Before going into great detail, I should let you know that I have never been to italy. All writing on Italy has come from reading a variety of books, websites and magazines, too numerous to mention, but if you would like a reading list, I’d be more than willing to provide one. That being said, there is one book which I am finding to be a treasure, Waverly Root’s The Food of Italy. The book is out of print by many years, but if you find it in your used book store (that’s where I found mine), absolutely pick it up.
Now.. onto Tuscany.
The region of Tuscany is dominated by the city which gave birth to THE Renaissance, Florence. The everyday cuisine of Tuscany (or Toscana if you want to be official) reflects the renaissance ideal well. When you think of a renaissance man, you think of a person who thinks progressively, has interests in many things, and yet doesn’t indulge in any one specifically. Many recipes from the region reflect this mindset.
One of the things that suprised me was how much of a meat Tuscany eats. With the improper mindset that Italian food consisted over pasta dishes, I was pleasantly surprised to find out how much meat the Tuscans grill. Bistecca alla Fiorentina (Beef of Florence) is probably one of the more popular dishes in Florence, if not Tuscany itself, and it’s simply a T-bone steak, brushed with olive oil, salt, pepper and rosemary; marinaded for one hour, and broiled over an aromatic wood, often olive tree wood. How simple is that? Yet the idea of it grilling over olive tree wood makes my mouth water and brain shudder with bliss.
It’s no surprise that beef features prominately in Tuscany, considering that it’s home to the Chiana Valley (near the center of Italy), home of the Chianina steer. This steer is known world wide as being one of the premium breeds of cattle, primarily because the beef is grass raised and has a very lean meat. Yes Italy is known more for the pork and seafood, but their beef should *not* be discounted.
Tuscany is also a “game” region, with many dishes containing animals found in the woods of the area. Boars,venison and hares often are used in dishes, especially in winter , but pheasant and pigeons are also found in dishes throughout the region.
The region also carries a big seafood influence (as do most of the regions in Italy), with Tuna and sardines from Elba (yes, Napoleon’s Elba), Crab and Lobster from Giglio, Red Mullet from Ansedonia, and eel from Orbetello all combine to provide Tuscany with a wealth of food from the seas.
In Tuscany, beans are nearly ubiquitous and are easily found in many dishes including riso e fagioli(rice and beans),fagioli con tonno(beans and fish) and lenticchie e fagioli (beans and beans.. okay, lentils and beans, but come on!). Other Tuscan veggies include chard, zucchini, and artichokes.
My point here is not to ignore traditional Italian foods that we may recognize (pasta, salami, pecorino cheese, etc), but to show the varieties available to the Tuscans. They eat simply, but they eat well. If I had to compare it to another cuisine, it would be the simplicity of Japanese cuisines, where the ingredients are uncomplicated by excessive herbs and spices. They are certainly there, but they don’t dominate the food.
I’ll cover desserts and wines in seperate posts. Meanwhile, I’ll go ahead and start looking for Tuscan specific recipes. I know, I know; it’s a tough job, but I think I am up for the task.