DEVOURING FLORENCE AND PISA
Traveling to Florence and Pisa means a whole new set of Italian food to try. Because food in Italy varies so much by region, there is surprising difference between the food in Florence and the food in Pisa despite the not-so-far physical distance between these cities. Food in Florence is defined by Tuscany’s slightly cooler temperatures and by cucina povera, or peasant food. Several dishes, like the bread salad panzanella, were invented as ways to reuse old food, and other dishes like pici pasta, are thicker and heartier than the pastas from the neighboring Lazio region. Pisa is magical, but there is much more to it than the Leaning Tower and its rich art history: there are loads of hidden places and a fabulous culinary side that should not be overlooked!
In Tuscany, there is also a strong tradition of local, farm-fresh food, and the region’s cheeses and cured meats from its farms are among some of the best in Italy. But the king of all dishes in Florence is the fiorentina, a large steak cut from a cow that once roamed Tuscan pastures.
So when you find yourself in Florence or Pisa next, make sure to try these delicious foods…
Meat eaters will find their holy grail in Florence and in the city’s prized dish, the bistecca fiorentina. The cows that provide the meat for these steaks come from an old breed found only in Tuscany, the Chianina. In restaurants, the steaks themselves are priced by weight and tend to be rather huge, so are best split between a group or a couple. Fiorentina is always on the bone, and these steaks are grilled over a fire until they are perfectly cooked, which means they are still pink inside — if you do not like rare meat, it is best not to try this dish. These wonderful steaks are extremely flavorful and will have you remembering Florence as the city where you ate the best steak in your life.
To try all the local cheese and meats that you can, sit down for a glass of Tuscan wine like Chianti Classico and order a tagliere at most any local enoteca. Tagliere literally means “cutting board,” and that is because a cutting board is usually how this appetizer is served, with all the meats and cheeses arranged to please on top. The tagliere is also a great dish to try in Florence at several different places because each will have its favorite cheeses and cured meats that it serves, and so you will be able to taste a wide variety in a short time. Particularly Florentine additions to the tagliere are lardo di colonnata (cured strips of pork fat) and crostini with liver pâté, or fegato.
Panzanella is a bread salad that is the answer to Italy’s summer heat. It is filling, fresh and cool and can be made with the vegetables peaking in season, which most often in the summer means tomatoes. Old bread is the basis for this dish, and is one of the reasons why it has remained a Tuscan favorite through the centuries. Most restaurants serve their own version of panzanella. The wintertime equivalent of panzanella is a soup called ribollita, which is also served with old bread, and is thick with cannellini beans and kale.
Nothing says Florence like lampredotto, or cow stomach. Lampredotto is Florence’s version of street food, and is usually served as a panino between two pieces of crusty bread accented with salsa verde, a parsley-based green sauce. If that doesn’t sound immediately appealing, know that in Florence lampredotto is simmered for hours so that it is infused with flavor. Another thing it has going for it is that it’s a hearty and healthy lunch that dates back to the Renaissance. Find a lampredottai on a street corner and order it like the local Florentines, or eat it at a restaurant where it is served with plenty of bread for soaking up the sauce.
A specialty of the Tuscan countryside, pici is a thick and hearty type of pasta made with flour instead of semolina. The noodles are typically hand rolled and resemble a kind of inflated spaghetti. As for what you put on your pici, the most simple tomato sauce will often do and will bring out the taste of both the pasta and the sauce perfectly. Though of course, pici can be topped with anything, such as a hearty ragu made with game like wild boar — just another specialty of Tuscany!
Sullo Scio, a warm and nourishing bowl of comfort! Hailing from the Pisa region of Italy, this dish is easy to make using simple ingredients but the results are very satisfying. It has simple ingredients like tomatoes, garlic, chick peas, rosemary and pasta combined for a satisfying dish.
Torta co’ bischeri
Imagine a soft cream made with white rice, dark chocolate, pinenuts, candied fruit, raisins and spices in a shortcrust pastry pie. It is called the “Torta co’ bischeri” and it is a traditional cake of the Pisa province.The Torta Co’ Bischeri is originally from Pontasserchio, near Pisa, and it was first made around the beginning of the sixteenth century as an offering to the pilgrims who visited the town every April 28th for the feast of SS. Crucifix of Miracles. The famous Via Francigena passes through Italy, 400 kilometers (250 miles) of which are in Tuscany. This delicious cake is characterized by the folds of pastry dough made on the outer edge of it, which are called “bischeri” because they are similar in appearance to guitar tuning heads.
Winter is a good season to experience Tuscan recipes. Local cuisine offers countless stews and soups perfect to beat the chill. Bordatino, for example, is a Tuscan soup made with cornmeal, vegetables, and beans which used to be prepared on the ships — hence the name: bordatino or zuppa di bordo (“on boat” soup). While on board it was accompanied with the catch of the day in the countryside was cooked only with vegetables. Today you can find different bordatino recipes traveling along the coast: in Livorno, for example, some people include bacon, but the Pisan bordatino is a 100% vegetarian soup.
Duck a l’orange
Known in ancient times as “pàparo all’arancia”, this recipe first appeared in il Libro della cucina: a compilation of recipes from the fourteenth-century by a Tuscan anonymous author. The practice of cooking meat with fruits has Arabian origins; it later spread to Spain and then came to Florence/Pisa in the Middle Ages. In Pisa, the orange duck was known as Papero al Melarancio and was much appreciated at the Medici court. At the time of the Medici, whole ducks were cooked in the oven, but in my recipe I recommend using only duck breasts.
Finally, the province of Pisa also includes among its varied resources a flourishing wine-making industry that produces DOC and IGT wines (meaning a wine produced and guaranteed to be from a specific area). Typical local wines include the Chianti Colline Pisane (protected by the DOC label), Bianco Pisano di San Torpé, Colli dell’Etruria Centrale, Montescudaio and and Vin Santo.
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