The Gastro Files
Where to begin. Italian food has always been my favourite. As children we lived next door to an Italian family for a few years and certain smells and flavours are evocative of that time. The smell of a tomato sauce with an onion, garlic and celery sofritto base bubbling away on a stove is heavenly. Simple, rustic food that can be conjured up with store cupboard ingredients. Tinned tomatoes, fresh onion and if there is no celery, a sprinkle of celery salt is a worthy substitute. Salt, pepper and boiled pasta with fresh Parmesan shavings and a sprinkle of fresh herbs. Oregano, basil, parsley, rosemary …. It’s a personal choice! And for the Carb Police it tastes equally good on courgetti
So Florence was awash with great eateries and here are my chosen few …. on the Piazza di San Giovanni is a fabulous coffee and pastry shop, Bar Scudieri, stop by for coffee and a croissant – remember to eat and drink at the bar – there is a huge premium added throughout Italian cities for sitting outside at a table! (Four of us ate breakfast for under 12 euros here, the service is a little confusing – you go to the till place your order and pay and then return to the barista to put in your coffee and pastry request – I stupidly asked for Latte and received hot foaming milk, remember to prefix your order with caffe)
Watch the sunset over the Arno River and Florence’s skyline from Piazzale Michelangelo, the atmosphere is fun and international, Europeans, Japanese, Americans sit together on the steps to watch the sun go down. Its a long climb up a LOT of stairs but the promise of a Peroni or Prosecco at the top with a stunning vista towards the city and beyond makes it worth it, even in 35 degree heat. A huge cheer and clapping resounds as the sun disappears over the Tuscan hills (like, one day it may not just set, so lets give it a bit of encouragement!!) and then a slow amble down the hill again for cocktails and aperitcena. Aperiticena is the wonderful concept of Cocktails & Canapes Italian style – delicious, complimentary nibbles served with your drink – this can be anything from a crudite, bruschettine or delicious cured meats and olives. Not enough to sustain me and my manly brood but certainly took the edge off to allow us to head home for a shower before going out into the night again to have pizza.
I rarely eat Pizza, it is sooooooo many calories and UK pizza is too cheesy, too thick, too pizza-ey – though Franca Manca is certainly a temptation. Authentic Italian pizza has light as a whisper sourdough base with a hint of fresh tomato, crumbled buffala mozarella – heaven on a dough base actually! We ate at Pizzeria GattaBuia, a small artisanal pizzeria on the Southern side of the Arno river, between the Ponte Al Grazie and Ponte San Niccolò. Inexpensive and delicious.
A real treat was Enoteca Pitti Gola e Cantina, which started out in 2008. Edoardo, Manuele and Zeno purchased the Enoteca from its owners and began to create their vision for wine tasting. Inside the bookshelves are lined with small production, high-end wines they hand select. To accompany their wine selection fresh seasonal ingredients are used to create a delicious menu. Wee had a wonderful fragrant ravioli, the most delicious carbonara (Recipe to follow) I have ever tasted, deep fried globe artichoke and paired with a selection of regional wines – we started with a Prosecco, moved onto a crisp white and then relished two big fat reds! We were also treated to a syrupy Vin Santo with our tiramisu pudding.
My birthday dinner was a Carnivores erotic dream, and encapsulates at least three of the seven sins (greed and gluttony inevitably followed by sloth!) …… a regional speciality is Bistecca alla fiorentina, or ‘beefsteak Florentine style’, consists of a T-bone traditionally sourced from either the Chianina or Maremmana breeds of cattle. A favourite of Tuscan cuisine, the steak is grilled over a wood or charcoal fire, seasoned with salt, sometimes with black pepper, and olive oil, applied immediately after the meat is taken off the heat. Thickly cut and very large, “Bistecca” are often shared between two or more people, and traditionally served very rare (ours was virtually moo-ing). There is great ‘ceremony’ in presenting a selection of cuts for the diner to choose, when chosen the Maitre’d weighs the huge steak on electronic scales (so you can start doing the maths on how much this side of cow is going to cost you!!). We ate ours at La Buchetta, an historic trattoria that serves hearty portions by friendly English speaking staff and has the bonus of having access to the Palazzo Bardi – we were treated to a guided tour and interesting history lesson on the Medicis, the birth of Opera, and Gallielo as a post-dinner delight. To finish the evening we were presented with a bottle of Limoncello to savour at our leisure as we digested our meat feast and birthday tiramisu at the table.
Another feature of La Buchetta is a wall of photographs of the Wine (Vino) doors found all over Florence. These miniscule doors are a feature of many Florentine buildings. Made of solid wood, often adorned with carvings or iron studs, most with their own key hole to control access, some even with knockers. Behind these little doors, the Victuallers of Florence ran after hours enotecas (wine bars). A knock on the small door, the proffering of a few coins and ones own drinking vessel would result in a delicious local vintage. At one time, there were hundreds of these tiny portals to viniculture along the streets of Florence, but not so many remain. Some have fallen into neglect, others have been filled in, some have been turned into name plaques, and others have been used to disguise gas or electric meters. But a great pastime for those who love to search out the unusual … or wine inspired highlights of a city.
Firenze … we will be back ….