From wild game to sweet wine to pastas and creative bread dishes, these are some of the definitive flavors of Florence and Tuscany.
Tuscany’s rolling hills are fertile ground for growing some of the best wine grapes in the world, but this central Italian region has more to offer than prized vintages, with hearty dishes of wild game and vegetable-rich stews.
Taste the flavors that the cradle of the Renaissance is known for, like a Florentine sandwich that goes back to the time of Michelangelo, cookies that are eaten only after dipping them in a sweet regional libation, and more.
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Bistecca Alla Fiorentina
Bistecca alla fiorentina is a T-bone steak, but it’s more than a piece of meat. This huge (at least 2½ pound) steak is cut from Chianina cows, which are bred in Tuscany’s Val di Chiana valley, south of Florence. It’s cooked rare (don’t request well-done as you’ll be told this is impossible), on a wooden grill, and sides (contorni) like roasted potatoes, or grilled vegetables, are ordered separately. In Florence, taste it at Buca Lapi near Santa Maria Novella.
Brunello Di Montalcino
Tuscany is an abundant wine growing area, and Brunello di Montalcino reds are considered among the best. The wine is produced in the hill town Montalcino in the Val d’Orcia valley, where Sangiovese grapes have been cultivated since Etruscan times. Sip on Brunello di Montalcino at the 17th-century cellars of Fattoria dei Barbi where you can also take a tour to learn about wine production.
Budino Di Riso
For an alternative to a morning cornetto paired with a cappuccino or caffè macchiato, you can go for a Florentine favorite—Budino di Riso. Enjoy this tart-like pastry filled with vanilla-, orange-, or lemon-flavored rice pudding at many pasticcerie in Florence. The ones at Caffè Pasticceria Serafini are particularly sweet.
Cantucci and Vin Santo
If you want to end your dinner with something sweet, follow the locals by asking for cantucci with vin santo. Cantucci are crunchy, twice-baked, oblong-shape cookies from Prato (about 11 miles west of Florence). The biscotti can be hard on your teeth but when dipped in sweet Vin Santo wine their consistency becomes perfect. You can find Cantucci and Vin Santo at almost any restaurant or specialty shop. Antonio Mattei in Prato or Il Cantuccio di San Lorenzo in Florence are known for theirs.
Gluten-free travelers can feast on the chestnut flour dessert castagnaccio. This sweet is often baked in fall when chestnuts are most abundant, and combines the flour with pine nuts, sugar, and raisins, for a dense consistency. Slices are cut behind the counter of one of the oldest pasticcerie in Florence, Gilli.
Cecina, also called farinata, is a pancake-like bread that is said to come from the Italian Riviera, or Liguria. You can grab a slice of this savory mixture of olive oil, salt, and chickpea flour that is sometimes seasoned with rosemary, for a snack at bakeries across Florence and Tuscany. S. Forno in Florence’s Oltrarno, bakes an extra tasty version, as the long lines (for cecina and all of its baked goods) might suggest.
Wild boar, or cinghiale, roam Tuscany, making it a common meat dish. It’s rich and a bit gamey and is frequently prepared as a ragù (meat sauce) to top pappardelle, a flat and wide egg-based pasta with Tuscan origins. Look for it at La Fettunta, a busy and unpretentious restaurant with huge serving sizes, on Via dei Neri in Florence.
Coccoli, or fried balls of dough, are like savory donut holes that are served as an aperitivo or antipasto dish across Tuscany. If eating salty fried bread wasn’t satisfying enough, coccoli are opened up to create a pocket that’s filled with prosciutto crudo and stracchino cheese. Look for them on restaurant menus, or go to Il Coccolo on Via Matteo Palmieri in Florence.
Crostini Di Fegatini
Crostini—toasted pieces of bread with toppings—are an antipasti staple across Tuscany. Crostini di fegatini (also called crostini neri or crostini Toscani) with chicken liver pate and drizzled olive oil, is the most common variety in the region. Some may find this rich and salty spread to be an acquired taste, and it will pair well with a glass of wine. For some of the best, head to Florence’s San Niccolò neighborhood and Fuori Porta, a wine bar that has an entire menu section dedicated to crostini.
Accompanying almost any meal at restaurants across Tuscany are bread, extra virgin olive oil, and salt. You can also request the simple combination as crostini fettunta—toasted bread drizzled with oil—at a restaurant like La Casalinga, a busy spot off of Piazza Santo Spirito, in Florence’s Oltrarno.
Florence has a famous sandwich, and you may be more likely to eat it if you don’t think about what it is. Lampredotto, where a cow’s fourth stomach is slow-cooked with tomato, parsley, onion, and celery, is often served on a crusty roll as a panino, and dates back to the Renaissance. Find them made at street carts and sandwich shops, or as a second course at some restaurants. I Trippaio di San Frediano di Simone Piazza dei Nerli) and Trippa del Porcellino (Via di Cappacio at Piazza del Mercato Nuovo), both have strong followings by visitors and locals.
Panzanella is another result of Cucina Povera, where cooks combine leftovers with fresh ingredients to create a meal or side. The aperitivo buffet staple is typically made from cubed bread, tomatoes, basil, and sometimes onions and cucumber. Have a traditional panzanella along with other Tuscan dishes at Da Rocco in Mercato di Sant’Ambrogio.
Pappa Al Pomodoro
Tuscan chefs have invented dozens of ways to turn leftover bread into a meal. Pappa al pomodoro, which combines tomatoes, basil, garlic, and olive oil, with bread, is one of them. The word pappa translates to baby food, but don’t let that stop you from trying this dish that is sometimes described as a soup. It’s frequently found at aperitivo buffets, or you can order it at Osteria Le Panzanelle in Radda in Chianti where a recipe has passed down through generations.
Pappardelle Alla Lepre
Another popular Tuscan meat is lepre, wild hare or rabbit. If you order it served as a ragu over pappardelle, it might be among the heartiest of Tuscan meals. Order it at Florentine institution Ristorante Cafaggi on Via Guelfa where there are huge portions, friendly staff, and a local lunch and dinner crowd.
Game is a signature feature of Tuscan cooking, from rabbit, to wild boar, to squab or pigeon: piccione. Piccione is usually grilled or served as a ragu, and at Coquinarius, near the Duomo in Florence, it comes with spinach, pine nuts, and raisins. Il Santo Bevitore in the Oltrarno pairs traditional Tuscan ingredients and recipes with contemporary presentation and its rotating menu sometimes includes piccione as a ragu over pasta.
Every region of Italy has its own pastas, and for Tuscany, one of them is pici. The rounded, thick noodles that are said to come from Siena are rolled from flour and water dough, and may remind you of bulky spaghetti. For a classic version, ask for pici all’aglione, and you’ll get a sauce made with tomatoes, basil, olive oil, and the key ingredient: garlic. In Siena, Trattoria Papei is known for its pici.
Ribollita, a thick stew of simmered vegetables like kale and carrots, white beans, and bread, is found on menus across Florence and Tuscany during fall and winter. It’s a soup that’s typical of the Cucina Povera, which aims to not waste leftovers—like stale bread—by combining them with simple and inexpensive ingredients. Try Ribollita at Cibrèo Trattoria or Trattoria Mario in Florence.
Florentine schiacciata is best known as a savory bread made with olive oil and salt that is used as a panini base. But there’s a sweet schiacciata with purple grapes that you can find at some bakeries. Schiacciata all’uva is common in the fall at the beginning of the grape harvest, like at Forno Pintucci.
Tartufo, or truffles, multiply wild across Tuscany, making the pungent musky ingredient a popular topping shaved over pasta and added to sauces. White varieties are gathered by hunters from October to January (peak season is November) and black ones are more prevalent from June until fall. For a meal accented by truffles it’s best to stick to these months accordingly. The town of San Miniato, 27 miles west of Florence, is known as prime truffle real estate and the restaurant Il Convio serves them on pasta, in a savory pancake, or with eggs.
Trippa Alla Fiorentina
Florentine chefs make creative use of offal, like tripe, with trippa alla fiorentina. They start with any of a cow’s first three stomachs, often stewed with tomato, onion, and celery. Try it served on crusty bread as a sandwich, or as a second course at a restaurant like Osteria Antica Mescita San Niccolò.