Many people enjoy trying new foods on holiday – and Italy is one of the best places in Europe to discover a wonderful array of gourmet delights. And one of the great things about a walking or cycling holiday is that you can enjoy more food and drink with far less concern about the calories.
We take a look at some of the food and drink gems to discover in the Italian region of Tuscany.
The traditional root of Tuscan food is cucina povera (poor cooking), which is the idea that simple meals are made cheaply and economically in large quantities. The dishes are made with fresh, local ingredients and in season. Today, the same dishes are made but more through choice than need for them to be made cheaply.
Tuscan dishes tend to be hearty and filling, too, which makes the cuisine perfect after a day of walking or cycling.
Some of the main ingredients include grilled meats, roasted or wine-braised game, beans and mellow cheeses. Other gems are forged truffles or mushrooms and oils made from Tuscan olives. And then, of course, there are the many different wines of Tuscany that need to be tasted to truly appreciate.
As a start or a snack, the classic Tuscan antipasto of cured sliced meats, affettati misti, is a good choice. Or how about crostini di fegato, which comprises slices of toasted bread spread with rich chicken liver pate?
Another option is one of the acclaimed Tusca soups, such as tomato based Papa al pomodoro.
Main dishes are often meat or bean-based, or both together. Indeed, Tuscans are known as mangiafagioli (bean eaters).
You will be able to eat beans in soups, as side dishes and part of many main dishes. A popular bean based soup is zuppa di fagioli or Ribollita, which is a delicious and filling vegetable and bean soup.
A side dish of fagioli all’uccelletto comprises cannellini beans stewed with tomatoes, garlic and sage, while another tasty main dish to choose is made with beans and sausages and called fagioli con salsiccia.
Other mains that are popular on menus in Tuscany are pasta-based, including pasta covered in a truffle sauce, tagliatelle al tartufo.
Pappardelle alla lepre is a wide egg noodle dish with a sauce made from wild hare, or you may find it served with wild boar sauce.
Grilled and roasted meats are another favourite for Tuscan main dishes including deer, boar and pheasant.
If you like steak, try a famous speciality of Tuscany, Bistecca alla Fiorenta (steak Florentine). The T-bone, or porterhouse, steak is marinated simply in olive oil and garlic and grilled over hot coals.
Another must-try is Pollo alla Fiorentina offering a tasty combination of chicken breasts with breadcrumbs, Parmesan, spinach, onion, celery, cream cheese, paprika and garlic powder.
Also look out for braised beef dishes called Stracotto.
Amazingly Tuscany is a rare source of both black and white truffles and these feature in numerous traditional Tuscan dishes.
Truffle returns to the dessert menu where it can be discovered in delicious ice creams. Another fantastic dessert is Cantucci, twice-baked almond biscuits (biscotti) that are dipped into a glass of sweet wine, vin santo, to soften. They are a lovely way to finish off a meal.
Try figs in Carmignano, cantucci in Prato, chestnut cake in Pistoia and sheep’s milk cheeses in Pienza. Have we whet your appetite yet?
The wine region of Chianti, in particular, is acclaimed worldwide and produces many fine red wines. It’s possible to taste more than 50 wines at the Le Cantine di Greve in Greve. Each town has its own wine so asking for a house wine when you dine out is a good bet.
Classic reds include the most famous, Chianti Classico, which is produced between the hills of Florence and Siena. It’s a delicious wine and a great accompaniment to any meal.
Another two great reds are Montalcino and Montepulciano. Montalcino is split between full-bodied Brunello di Montalcino and the lighter Rossi di Montalcino. Montepulciano is slightly less complex and, therefore, less expensive.
In fact, it’s hard not to find amazing food and drink treats in almost every corner of Tuscany.