food and wine / Taste Eat Visit Montalcino / Tuscan cuisine

Is Tuscan cuisine just bruschetta and tagliata?

I just read a comment from a guest at the Taverna dei Barbi [the Fattoria dei Barbi’s restaurant] and I’ve now discovered that the dishes we serve from the 1892 cookbook by my great-grandmother Elina Colombini are actually “nouvelle cuisine.” I couldn’t help but be taken aback but unfortunately I think I understand what the person is trying to say.

The “emblematic dish” of modern Tuscan cuisine is tagliata [grilled strip steak] with cheese, argula, and balsamic vinegar — something that didn’t even exist 20 years ago.

Next come farro soup, bruschetta with chopped tomato, machine-extruded faux pinci, and pseudo Florentine ribollita served everywhere and every season of the year.

The portions are gargantuan and it’s all served on a white and blue checkered tablecloth.

No, none of the stuff has anything to do with Tuscan cuisine. Nothing at all. These are all made-up dishes. Or they are dumbed-down versions of foods served just in small areas.

Do you want to know that really Tuscan food is?

Fagioli all’uccelletto colle salsicce [beans cooked with sausage and tomato].

Scottiglia [mixed meat stew, usually with veal, pork, guinea hen, squab etc.].

Collo ripieno [stuffed gosling, duck, or capon neck].

Crostini di milza [crostini with spleen].

Pici or pinci as they are called in Montalcino [hand-rolled long noodles made with just flour and water; they have to be hand-rolled].

Pappardelle col sugo di lepre [pappardelle with wild rabbit ragù].

Arrosto girato [rotisserie-fired meats].

Sformati and not just spinach sformati [savory flans].

Cibreo [slow-cooked chicken livers and testicles].

Tripe, cooked with saffron in Montalcino and in a thousand different ways in other towns.

Panzanella [summer tomato, basil, red onion, and stale bread salad].

Breaded and fried artichokes, acacia flowers, and borage.

Baccalà [salt cod], cooked with milk or Livorno-style with tomato and onion.

Cinghiale [feral hog] alla cacciatora, cooked in red wine.

Lepre in dolcefforte [marinated and stewed wild rabbit].

Spinach and ricotta tortelli in Maremma or potato tortelli in Casentino.

Peposo [chuck stewed with pepper and garlic].

L’arrosto morto [veal round braised with white wine and rosemary].

Coniglio in porchetta [rabbit stuffed and roasted].

Arista [roast pork chops].

Classic Tuscan desserts like mantovana [“Mantuan”; almond cake], latte alla Portuguese [“Portugese milk”; similar to crème caramel], zuppa inglese [“English soup”; layered sponge cake]. None of these desserts exist in Mantua, Portugal, or England but they exist in Tuscany.

Real bruschette: Prepared exclusively when the new olive oil is released and drizzled on garlic-rubbed bread — never with fresh diced tomato. That’s partly because there are no tomatoes in the vegetable garden in December.

There are thousands of extraordinary recipes in Tuscan cuisine. And they are all much better than dumbed-down grilled meats. This is not Argentina. Asado isn’t part of our culture.

So then why is it that so many restaurants claim to serve dumbed-down, anonymous “Tuscan-style” food?

Stefano Cinelli Colombini

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