Curious Appetite

Where to find the best pasta in Florence for Vogue Magazine

My first job in Italy involved assisting & translating cooking classes. We made fresh pasta during every lesson, taught by a little Italian nonna who didn’t speak English. It was one of the most fulfilling jobs I ever had- I was able to put my Italian language to use which I spent years at University learning plus doing something with my passion for cuisine.

After doing who knows how many lessons and rolling out pasta, making tagliatelle, gnudi and tortelli- I sort of became discerning about my pasta. Now I prefer tagliatelle from paper thin sheets, even if I’m not sure if this is the “right” way.. I can’t stand if tagliatelle strands are thick and I can’t explain how, but I usually can tell when fresh pasta is made in-house or when they have bought it from a industrial pastificio. I love making pasta at home just as much as I love eating pasta. Now on to bigger & better professions, I still learn pasta secrets from the local culinary experts on the pasta making classes I help arrange.

Between researching stops for my progressive dining tour in Florence and eating out (aka my favorite thing), I have come to find the restaurants in Florence who serve excellent pasta- so I wrote a dining guide all about if for Vogue Magazine.

Here is the link to the article now on Vogue: Where to Find the Best Pasta in Florence

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Manifattura- bringing Italian spirits back in Florence

 

I’m really excited about a new bar recently open in Florence. So new it’s barely a week old.

Now I know this is dangerous territory, to review a bar that is barely born. However, the people behind Manifattura are no stranger to the cocktail world in Florence, namely Fabiano Buffolini, who poured & stirred from fine institutions Florian (I regret is closed) to Golden View Open Bar.

Located in Piazza San Pancrazio, a sort of hidden gem micro ‘hood with Museo Marino Marini. If you haven’t been, this museum is home to classic, contemporary & modern art by Marino Marini in the ex-church of San Pancrazio. More info here since I want to get to the juice of the matter.

The bar is a 50’s retro Italian lounge, herb potted walls at the entrance, lacquered & Tuscan wood table tops, bartenders in white and waiters in suit and tie.

Drinks all under a tenner, mega plus. (tenner = ten euros)

Here everything liquid is strictly Italian. Manifattura is a homage and a reminder of Italy’s legacy with alcoholic goods. The definition of the word means: the work behind processing raw materials, the function of the products transformation whether it be by hand or mechanical means, basically “manufacturing.” In Florence, there is an old tobacco manufacturing plant “Manifattura Tabacchi” near Piazza Puccini. Tobacco- another vice/simple pleasure which has been transformed into an industrial addiction. I’m not one to advocate for smoking, I don’t smoke myself, but tobacco is one of those things which can be appreciated like alcohol or rich “naughty” foods.

If you think about it, Florence seems like a perfect home to make this “made in Italy” statement. The city has sold itself out majorly to mass tourism and the integrity of Italian culture and products are in degradation.

amari. lots of amari.

In our backyard we have the Farmacia Santa Maria Novella where some fascinating alcoholic herb & spice based tinctures were formally developed (eliser di china, alchermes, etc). And the bar has a perfect location, as before the larger manufacturing plant was built in the 30’s near Piazza Puccini, the ex-church of San Pancrazio (where Marino Marini museum now lives) was one of the 2 branches of the original Manifattura Tabacchi. Fascinating little curiosities!

The owners are made up of a group of friends, 2 beer enthusiast bartenders, 2 architects and 2 carpenters. The menu developed by Fabiano and one of the owners.

The reality of the Italian bar, before fancy craft cocktail lounges, speakeasies and secret bars started to strut around, was a place to get national bitter liqueurs for an aperitif, amari for digestivi, classic sodas like spuma, granite and cedrata for general thirst/sugar craving quenching. Italian bars are simple, especially outside major cities. For something more elegant or sophisticated, is where the literary & historical cafe’s come in, examples being Rivoire, Gilli e Giubbe Rosse in Florence.

vintage soda list

The owners intent was to recreate this nostalgia for Italians to recognize while showcasing to foreigners and visitors, what Italy should be proud of. The history of Italian drinks is totally respected here.

Over the years across major Italian cities, the drink scene has become more contemporary, simulating what you’d find in cities like London & New York. I’m guilty of enjoying this trend, as an American from a rather cosmopolitan city (despite the droves of Seattleiites casually dressed in Northface jackets and flip-flops). I came to crave a craft cocktail scene in Florence and I have witnessed it explode over the last 5 years to my selfish delight.

What has at times happened however is a sort of imitation of American bars, both modern and vintage, or in general International bar culture which frankly doesn’t belong to Italy. By insisting on being totally Italian, Manifattura in a way, is making a statement toward Italy’s drink culture identity crisis.

Nardini mezzo e mezzo: half bitter half vermouth with a touch of seltzer added

Understandably so- Italy never prohibited alcohol so why the speakeasies? With a curiosity and taste for international liquids, such as Russian vodka, American bourbon, Mexican tequila & mezcal, French cognac and German beers, Italian products started to disappear from barstock & shelves.

I’m not saying we should shun international products or concept bars, but should they be dominating and crowding out Italian drink culture?

Fabiano is officially one of the people I respect most in this city, he holds similar strong opinions about the direction Italians are going with their appetites. He explains “Young Italians have been refusing traditional Italian food or habits, thinking they are old and out of fashion. Today going to McDonald’s is considered cool, despite knowing it’s unhealthy. Making spaghetti is thought of as a sign of poverty.”

Perhaps in my generation, it’s “cool” to eat artisanal food & drink. Still, I find I appreciate more about the culture of Italian food & drink than some of my Italian friends. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been befuddled to find industrial products on the Italian table when I live here in part to escape the industrial food culture of America. Eroding food traditions & attention to raw materials, is a global challenge, at the end of the day. Most of the time, it’s a question of socio-economics and eating “well”, has become a sort of elitism.

While I wasn’t born in Italy, perhaps I am (or always have) taking the risk to make observations & criticisms on Italian food & drink culture. Once an acquaintance warned me there is an attitude out there “who is this foreigner with a hint of Italian blood telling us how to eat/do like an Italian?” towards bloggers like me.

My response to embittered attitudes like this is the moral from the Fox & the Grapes (le volpi e l’uva), people who speak disparagingly of others would do well to apply this story to themselves. I prefer bitters only in my glass 😉

Fabiano goes on to say “we are terrified that if people stop buying Italian products, they can disappear, similar to preserving handicrafts Florence is famous for. So we will buy forgotten vermouths and other forgotten bottles with the utopian idea to save something. Our goal is to bring Italians back to remember bottles they say at Grandmas or the nostalgia from TV commercials about Biancosarti from childhood. And to provide foreigners a real Italian experience. Spaghetti with meatballs never existed.”

Oh, they have food too.

This is a manifesto, and I whole heartedly subscribe.

DETAILS: Manifattura. Facebook page. Hours: 12pm-12am location: Piazza San Pancrazio

In your vermouth utopia,

Curious Appetite

{recipe} Pasta with Shrimp & Zucchini Blossoms (fiori di zucca)

love love love sant’ambrogio market

It’s official- my favorite summer vegetable are zucchini and especially their flowers. In Florence they seem to be around most of the year as I see them in the fall and in the spring. I wonder if there are some greenhouses responsible for year-round zucchini (or courgette) but the natural summer ones generously blossomed by blistering heat are the ones I tend to fawn over. Before any Italian puts a bounty on my head, zucchini are “zucchine” in Italian but since I speak American English I’ll still refer to them as “zucchini.”

I lead market food tours in Florence and one of the first things I point out to people is to take note of the zucchini flowers in the markets, and the visible quality of the produce in general. Continue Reading

{review} Aroma Ristorante Firenze: Seafood, Service & Style

mazzancolle from the Tyrrhenian sea and a touch of burrata- I’m in love

A topic I could never bore of talking about, and one I incessantly get into, is food and where to eat in Florence. I love food so much, I want everyone to eat great food and I hope the world lives forever if just to give us wonderful food. And if you share my love for simply bullseye spot-on grub with at least an ounce of enthusiasm, I highly recommend Aroma Ristorante. Especially if you are looking to eat at one of the best seafood restaurants in Florence! Continue Reading

Where to find the best gelato in Florence (updated 2017)

(original post in 2015, updated in June 2017. Not including a significant % of other respectable gelaterie but these are my top 10 in the historical center of Florence)

pistachio, rose, lavender…perche no?

Where oh where does one find the best gelato in Florence?

Anywhere, right? It’s Italy! It’s Florence- the birthplace of gelato! You can’t go wrong! No- WRONG! Finding quality gelato in Florence is more difficult than you think. A large % of gelaterie in the historical center sell gunk full of 95% crap, albeit having the means/resources for making great gelato easily. Italy has a plethora of quality raw ingredients- yet establishments continue to favor business/profit margins over preserving gelato’s integrity. You may be wondering “Why is there so much gelato in Florence?” While I wonder, “why would anyone in their right mind allow bad/subpar gelato to be born?”

In general, there is a lot of gelato in Italy. However I must say that Florence has a particular fondness of gelato because it is said to be the birthplace of gelato. On my food tours in Florence i, we chat about the key figures of gelato’s beginnings: Cosimo Ruggieri, Bernardo Buontalenti and Francesco Procopio (Francesco was actually from Sicily and this is where the gelato origin wars start to ensue). As one of my guests said recently “basically we’ve learned that Florence invented everything.” Exactly. I mean, how can you not boast a city that gave the world the (standard) Italian language, gelato and the negroni? Continue Reading

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