - mainly spinach, eggs, parmesan and ricotta - but cooked without the pasta covering, like naked ravioli. Once cooked in water, they are sautéed in a pan with butter and sage and then served - sometimes with a sprinkle of parmesan on top.

Testaroli - vegetarian
This ancient pasta shape is typical of Lunigiana, a territory that includes upper Tuscany, touches Liguria and a part of Emilia. Testarolo is a kind of crepe made with soft wheat flour, water, and salt, with a thickness of 3-5 mm. Once ready, the testarolo is cut into diamond shapes of about 5 cm per side. These pieces are then cooked in water and seasoned, according to tradition, with oil, basil, and cheese. Sometimes they are also served with Genoese pesto.

Tuscan Meat and Game Dishes

chopping board with cooked and sliced meat, and cooked asparagus

While it is true that there are several vegetarian dishes in Tuscan cuisine (more to come on this later), we must admit that Tuscan food often revolves around meat. Every part of Tuscany has its specialities, from the world-famous Florentine steak to white meat to boar. Let’s dive into it!

Crostini Neri
Crostini Neri are classic Tuscan appetisers traditionally enjoyed on festive occasions. They consist of a paté of chicken livers cooked in sautéed onion and shaded with vin santo. Sage, bay leaf, capers and anchovies are then added. The pate is spread on toasted slices of Tuscan bread (without salt).

Peposo dell’Impruneta
Peposo is a Tuscan recipe typical of Impruneta, a small village on the outskirts of Florence. The meat - traditionally veal muscle - is slowly cooked in red wine - usually Chianti - and spiced with copious amounts of black peppercorns (hence the name Peposo, from "pepe", pepper in Italian). The result is a very spicy and tender stew.

Tonno del Chianti
Chianti tuna is a typical recipe from Chianti (southern Tuscany), which, despite the name, is prepared with pork, herbs, and olive oil. The preparation is simple, even if long: the pork loin slices are purged for three days in salt, then cooked for about 5 hours in white wine, herbs, and spices. Finally, the meat is left to macerate for a long time in oil. The result is meat with a delicate flavour and a very tender texture, reminiscent of tuna (hence the name). This recipe was born from the need of the Chianti farmers to preserve meat even during the summer months when refrigerators did not yet exist. Chianti tuna is usually served with cannellini beans and fresh onion, in salads or on toasted bread.

Scottiglia is a meat stew traditionally cooked in Maremma. The origin of this dish could be mediaeval or even Etruscan, but over time the recipe has been modified. The most important change is the addition and combination of higher-quality meats such as chicken, beef, turkey, lamb, and pork. Game can also be used, which gives a stronger and more succulent flavour. The name Scottiglia was given because traditionally, the meats were firstly seared (scottate) in earthenware pots, then enriched with red wine, tomatoes, herbs and spices, and slow cooked for several hours. Scottiglia is usually accompanied by toasted bread.

Coniglio alla Cacciatora
Rabbit meat is often used in traditional dishes, as it has always been readily available in the Tuscan countryside. Coniglio alla Cacciatora - from “cacciatore”, hunter - also called Coniglio in Umido (stewed rabbit), has become part of the Italian tradition over the years. In this case, the rabbit is slow-cooked in a pan with tomato sauce and olives; the result is very tender meat and an irresistible sauce, perfect for ”scarpetta” (bread-dipping).

Cinghiale in Umido
In Tuscan cuisine, the recipe for stewed wild boar - Cinghiale in Umido - is a much-loved classic, which, however, requires a long preparation and lots of know-how. Wild boar meat needs a lot of work to tame its gamey taste. The meat is first purged for 8 hours, then marinated for another 8 hours in red wine, with the addition of carrots, celery, onions, rosemary, sage, cloves, juniper berries, pepper and bay leaves. It then needs to be cooked for about 4 hours; tomato sauce will finally be added. The result is a vibrant and intense-flavoured stew.

Lampredotto is a historical offal recipe and a typical Florentine street food. It is veal abomasum - the fourth stomach of the veal - and is part of the tripe (trippa) family. The Lampredotto is boiled in a vegetable broth for about an hour, then drained and cut into strips. It is usually eaten in a bun, often accompanied by Salsa Verde - a sauce made with parsley, anchovies, garlic, stale bread, eggs, capers, vinegar, oil, salt, and pepper.

Bistecca alla Fiorentina
Talking of Florentine tradition, we have to close this section with her majesty La Fiorentina. A Florentine steak is distinguished by its long maturation (at least 20 days), its "T" shape with the bone in the middle, and its height of about three fingers. Cooking is fundamental: the outside must be well cooked, but the inside must remain rare.

Tuscan Fish and Seafood Dishes

pan of clams

Even if less known than meat dishes, you can find excellent fish recipes in Tuscany. Many of these come from the Livorno area, an important and historic port city, and Versilia and Elba island.

Cacciucco alla Livornese e alla Viareggina
Cacciucco was born in Livorno (central coast of Tuscany) as a poor dish, made with various types of fish with bones (the choice depends on the availability of the day), as well as mussels, and a sauce with celery, carrots and onions, tomatoes, parsley, chilli pepper and a drop of red wine. The gravy is thick and not soupy, resulting in a thick fish soup with a strong but harmonious flavour. Cacciucco is traditionally served together with toasted garlicky bread. Cacciucco alla Viareggina - typical of Viareggio - is a slightly different take on the theme: in this case, the fish is filleted, and the flavours are more subtle, as no garlic, no wine, nor sauce is used.

Stoccafisso all’Elbana (o Riese)
Stoccafisso all'Elbana is a traditional recipe from Rio Marina (on Elba island), which is why it is also called Stoccafisso alla Riese. Local sailors and their families traditionally cooked this poor stockfish-based dish. The stockfish is cooked with oil, onion, chilli pepper, white wine, anchovies, potatoes, cherry tomatoes, black olives, pine nuts, and capers.

Acciughe alla Povera
Acciughe alla Povera is a traditional appetiser of Tuscan cuisine, typical of the coastal areas of Livorno, Pisa, and Viareggio. They are called alla povera - literally “in a poor way” - because they are prepared with a few simple ingredients: vinegar, oil, onions, chilli pepper, and anchovies. The recipe does not require cooking but a long marinating of the anchovies which must first be "cooked" in the vinegar and then flavoured in the oil and onion dressing.

Triglie alla Livornese
Le Triglie - mullets - alla Livornese are a quick dish to prepare: the mullets are, in fact, cooked whole in a pan with oil, sautéed garlic and parsley, and tomato sauce. The result is a simple but very tasty seafood second course.

Tuscan Soups, Sides, Vegetarian and Vegan Dishes

stringhe in umido - typical tuscan dish

As most of the ingredients used in Tuscan cuisine are vegetables, legumes, and bread, many dishes are plant based. Plenty of delicious options exist, from comforting soups to fresh summery salads.

Pappa al pomodoro - vegan
Pappa al pomodoro is a bread and tomato based thick soup and is a Tuscan must. This dish of peasant origin was born with the purpose of using up stale bread: it is prepared with stale Tuscan unsalted bread, peeled tomatoes, garlic, basil, and plenty of extra virgin olive oil. Excellent served as a hot soup, Pappa al Pomodoro is equally tasty in summer at room temperature, to be enjoyed drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and chopped basil leaves.

Garmugia - meat
Unlike many Tuscan traditional recipes, Garmugia is a dish from the noble Lucchese class, dating back to the 1600s. This soup is based on spring’s first fruits and minced meat and is a dish that celebrates the coming of the warm season. The cooking is relatively short to enhance the freshness of the first spring fruits: broad beans, peas, spring onions, asparagus, and artichokes, combined with ground beef and bacon.

Ribollita - vegan
Ribollita is the leftover recipe par excellence: a stale bread and vegetable soup whose main ingredients are black cabbage, savoy cabbage, and beans. According to peasant tradition, Ribollita was prepared on Fridays - the day on which, according to Christian tradition, it is forbidden to eat meat - by putting together the leftovers from the previous days and then being boiled several times over a low heat; hence the name "ribollita", which means boiled several times.

Farinata - vegan
Farinata is also a soup similar to ribollita. The main ingredients are black cabbage, cornmeal (which replaces bread), and beans. It can be served both hot and soft, just like a soup, or it can be thickened and cut into slices, which are then usually heated in pans or fried; this option is also perfect for leftovers the next day. Bear in mind that the name "farinata" in some regions of Italy indicates the chickpea cake, which in Tuscany is called cecina (more on this later).

Acquacotta - vegetarian
Acquacotta is a typical soup of the Maremma and was traditionally a cost-saving dish that Butteri, the region’s shepherds, ate. Today this dish is prepared as a slightly more decadent version, with the addition of peeled tomatoes, celery, an egg (cooked in the soup itself) and aged pecorino cheese. Like many other recipes, this comprises straightforward ingredients: only water (hence the name acqua-cotta, cooked water), stale bread, onions and whatever herbs are available.

Zuppa di farro alla Lucchese - meat
La Zuppa di Farro - spelt soup - is an institution in Lucca, and almost every restaurant in the city has it on its menu. It is a very dense soup made with mainly Borlotti beans and spelt, with a base of fried lard (or pork rind), garlic, onions, sage, and rosemary. The soup is usually served with a drizzle of excellent olive oil poured over it.

Panzanella - vegan
Once again, we are talking about a Tuscan leftover recipe that has become popular worldwide: La Panzanella. This light yet tasting bread salad, made with fresh vegetables, is the perfect summer dish. The most important ingredient for Panzanella is stale Tuscan bread soaked in water, white wine vinegar, tomatoes, and red onions. Usually, cucumbers or celery are added, but there is no strict recipe, as one uses the vegetables available at the moment.

Cecina o Torta di Ceci - vegan
Cecina is a very thin chickpea-based omelette served in slices with lots of pepper. The recipe is basic, as it is prepared with chickpea flour, water, salt, and olive oil. It is cooked on a cast iron plate at about 200°-240°, then served very hot, sliced, and with plenty of black pepper grinded on top. This recipe takes on a different name depending on the city or region in which it is prepared, like “Torta” in Livorno.

Stringhe in umido - vegan
Stringhe are a type of green bean with a characteristic elongated shape (they reach up to 40 cm) - “stringhe” means laces in Italian - they only grow during summer. The beans are slow-cooked in tomato sauce, garlic, sage, and thyme. This recipe is a typical Lucchese one, and it’s almost impossible to find them elsewhere, so we suggest you try them if you have the chance!

Traditional Tuscan Sweets

cantucci, close up - tipycal tuscan treat

Traditional Tuscan desserts are often based on dried fruit, chestnut flour, shortcrust pastry or sweet bread. They are, therefore, very different from other regional sweets, such as the Sicilian ones, characterised by creams, lots of sugar and candied fruit, but no less delicious.

Cantucci e Vin Santo
Cantucci and Vin Santo is the Tuscan dessert par excellence. Cantucci are biscuits whose main ingredient is whole, unpeeled and untoasted almonds. The Cantucci is firstly cooked whole (like a bread) and then cut into even pieces. Each Cantuccio is then re-baked in the oven for a final toasting, which gives them their characteristic consistency: crunchy on the outside and crumbly on the inside. Cantucci are traditionally dipped in Vin Santo, a typical Tuscan fortified wine.

Castagnaccio e Necci
Castagnaccio and Necci are desserts made with chestnut flour, often used in Tuscan peasant desserts. Castagnaccio is a baked dessert made with chestnut flour, rosemary, pine nuts and raisins, often served with fresh ricotta. Necci are chestnut flour crepes traditionally stuffed with ricotta, but you will also find them filled with Nutella.

Ricciarelli are traditional soft marzipan biscuits from Siena, made with almonds, sugar and egg whites. These biscuits have a distinguished "grain of rice" shape and are served with plenty of icing sugar. Ricciarelli are prepared especially during the Christmas period.

Panforte e Panpepato
Another Sienese sweet, typically Christmas, is Panforte. It is an unleavened dough cooked in the oven, based on almonds, candied fruit, sugar, and honey, with a wafer sheet at the base. This ancient recipe used to be prepared in monasteries and was a similar focaccia made with water, honey and fresh fruit. Panpepato is a variant of Panforte: cocoa and pepper are added (Panpepato means peppery bread).

Buccellato Lucchese
Buccellato, a typical dessert from Lucca, is a sweet bread with aniseed and raisins. It is usually eaten after a meal - in this case, served with Vin Santo - or for breakfast, soaked in milk. Buccellato has a beautiful brown, glossy colour, thanks to the brushing of egg and honey.

"Cencio" in Tuscan means tea sheet, which recalls these desserts' characteristic rectangular and jagged shape. Cenci Toscani, typical of the Carnival period, are small sweets made only with flour, eggs, and sugar. Once cut into rectangular shapes, the dough is fried and served with plenty of powdered sugar.

The simplicity, quality, and traditional flavours of Tuscan cuisine are widely recognized, and its passionate food culture has generated a distinctive culinary legacy that captivates both locals and tourists.

As experts in offering villas in Tuscany to rent, we at Salogi encourage you to experience the best of Tuscany's delicious cuisine by visiting and exploring the region. Our dedicated team is available to assist you in booking your next Tuscan holiday. Please don't hesitate to contact us for assistance.

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