Visitors flock to Tuscany for its Renaissance cities and medieval hill towns, its world-class museums and iconic landscapes, and, of course, its famous wine. But they come here for something else, too—to eat! Tuscany's cuisine is as varied as the region is large, with individual provinces and geographic areas all laying claim to a local specialty. Eating in Tuscany is local, seasonal, and mostly land-based, and very much a reflection of the terrain and history of the region. Chef and Italian food expert Judy Witts Francini of Divina Cucina, which offers food and market tours in the region, helps us hone in on the 10 best foods to try across Tuscany.
If your culinary tour of Tuscany is at a time of year when there's a chill in the air, head straight for a warm bowl of the region's ultimate comfort food, ribollita, which literally means "reboiled." This hearty soup is made of any combination of vegetables, but always contains beans, kale—and the all-important ingredient—stale bread. It's a specialty of Florence, but you'll find it widely across the region. We've had a fine bowl of it at Gusto Leo, near Florence's Bargello Museum.
Bistecca alla Fiorentina
In the mood for a giant slab of rare meat? The Tuscan equivalent of a T-bone steak, Bistecca alla Fiorentina is a cut of regional Chianina beef grilled over an open flame and served very rare. Don't even bother asking for it well-done, or with condiments other than olive oil and salt. The cozy Osteria Toscanella, located within a short walking distance of the Pitti Palace, is one of the best places to gnaw on a Fiorentina. You can also try it at La Sosta di Pio VII near Poggibonsi, about halfway between Florence and Siena. It's so-named after Pope Pius VII, who spent a night there in 1815.
A thin, savory chickpea pie, cecina is one of those dishes that highlights the very localized concept of food in Italy. In Tuscany, around the city of Cecina, the dish is aptly called cecina; once in the Cinque Terre and the busy port city of Livorno, though, it's called farinata di ceci. Whatever you call it, more than one savvy chef or food blogger says that the absolute best place to try this casual street food is at Torteria da Gagarin in Livorno.
If you think you know all about almond cookies, think again. Ricciarelli, a macaroon-like soft almond confection, will make you forget about any dry, crumbly, or Amaretto-doused cookie you've ever eaten. As the recipe was developed in Siena in the 1400s, this Tuscan city is still the best place to find them. While they're a specialty at Christmastime—and nice to bring home as a gift—you'll find them year-round at Panificio il Magnifico, near the Battistero di San Giovanni Battista.
Pappardelle al Cinghiale
Though the dish is ubiquitous throughout central Italy, purists attest that the best pappardelle al cinghiale—thick-cut egg pasta served with wild boar ragu—comes from the Maremma, the rustic, game-rich lands of western Tuscany. The dish is rich, heavy, and flavorful, but cinghiale (wild boar) doesn't have a particularly gamey taste. Try it in the heart of the Maremma, at cozy Trattoria da Paolino in Manciano.
Cantucci and Vin Santo
You may know them as biscotti in the U.S., but in Tuscany, those crunchy, oblong almond cookies are called cantucci. Forget having them with coffee: Instead, enjoy them the way the locals do, with a small glass of vin santo (a sweet, Italian dessert wine). Dip the hard cookie in the "holy wine," both to soften it and to infuse it with the strong, liqueur-like drink. You'll find variations, as well as different names, for cantucci around Italy—but the first cantucci supposedly comes from Prato, near Florence, where the folks at Antonio Mattei have been turning them out of the oven since 1858.
Like so much of Italian country cooking, panzanella speaks to poverty and necessity. The chopped vegetable salad, which incorporates chunks of stale bread, harkens to a time when Italians couldn't afford to let anything go to waste. Typically a summer dish, the salad is made of onions, tomatoes, oil, and vinegar, with bread that has usually been soaked in water to soften it up. Trust us, it's better than it sounds. You'll find it at more simple, rustic eateries, including Hostaria del Bricco in Florence's San Niccolò neighborhood.
Most Tuscan cuisine is all about the bounty of the land. But get closer to the sea, and it becomes all about fish and seafood, best epitomized by cacciucco, the hearty, tomato-based fish stew of Livorno and the surrounding area. The recipe was probably developed by fishermen (or their wives), who made dinner from any fish from the day's catch they didn't sell. Try it with a view of the sea at Ristorante Le Volte in Livorno.
Crispy, salty, and oily, schiacciata is everything you might want in a midday snack. It's similar to focaccia, except that it's thinner, crunchier, and did we mention oily? But as it's baked with Tuscany's extra virgin olive oil, it's almost good for you. Schiacciata is another Florentine specialty, though you'll find it sold throughout Tuscany, especially at beach resorts in the summertime. Pugi, with three locations in Florence, is a city favorite.
Salumi is the collective name for the cured meats—most often pork products—that are consumed all over Italy. Every region lays claim to the best prosciutto, salami, coppa, bresaola, and more. In Tuscany, most salumi is made from Cinta Sinese or other local pig breeds, or from wild cinchiale. Salumi are a part of virtually any appetizer (aperitivo), or order an antipasto Toscano and enjoy a platter of these delectable cured meats along with cheese, olives, and other nibbles.