The Culinary Legacy of Caterina de' Medici: Florentine-Style

May 20


Skip Lombardi

Skip Lombardi

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History teachers, I owe you an apology. Despite your best efforts to spark my interest in history, I resisted at every turn. Now, as an adult, I often find myself admitting that history isn't my strong suit, a fate I sealed myself. However, my recent dive into ancient Italian recipes has led me to some fascinating historical insights that I probably should have known all along.

The Culinary Contributions of Caterina de' Medici

Caterina de' Medici,The Culinary Legacy of Caterina de' Medici: Florentine-Style Articles a name synonymous with the powerful Medici family of Florence, is often credited with introducing the fork to French dining. But her culinary influence extends far beyond this single contribution. Born in 1519, Caterina was married off at the tender age of 14 to Henri of Orleans, who would later become King Henri II of France. This union, orchestrated by her uncle, Pope Clement VII, was more than just a political alliance; it was a culinary revolution waiting to happen.

The Introduction of Spinach to French Cuisine

One of Caterina's most notable contributions to French cuisine was the introduction of spinach. While the French court initially met this leafy green with indifference, it eventually became a staple. The term "alla Fiorentina," which means "Florentine-style," originally carried a tone of disdain but has since evolved into a mark of culinary excellence. Today, dishes labeled "alla Fiorentina" are expected to feature spinach prominently, either as a bed or stuffing.

The Social Struggles of Caterina

Caterina's life at the French court was far from easy. Historian Brandon Case of King's College in Pennsylvania notes that "other than [King] Francis I, Caterina had not a friend." She was often referred to dismissively as "the Italian woman." Despite these social challenges, Caterina managed to leave an indelible mark on French cuisine. Her introduction of spinach, among other ingredients, has had a lasting impact.

Beyond Spinach: Other Culinary Innovations

Caterina's influence wasn't limited to spinach. She is also credited with introducing a variety of other foods and culinary techniques to France. These include:

  • Artichokes: Another vegetable that became a staple in French cuisine.
  • Sorbet: A frozen dessert that was a precursor to modern ice cream.
  • Duck à l'orange: A dish that remains popular in French cuisine today.

The Evolution of "Florentine-Style"

The term "Florentine-style" has come a long way from its humble beginnings. Today, it is a term of endearment and respect, signifying dishes that feature spinach. Whether it's Eggs Florentine or Chicken Florentine, these dishes pay homage to Caterina de' Medici and her lasting influence on French cuisine.

The Modern Legacy

Today, when we order something "alla Fiorentina" at a restaurant, we are not just enjoying a delicious meal; we are partaking in a rich historical tradition. We are honoring a woman who, despite numerous challenges, managed to revolutionize French cuisine.

Fun Fact: High-Heeled Shoes

Interestingly, Caterina de' Medici is also credited with popularizing high-heeled shoes for women. This fashion trend, like her culinary contributions, has stood the test of time.


The next time you find yourself at brunch, consider ordering "Eggs alla Caterina de' Medici" instead of Eggs Florentine. While it may not catch on, it's a small way to pay tribute to a woman who has given us so much more than we realize.

For more on the fascinating history of Caterina de' Medici and her culinary contributions, check out this article from and this piece from Britannica.


  1. - Medici Family
  2. Britannica - Catherine de' Medici
  3. Case, Brandon. "Caterina de' Medici: The Italian Woman Who Changed French Cuisine." King's College, Pennsylvania.

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