Italian cooking is very regional. The food of Tuscany can be very different from that prepared in the rest of Italy.
Yet, even Tuscan food is not monolithic but rather regional within itself as well.
Tuscany is divided administratively into the following provinces. The provincial divisions also reflect the culinary divisions:
- Florence (Firenze)
Well-known cities in Tuscany are Florence, Siena, Fiesole, Viareggio, Pisa, Lucca, and Livorno.
Tuscany as a whole both borders on the sea, and has an extensive inland area, which has a different eating tradition from that of the coastal areas. Throughout Tuscany, olive groves and wild herbs are everywhere. Many of the best olive oils produced in Tuscany are reserved for use as a condiment at the table, rather than as an ingredient in cooking in the kitchen.
Tuscans like to boast that it was Caterina de’ Medici who taught the French how to eat — though sadly, the tales of all of the big-ticket items she is said to have introduced — broccoli, peas, forks, even white sauce — are food myths.
It’s often pointed that Tuscan cooking has its roots in “cucina povera” — peasant cooking. In truth, though, that can be said of most cuisines. It’s true, though, that Tuscan cooking is a simple one. There are no reductions, no fancy sauces, no elaborate creations, no heavy complicated seasoning.
Tuscan tradition tends not to combine onions and garlic in the same dish. Butter is mostly used as a condiment at the table, rather than in cooking.
Pasta plays a small role in the diet, but certainly not as big a role as it does in other parts of Italy. Tuscans, however, tend to eat more salads than other Italians, and a good deal of beans, particularly broad beans. The traditional Tuscan method of cooking beans was to put boiled beans in a glass flask with olive oil and garlic, then setting the flask overnight at the side of a gentle dying fire in the hearth so they’d be ready the next day.
Meats and fish tend to be grilled simply over fire. Vegetables are served raw, steamed or briefly sautéed. In Florence, people didn’t cook with tomatoes until the late 1600s. Their use until then in Florence was restricted to decorating tables.
Breads tend to be made without salt. Salt used to be very expensive because of a tax on it, so the money-wise Tuscans simply stopped using it. The downside about bread is that without the salt, it doesn’t stay fresh as long, so Tuscan breads are often only good the day of their baking.
Bread soups are made throughout the region.
If you’re trying to find a particular shop or restaurant in Florence, bear in mind that there are red and black addresses. Red are commercial premises; black are residential. 38/R means “38 rosso” (“rosso” meaning “red.”) Number sequence may not be continuous, as buildings have appeared and disappeared over the centuries.
One thing that is hard to find in Florence, is a bad cup of coffee.
“Fiaschetterie” are wine shops in Florence that sell sandwiches with a glass of wine (named after the straw-covered flasks, called “fiaschi” in Italian, that Tuscan wines used to be bottled in.)
Though most cuisines throughout Italy will use offal as a meat, even they blanch at the gusto with which Tuscans embrace tripe.
At the start of the 1900s, the poor would come to the areas of Florence where all the tripe was boiled, such as San Frediano neighbourhood — not to buy the tripe, because they couldn’t afford that, but just to buy the broth.
Food was very short in Tuscany during the Second World War, particularly towards the end in Florence, the scene of a show-down between Allied and Axis powers. Tuscans learned to incorporate the potato more into their cooking than they had.
Then after the war, incredible inflation began.
It wasn’t until the 1960s that chicken could be considered again for meals other than celebrations, and beef began to appear again on tables. Truffles, game, mushrooms, and seafood reappeared in Florence after a long absence.
Tuscans flirted with nouvelle cuisine approaches in the 1970s, but they have yet to really found a home in Tuscany.