Tuscany – La bistecca fiorentina

Before coming to Italy, I certainly understood that food was an important part of Italian culture. However, I did not realize just how fundamental the country’s gastronomic traditions were to the national identity. Further, I was unaware just how diverse Italian cuisine is. Each of Italy’s 20 regions is home to a unique way of cooking and eating food, and yet every one of them is unbelievably delicious. This past weekend, I had the opportunity to travel away from Sorrento (which has a cuisine characterized most prominently by seafood as well as strong Neapolitan and Campanian influences like pizza) to Tuscany. Tuscan food is known for its simplicity. Vegetables, bread, cheese, fruit, game, and wine constitute the majority of the Tuscan diet and the region is especially well known for its preparations of wild boar, rabbit, and deer meat. However, there is perhaps no other dish more iconic here than the Florentine steak. The bistecca fiorentina is a porterhouse cut derived exclusively from the animal’s shoulder. I was fortunate enough to try it (along with many other cuts of meat, including the similar costata) at the Officina della Bistecca in Panzano in Chianti, a restaurant owned and operated by Dario Cecchini who in recent decades has become something of a celebrity in Italy and abroad for his traditional style of preparing the meat, as well as his meticulous care for the animals from which the meat comes. Earlier this year, Dario was featured in the sixth season of a Netflix documentary, Chef’s Table.

While eating at the Officina della Bistecca with some friends from Notre Dame, I had the chance to meet Dario and talk with him briefly. In addition, I also had conversations with Dario’s staff as well as a group of native Italians sitting adjacent to us at our table (Dario insists that all his guests sit together at large tables). What distinguishes Dario’s preparation from many others is that his intention is to highlight the quality of the meat itself as opposed to other extraneous flavors. He serves meat without any sauce (or any other additive for that matter) after cooking it on a fire grill for about eight minutes on each side, and despite the lack of any sort of seasoning, the steaks are shockingly flavorful. The bistecca fiorentina is clearly a source of pride for Dario, and it is certainly a culturally significant dish for the region of Tuscany. Historically, the bistecca fiorentina, because of the simple way it’s prepared, has been central to large gatherings and festivals intended to feed crowds of people. Today, it has taken on the identity of one of Tuscany’s most famous and most delicious dishes.

After returning from Tuscany, I have now finished my academic program at the Istituto Sant’Anna in Sorrento. I completed my last final exam for Contemporary Italian Literature and wrote my final paper for the History of Italian Cinema on Paolo Sorrentino’s La grande bellezza. Over the past five weeks of my program, I feel that I have learned a substantial amount about Italian language, literature, art, and history. In terms of my language acquisition, this has all been an invaluable opportunity for personal improvement. Next week, I will be heading to explore some of the region of Puglia!

Brendan O’Brien, Sabrina Vorne, John Duffy, and I with Dario Cecchini

Panzano in Chianti, Italy

Costata alla Fiorentina