Pairing Wine with Tuscan Cuisine

The rolling hills of Chianti Classico from San Casciano Val di Pesa near Florence.

Italian cooking was arguably born in Tuscany at the Medici court. Today, Tuscany represents Italian cooking at its most simple and rustic. Tuscans have been nicknamed “mangiafagioli” (bean eaters), but I eschew the assertion by some that Tuscan cuisine is only about “beans, bread, and more beans.” I’ve highlighted some of the regional specialties of Tuscany below. We also wanted to take this opportunity to introduce you to nine new Tuscan wines to our WineToMatch arsenal. Look for this trend to continue in coming weeks and look for some surprises along the way!

meatball and kale soup
Hearty soups are a signature of Tuscan cookery.

Bread is the foundation of Tuscan cooking. Many Tuscan classics begin with a rustic loaf of unsalted pane toscano. Bread, sliced thick, grilled, and rubbed with garlic is known as panunto. It is the basis of several classic Tuscan dishes. Fettunta is panunto but served with the year’s first olive oil, and is a specialty of Tuscany. Panunto and fettunta are the most basic type of bruschetta “grilled bread” as it is known in other Italian regions. Bruschetta can also be topped with an array of ingredients. When I’ve eaten bruschetta in Tuscany, it’s usually been referred to as crostoni (a larger version of crostini meaning “little toasts”), to which lentils, stewed tomatoes, liver, salumi, etc. is added as a topping. Bread can also be torn apart and added to a salad with tomatoes, onion, and basil, creating a dish known as panzanella. Bread thickens Tuscan soups such as ribollita, pappa al pomodoro, and zuppa di pane. Seafood prevails along the coast, where Livorno’s cacciucco is a delicious fish stew and is the inspiration behind the San Francisco classic cioppino. Tuscans are not particularly white wine drinkers, but these dishes would be well accompanied by two excellent Tuscan white wines: Vernaccia di San Gimignano and Vermentino.

rolling out fresh pasta
Freshly made wide-ribbon noodles like pappardelle and tagliatelle are the pastas of choice in Tuscany.

While soup plays a primary role, pasta is no stranger to Tuscany, especially when topped with a rich ragù of duck or wild hare. Meat ragùs of game are also served over polenta or faro, the ancient grain, especially those made from cinghale (wild boar). The southern half of the Tuscan coast known as Maremma is densely populated with wild boar. Here in the trees and hills of the Tuscan coast, the cinghale hunt is a celebrated event. Hunters and their dogs eagerly sniff out the boar in orchestrated hunts and transform their bounty into grilled ribs (rostinciana), roast loin (arista), spit-roasted livers wrapped in bay leaves (fegatelli), or as porchetta. It is also used for sausages, prosciutto, and salame known as finocchiona (flavored with wild fennel seeds). Stewed or rich ragù di cinghiale is served over pappardelle or polenta or faro. Sangiovese goes by many names in Tuscany. In Chianti, it is simply called Sangiovese, but in Maremma, a special clone of Sangiovese is grown known as Morellino di Scansano. Both are considered classic with this hearty fare.

Massive Chianina cattle are the source of prized Tuscan steaks including bistecca alla fiorentina.

Tuscans are Italy’s great meat-eaters. The indigenous white Chianina cattle that graze in Tuscany’s Val di Chiana are butchered into two-inch-thick steaks called bistecca alla fiorentina. These steaks are grilled over coals and are served blood rare and are often accompanied by stewed cannellini beans or roasted porcini mushrooms. Another popular dish, Tagliata di Manzo con Rucola is rare steak sliced into thin strips and served with Arugula and shavings of Pecorino Toscano and lemon. Fresh ricotta, by the way, is excellent when served with fava beans in springtime with a simple drizzling of oil. These steak and vegetable combinations are ideal partners for several traditional Tuscan red wines known as vini da arrosto (wines for roasts), including Chianti Classico Riserva, Brunello di Montalcino, and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. Of course, modern Tuscan reds such as Sant’Antimo and Super Tuscans are worthy steak wines as well.

drinking wine in montalcino
Sipping wine at Bacchus Wine Bar in Montalcino.

It’s important to note some sweet specialties of Tuscany. Siena is famous for its chewy fruit and nut cake called panforte. And finally, the crunchy biscottini or cantucci cookies are ideally served with Tuscany’s notable sweet wine, Vin Santo.

posted on May 18 2010 by jesse

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