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Food from the Tuscan Table

Tuscan cuisine is food for the soul; intense fresh flavours from a few choice ingredients which have been freshly picked or pulled from the earth. Unpretentious, seasonal and prepared with passion.

Think lazy, hazy afternoons sipping a glass of ruby-red Chianti Classico and dipping into a platter of fennel infused salami with chunks of fresh focaccia soaked in gleaming pools of translucent extra-virgin olive oil. Black olives and sun-dried tomatoes complete the simple pleasures of a Tuscan table.

View from a Tuscan Table

View from a Tuscan Table

Tuscan food is based on the idea of Cucina Povera or “peasant cooking.” Simple, seasonal meals that can be made in large amounts without costing the earth. Local, homegrown and ‘nostrale’ meaning simply ‘ours.’ Today, I’m glad to say, it’s a trend of choice and not a necessity and we ate some amazing food during our stay in the Tavarnelle commune of Chianti. So, what foods to eat in Tuscany?  Let me whet your appetite…

Ingredients for a Tuscan Meal

Ingredients for a Tuscan Meal

Antipasto

The classic Tuscan appetiser, or starter, is antipasto misto which basically means ‘mixed’ and we tried more than a few of these. Affettati misti is a platter of salami and cured meats; prosciutto, capocollo, and my favourite, finocchiona a pork salami with fennel seeds which give a subtle aniseed taste to the meat. Wedges of strong Pecorino cheese and olives make this the perfect platter.

Tuscan food - Antipasto Misto

Tuscan food – Antipasto Misto

Crostini misti are little rounds of toast spread with a variety of pâté; chicken liver, mushrooms, tomatoes, and sometimes a truffle paste. Fettunta or bruschetta are toasted rounds of bread rubbed with a garlic clove, drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil, and sprinkled with coarse salt. The olives here are hand-picked – bruised olives make for a more acidic olive oil so they’re gently handled. Chopped tomatoes and basil leaves add the national colours to this tasty Tuscan starter. Hungry yet?

Tuscan food - Antipasto Misto

Tuscan food – Antipasto Misto at Fattoria Montecchio

Primi

Primi, or first course, usually consists of a pasta dish and what better way to appreciate this dish than to make it yourself.  We had a pasta-cooking lesson at Podere Torricella in Susan’s recently restored farmhouse with its rustic Tuscan kitchen. 

Our enthusiastic (and patient) chef Wilma showed us, step by step, the art of making delicious tortellini stuffed with spinach and ricotta followed by a rich vegetable stew with ribbons of spaghetti.  Tagliatelle al tartufo is pasta covered in a truffle (tartufo) sauce and definitely gives a plain pasta dish a really special flavour.

Homemade Tortellini parcels

Homemade Tortellini parcels

Ribollita

A thick, hearty vegetable Tuscan soup made with day-old bread and cannelloni beans was a revelation to me and utterly delicious. In fact, I had two helpings!  Meaning “reboiled,” Ribollita’s roots lie deep in Tuscany’s “Cucina Povera” and is a classic comfort food and definitely one I’ll be recreating at home.

Diced vegetables for Ribollita

Diced vegetables for Ribollita

Meats

Another Tuscan dish that was new to me was Wild Boar Stew – very tender and very tasty cooked in a rich tomato sauce.  Many roasted meats are popular in Tuscan cuisine, particularly wild game such as deer, pheasant or wild boar used for the main course, il secondo, or in sauces for pasta – full of depth and flavour.

Vegetables and Salads

There’s a saying in Tuscany, “Fritta è bona anche una ciabatta,” which means even a slipper is good deep-fried.  Not sure I’d agree but deep-frying is a Tuscan cuisine favourite and a great way to enjoy Tuscan vegetables is by ordering verdure fritte miste – deep-fried courgettes and artichokes which are best eaten piping hot.  Bang goes the diet.  The crispest, lightest I’ve ever tasted were at Villa Il Paganello.  Artichokes (carciofi), stuffed courgette flowers and Julienne of courgette and squash fritte were incredibly delicious.    Served with salad, primo sale cheese and ‘Quanta Cura,’ a delicious Tuscan red, it was a perfect meal in a perfect setting.  My idea of heaven actually…

Fritte Misto with Farro salad and Primo Sale cheese

Fritte Misto with Farro salad and Primo Sale cheese

 

View from Villa Il Paganello

View from Villa Il Paganello

The perfect way to finish a Tuscan meal is with Cantucci con Vin Santo.  Sometimes called biscotti,  the small, twice-baked, almond crescents are dunked into the sweet dessert wine Vin Santo to soften and taste absolutely divine.  They’re also pretty good with a cup of coffee.

Cantucci and Vin Santo

Cantucci and Vin Santo

So there you have some of the temptations of a Tuscan plate.  Have you sampled Tuscan cuisine and do you have a favourite dish?  Do share and let me know if I’ve teased your taste buds with this Tuscan cuisine.  Time now for a coffee and a cantucci or two I think….

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Disclosure:  Accommodation, meals and tours were sponsored by the Municipality of Tavarnelle Val di Pesa but all thoughts, opinions, and enthusiasm for the food of Tuscany are most definitely my own. My thanks to all the people of Tavarnelle who helped make the trip so enjoyable.  

 

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Wednesday 23rd of July 2014

[…] The Leaning Tower of Pisa stands, or should I say leans, in the Piazza dei Miracoli in the medieval part of Pisa.  On my journey home from Florence in May there was no way I could fly out of Pisa’s Galilei Airport without stopping off on the way to take a look at the iconic campanile, the Baptistry and Pisa Cathedral.  Given World Heritage Site status by UNESCO 25 years ago, the Leaning Tower of Pisa is just a five-minute bus ride and a 30 minute walk from the airport so easy to squeeze in a quick visit before my flight and a lovely way to round off my trip to Tuscany. […]

Viveka

Monday 21st of July 2014

Suzanne, somebody has said that the only downfall with Italian food is that we get hungry again after a couple of days – and your post here are proving that saying. Wow, it’s like sitting down at the table … with you. Excellent post. Haven’t been to Italy that much … but you have created a longing. That to image .... just lovely

Suzanne Jones

Monday 21st of July 2014

The Tuscan food was simple but so tasty - and you're right I didn't need to eat for a week when I got back from Italy! So glad you like the post :)

Tavarnelle Chianti - The Good Life » The Travelbunny

Sunday 8th of June 2014

[…] organised by the municipality of Tavarnelle Val di Pesa, my first visit to Tuscany, to discover its food, wine, history and beautiful countryside.  Let me tell you about ‘Chianti da Vivere’ […]

Johanna Bradley

Thursday 29th of May 2014

You and Lucy have become proper foodies, Suze :) This all looks lovely. I could just sit back and partake!

Suzanne Lea Jones

Friday 30th of May 2014

I've always been a foodie Jo - my waistline doesn't lie :( will catch up with your restlessness soon when work quietens down....

Bridget @ A Traveling B

Thursday 29th of May 2014

You evoked fond memories and images of the last time I was in Tuscany. My one regret is not taking a cooking class! You are spot on with the fresh ingredients and the passion for cooking. They make the whole experience more relaxing and enjoyable (as well as more delicious!). Love the view of Tuscany from Villa Il Paganello - to die for!

Suzanne Lea Jones

Friday 30th of May 2014

There's so much to see and taste in Tuscany. The food and the views are wonderful!