Above: this dish is a classic of Tuscan cuisine. A bottle of juicy Sangiovese for anyone who can tell me what it is (see answer below; image via the Taverna dei Barbi Facebook).
Try the following experiment.
Ask any well-informed Italian or pseudo-Italian food and wine professional to name the classic standbys of Tuscan cuisine.
You’ll undoubtedly get an answer that sounds something like the following.
bruschetta (hopefully pronounced correctly), crostini, pappa al pomodoro, ribollita, pappardelle with wild boar sauce, fiorentina (butchered from a Chianina, no doubt), and of course, the ubiquitous tagliata — a grilled strip steak accompanied dutifully by arugula topped with shaved Parmigiano Reggiano and balsamic vinegar.
You had me at Parmigiano Reggiano and balsamic vinegar!
What about scottiglia, peposo, or cibreo?
You won’t find any of those dishes mentioned in the “Tuscan Cuisine” sub-section of the Wikipedia entry for Italian cuisine.
You will find, however, “Forentine steak” and “minestrone” (mentioned as the foundation of ribollita). Parrina and Sassicaia are also listed side-by-side as top wines from Tuscany. Who can tell me where the Parrina DOC lies without cheating?
Today, I wanted to draw attention to a wonderful post by my friend and client Stefano Cinelli Colombini, owner and winemaker at the legacy Brunello estate Fattoria dei Barbi where the family also runs a restaurant — the Taverna dei Barbi. Many of the recipes on the menu there are culled from a cookery book scribed by his great-grandmother. I wager that few Italian-focused food and wine professionals would recognize some of the traditional dishes (I’d love to be proved wrong!).
“Is Tuscan cuisine just bruschetta and tagliata?” he asks as he points out that a bruschetta topped with diced tomatoes has nothing to do with Tuscan cookery. Nor does a tagliata served with arugula, Parmigiano Reggiano (from Emilia), and faux balsamic vinegar (I’ll reserve my harangue on the criminality of so-called balsamic vinegar for another day).
In his post, which I highly recommend to you, he offers a troubadourish plazer of genuinely Tuscan victuals.
The Tuscans are among the world’s masters of food and wine tourism. And they deftly offer my countryfellows what they want. Any American who has visited the region will boast of the unforgettable night when they paired Sangiovese and a blood-rare steak. But few will revel in the memory of a gosling’s neck stuffed with ground pork, bread crumbs, anchovies, and garlic (the dish above is actually a stuffed duck’s neck, currently served at the Taverna).
There’s so much more under the Tuscan sun for us to discover. It’s a crime that we don’t make the effort to see beyond the Olive Garden version of true Tuscan cuisine.