Italians have a saying when wishing someone good luck: "In bocca al lupo." Literally, it means "into the mouth of the wolf." (As in go ahead, put your head into the wolf's mouth.) The response, naturally, is, "crepi al lupo, " or "may the wolf die (when my head is in his mouth)." I could have used luck, and another stomach, during my first visit to Tuscany. The menu is structured in the same fashion as the rest of Italy: the primi piatti, or first course, offers fresh pastas, rich risottos and thick soups. The contorni, or side dishes, are made up of salads and in-season vegetables. And the secondi piatti, or entrees, mean the usual suspects like veal, hen, fish, pork and steak, along with game like boar and rabbit.
The surprise, for me, was how outstanding the food was, and how much I would miss it, dream about it, long for it, after my trip. So, dream along with me. Here is a list of what you must eat while in Tuscany. You'll notice most of the dishes are simple, with few ingredients. The amazingness lies in the intense flavor of the ingredients themselves - the handmade pasta, the mushrooms just pulled from the ground, the olive oil so naturally green it looks like food coloring. I didn't include standard Italian gimmes, like pizza or gelato or tiramisu. You already know plenty about those. This is Tuscany, known for its extra virgin olive oil, its unparalleled wines, its farm-to-table preparation (the Tuscans were so ahead of the curve). Enjoy it. Bon appetit. And in bocca al lupo.
Bread salad. A light combination of day-old bread and ripe tomatoes, often with marinated red onions and basil, tossed with vinegar and olive oil. To me, a perfect lunch. To Italians, a good start to a summertime dinner.
|Minestra di Farro Lucchese|
The flavorful signature dish of every kitchen in the Tuscan town of Lucca. Made with farro, an ancient (now trendy in the States) spelt-like grain, it's similar to lentil soup or pasta e fagioli.
A thick, hearty vegetable soup made with day-old bread. Literally meaning "reboiled," it roots lie in Tuscany's "cucina povera," or "poor cuisine."
|Pappa al pomodoro|
A rich, creamy soup made with tomatoes and, yes, day-old bread (you're seeing the theme here). Tomato soup to the nth degree.
Truffles, found in the wild, and so revered throughout Italy as to inspire parades and festivals dedicated solely to this fungi. Tuscany's tartufi are considered among the world's finest, and when in season, can be found on everything from pasta to crostini to dessert. Black truffles grow from October to March; white truffles, October through December.
|Tagliatelle alla boscaiola|
Fresh pasta with a flavorful sauce made with porcini mushrooms. The name refers to its woodsy, mushroom-y flavor.
|Pasta al ragu di carne|
. A must-try in Tuscany. Different from meat sauce found in the States, it uses little-to-no tomato. Instead this ragu is made mostly from simmered-down veal or pork (or both) and carrots, onions, celery and sometimes tartufi.
Wild boar, hunted in Tuscany, often served in pasta or as its own secondo.
|Bistecca alla fiorentina|
Tuscan porterhouse made from the region's famed Chianina cattle, prized for their flavor and tenderness. Simply prepared with salt, rosemary and olive oil, then grilled over a wood fire. Served rare/medium rare.
Also known as biscotti, the crunchy almond-flavored cookies that hail from Tuscany. Usually served with vin santo, another Tuscan claim to fame.*
*A note about vino. Red or white, il vino della casa in Tuscany is among the best house wine you'll find anywhere in the world, and is usually as good as the labels listed on the menu, at a fraction of the price. Vin santo is an excellent option after dinner, as the majority of this dessert wine is produced in Tuscany. If you're heading to Cinque Terre, sciacchetra (pronounced shah-kee-TRAH) is a slightly sweeter white wine produced solely in the vineyards of the five towns, and is nearly impossible to find in the US. Stash away a bottle or five to bring home as gifts (for your friends and yourself) if your suitcase can handle it.