My life revolves around 3 things: Italy, food and hooch. Food being my first love, Italy second and Hooch the last but not least! I knew one day I would move to Italy but I didn’t have any clue I would have been this lucky. In a country as paradoxical as Italy, I somehow managed to make a way for myself without knowing anyone. In exactly what I wanted to be doing. Believe me, I took odd jobs, had my patience tested and I did whatever I needed to do to. So now that I’ve bored you all to tears with my Dr. Phil Opera book club ego stroke fest, I will tell you that I do plan on writing a book about this experience, it will include of course the token romantic scandal. Stay tuned!
I will also tell you what my iphone has eaten in the last few weeks deemed for writing home about. These were mostly enjoyed and discovered thanks to the work I do in food and wine, either from tours I led or farm-to-table dinners I helped organize, but also to some personal exploring…
There is a son and father duo on the corner of Via de’ Macci in the Sant’Ambrogio neighborhood that dishes up delicious cow guts (lampredotto) and this was in a sort of spicy tomato sauce which I enjoyed on Valentine’s Day as a treat to myself. I am really fascinated by the lampredotto culture in Florence. Actually back in the day carts used to roll around the city selling the gut stuff like real street food purveyors should but now that young people are not carrying on the tradition in combination with it loosing popularity, there are just a few stabilized food stands that sling the goop into panini or plastic bowls around lunchtime. With one euro wine, of course.
2. Big sheets of pasta with a wild boar and walnut sauce!
This was completely fresh and a true farm-to-table dish from Agriturismo San Leo who produces their own wild boar, tomato sauce and various other veggies and artisan foods. I still remember this- pasta so silky, fine and just the right amount of tooth (al dente) and a sauce so savory and incredible textures with the bits of meat and crunchy walnuts that the olive oil has seeped into.
3. Pasta e Ceci with rosemary flowers
This was taken during one of the cooking events promoted by Pitti Taste Festival this last weekend in Florence. This pasta is special because it was made with Pasta di Gragnano which is from a small province of Naples (Gragnano). The pasta is made with hard durum wheat semola and water from the town’s aquifer. It is said the best pasta (noodles) come from Naples. It has a firmer texture, has no eggs and is ideal for soupy pasta dishes or inventive, layered pasta dishes as the noodles are light enough to be a sort of palate for any color instead of stealing the taste spotlight like egg pasta.
Pasta e Ceci is made with a cream of (skinned) chickpeas and it is very indicative of Tuscan cuisine as it is sort of a “poor” dish that packs a hearty punch. Eat this and you’ll be full for hours and dare not ask for seconds. Well, unless it was like this one. Speckled with a final touch of rosemary flowers, this humble poor dish becomes a rich dance of flavors on your palate.
4. Pasta di Gragnano with caviar? Need I say more…
5. Ribollita (which is a twice cooked Tuscan peasant bread, bean, veg and tomato soup. Very thick!) and Orecchiete (little ear pasta from Puglia!) with yellow squash sauce. Where? The little cheap and gut-busting greasy spoon Trattoria Rocco in the Sant’Ambrogio Market.
6. Wine and cheese flight from a little wine bar tucked behind Ponte Vecchio! On a recent private Italian wine tour in Florence excursion, I gave a wine tasting of white wines from Tuscany and Alto Aldige with a selection of aged sheep’s milk cheeses and fennel salami. I love to showcase whites from two different regions especially like Alto Aldige since they produce white wines from varieties that happen to be more aromatic (think a can of del monte fruit cocktail on the nose) and juicier on the palate (but round, not like juicy fruit juicy) since the climate and elevation in Tuscany produces more briny, watery bright whites like Vernaccia that aren’t as interesting to me as say a white from Alto Aldige. My (personal) preference is to match aromatic whites with aged cheeses. There is no right or wrong answer! Food and wine is all about personal preference. Vernaccia is good for when you want to enjoy light, dry yet structured white wines. To me it is more nutty and dry and possibly better with savory finger food appetizers, like salami. BORING wine talk for those who are like yeaaaah I just want wine- aka 90% of the wine drinking population.
7. Oh man! The best charcuterie board from the best gastronomia (foodie small plate wine bar bistro-like) in town! Vivanda! Basically, a friend of mine is the chef here and she whipped me up a board of Spanish cured ham and Tuscan cold cuts with a variety of cheeses that included a slightly spicy crumbly hard aged umami packed blue cheese, a savory nutty aged sheeps milk cheese and a fresh creamy brie-like cheese from Piedmont. Of course with a glass of their own produced organic Chianti Classico wine. I especially love Vivanda, not just because a special fellow Seattleite runs the show, but because they produce their own organic wine and showcase cold cuts, compotes, and cheeses from local, sustainable slow food approved producers.
8. FRIED SUGARY RICE BALLS. Aka Frittelle
So apparently in Venice, these small popper desserts are NOT made with rice and supposedly in Tuscany they screwed it up by making an already heavy thing even heaver by adding rice to the fried pastry mixture. These are brimming the Italian streets along with coriandoli (confetti) during Carnevale in Italy. Why? Well, since before lent you’re apparently supposed to let everything go and eat, drink and do whatever is indulgent- fried sugary pastry balls make a lot of sense. ESPECIALLY when they are filled with cream or nutella. Diabetes with your Fat Tuesday, madame?
9. I almost forgot- a tiny humble beef and tomato tartare, doused in fresh peppery olive oil paired with a Rosso di Valtellina by ARPEPE, from another stop on a recent private Italian Wine Tasting Tour in Florence.
Which is— a red wine of Nebbiolo nature (the same grape that goes into Barolo and Barbaresco) produced in the Valtellina (small region in Lombardy which borders the Swiss!). The reason this wine is unique is because Nebbiolo typically belongs in Piedmont but actually ripens quite lightly and nicely in the cooler, higher elevated Valtellina producing a easy drinking earthy red wine that is light yet structured enough to match with simple meat dishes like a tartare.
And there you know what my diet consists of! Diabetes, here I come! If you’d like to taste and be wined and dined by yours truly, take a food tour in Florence!
Yours in tasting delight,