Tuscan food tends to be simple, almost rustic, but is always made from the best ingredients. Most famous is the typically unsalted Tuscan bread (pane sciocco). Stories suggest that the lack of salt is the result of a trade dispute between Pisa and Florence. To outsiders, the pane toscano may at first taste rather bland because of the omission of salt. But its simplicity and the wonderful aroma of the wood-fired oven, the crispy crust and the loose crumb interspersed with air bubbles make it the ideal base for the flavourful cuisine of Tuscany. Drizzled with a punchy olive oil, as a classic bruschetta, or as a base for hearty bread soups or bread salads – no other white bread in the world is better suited.
Don’t leave Pisa without trying the following bread-based dishes:
Pappa al Pomodoro
A delightful blend of dried Tuscan bread, fresh tomatoes, garlic, basil and cold-pressed Tuscan olive oil. Like Spanish Gazpacho, Pappa al Pomodoro is also frequently eaten cold.
Lovingly cooked for hours, Ribollita or vegetable stew is genuine slow food that is good for the heart and soul. Its ingredients can be very varied, true to the motto: use anything that tastes good and is in season. The ubiquitous Tuscan cabbage, cavolo nero, along with dry Tuscan bread, are indispensable, however. The white beans (fagioli) which are also very common in Tuscany are often included in Ribollita as well.
Apart from bread, Pisa offers a wonderful selection of first courses (primi piatti):
Riso al tartufo alla pisana
The tastiest dishes are often characterised by their simplicity and good ingredients. This is certainly the case with riso al tartufo alla pisana. This delicious yet simple risotto with regional truffles is a wonderful alternative to soup or pasta.
Bordatino alla pisana
Another great primo piatto is the seafarers’ dish, Bordatino alla pisana – a smoother take on polenta. Again, white beans and cavolo nero play an important role in addition to cornmeal.
Trippa alla pisana (tripe)
Tripe is a matter of taste, of course, but throughout Italy trippa is a popular speciality. The Pisan version is prepared with tomatoes, bacon and onion.
Stoccafisso alla pisana (stockfish)
Fish is a must in Pisan cuisine given the city’s proximity to the sea. Simple but tasty side dishes such as tomatoes, potatoes and parsley make this stockfish a delicacy.
Mucco pisano (beef)
To meat lovers, the Pisan mucco pisano steak is a unique local alternative to the Bistecca fiorentina from Florence which otherwise prevails in Tuscany.
Chocoholics won’t be disappointed by one of Pisa’s most popular desserts: the Torta coi bischeri is a seductive combination of dark chocolate and pine nuts on a shortcrust pastry base. Another dessert where pine nuts feature is the Torta ai pinoli di San Rossore (pine nut tart). And where would Tuscan cuisine be without almond biscuits? Cantuccini. Many people say they taste best with a glass of Vin Santo.
Thoughts of Tuscan wines usually turn immediately to the red variety, though white wines have a much longer tradition here – one that in part dates back to antiquity. Along the coast near Pisa, in particular, stunning white wines are often produced from the Vermentino grape. White wine is still a dominant force in San Gimignano and Montecarlo. Even if you are otherwise more inclined to Tuscan reds, you should really try the vini bianchi from these areas. The Trebbiano is a grape known more for everyday wines than for special occasions. In many cases it is blended with other varieties, forming the basis for well-known cuvées such as Lugana, Soave or Vin Santo.
A characteristic of all Tuscan wines, whether red or white, is their diversity, probably due to the numerous microclimates of the region which give each grape its distinctive bouquet. The fertile sea beds around Pisa are a contrast to the partly stony terroir 500 metres above sea level in the Chianti Classico region. The high proportion of wines with a controlled designation of origin is another typical feature of the region. Nowhere else in Italy is the percentage of DOC and DOCG wines so high.