What’s not to love about a region that has developed a sustainable approach to its cuisine? In Tuscany, one of the most popular regions of Italy, you can find a waste-not-want-not (cucina povera) style of cooking.
Tuscans know how to take stale bread and turn it into a rich satisfying soup or fresh flavourful salad. Or turn mountain grown chestnuts into cake. With such access to quality local produce, the ingredients become the stars of the show. Get ready to enjoy the rustic delights of Tuscan cuisine.
PAPPA AL POMODORO
This tomato-bread soup is as humble as you can get. Pappa al Pomodoro is traditionally made with stale leftover bread which is added to ripe flavourful tomatoes to create a thick cosy soup. When made seasonally with the best tomatoes and richest basil, you’ve got yourself a gift from summer.
RIBOLLITA AND AQUACOTTA
When the weather starts to cool and you’re looking for a cosy meal, Tuscany offers a plethora of chunky soups that make use of seasonal vegetables, and once again, that frugal use of stale bread. Ribollita is a twice cooked soup made with layers of bread, stock and vegetables to create a thick nourishing stew. Aquacotta is another thick soup that dates back to ancient times, a creation of simple foraged ingredients from the poorest regions, with the earliest versions including wild herbs, onion, garlic, whole wheat bread, olive oil and salt and pepper. Newer adaptions include a variety of vegetables, tomatoes and non-vegan versions contain eggs, parmesan and even bacon. Whichever way you enjoy them, these Tuscan soups are a celebration of seasonal, resourceful cooking.
Another frugal use of leftover bread is the delightfully satisfying salad, Panzanella. One bite and you’ll have the taste of summer on your tongue. Stale bread is soaked in water and then combined with fresh tomatoes, basil, onion and vinegar – and drizzled liberally with the best local Tuscan olive oil. It may sound like a poor man’s food but you’ll be baffled by how such simple ingredients can taste so heavenly.
This is a pizza like no other. More like a flatbread or pancake, with an omelette-like texture. This creative and humble use of chickpea flour (farina di ceci) water and olive oil is also gluten free, perfect for those with intolerances. Cecina is baked at piping hot temperatures and is one of the most delicious savoury snacks in Tuscany.
Hailing from Siena, this hand-rolled thick spaghetti celebrates the rustic cuisine of Tuscany. Pici pasta is made with only flour and water, reminding you just how simple and magical pasta can be. The most popular ways to enjoy this regional pasta is with a tomato based garlic sauce (pici all’aglione) or with breadcrumbs fried in olive oil and garlic (pici con le briciole).
CASTAGNACCIO If you want the taste of the Tuscan mountains, be sure to try a slice of castagnaccio (chestnut cake). This traditional cake is made with chestnut (castagne) flour and flavoured with pine nuts, raisins and rosemary. This dense, not so sweet cake, is like no other torta you’ve eaten before. A celebration of the rich buttery sweet chestnuts that grow in the mountainous regions, and which were once, believe it or not, a poor man’s food.
Something a little different than the popular Chianti wine of the region is the herbal drink Biadina. You’ll be hard pressed to find this amaro liqueur beyond the historic walls of Lucca, where it originated and continues to be produced today. Story has it, that when merchants would stop to rest at the markets in Lucca, their horses would be given fodder of oats (biada) and then they would be served a little fodder (biadina) in the form of this liqueur. You might not arrive in Lucca by horse but now you too can enjoy a little ‘fodder’. Biadina is served in small glasses with a few pine nuts at the bottom.
Tuscan plant based cuisine shows us how to approach food - through simple cooking methods, allowing local produce to shine and without waste. Let's bring the Tuscan cooking experience into our own kitchens.