A Brief History of Tuscany Cuisine

florence_pontevecchio

The Etruscan had a cuisine made with wild boars and hares. The wild boar was the favorite meat in the Etruscan cuisine. Most of the territory was covered by woods where the boars were numerous and the Etruscans hunted them with the help of ferocious dogs- probably Assyrian mastiffs.

In the 1300s, Florence became one of the most important centers of world culture international city that attracted tourists and merchants with its boundless beauty and endless possibilities. Fresh fish and seafood, meat and poultry, vegetables, cheese, and freshly pressed extra-virgin olive oil were sold in the town markets. At this early time, there were already some exquisite convenience foods ready to be purchased: cooked spinach and Swiss chard could be bought alongside herb sauces in the city’s shops and on street corners. Fridays and Saturdays were both meatless days, giving rise to a wealth of typically Tuscan fish specialties that are prepared to this day: baccala in zimino, cacciucco, and a number of grilled, fried, and braised dishes that made the most of the offerings of the Arno river and the Mediterranean. The Medieval pie is a fine expression of the extravagant foods of this time.

In 1434, Cosimo de’ Medici became the Signore of the city and did much to make his beloved Florence powerful and prestigious. Two of the dishes that have made Tuscany famous reflect Florence’s prominence as an international city. Florentines had long been cooking a perfectly roasted pork loin when Cosimo de’ Medici persuaded the Pope to move the Ecumenical Council of the Greek and Roman Churches to Florence in 1440. When the Council met in Florence, this treasure of Tuscan cooking was baptized by visiting Greek priests who exclaimed “aristos!” (magnificent, splendid) upon biting into the crisp, moist meat. Thus was born the name arista, a name still used after five centuries. The splendor of the Renaissance cuisine is still in vogue today with faraona alla prugna and insalata reale.

Siena Duomo
Siena Duomo

A similar story can be told about Florence’s famous grilled steak, made from the prized Val di Chiana beef. The year was 1500, the day of the feast of San Lorenzo; the streets of Florence were crowded with tourists and celebrants. Beef was grilling in the Square of San Lorenzo. Some English tourists had the fortune of savoring the succulent grilled meat, and upon finishing their portion demanded more “beef steak, beef steak, beef steak.” Over the years the Florentines transformed the words beef steak into bistecca, and their bistecca alla fiorentina is still renowned throughout Italy.

In 1533 Caterina de’ Medici married the future King of France and moved to Paris, followed by her troop of chefs. A lover of fine food and drink, Caterina revolutionized the essentially medieval cooking of France and transformed it into a refined cuisine. France owes many of its basic ingredients and signature dishes to Caterina’s Florentine cooks: olive oil, beans, peas, spinach, artichokes, and ricotta were unknown in France until Caterina introduced them.

In 1860, Florence joined the new Kingdom of Italy. Italy as a country was born under King Vittorio Emanuele II, bringing together the varied history and colorful past of its many regions. Pellegrino Artusi – born in Rome but raised in Tuscany – published La Scienza in Cucina e l’Arte di Mangiar Bene in 1891, when he was seventy-one years old. This highly personal work was a veritable love story with the food of Italy and has become a classic; Artusi can be considered the founder of Italian cuisine, for he unified the disparate cooking traditions of the farmers and the bourgeoisie.

Today’s cuisine has a lot of traditional dishes that descend from the cuisine of the countrymen and the paisans like panzanellacrostini toscanipappa al pomodoro and bruschetta toscana.