In the 1400s, which city dined first with a knife and a fork and dabbed elegantly with a napkin? Venice, the Venetians, of course, claim, but the Florentines claim it was Florence, in Tuscany. Also in the 1400s, not only was pasta and ravioli of many varieties commonly cooked, wines of many types were also enjoyed, and a favorite dish was fegatelli, a type of liver sausage. Rules of behavior and good manners were carefully listed in Galateo by Giovanni Della Casa. Among them were admonitions against eating noisily, burping, or sniffing at food before eating. Furthermore, drunkenness was considered repugnant (but the book noted that in Germany and France drunkenness was considered amusing if not manly). In the late 1400s, Florentine doctors were prescribing cabbage as a general cure, a panacea that was to be taken into many other lands.
One of the best known Tuscan breads is the salt-free panne toscano. Made from white or wholewheat flour, it is the perfect foil for the region’s spicy sauces and gravies, salamis and sausages. More commonly it is enjoyed with a generous rubbing of fresh garlic and a drizzle of first-pressed olive oil. Leftover breads are cubed or crumbled and anointed with a simple dressing as part of a bread salad, or to add substance to a simple country soup.
The cuisine of Tuscany is noted for its classic simplicity and strict insistence on the finest and freshest ingredients prepared with passion and artistry While olive oil is important throughout Italy, in Tuscany only the finest from their own presses at Lucca can be considered. The Florentine steak bistecca alla fiorentina is judged by the animal the meat came from, the perfect degree of heat for cooking, and the final flourish of a seasoning with salt and pepper and a brush of fine oil. Most meats are spit-roasted or grilled; vegetables are cooked with loving care, and in coastal areas fish gets the same kindly attention to detail.
Fritto del mare (a mixed plate of fried fish and seafood) and cacciucco are two classics, the latter a spicy fish stew inspired anew by each cook from the fish and seafood at hand. Pork, wild boar, guinea fowl, kid, and hare take their turn on grills and spits. Rice is widely used here too but in some specialties not known in other areas: riso nero, black rice prepared with cuttlefish ink, and risotto alla toscana that includes livers and kidneys. Dried white (haricot) beans are a staple and are prepared in soups with ribbon noodles, as a main dish with sage, tomatoes, and garlic, and sauteed with tomatoes and chunks of tuna fish. Fagioli ncl fiasco is a dish of beans cooked in a flask. Tuscany pastries and sweets are often distinguished by being prepared with chestnut flour. Chianti Brolio is one of the great chianti wines.
Throughout Italy but especially in Tuscany recipes using beans often date from the Middle Ages or earlier, and much Tuscan cooking still centers around the skills of the grill and the roasting spit.