Think of Tuscany and what’s the first thing that comes to mind? For many, even before pictures of idyllic landscapes and Renaissance architecture are conjured up, tables laden with delicious gourmet delights are at the forefront of their imagination. Food and Italian culture are intrinsically linked and mealtimes play a part in every aspect of local life, from the day to day to the most celebratory of special occasions.
With freshly picked seasonal ingredients forming the essence of every dish, it is little wonder that the flavours sing and that the secret to the Italian gastronomic reputation is in its simplicity. With recipes born from a peasant tradition, and many remaining largely unchanged throughout centuries, it is easy to see why dishes that hail from the very heart of this country have made their way onto tables all over the world.
If you love your Italian food and fancy recreating some of the iconic dishes we’re going to talk about here, why not try one of the cooking classes in Tuscany? Our Cooking Class and Lunch Tour comes highly recommended.
Iconic Tuscan Delights
The Simple Things
First and foremost, Tuscan cuisine would not be what it is without the peppery olive oil that is produced in these fertile lands. Making its way into almost every dish, this distinctive golden nectar is taken from the first pressing and is the purest you can get. You will definitely see a lot of olive oil when you’re creating your delectable dishes on our cooking classes in Tuscany.
The second staple on a Tuscan table is bread. It is a vital part of any meal and no lunch or dinner is served without it. From focaccia to potato bread, and from rosemary studded schiacciata to sweet raisin loaves, the variety rivals what you might find in a French bakery. Bread from this part of Italy is made without salt, making it an ideal vessel for mopping up delicious sauces.
Fun Fact: “Fare la scarpetta” (translated as “to do the little shoe) is the charming phrase used by Italians to mean mopping up a sauce with your bread. You will no doubt hear this one on cooking classes in Tuscany.
Bread in Tuscan cooking is so important and it is added to signature staples such as:
A traditional soup made with cavalo nero, vegetables, beans and soaked bread. This is delicious on a winter’s day.
Pappa al Pomodoro
With a base of fresh tomatoes, garlic and basil, this hearty soup is thickened with chunks of bread.
A favourite summer salad, made with bread that is first soaked in water and vinegar. The salad is finished with onions, basil, tomatoes and cucumber. Cooking classes in Tuscany held in the summer are likely to include this light and zesty recipe.
Pasta and Lasagne
Lasagne is enjoyed all over Italy, but the traditional sauce is a rich ragu, made with meat and tomato. An integral part of the dish is the bechamel, a decadent white sauce, often finished with Parmesan.
Pasta al Tartufo e Funghi
Visit Florence in autumn and the heady scent of truffles cooking is often wafting from the kitchens of local restaurants. A stunning dish showcasing fresh pasta and the season’s truffles, this is one of the region’s simple joys.
Pappardelle al Cinghiale
Wild boar meat features heavily on the Tuscan menu, and whether you have it in a salumi as part of an antipasti platter. or as the main ingredient in a ‘cinghiale’ ragu, you will not be disappointed. Served with a silky pappardelle, this unctuous sauce is a must when you are visiting the region, and one that is often taught in cooking classes in Tuscany.
As far as sublime simplicity goes, this one comes top of the list. This fine cut of meat, from the famous Chianina cattle of the Valdichiana is a thick t-bone steak that has become a signature second course in Florence and its surrounding towns and villages. Grilled over charcoal, the steak is best enjoyed served alongside a simple salad.
Every part of this charming area lays claim to its own variation of dishes and sauces, and indeed many towns and villages are rightly famous for certain specialities of their own. Here are a few of our favourites.
Medieval features abound in the stunning city of Siena and the cuisine does not escape this period’s influence either. Many cakes, such as the festive Panforte, and biscuits like the delicious ricciarelli are made with dried fruit and almond paste.
Marzolino, a delicious sheep’s cheese, is a favourite on an antipasto plate, as is the pecorino cheese that has made the tiny village of Pienza famous.
When in Lucca, you really have to sample the divine farro soup, which is a delicious wholesome combination of borlotti beans, farro and seasonal vegetables. Topped with a swirl of olive oil and served with some crusty bread and a scattering of parmesan, peasant food is elevated to new heights!
Matuffi is another Luccese dish to look out for. This layer of runny polenta topped with local sausage and seasonal mushrooms is hard to beat.
Torta Salata is a speciality of this valley (which, incidentally, is well known for its production of chestnuts – the main ingredient in castagnaccio, a snack made with chestnut flour, pine nuts, raisins and rosemary). Torta Salata is a ‘salad’ made with egg and usually farro or rice and ricotta.
It would be remiss of us not to mention the wonder that is Italian gelato in a post like this one. While it is not necessarily a speciality of the area, you can’t go anywhere in this country without visiting a local gelateria. If gelato is your weakness, why not book onto one of the cookery classes in Tuscany that focuses on gelato and pizza making? This one is a winner in our book!
On any of our popular cooking classes in Tuscany, you will have the chance to learn more about the wonderful flavours of this iconic Italian heartland. From the roast pork stuffed with rosemary, sage and garlic to the torta della nonna (made with a sweet pastry, pine nuts and custard), there are so many recipes you might just find yourself creating and, more importantly, tasting!
We Are Walkabout Florence
Here at Walkabout Florence, we want all of our clients to get to know this magnificent part of Italy. History, culture, and especially the food and wine are ingrained in every part of Italian life, and our guides and drivers are always keen to share their local knowledge. Florence is a wonderful city to be based in if you are keen to get involved in one of our cooking classes in Tuscany, so book now and get the most out of your Italian adventure.