Which flavors, herbs and spices come to mind when you think of Italy or Italian food?
Nowadays, you can find a number of so-called “Italian blends” or “Tuscany mixes” on the market, but they are often stereotyped simplifications of what is commonly considered the typical taste of a certain area.
I’m getting specific here… and explore the key flavors you need for the typical taste of Tuscany.
Italian cuisine is tightly bonded with the use of aromatic herbs, which are key ingredients in every Mediterranean Country’s gastronomic tradition.
On the other hand, spices are considered more “exotic”, due to their Asiatic origins, which made them less popular in the common understanding of typical European dishes. Despite this misconception, they actually play an important role in Italian cuisine, especially in traditional Tuscan desserts!
In Italy, aromatic herbs are essential, both in day-to-day family cooking and in restaurants’ kitchens, and it is very common to grow one’s own plants in the backyards or on balconies, to keep some of these fresh ingredients at hand.
That’s possible thanks to the particularly favorable Italian climate, but it is also an ancient tradition stemming from Roman Age. Anyway, no worries: dried and ground herbs are valuable alternatives to add a touch of Italian atmosphere to every recipe!
Tuscany is often perceived as a rural area, scattered with woods and hills and full of history and art. That’s undoubtedly true, but it is also one of the richest Italian Regions in terms of culinary heritage!
The local gastronomy is based on simple foods and ancient farmers’ recipes made with local products such as bread, wine and olive oil. Meat has a prominent role in a Tuscan diet, especially boar and game in general. In coastal areas, fish is very popular too, with well-known typical recipes, such as “caciucco alla livornese” (seafood stew).
Let’s explore together the 5 Italian Herbs and Spices that will bring a true Taste of Tuscany to your table!
You may discover that authentic flavors are somewhat different from what you are used to thinking!
A walk in the woods with JUNIPER BERRIES
Juniper berries grows everywhere in Tuscany, because they require mild and shady habitats, such as hills and low mountains. They are often used in local dishes, both whole and grinded, for their characteristic piney and woody flavor, which gives a distinct note to red meat and game recipes.
Juniper berries are excellent to flavor boar and hare stews and they are often added to marinades, together with other aromas and red wine, to mild the strong flavor of game and, at the same time, enhance its wild notes.
A hint of Christmas scent with ANISE
Anise is a very popular spice in Tuscany! It is used in many sweet recipes and in every Christmas dessert! The most popular one is called “Panforte” and it is typical of the city of Siena: it takes its origins from the Middle Ages, when it was called “Panpepato”, which literally means “spicy bread”.
Tuscan pastries are traditionally very simple, made with few ingredients and enriched with dried fruits, honey and spices.
Anise is the typical sweet Tuscan flavor and it can also be found in Cavallucci (soft biscuits made with nuts and candied orange) and Buccellato (sweet bread with raisin, traditionally baked in Lucca).
Flavoring game with a few CLOVES
Game, and especially boar, is the typical Tuscan main course.
Boars are very common in local woods and hills and their flavorful and rich meat is traditionally marinated with red wine, cloves and aromatic herbs, before being cooked for long hours and being served together with potatoes or “polenta”.
Cloves are also used to prepare the Tuscan version of “ragù”, a popular Italian sauce for pasta, which involves boar or hare meat, instead of the more traditional ground beef.
An aromatic summer barbecue with ROSEMARY
Rosemary is one of the most typically Italian flavors and it used everywhere!
If you miss your summer Italian holiday, there’s nothing better than a barbecue: rubbing your steak with some fresh rosemary will take you back to your summer camping among Tuscan hills!
You can also pair rosemary with vegetables, especially with roasted potatoes, a very appreciated Italian side dish!
Rosemary will not only remind you of tender meat: it is also used to flavor an Autumn pie made with chestnut flour and named “Castagnaccio”.
The ancient aroma of BAY LEAVES
Bay is a typical Central Italy flavor and it is well-known not only as a kitchen aroma, but also as a cultural symbol. In fact, since Roman Age, bay was a symbol of glory and victory and the most successful military leaders were crowned with its leaves during celebrations. In the Middle Ages, its symbolism extended to indicate artistic and literary success too: in fact, the famous Tuscan poet Dante is often depicted wearing a crown made of bay leaves. Today, Italian young graduates are sometimes still adorned with bay leaves to symbolize the successful completion of their studies.
But let’s get back to the kitchen! Bay is the perfect partner or roasted meat and its intense aroma will make you feel like you are the guest of honor at a rural Tuscan family lunch!
A Tuscan garden, fragrant with SAGE
Sage is another aromatic herb, which is widely use in Italian cuisine and in Tuscan recipes. It is also a very beautiful plant, which often decorates gardens and balconies with its light green leaves and its delicate scent.
Sage has a versatile aroma, which pairs well with vegetables, soups or meat but it is also a frequent choice to flavor omelets end even liquors!
You can also flavor olive oil by placing a couple of fresh sage leaves inside a glass bottle.
If you wish to remember your last trip to Italy, or you feel like fancying your next one, you have now learned the 5 Italian Herbs and Spices that will provide you with the authentic taste of Tuscany!