For those of you who think that food writers eat too much meat and scoff at vegetarians, let me tell you something: it’s true. At least the first part for I would never scoff at a vegetable.
But being in Tuscany as I write this, there is a certain way of life that must be momentarily adopted—to live, as they say, as the Tuscans do. The food, the wine, all hold a certain Time then to dig deep into some serious steak—the Bistecca alla Fiorentina.
Also know as the T-bone steak, it originated back in the 1300s (although some records claim that it existed since even longer, circa 800AD) when English merchants chanced upon this speciality in Florence. The name Bistecca is nothing but an adaptation of what they probably asked for in their language.
But name aside, the definition of the dish was very clear right from the start: must come from the local Tuscan cattle breed (Chianina, pronounced ki-a-nee-na, or Maremma) and be aged precisely for 18 months. The name T-bone comes as the bone is T-shaped, being cut from the short loin, in a manner that there must be meat on either side of the bone. While the Porterhouse is a more coveted steak (for the larger chunk of tenderloin in it, which, as the name suggests, is softer meat) T-bones are pretty juicy and flavourful too. Many a connoisseur deems it the more flavourful one given its slightly tougher nature. But, that said, they are still the tender-er forms of cuts and won’t need long to be cooked. Dry cooking like roasting and grilling are ideal. To make mince of this would like making dust of diamonds.
While steakhouses pride themselves on the range of sauces they have on offer, the T-bone is significant for its simplicity. Cooked over a charcoal-fire it is simply seasoned with salt and pepper and given an olive oil rub once done. Some may use a herb brush to apply this thereby aromatising it ever so gently. These steaks can be rather thick but I have known many a tourist who has tried to finish one alone. I have never claimed such gluttony and even when on a trip with my significant other, we were unable to entirely clean one and put it away, no matter how carnivorous our intentions were.
The best pairing for such a steak is of course a red wine. Given how the steak comes un-decorated (local Tuscan beans are the most common sides, and more recently, potatoes), the flavours one would try and match are those intrinsic to the steak and those acquired through the charcoal flame. Once again, we find, that the pairing has already been built into history and the local wines are an absolute delight for this dish. Sangiovese is the local grape and its championed in two forms in the local Tuscan sub-regions of Chianti and Montalcino. Sure these are not the only ones (Scansano is another that comes to mind) but they are the most popular. The wines from Sangiovese are always about fruit but with oak-ageing take on a nuanced complexity comprising toasty notes and some smokiness. The wines, like the steak, are traditionally made in a purist fashion, to sit agreeably besides food and never once to overpower it. And a well-cooked Florentine steak with a precious Riserva Chianti or an aged Brunello besides is one of the simplest yet most ethereal joys of life. But you have to be a non-vegetarian to feel my emotion. For vegetarians, the Tuscan countryside is a pretty picture to take home.