There is probably no region in all of Italy as well known to American travelers as Toscana. The Renaissance Jewel Box City of Florence probably drives most of this as many travelers recall the school days of Art History 101, and Florence really delivers the goods with the Uffizi Museum, Palazzo Pitti and Michelangelo’s David. Just south of the city lay some of the most famous vineyards in the world, the Zona del Chianti Classico and, aside from the beautiful Tuscan countryside and the great wine-tasting opportunities, there exist many great dining options.
The food of Toscana is often deceptively simple. As in most of rural Italy, the sign of a great place is the presence of the local workers, especially at lunch.
The town of Cortona is perched on a hill in the center of the Tuscan province of Arezzo, near the border of the province of Siena and Umbria. Because of its location, Cortona can be seen from kilometers way from the windy roads of Tuscany. Cortona boasts old Umbrian and Etruscan origins. Founded by the Etruscans between the 8th and 7th centuries BCE, the Romans conquered the town in the 5th century and took the name Corito. The Greeks called Cortona, “The Metropolis of the Tyrrhenians,” that is, the non-Greek peoples. The city failed to become a free municipality until the 13th century. Though closer in proximity to Siena, the culture of Cortona was highly influenced by that of Florence, particularly during the Renaissance. To this day, the city of Cortona is surrounded by a city wall that dates to the time of Etruscan rule. Its picturesque charm lends its beauty to the 2003 romantic comedy Under the Tuscan Sun.
Just 20 minutes south of Florence is the small town of San Casciano, home of Antica Posta, a temple of Tuscan tradition. Find the classic simple cooking of the region replete with cavolo nero (the local black cabbage) as well as crostini toscani, zuppa di farro, brilliant local salumi, and exquisite pici (handmade short spaghetti) with rabbit ragu.
La Tenda Rossa is not 100 percent traditional- the food is more creative and freewheeling. Delicious and intriguing, this is not the place for the Fiorentina, but is exciting and stylish dining in a country setting.
For the Tuscan classics, da Padellina is perfection: ribollita, pappardelle with wild boar, classic fiorentina with simple trattoria style at quite easy prices.
Vignale is in a Relais & Chateaux property with classically flavored but modernly presented variations on la cucina Toscana.
Al Chiasso dei Portici has a small menu of delicious country dishes including great salumi and the classic fennel scented pork roast “Arista Toscana.”
Antica Maccelleria Cecchini is a must stop for any meat lover, the shop of a great friend of mine named Dario Cecchini. It’s a fantasy of salted, cured and fresh meats in a theatrical setting presided over by the handsome and fascinating man himself. His torpedo sized soppressata lies on the counter, tempting you to take some on the road for a vineyard picnic. Submit… Resistance is useless.
A mythic family-run trattoria, Lo Sfizio is where all that is Tuscan comes together with a simplicity and pride that makes it one of my favorites in all of Italy. The porchetta alone will bring you to your knees with tears of joy and near religious fervor.