Simple Tuscan country cooking was, once upon a time, more vegetarian than carnivorous. Country women fed their families on what they could grow in their gardens and only introduced poultry or meat for special occasions.
Eating out was also for special occasions so meat tended to get top billing on the menu for those days. Since the Second World War, meat-eating has been a sign of prosperity and became a daily rather than occasional occurrence, pushing aside some of the traditional vegetarian dishes. Now you will find that Florentine cuisine is heavy on the meat side of things and that a “vegetarian Florentine” is a bit of an oxymoron.
That being said, many first courses of pasta, soup or risotto are not made with meat, and many of the most traditional favourite dishes are vegetarian: ribollita, pappa al pomodoro, pasta con pomodoro, ravioli with butter and sage, bruschetta, as well as popular sandwich filling of mozzarella and tomato… although if you are a strict vegetarian you may want to check that any stock used is not animal-based. Many restaurants may not have a vegetarian choice on the menu for a main course but will be able to offer grilled or roasted vegetables, bean dishes for protein or salad and platters of cheese.
Look out for the freshest seasonal vegetables prepared as a carpaccio, thinly sliced and raw, served with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and perhaps a sprinkling of shaved parmesan, or as fritti, where they are battered and deep fried in olive oil or as pinzimonio, cut into sticks and served with olive oil and balsamic vinegar to dip into.
Learn the phrase “non mangio carne” or “sono vegetariano/a” (if you’re male, vegetariano, if you’re female, vegetariana) and you’ll be sure to never go hungry.