Here’s the sort of salad I imagined we’d be eating as we rode our bikes through the hills of Tuscany: plates of field greens piled with herbs, fruit, roasted vegetables, cured meats, mozarella di bufala – everything local and in season. Peppery vinaigrettes. New olive oil. Verrry old balsamic.
The reality looked more like this: a glass bowl of green leaf lettuce, wedges of anemic tomato, and perhaps a few rounds of carrot or cucumber. Sometimes, an arugula salad, composed just of arugula. Accompanying the salad was not a vinaigrette – remember, vinaigrette is a french word – or, even ‘italian dressing’ (this may be an american invention), but the same four things that arrive with any contorno: olive oil, ordinary vinegar, salt, and pepper.
If you hail from the U.S., where the number of words a server uses to describe your entree seems directly proportional to the ‘fineness’ of the restaurant, the food of Tuscany requires a mental shift. Tuscan food is defined by a simplicity that verges on ascetic: antipasto is a plate of thinly shaved prosciutto, the primo piatto, a plate of hand-rolled pasta with olive oil, pecorino and black pepper, the secondo piatto, a perfectly grilled pork chop.