Italian food is intensely regional. Move 20 km in any direction and you’ll likely find similar dishes but with different names, move 50 km, and you will find completely different dishes; even within the same region. Florentines were once disrespectfully called Bean Eaters by their neighbors – and white beans, either with olive oil or with tomato and sage, are a typical local side dish. Sautéed spinach is also very popular, and the addition of which often leads to the word “Florentine” in the name of the dish.
Whereas pasta features prominently in much of Italy, the Florentine diet is based more on bread. Re-imagining the four basic food groups with a local focus would lead to bread, olive oil, pecorino (sheep) cheese and cured pork meats including prosciutto and salami.
The basic bread in Florence, and throughout Tuscany is salt-less and bland. A much better bet is schiacciata – similar to focaccia, a flatbread topped with olive oil and salt.
- Pappardelle al Cinghiale – Wide flat noodles with long cooked wild boar.
- Bistecca Fiorentina – Easily the most famous dish in Florence – and certainly the one that makes the most impression. These are HUGE steaks, grilled rare – very rare! They are, by law, at least 1 kg (over 2 lbs). This is not something that you eat by yourself, they are ordered for a group of people to share, and served sliced for people to help themselves. Do not ask to have it cooked any other way. Tradition calls for the Tuscan Chianina beef, which helps guarantee a more tender meat.
- Ribollita – Bean and Tuscan Kale “soup,” a typical peasant food consisting of a rich minestrone with kale, cabbage, onion, carrots, celery, tomato, potato, beans etc. all thickened with leftover bread. Tradition teaches that you make minestrone one day and the day after the leftovers are reboiled (hence the name ribollita) and extended with stale bread. The all-important step is serving it with a generous slug of flavorful Tuscan olive oil. This dish is best in the cold winter months. Often, it is so thick with bread, that it is more stew than soup, and can be eaten with a fork.
- Pappa al Pomodoro – Like the predecessor, this is another bread-based soup/stew; this time with the very simple ingredients of bread, tomato and basil to garnish, possibly with some onion or garlic in the tomato. It too, is finished with the all important swirl of fresh olive oil.
- Gelato – Florence can lay claim to inventing gelato, or ice cream, as we know it today, so use this as your excuse to indulge and try the best the city has to offer. (See our recommendations.)
- Finochiona/Sbricciolona – This pork based cured meat is typical of only Florence and Siena is flavored with aromatic fennel seeds. The two are very similar Sbricciolona is softer and more crumbly and only served sliced by hand. Either one can be eaten sliced as is, as part of a salumi platter or in sandwiches.
- Peposo – Long cooked beef stew with plenty of black pepper. Legend has it, that this dish was invented in Impruneta, the village outside of Florence famous for it’s terracotta, to serve to the workers who were building the dome of the Florence cathedral. The beef (with plenty of black pepper to mask any off flavors) was cooked in the kilns used to make the roof tiles, and was hauled up the scaffolding to feed the workers so they didn’t have to come down.
- Panino con Lampredotto – Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it! Super tender, long-cooked lampredotto (don’t ask, but you can see here) best served in a hollowed out crusty roll and topped with a tangy salsa verde and hot chili oil.
- Panzanella – A typical summer salad with leftover stale bread, juicy ripe tomatoes, sliced cucumbers, and thinly sliced red onion.
- Seppie Inzimino – Squid and spinach stew.
Other foods to keep an eye out for are Trippa alla Fiorentina (Stewed Tripe in Tomato Sauce) or Crespelle Fiorentine (Crepes filled with Sauteed Spinach in a Bechamel Sauce.) Each region or even sub-region of Tuscany has their own regional specialties like:
Livorno: Baccala alla Livornese, Cacciuco