You’re staring at a menu (hopefully it’s in Italian) and you’re trying to figure out what to order. The Maremma’s traditional cuisine is very different from what you might be expecting. In Northern Tuscany, it’s ribollita and bistecca Fiorentina. Classic dishes that you might recognise from forays in Italian restaurants back home. But the Maremma isn’t famous for its food. You won’t find a traditional Maremman restaurant in New York, London or Sydney. Maremman food is humble and unfussy. It’s the sort of dishes you imagine nonna preparing in a wood stove before hollering at her grandchildren to come inside and wash their hands.
The Maremma was an extremely poor region. Up until the turn of the last century, it was stricken by seasonal malaria and infertile fields. So much of what defines Maremman cooking is seasonal and vegetable-central. The locals couldn’t afford meat unless it was game. These are rich, classic Italian flavours prepared simply with whatever a family had on hand. That doesn’t mean they aren’t delicious. The Maremma has some crazy delicious food that is still prepared exactly as it was centuries ago. You just have to know what to order. Here are some of the Maremma’s top foods.
The essential Maremman soup and probably its most iconic food. Acquacotta is the very definition of peasant cooking the Maremma. Traditionally, it was a vegetable soup. It was made in the winter, so the main ingredients were leafy green vegetables, kale, cabbage and broad beans. Sometimes other beans were added like cannellini beans or broad beans. Usually you could expect tomatoes regardless of the season and some cooks would add their own ingredients, potatoes, porcini or whatever they had on hand. There is no standard recipe for acquacotta. Usually stale Tuscan bread was placed on the bottom of a bowl and the soup was spooned on top. You’d wait a few minutes for the bread to soften and that was it, a hearty and healthy lunch that filled you up. These days, you can also expect to see a poached egg, which is a modern touch and adds a nice velvetly flavour.
You can try acquacotta in every osteria and trattoria in the Maremma, but my favourite place to order it is pretty local. It’s Trattoria da Paolino in Manciano.
Tortelli are just big ravioli. So if you’re familiar with ravioli, you’ll know they’re two sheets of very thinly rolled pasta with a filling, in this case ricotta and spinach. Traditionally speaking, tortelli Maremmani are served with a tomato and mince meat sauce. Sometimes it’s game, but more often than not, it’s beef and pork mince. The Maremmani love to add a hint of nutmeg to both the filling and the sauce.
One of the most mind boggling interpretations of this dish is actually called tortelli dolci. It’s sweet tortelli, which sounds delicious, but is actually very strange. So the exact same filling of ricotta and spinach is made and stuffed into the tortelli, but it’s sweetened with sugar. Then the tortelli are boiled up and eaten with a savoury tomato sauce. The first time I saw this, it blew my mind. The Italians aren’t famous for mixing sweet and savoury!
But if that’s a little two left field for you, you can enjoy the same tortelli with icing sugar or fried with a drizzle of alchermes, a sweet local liquor that’s a vibrant red.
The best place to try tortelli Maremmani is at the annual Sagra del Tortello which is on in Podere di Montemerano the first week of September
Pappardelle alla Maremmana
You know you’re eating something local if it has Maremma in the name. Pappardelle is a flat noodle a bit thicker than spaghetti. It’s made with flour, eggs and water and it’s traditionally served with a bolognese sauce. In this case, it’s made with game. The most common is wild boar mince, but you can also try this dish with hare. It’s usually in a tomato sauce, but you can also get it in a white sauce flavoured with bay leaves and juniper berries and plenty of pecorino cheese.
Never order Pappardelle alla Maremmana outside of the winter hunting season because that is the only time the locals are allowed to hunt game. So if you’re eating it outside that season, it probably comes out of a can or is made from mince that has been frozen, sometimes for a very long time.
Try the Pappardelle alla Maremmana at Gli Attortellati, a homemade pasta restaurant in Grosseto.
Cinghiale alla Maremmana
The star of the Maremma’s culinary scene, cinghiale alla Maremmana follows the same rules as above. Never order it outside the winter and autumn period unless you really can’t resist. Wild boars have traditionally been hunted in the Maremma for centuries. They were once the area’s only source of meat and since they weighed anywhere between 60 and 100 kilograms, they could feed a family for months.
These days, the wild boar population is still flourishing, although the animals have bred with wild hogs, which has softened the gamey flavour of the meat. Now it’s less boar and more a very strongly flavoured pork. Still, you can’t eat fresh wild boar and you’d never find anyone serving wild boar steaks “alla Fiorentina”. The meat needs to be soaked overnight in red wine vinegar and juniper berries before being slowly stewed in a rich tomato sauce flavoured with garlic and black pepper. A lot of locals will also freeze the meat for a month or two before cooking it as an extra step to reduce the gamey flavour.
Best place for cinghiale alla Maremmana? You can get it everywhere, but try it at Aiuole in Arcidosso, where they add chocolate to the stew.
Biscuits. The Maremma doesn’t really have a lot of desserts it can call its own. The ones it does have, like Manciano’s crepes or a sweet focaccia made with little bits of lard are really difficult to find in the shops or restaurants. But the area does have some great biscuits that are available from its local bakeries. Brutti ma Buoni are my favourite. They’re mini meringues dotted with hazelnuts and their name means “ugly, but delicious”. You can also try Zuccherini delle Bagnore, which are circular biscuits similar to taralli and flavoured with aniseed liqueur. You can find them in Monte Amiata. Topi di Castell’azzara are biscuits filled with a honey and nut centre, which is super delicious. These biscuits are similar to Lo Sfratto di Pitigliano, a traditional Jewish biscuit that’s shaped like a stick and filled with a honey and orange scented caramel.
You can pick up these biscuits at any bakery in the Maremma. My favourite is Corsini Biscotti in Castel del Piano. This bakery makes and ships all of the Maremma’s traditional biscuits and a few Tuscan classics throughout the country and world, and their little cafe in Castel del Piano is a great place to sample some of their best fresh from the oven.
Hope this guide helps on your next culinary adventure in the Maremma. If you’re unsure, always ask your waiter what is locally sourced and in season. If you do that, you can’t go wrong. Buon Appetito!