Italy is not just pizza and pasta, guys. If you think about it- the Mediterranean diet is all about whole foods and pure ingredients. Appetizers can be marinated vegetables, olives, grilled veggies, cold cuts, olive oil and crudités (pinzimonio), fried polenta and so on. First courses can be bean soups (crema di ceci!), risotti (made without cheese) and rice salads. Mains are usually meat or seafood based and not usually made with cheese unless it’s like involtini or polpette, but it is quite doable to find main courses without cheese if not certainly easy to ask for it to be omitted. Contorni (side dishes) would be a breeze: herb roasted potatoes, braised greens, vegetables, beans, salads and such.
Okay- we figured out how to avoid gluten and dairy in Italy. But what if it is your first time to Italy as a celiac and you just want that Italian pizza and pasta experience?! It just doesn’t seem fair otherwise. It makes you wonder the fairness of it all. And if any of you are discounting this or invalidating the injustice of being celiac because there could be something “worse” well then I am glad you never suffer ever at all on any day of your life as a human being because you know that “it could be worse.” Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about gratitude but I don’t think saying “first world problems” or “we’re tiny” or “it could be worse” makes an unfortunate situation spin suddenly to gold.
Anyways, so I found a couple places in Florence that are great if you have visitors in town or if you live in Florence as a celiac. More and more restaurants are offering gluten-free pastas so it is not an impossible feat!
Il Vegetariano- This is a vegetarian restaurant, but they have great gluten-free options. Think hearty, simple grain and bean dishes. It’s kind of canteen-style where you order off the board at the register and show the lunch lady your reciept so they can dollop your lunch on a tray. They also do dinner but lunch time is bustling- I recommend to get there early. Via Delle Ruote 30R (San Lorenzo)
Ristorante Quinoa- Quirky, concept space that seems like a retro greenhouse eatery surrounded by Renaissance walls. Apart from the darling atmosphere, the food is pretty good too. Loads of vegan options, vegetarian mostly. Think spicy soups, homemade veggie dips, fresh veggies, grain salads, some meat options (but I would stick to the vegetarian/vegan stuff), rice noodle stir-fries (nothing close to what you’d get at a real asian joint, but palatable) and tofu things. They do brunch, too. Address: Vicolo di Santa Maria Maggiore, 1, 50123 Firenze Phone: 055 290876 (Santa Maria Novella/Duomo)
Starbene- This bakery has all the kryptonite sugar lovers and carb loaders dream of – and its all gluten-free! I’m talkin’ puff pastry and all sorts of stuff you’d never think could be gluten-free, even salty oily focaccia. Via dei Neri 13R (Between Santa Croce/Signoria)
Brac- Again, a vegetarian joint with a modern/London or Berlin feel that is nearly impossible to get into without reserving at least 3 days in advance but they have quality gluten-free options and have especially nice salads. Via dei Vagellai, 18 (near Uffizi/Santa Croce)
Pizzeria La Luna- Gluten-free breads and pastas- score! Okay so my friend definitely cheated here and had cheese on her pizza but she had a gluten-free Margherita (made with buffalo milk mozzarella) and said she dreamed about it the next day. I tasted it and it was not bad! I would have eaten it- which is saying a lot! I did heaps of research on gluten-free pizzerias in Florence and most of them seemed like garbage tourist traps that sold gluten-free food as a gimmick. When I found La Luna, it was in a somewhat local-y neighborhood so I trusted the risk. They had a full pizza menù with a gluten-free options for them all. They said the GF dough was made in house (unlike pre-made packaged ones) so I was sold. We ordered a starter platter that included coccoli (fried bread that you then proceed to stuff with stracchino cheese and salami), arrancini and fried mozzarella- ALL gluten-free!!! I was shocked. The gluten-free coccoli fooled me. They were surprisingly good. Instead of pizza, I had a Garganelli pasta with a pistachio sauce and pork cheek guanciale which sounded good on paper but way too salty. So salty I couldn’t eat even half of it. Honestly, I would not recommend this restaurant unless you were gluten-free. They also had amazing gluten-free desserts like tiramisù and cantuccini almond biscotti. Very impressive for iconic Italian foods without gluten.
La Raccolta- This is a great market for stocking up on health foods and vegan, gluten-free, macrobiotic, dairy-free foods and ingredients. They also have a little bistro in the back with vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free foods. I go here when I want coconut milk, local raw honeys, organic soy products, tempeh, dairy-free substitutes, funny flours (like buckwheat)…you get it. It is EXPENSIVE but it is good if you need your west coast health food junkie fix.
Beyond Florence… We took a little jaunt to Cinque Terre and we ate at this wonderful restaurant in Vernazza, with the terrace table (what can I say, I’m a romantic date;);) overlooking the ocean just in time to watch the sun set over the cliffs. And they just happened to have gluten-free pasta. This restaurant is in my bag of travel agent tricks so I knew I could trust it for having mind-blowing gastonomic fare and not some rip-off tourist trap fare in Cinque Terre. I mean, don’t get me wrong- it was not cheap. But it was definitely worth the splurge. Enjoy the views!
In your gluten-free trust,