We have already published an article on the best specialties of Tuscan cuisine. Not being able to exhaust everything in a single article, we limited ourselves to selecting a first tranche of dishes. We then talked about crostini, pappa col pomodoro, ribollita, panzanella, tortelli from Mugello and pappardelle. We realized from a preliminary investigation that there are dozens and dozens of typical Tuscan dishes. Hence the need to select products in multiple articles.
Naturally, everyone expects the Florentine steak queen of the specialties of Tuscan cuisine. Normally even you simply order “a Florentine” and everyone knows what we are talking about. A good Florentine must have 2 basic characteristics: an excellent cut of meat and rare cooking. Traditionally, the Florentine steak has as its absolute protagonist the Chianina breed typical of Tuscany. The Florentine is obtained by cutting the loin of heifer or beef that has a “T” shaped bone in the middle, with fillet and sirloin in 2 parts.
A very important feature for selecting the meat for our Florentine steak is the so-called marbling. These are filaments and white areas of fat, which has infiltrated the pulp of our meat. This seemingly unsightly fat is extremely important. In fact, during cooking it will melt, bringing taste and softness to our Florentine steak.
The preparation is very simple, just put the steak on the grill over a good embers. There must be no open flame and the meat should never be pierced. This specialty of Tuscan cuisine should be turned only once, salting the cooked part first on one side then on the other. It takes about five minutes per side before being served. We suggest a sprinkling of ground black pepper and a little squeezed lemon.
Lardo di Colonnata (cfr. lower part of pic above)
Colonnata is a tiny village in the mountains of the Apuan Alps a few kilometers from Carrara. Colonnata is also the home of the most famous Tuscan lard. It is a PGI salami obtained from pork lard matured in Carrara marble basins. The lard is placed in the marble basins rubbed with garlic. The lard is then alternated with pepper, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, sage and rosemary. The aging lasts from 6 to 10 months after which it is ready to be served in thin slices with bread. Some variations may include greens, legumes, or bolder pairings like shellfish.
Castagnaccio (cfr. upper part of pic below)
Castagnaccio as other specialties of Tuscan cuisine is a dish particularly suitable in autumn when the new chestnut flour comes in. The dessert is embellished with other ingredients: raisins, pine nuts, walnuts and rosemary. Frankly, I prefer the version with candied orange peel, rosemary and pine nuts. Like most of the specialties of Tuscan cuisine, castagnaccio was born as a poor recipe. Chestnuts were in fact the food of the poor in the Apennines and saved generations of farmers from hunger. I recommend accompanying it with a little fresh ricotta, a real mouth-watering delicacy.
Lampredotto (cfr. sandwich)
This is the king of specialties of Tuscan cuisine in the street food department and Florence is its homeland. Lampredotto is available at street vendors’ vans and kiosks scattered in the city besides traditional trattorias. But what is lampredotto really? In practice, the lampredotto is equivalent to the abomasum, the last of the four stomachs of cattle. This is a food for people who like strong tastes. In fact it has a strong flavor and not everyone knows how to appreciate it. It is cooked for a long time in water together with other ingredients such as tomato, onion, parsley and celery. It can be eaten in a sandwich with green sauce and spicy oil or as a normal boiled meat. The steaming pots of the tripe kiosks are a reference point for tourists and Florentines alike. Tradition provides that the sandwich is soaked in broth. So be careful not to stain your clothes when you eat the lampredotto sandwich!
Trippa (cfr. lower pic)
If lampredotto does not convince you, you can try tripe, another product always present in Florentine kiosks. Tripe derives from the bovine omasum (3rd stomach of cattle) while the lampredotto from the abomasum (4th stomach). It is cut into strips and sautéed in a pan with garlic, onion and carrots finally adding pomarola. Once dished, the tripe is seasoned with plenty of Parmesan cheese or better still pecorino. In addition to being a light and easily digestible dish, it is particularly appetizing. Tripe is also street food and lends itself well to being eaten in a sandwich.
First of all, let’s clarify the two terms that make up this specialty of Tuscan cuisine. Pici are a fresh pasta, similar to large irregular spaghetti, which are obtained with water, flour and salt. Also in this case it is a simple and poor product linked to peasant cuisine. The origins seem to be Etruscan geographically corresponding to the lower Arezzo valley and the Val di Chiana. Aglione is an ancient variety of giant garlic that does not have the strong hints of traditional garlic at all. In fact, being devoid of allicin, the typical organic sulfur compound of garlic, it does not stink! The pici are seasoned with a tomato and garlic sauce and for those who like it hot chilli is welcome.
Cacciucco (cfr. pic in the heading)
Let’s move on to fish with the cacciucco typical of Livorno and Viareggio. Also in this case we are faced with one of the best specialties of Tuscan cuisine. Basically it is a poor fish soup with crustaceans and molluscs. Octopuses, cuttlefish, mussels, clams, prawns, squid and scorpionfish are generally used. It is not very easy to cook because the fish are cooked in the same pan but at different times. The fish is then placed on the plate on top of toasted and garlicky bread. As a last step, the tomato sauce is also added. Despite being fish, due to its own characteristics, the cacciucco goes well with a good glass of red wine. Since cacciucco is a dish of great structure, it recalls the marked flavors of reds. In fact reds more than whites better accompany its succulence.