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Vegan food in Tuscany


How to order vegan food in any Tuscan restaurant

Vegan and vegetarian food is gaining ground all over world, and the region of Tuscany in Italy is no exception. We have published a list of Vegan restaurants in the past, and it's a list that grows every year. But it's worth remembering that there are vegan options available in any restaurant, excellent old Tuscan recipes that just happen to be vegan.

Tuscany is a region with a strong agricultural history, and where the joys and pleasures of growing your own food - whether in a small allottment or in a 100 acre farm - are heartfelt and powerful. So it's no surprise that there are a thousand ways to prepare all the wonderful vegetables that spring from the ground. Here are our favourite vegan options you can order in Tuscan restaurants:

Ribollita

A classic of Tuscan "Cucina Povera" - the peasant farmer dishes born of necessity that have become modern favourites. The name means "Boiled again" and the dish started as a way to use-up bread that was going hard, mixed with vegetables and pulses.

ribollita
Ribollita with roasted garlic by RMH40 is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Growing up in Tuscany, the 'nonna' of our neighbouring farm would make bread in the wood oven once a week, normally on a Friday. I remember as a child trying to time walking through their yard as, after she'd baked all the bread, she would always make some "bomboloni" (doughnuts) with the last heat of the wood oven, then fill them with home-made jam.

To order it in a restaurant, just ask for: Ribollita [/ribo’lːita/

Restaurants sometimes sprinkle it with cheese just before serving - to avoid this say:

"Mi raccomando - senza formaggio"

If you'd like to make it at home, here are some recipes. It's an ad-hoc dish, made with whatever you have leftover, so there are infinite versions. The base is always Bread, Beans and Cabbage - but people often add tomatoes, onion, celery, spinach, carrots, potatoes - as well as any herbs that might help it along. Thyme is a favourite, as well as black pepper and chilis.

Here is a good recipe (in Italian) by Giallo Zafferano:

Giallo Zafferano's Ribollita Recipe

Or an recipe in English by Nigel Slater, from the Guardian:

Nigel Slater's Ribollita

Fagioli all'uccelletto

This might be called "Tuscan Baked beans" and it's delicious. It relies on good Cannellini beans - ideally dried but you can use good tinned ones too. In restaurants it's often served with game, like boar or deer, but you can order it on its own.

To order it in a restaurant, just ask for:

Fagioli all'uccelletto

Audio file by Simona Carini saying Fagioli all'Uccelletto

To cook it at home, you'll need tomatoes, cannellini beans, garlic and sage. Giallo Zafferano has a good recipe in Italian, while "Great Italian Chefs" has a good recipe in English:

Giallo Zafferano Fagioli all'Uccelletto

Great Italian Chefs Fagioli all'Uccelletto

Pappa al pomodoro

This is another recipe from the "Cucina Povera" of Tuscany, basically a thick soup of tomatoes and bread. Like many Italian recipes, it depends on good ingredients - simple, but good, even if it is just tomatoes, oil and stale bread.

Pappa al pomodoro
'Tuscan Tomato Soup at Locanda Positano' by Muy Yum is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

If you like to try making it yourself, Jamie Oliver's version is tasty:

Jamie Oliver's Pappa al Pomodoro recipe

Verdure grigliate

Grilled vegetables - incredibly simple and incredibly delicious. We often prepare grilled courgettes but it works with more or less any vegetable you can slice. In a restaurant you will normally get a selection that includes "zucchine" (courgettes), "melanzane" (aubergines or egg plant) and "peperoni" (bell peppers).

If you cook them yourself, just make thin slices of whichever vegetables you have and grill them on a cast iron ridged skillet. Prepare chopped garlic and chilis in a bowl, and some roughly chopped coriander. As the vegetables are ready (and you have to cook them in sequence, flipping them so they get the darker grill lines on both sides) lay them in a serving dish and pour olive oil and the chopped garlic and chiles on each layer.

zucchine grigliate
'Grilled Zucchini' by dustin_j_williams is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

When they're nicely layered up you can either serve them immediately or leave them to absorb the oil, garlic and chilis - the longer you leave them, the better they taste.

Vegan options in Italian restaurants

More items that are "vegan by default" you can order in Italian restaurants:

  1. Spaghetti Aglio Olio e Peperoncino
    This is a very simple dish - just take care to ask for "gluten free" pasta as fresh pasta is made with eggs.
  2. Bruschetta. Toasted bread, garlic and olive oil. Perfect. Or
  3. Bruschetta al Pomodoro for tomatoes and some extra colour.
  4. Zuppa di Farro (con funghi porcini). Farro is spelt and this soup is delicious.
  5. Insalata (or "Insalatona"). Many cafes will offer an "Insalatona", a large mixed salad - just make sure you ask they don't put tuna in it. That's
    >"Senza Tonno!"
  6. Patate al forno. Roast potatoes italian style - these are delicious and are just potatoes plus oil and rosemary.
  7. Farinata di Ceci - also called "Cecina" if you're in the North West of Tuscany, near Livorno and Pisa. This is a flat chickpea cake that shouldn't be delicious but is. It's just chickpeas, oil and salt!

What to watch out for

While all these recipes are basically vegan, it is worth alerting the restaurant to the fact that you are vegan, so they don't add cheese, or can alert you if their pasta is made with eggs, for example.

Here are some useful phrases:

English Italian notes
I'm vegan Sono vegana/o a is female, o is male
I don't eat meat Non mangio carne the 'gi' is soft, as in "job"
I don't eat eggs Non mangio uova
I don't eat milk Non mangio latte
Please don't put cheese on it Mi raccomando non ci metta formaggio! "ci" is pronounced as in "chee"
Bruschetta
'Bruschetta, Peppenero' by Herman Saksono is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0