Ask an Italian about farm-to-table Tuscan cuisine, and chances are he’ll look at you as if you are pazzo. (That is to say: crazy.) That’s because farm-to-table is the only way to eat in Italy, and it’s been that way for centuries.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in Tuscany, a glorious rolling countryside punctuated with hilltop towns and cypress-dotted landscapes. While the home of the ancient Etruscans is famous for its Florentine art treasures and the Leaning Tower of Pisa, it’s the Tuscan cuisine that evokes a food lover’s rapture.
Informed by a rich bounty of game and a growing season marked by long, golden days and chilly evenings, the region’s specialties are simple and full-flavored. Add in some of the best vino della casa—house wine—you’ll find anywhere, and gastronomic bliss is the order of the day.
Beyond the pizzas and homemade pasta served everywhere in Italy, there are Tuscan cuisine specialties best savored in this region of truffles and fagioli located in the valley of the Arno river. At the top of every carnivore’s list is the bistecca alla fiorentina, a flagship steak dish made from the region’s tender Chianina cattle. Grilled over a wood fire and simply seasoned with salt, rosemary and olive oil, this dish is always served rare to medium rare, and it’s usually sizable enough to suit two. Any roasted game on the menu is worth an order; rabbit and wild boar are especially savory.
Woody porcini mushrooms are ever-present in Tuscan food, paired with ribbons of tagliatelle in a Chianti sauce or adding earthy flavor to chicken cacciatore, a “hunter’s style” chicken prepared with tomato sauce and ham. Tuscany’s black and white truffles—which are sniffed out by trained dogs, not pigs—are the region’s favorite fungi, and they’re sliced over everything from pasta to crostini.
Day-old bread achieves ethereal heights in both panzanella, a salad with marinated red onions and basil and tossed with vinegar and olive oil; and the heartier riboletta, a beany minestrone thickened with bread, a hallmark of Tuscany’s cucina povera, or peasant cuisine.
The perfect dessert, if you can save some room, is cantucci, an almond biscotti dipped into Vin Santo, an amber-hued digestivi—a bitter after-meal wine—with notes of sweet raisins and figs. Just remember that biscotti are meant for Vin Santo only; dipping a biscotti in coffee just isn’t done in Tuscany.