How to eat like a Florentine
If you are like me you love to try regional foods when traveling – things you can’t find at home, and dishes that connect you to and speak of the culture and people you are visiting. When visiting Florence, here are some famous traditional Florentine dishes you won’t want to miss out on!
Antipasti - starters
Fettunta is bread brushed with high quality olive oil that is then roasted. This dish is typically associated with the month of November and the olive harvest, as this is the time when the oil has been newly pressed and is superbly fresh and delicious, but you can find it all year round. In the summer you will find it with topped with chopped tomatoes, similar to bruschetta. Leftovers are used as the basis of a soup called Lombard soup.
Crostini di fegato – small bite-size pieces of toasted bread topped with chicken liver pate – are also a local favourite. Don’t let the beige-paste look of it scare you off – it is delicious and quite addictive!
Zuppa ribollita literally translated means “soup reboiled”. It was created in the peasant days when you had to get creative making food last to feed your family and every last scrap of food was used. Basically it’s a thick minestrone soup with lots of vegetables, but the three main ingredients it should always include are homemade broth, stale or dried bread, and white beans. Then add whatever else you want! It should be served at room temperature with good oil drizzled on top before eating. It’s lovely to eat in cooler weather as a comfort food.
Pasta e Fagioli (pasta and beans) also started as a peasant dish, as many Florentine dishes did, made inexpensively. This dish typically consists of small ditalini pasta, cannellini beans, olive oil, garlic, onions and spices stewed in tomato paste. It is perfect with freshly grated parmesan cheese on top and a side of Tuscan bread to clean your plate with!
Primo Piatto - the first course
Primi Piatti, the first course in an Italian meal, is usually is some type of pasta or risotto.
Pappardelle al cinghiale is a local specialty made of very large, wide, flat pasta in a wild boar sauce. You can also find it prepared with wild rabbit instead. I tasted only the wild boar version, which was delicious!
Crespelle alla Fiorentina is an ancient dish with its roots in the Florentine countryside, and it is possible that this dish is the first ever development of crepes. Crespelle alla Fiorentina are delicate pasta crepes, filled with spinach and ricotta filling then layered in a creamy béchamel sauce, a bit of tomato purée, and topped with shredded pecorino cheese before being baked to a golden brown.
Secondo - the second course
This is the meat or fish dish of the meal. The Florentine specialities to sample are trippa alla Fiorentina and Bistecca alls Fiorentina.
Trippa alla Fiorentina is sold all over Florence, from restaurants to food trucks, and is prepared in various ways. Trippa alla Fiorentina is tripe prepared with vegetables and tomato sauce. It is a simple dish, as most Tuscan dishes are, but it is also tasty, nutritious and inexpensive. They key to preparing tripe is to use the spongy honeycomb part, and to cook it on medium heat in order to obtain the most tenderness. If you don’t try this local tradition you will be missing out on the full Florentine experience! But if you are not used to such a strong taste and the different texture, like me you may find it very foreign! I actually did not know what it was when I ordered it during an art class lunch break - I thought it was pasta with chicken….what a surprise!
Bistecca alla Fiorentina is one of the glories of Florentine cuisine. It is simply an extremely large Porterhouse steak (you will need to share this dish with several friends), grilled rare over a wood fire, seasoned with nothing more than olive oil, rosemary, and salt. They steak comes from the Chianina breed of cattle which are prized for their tenderness and flavour. A serious MUST eat!
Contorni - side dishes
According to Italian tradition, contorni are eaten AFTER the pasta and meat dishes, unlike America for example where the salad is traditionally eaten first after a starter. The reason for this is that the Italians believe it is better for your digestion to eat your vegetables at the end of your meal.
Fagioli all’uccelletto. Tuscans are famous for being “mangiafagioli” or bean eaters! Fagioli all’uccelletto is a side dish typically served with roasted meats. This dish is simply braised in tomato sauce and sage. The name itself is quite peculiar as it literally means “bird style beans” even though there is no meat in the dish, so it is likely that this name was given to it as it tasted like a similar dish made with game. It is traditionally made with white beans, but this varies from town to town.
There are usually many different salads on the menu for you to choose from, and Americans should be aware that “dressing” is not a thing in Italy. All salads are simply dressed with olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper, letting the flavors of the fresh vegetables shine.
Dolce - dessert
Cantuccini di Prato is a famous Florentine dessert, originating in the city of Prato, that consists of twice-baked dry almond cookies/biscuits that are dipped in a drink – traditionally Vin Santo, a sweet Tuscan dessert wine.
And, of course, gelato! Get your gelato from shops that sell only gelato (and maybe chocolate), and then you will know that you are getting the fresh stuff that is homemade daily.
Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Brunello di Montalcino are favorites - the Brunello is my personal favorite to go with Bistecca alla Fiorentina.
Last but definitely not least – Lampredotto!
Derived from the Italian word “lampreda” - the word for lamprey eels, which long ago were abundantly living in the waters of the Arno River – lampredotto is a tripe sandwich is made from the fourth and final stomach of the cow, the abomasum. It has been around since the 15th century and is a Florentine comfort food that can be found all over Florence, sold by street vendors and food trucks. The trip is slow-cooked cooked in broth along with tomato, onion, parsley, and celery, then served on a crusty bun that had been dipped in the broth, with a choice of salt, pepper, parsley green sauce, or hot chilli sauce.