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What to Eat When in Florence

I fell in love with Florence at the age of 10 and have travelled widely since, but somehow I always return to this most magical of cities.


Food in Florence/Tuscany

Food is a serious business in Italy. In Tuscany, it is virtually an art form. This is hardly surprising considering it was Catherine de' Medici who, on marrying the King of France, brought her own chefs and so revolutionized French cooking. (She also introduced the fork to the French.)

Tuscany can boast a wealth of fine ingredients. Wild boar roam the plains to the south, and sheep dot the hills. The country's best beef graze just south of Arezzo, while the Tyrrhenian Sea supplies her seafood.

Each region of Tuscany has its own specialities and style of cuisine, but, in general, the food shows its peasants' origins. It is hearty and simply prepared, whether in a restaurant in the heart of the city or served on a farmer’s table.

Meals may have only a few ingredients but they burst with flavour. Cooking techniques are deceptively simple; grilling – alla Fiorentina is a favourite method. Tomato sauces are prominent. Olive oil is central to meals, with a bottle usually left on the table to drizzle over the meal.

Dining near the San Lorenzo markets (c) A. Harrison

Dining near the San Lorenzo markets (c) A. Harrison

The Tuscan Menu

Italian menus can be daunting. In Tuscany restaurants, the menu can be divided into up to six sections:

i) Antipasti – literally, "before the meal." This may be a selection of cold meats, vegetables, dipping sauces, or crostini

ii) Il Primo or Minestre - this includes soups, broths, and smaller pasta dishes such as tortellini, or a risotto.

iii) Il Secondo Pietanze - these are the main dishes

iv) Contori - the vegetable side dishes, or Insalata, the salads

v) Formaggi - the cheese course

vi) Il Dolce - never to be missed. A day in Italy without gelato is a day wasted.

Then of course there is the Vini - which covers everything from house wines (always a good choice) to more specialized brews.

One of the many delights (c) A. Harrison

One of the many delights (c) A. Harrison

Some of My Favourites

Bistecca alla Fiorentina. This is a thick cut of steak from the famed white Chiana cattle, renown for the delicate marbling of fat through the meat. The meat is brushed with olive oil, lemon juice, parsley, salt and cracked black pepper, then grilled over either a wood fire or charcoals to which vine shoots and branches of herb bushed are added. The meat is turned only once and remains juicy and pink when cut.

Ribollita. This famous Tuscan soup is a vegetable and cannellini bean broth thickened by soaking stale bread in it overnight and then reheated the next day (hence the name, which means re-heated.) It is then poured over fresh bread, with olive oil drizzled on top.

Pappardelle al Cinghiale The best wild boar, or cinghiale, are available in autumn. They are cooked to melt-in-the-mouth tenderness in a rich wine sauce and served over pappardelle, a wide, flat pasta typical of Tuscany.

Fagioli – One of my most memorable meals was in a restaurant just opposite the Casa di Dante. We were served a dish of white cannellini beans, cooked al dente, over which I drizzled olive oil of the most vibrant green hue. A pinch of salt, some cracked black pepper, then all was lightly mashed together – simply delicious. The beans can also be served all’uccelleto: stewed with tomato, sage, garlic and olive oil.

Panzella – a salad served in summer, made from day-old bread soaked in water and vinegar, and topped with diced tomatoes, onions, basil and olive oil.

Seafood pasta in a pastry shell - delicious! (c) A. Harrison

Seafood pasta in a pastry shell - delicious! (c) A. Harrison


Antipasti may consist of crostini, which are small roundels of toasted bread brushed liberally with olive oil and garlic, and served with a variety of toppings: tomato and basil, or fegatini, a thick chicken liver pâté flavoured with onions parsley and capers.

There are also cooked (cotto) meats, cured (crudo) meats, such as prosciutto or salami, or carparccio – thin slices of raw cured beef. Salsicce di cinghiale are wild boar sausages. Antipasto di mare is a section of seafood.

Dishes may come with slices of figs, melons, olives and possibly cheeses, and often with a bagnacauda – (literally a hot bath) a hot sauce, seasoned with anchovies, for dipping raw vegetables

A garden amongst the roof-tops; fresh produce is everywhere in Florence (c) A. Harrison

A garden amongst the roof-tops; fresh produce is everywhere in Florence (c) A. Harrison


bianco / rosso locale - local white or red wine

Brunello di Montalcino - perhaps the best Tuscan wine, favoured by the Lombards

Chianti - the most famous of Tuscan wines

Montepulciano - a fine red well-worth trying (the town of the same name is also worth a visit!)

Vino della casa - the house wine, often a delightful surprise


Agnolotti – a crescent shaped pasta stuffed with meat, cheese and vegetables (a shell-shaped version of ravioli)

Al pomodoro – a tomotao sauce

Bucatini – hollow spaghetti

Cappelletti – small ravioli (or little hats) filled with meat and cheese.

Gnocchi - dumplings made from either potato (gnocchi alla patate) or semolina (gnocchi alla romana), served with a variety of sauces

Minestrone – a rich vegetable, bean and pasta soup, topped with grated parmesan

Pansotti - Pasta filled with greens, herbs, and cheeses, usually served with a walnut sauce.

Pappardelle alle lepre - A wide, flat pasta with rabbit sauce.

Risotto – Arborio rice cooked slowly in stock, with an endless variety of vegetables, meat and seafood

Spaghetti ragù – spaghetti with a meat sauce

Bistecca alla Fiorentina (c) A. Harrison

Bistecca alla Fiorentina (c) A. Harrison


Meats include bistecca (beef), vitello (veal), agnello (mutton), pollo (chicken), maiale (pork), cinghiale (boar) coniglio (rabbit) and anatra (duck).

Abbacchio – a roast leg or shoulder of lamb, flavoured with anchovies

Arrosto di maiale al forgo - roast pork

Coniglio alla cacciatore - rabbit in tomato and capsicum sauce

Galetto all a griglia - grilled young cockerel

Involtini – thinly sliced beef, veal or pork with a variety of fillings, rolled and pan-fried, often with a tomato sauce

Osso bucco – veal shin cooked in a rich tomato sauce until incredibly tender. Often served with a special fork for the marrow

Saltimboccaa scallop (very thinly sliced) or veal layered with prosciutto and sage and sautéed in butter. It translates as “jump in your mouth,” referring to the tart and savoury flavour

Scaloppina alla Valdostanaa scallop of veal stuffed with cheese and ham.

Vitelle al forno - roast veal

A waiter proudly displaying porcini mushrooms (c) A. Harrison

A waiter proudly displaying porcini mushrooms (c) A. Harrison


Caprese - a salad of tomatoes, mozzarella, capsicum and basil

Fagioli - beans

Funghi - mushrooms

Insalata verde - green salad

Insalata mista - mixed salad

Patate fritte - fried potatoes

Piselli al prosciutto - peas with prosciutto

Peperonata - roasted capsicums cooked with tomato and garlic

Spinaci saltati - spinach

Pasta with prawns and truffles (c) A. Harrison

Pasta with prawns and truffles (c) A. Harrison


Cantucci - small, moon-shaped almond biscuits, perfect for dipping in a dessert wine

Gelato - many believe the world's best gelato is served in Florence. An incredible variety is available, the flavours often bearing no resemblance to the names!

Pan Pepato - a medieval forerunner to panforte, a dense cake of spices, dried fruit and honey

Riccio all a fiamma - roasted chestnuts

Zuccotto - Florentine sponge cake, filled with chocolate and nuts

Zuppa Inglese - Florentine version of English trifle

A salad of pecorino, proscuito and truffle (c) A. Harrison

A salad of pecorino, proscuito and truffle (c) A. Harrison

And Finally...

Of course, this is just the start of what is to be found throughout Tuscany. It doesn't even begin to cover street food - such as pizza served by the slice or stands selling roasted chestnuts - or the delights of visiting a delicatessen and selecting a variety of foods to be enjoyed later. Better still, wander through a local market to find a few delicacies, and enjoy a meal at the local cafe, full of the freshest ingredients.

Then, of course, there is the coffee...

© 2014 Anne Harrison