To make the most of your holiday, follow me on this journey of taste, where I will recommend you what to eat in Pisa.
Pisa lies on the banks of the Arno, just before the mouth of the river in Marina di Pisa, surrounded by hills with vineyards, olive groves and cultivated fields.
It is a city of ancient art, famous above all for its leaning tower, but also for its incredible food and wine, making it one of the “pearls” of its region: Tuscany! Where each territory has its own traditions and typical recipes.
Today in this article we will discover together what to eat in Pisa. A poor cuisine with peasant origins, made of a few genuine ingredients, such as vegetables, wheat, pulses, meat, fish, polenta and chestnuts, to obtain hearty dishes with a strong taste. They are so much appreciated by travellers who, when they visit the city and its surroundings, often take home as souvenirs some typical products such as truffles, Chianti DOCG and Montecastelli IGT wines, olive oil and mallegato to have a memory of the territory and the local cuisine.
Are you intrigued? Then come with me on this journey of taste to discover Pisa’s best typical dishes, through typical trattorias, farms and street food, or by taking part in a cooking class.
Now let’s discover the typical cuisine of Pisa, let’s go! 👇
What to eat in Pisa
Tuscany has always been synonymous with good food and fine dining and, in this article, I will advise you on the typical dishes of Pisan cuisine, from their origins and preparation to lesser-known curiosities, not to be missed during this trip.
1. Let’s start with appetisers
Among the typical dishes, you absolutely must try the Tuscan antipasto, where you can find pecorino cheese of different ages, such as Pecorino del Parco di Migliarino San Rossore, usually accompanied by honey or jam, and typical cold cuts, such as Mallegato di San Miniato, made with pork blood, raisins, pine nuts and blanched fat greaves. You may also find fried pasta, tinned vegetables in oil, olives and various crostini, such as liver croutons prepared with the characteristic Tuscan PDO bread.
2. Bordatino alla Pisana
It is an appetising winter soup of the ancient Tuscan tradition, prepared with poor ingredients and seasoned with extra virgin olive oil. So called because it was prepared “on board” of ships transporting buckwheat in the 18th century.
The origin of this Tuscan “polenta” suggests the port of Livorno, where the recipe landed and later spread to the surrounding area. The original recipe called for the use of fish broth with which to cook the wheat flour, but later the preparation was modified by replacing the fish broth with bean cooking water and the buckwheat with corn flour. In addition, ingredients more common in the Pisan countryside were added, such as dried or fresh beans, black cabbage and in some cases pork rinds, lard or ham, all flavoured with herbs such as nepitella or thyme. So you could say that both the people of Pisa and Livorno are credited with creating this excellent dish.
3. Pasta and chickpeas
A tasty chickpea soup made from simple ingredients that requires slow and prolonged cooking to obtain a flavourful dish, characterised by the use of broken egg noodles, rosemary, extra virgin olive oil, peeled tomatoes cut into large chunks and dried chickpeas that must be soaked for at least 12 hours to make this dish. Once the soup is ready, it is seasoned with a tablespoon of raw oil, grated cheese and a grinding of pepper.
4. Pallette alla Pisana
A somewhat fluid polenta poured onto the plate and layered with meat sauce, mushroom and sausage sauce, or alternatively with leeks, and sprinkled with Parmigiano cheese. In Pisan restaurants it is usually served with meat sauce, but this dish can also be accompanied by condiments suitable for a vegetarian or vegan diet, combining, for example, some excellent truffled, wild mushrooms or an aubergine, tomato and carrot sauce.
5. Spaghetti with clams
A fresh, sea-flavoured first course, typical of Tuscan cuisine, where the “arselle”, clam-like molluscs with a delicate taste, are found in large quantities under the Tuscan sand.
Preparation requires a little care in purging the seafood from their sand, and a good glass of white wine will be an excellent accompaniment to this dish.
6. Trenette alla renaiola
A long pasta dish topped with herring and turnip tops, this recipe has fortunately not been lost and is faithfully revived. It was the main meal for the “renaioli dell’Arno”, workers who, until the mid-20th century, took sand from the rivers in small boats and transported it to the banks, piling it up in the “renai”, thus enabling the construction of the new city districts.
7. Zuppa pisana with black cabbage
This ancient and tasty dish is known in Pisa by the simple name of “zuppa” (soup). It comes from the peasant world, with healthy and easily available ingredients, and is served with slices of home-made Tuscan bread; also the Montegemoli bread is a perfect pairing. The typical Pisan “Piattella” is preferably used as a bean and the irreplaceable black cabbage cannot be missing. It is now increasingly rare to find it in city restaurants, but you will have no difficulty in tasting it at a culinary festival.
8. Tripe alla pisana
Tripe is one of the best known dishes of the Italian culinary tradition, with different variations depending on the region; it is not appreciated by everyone because of the consistency of the offals that are the main ingredient. The Pisan variant is made with pork belly, vegetables and tomato pulp. It is a poor man’s dish, where not throwing anything away reigns, trying to bring to the table a simple dinner but enriched with vegetables and herbs, forming a good broth in which to dip the bread.
9. Mucco pisano
Amidst the green hills of Pisa and the rocks of the Apuan Alps, you can find the breeding farms of this ancient breed. It was developed thanks to its working aptitude and above all for the quality of its meat, which make this breed a true cultural heritage for the coastline of this region.
This meat is used for many types of dishes in the kitchen. From pasta dishes, such as the famous Mucco ravioli, to main courses such as “tagliata”, born in the 1980s from an idea of chef Sergio Lorenzi, owner of the Sergio restaurant in Pisa. A reinterpretation of the classic Florentine steak, cooked on a red-hot grill, sliced and seasoned with ground sea salt, pepper, olive oil and a reduction of balsamic vinegar and finally served with roasted vegetables. This dish was so successful that it became a symbol of Pisa, but also of Italian cuisine.
10. Anguille in ginocchioni (eel on its knees)
A simple dish, made by cutting the eel into chunks, floured and spiced with a mixture of chopped garlic, parsley, chilli pepper and sage then browned in a pan with a drizzle of olive oil and chopped tomatoes. It is certainly a dish of high nutritional value, to be eaten in every season. One of the most classic combinations is with polenta, to be served liquid, in chunks, or with rosemary-flavoured early potatoes.
Its name derives from a legend that tells of a “swamp cook” who decided to cook a large eel he had just caught, but the animal escaped from his hands several times, until he hit it on the head with a rolling pin, putting it “on its knees”. And so the cook decided to invent a recipe with that name, which then became popular.
11. Stoccafisso alla pisana
A traditional and simple dish made with stockfish, using only Norwegian arctic cod, dried in the sun for about three months and then cooked using the technique of stewed fish in an excellent sauce of fresh tomatoes and potatoes. This dish has many variations according to the different provinces of Tuscany: in addition to “stoccafisso alla pisana”, we can find “stoccafisso alla livornese” or “alla piombinese”.
12. Salt Cod with Leeks
An excellent alternative to the classic cod with onions. A simple recipe characterised by pleasant contrasts, given the absence of tomatoes, which particularly enhances the flavour of the two basic ingredients: leeks, which lend a lot of sweetness, and the savouriness of the salt cod, usually accompanied by a good polenta.
13. Pisan-style truffle rice
An exquisite first course, prepared with some variations according to the different territories. In Pisa it has its own recipe, to make the most of the raw materials. It is prepared with rice and broth, mixing in some butter and Parmigiano cheese, and the prized white truffle, reduced to fine flakes and added to the rice as soon as it is served.
The presence of woodland environments in the province of Pisa makes it one of the areas where truffles are produced. The most prized is certainly the white truffle of the San Miniato hills, which can be found in the wide area of the Pisa hinterland, from south of the Arno river to the border of the Cecina river.
From September to December, along the hills from San Miniato to Volterra, in the heart of Tuscany, about one third of the entire national truffle production is harvested.
14. Stewed game
A typical Tuscan dish prepared with wild animals subject to hunting. They are divided into furry animals such as wild boar, hare and fallow deer, and feathered animals such as pheasants and wild ducks, which require a period of maturation before being eaten and cooked so that the meat is softer and tastier.
In cooking they go according to the hunting season and spread. In Tuscany there is an overpopulation of wild boar, which is used to cook the typical stew. It is cooked slowly until it becomes tender and fragrant, prepared with olives and the ever-present bay leaves that make it a much-loved classic.
15. Francesina alla Pisana
This recipe was originally created to use up leftover meat. It is also commonly known as “lesso rifatto con le cipolle” (boiled meat sauted with onions) but is as good as a freshly made dish. It is a traditional Tuscan second course based on boiled meat which is later pan-fried with onions, tomatoes and Mediterranean herbs to enrich and perfume it.
Even in Pisa we find street food, it is called Cecina! This is a tasty savoury pancake about half a centimetre high, prepared with chickpea flour, water, salt and olive oil that is served piping hot and with a sprinkling of black pepper. It can be tasted alone, inside the focaccina or put inside a quarter of a pizza alla pisana, which is fried and stuffed with anchovies, capers and a sprinkling of grana cheese.
The legend concerning its birth dates back to the Battle of Meloria in 1284; when a strong storm broke the containers of olive oil and chickpea flour on the victorious Genoese ships, which mixed with seawater and ended up cooking on deck in the heat of the sun.
17. Tuscan Rice Fritters
A round, meatball-like dessert, prepared by kneading rice with orange and lemon peel, then enriched with raisins. They are also called Frittelle di San Giuseppe, prepared on the feast day of the Saint (19 March), which is also Father’s Day.
The recipe has very ancient origins, when already in the Middle Ages a very similar dish was prepared in Tuscany, using almond milk and apples. There are several variations of the recipe: in some areas of Tuscany flour is put into the dough, while in others it is not.
18. Amaretto santacrocese
These typical biscuits from Santa Croce sull’Arno, in the province of Pisa, are cone-shaped and made exclusively with almond flour, sugar and eggs, to which grated lemon rind is added to give flavour. Their recipe originated in the Middle Ages within the walls of a cloistered convent, where it is said that the nuns used to give the biscuits to the convent’s benefactors for Christmas.
It is one of Pisa’s typical ball-shaped pastries, typical both for the ingredients with which it is made, such as the prized pine nuts from the San Rossore Park, but also for the name it bears. In fact, Kinzica is the Pisan heroine who, according to tradition, saved the city from an attack by Saracen pirates back in the Middle Ages.
20. Cantucci and vin santo
These are dry almond biscuits, also known as “Biscotti di Prato”, which are prepared by slicing the loaves of dough while still hot and then baking them again for a few minutes, so that the “Tozzetti” take on a rustic, fragrant and slightly golden and appearance. They are usually paired with the excellent Vin Santo, the most famous sweet wine from central Italy made from raisin grapes.
A dessert widely spread throughout hilly and mountainous Tuscany, prepared using only chestnut flour, pine nuts, raisins, extra virgin olive oil and a few rosemary needles that make it so unsweet that, in some places, it is even served instead of bread, to accompany sliced meats and cheeses.
22. Torta co’ bischeri
An ancient cake, typical of Pisan cuisine, consisting of a crumbly and buttery pie’s pastry cover with a filling inside made with rice, chocolate, flavourings and candied fruit. Its characteristic feature lies in the shape of the edge, made with the typical “bischeri” (short pastry folds, hence the pie’s name), reminiscent of the battlements of a medieval castle.
23. Continuing in sweetness: ice cream and chocolate
If you happen to be walking along the Lungarno in Pisa and you love ice cream, the De’ Coltelli ice cream parlour is a must. The name of this shop is a tribute to Francesco De’ Coltelli, the inventor of modern ice-cream that makes the most of every single raw material, made with natural ingredients that change with the seasons. The service does not exclude anyone at all: attention is also paid to coeliacs, allergic and intolerant people so that they too can enjoy this delight for the palate.
If you have a real sweet tooth, in addition to ice cream, in the Pisa area you cannot miss the historical chocolate industries. Pontedera is home to the historic Amedei, founded in 1990, which has always been a promoter of chocolate culture and winner of numerous awards; while in Cascine di Buti we find the Torrefazione Trinci founded in 1939, which produces a chocolate with a strong flavour, thanks to the special roasting of the cocoa beans.
Events to taste the typical dishes of Pisa
As you have seen in this guide, the local cuisine is rich in food and wine specialities, from the most prized such as the white truffle to the less noble such as chestnuts, which together give rise to various culinary events.
Some examples are:
- the Wild Boar Festival in Chianni
- the White Truffle Festival in Volterra
- Sagra della Patata Fritta (Fried Potato Festival) in Santa Maria A Monte
- the Strawberry Festival in Terricciola
- the Chestnut Festival in Buti
In the locality of La Serra, in the municipality of San Miniato, the Sagre (villlage’ festivals) instead are organised at the Tendone delle Feste.
The main Sagre della Serra are:
- of the Pod
- of the Fried Artichoke
- of the Olio Novo (new olive oil festival)
- del Baccalà alla Brace (barbecued salt cod)
Now that you know what to eat in Pisa, all you have to do is book your next holiday in the beautiful Tuscany now! And remember that, with Italia Delight, you can organise the food and wine trip that suits you best! I wish you a pleasant journey 😎
Cover photo: gabriella-clare-marino-unsplash
Featured photo: andrea-cevenini-unsplash