Curious Appetite

Europe

Into the wild- a truffle hunt

Dog is a man’s best friend- even more so for truffle hunters in Italy.

My wanderlust in life is directly called from food. Like a child listening for the ocean in a seashell, I pay attention to how I can get closer and closer. To understand the fabric that makes global consumption tick. How and where food originates. And recently, I was able to follow the whispers of my inner wanderlust by going into the wild for a truffle hunt in San Miniato, Tuscany.

Truffles are as precious as gold, sold for hundreds on the ounce in some cases. They are wildly debated as a tuber or as a mushroom. To me, they seem like a little of both. They grow underground like a tuber, but grow spores wildly like a mushroom. Their taste is hunted for by umami seekers worldwide. In Italy, they are a serious business. I saw some dogs in the woods sniffing around with muzzles, not because they could bite, but because other hunters plant booby traps of poison. In just a small village in Tuscany, the size of 39 square miles, there are over 1000 registered truffle hunters. Of that 39 miles, perhaps just a quarter of that (maybe less, maybe more I couldn’t be bothered to check.) has woods where the prized truffle can flourish.

It is said that in order for an abundant truffle season, it must rain between the 1st 2 weeks of August. If there are few truffles, the competition grows fierce. If you attempt to hunt in an area where you usually don’t hunt and are unknown by locals, you may return to your car with slashed tires. So they say. Dog poisoning and vandalism all for the sake of umami.

We spent a great day in nature, with our hunter’s best friend (a pup!) following the wise olfactory guidance of this little pup, Titta.

At the end of the day, we found SEVERAL white truffles!

We paused for an aperitivo of wild (gathered) porcini crostini and prosecco (I love Italy for moments like these) and went on to wash them.

White truffles found from a recent truffle hunt

After they were washed and the prosecco was finished, we headed to a local trattoria to bask in the jewels little truffle pup had found. Truffles on prized Lardo della Colonnata.

Lardo di Colonnata- lard cured on marble slate with herbs

Truffles on eggs over easy

Lonely, fresh buttered and pepper Tagliatelle

fresh egg pasta

Made into pure sensory bliss with our fresh, grated white truffles on top

If there was a such thing as food heroin, I think this would be it.

And dessert. Of course. No truffles were harmed in this course, sadly.

caramel and pine nut semifreddo

If you are interested in experiencing what I had the joy and inspiration to experience, contact me for booking and pricing. This truffle hunt excursion is offered by the lovely leaders of an organization I collaborate with whose aim is to connect the public with small producers that are dedicated to traditional, sustainable Tuscan Italian gastronomy and agriculture.

Yours in food wanderlust,

Curious Appetite

Where to eat in San Niccolò (Florence, Italy)

Walk and drink in San Niccolo’

San Niccolò is a sort of micro-neighborhood on the way to the trek to Piazzale Michelangelo, a popular square where you can get a stellar view of the city. Unfortunately, pop tourism has influenced Piazzale Michelangelo to be a sort of Disneyland attraction with bad food carts, painful cover music belting buskers and plastic souvenir vendors.

In all honesty, I despise how some businesses in major Italian cities like Florence have decided to cater to mass tourism and eroding its authentic character as a result. Tourists aren’t the problem, it is a type of mentality which hides behind the guise of “business as usual” in order to supposedly make establishments more “welcoming” (i.e. tourist menus, crap souvenirs, mushy pasta and frozen pizza for €10, terribly translated menus, crap cover bands, outdated American pop top 40 radio, etc).

I do love loads of things about Florence. I love how easy it is to get around by bike. I really love San Frediano and Santo Spirito (as long as it doesn’t turn into a touristic/cheap crap/corner shop wasteland) and I love how beautiful the city is, I love how there are little wine shops and the Tuscan food culture. I love the Florentine accent and I love (some) Florentines. Really. The point of my blog is to help readers find what authentic soul there is left in Florence.

View from Piazzale Michelangelo

So despite Piazzale Michelangelo becoming a obnoxious tourist trap with a view (which you absolutely cannot miss in Florence),  I still have managed to salvage a couple places to eat and drink at the bottom- in a little area called San Niccolò.

Truffled Tagliere smorgasbord

La Beppa Fioraia-  Past the arches of San Niccolò, take a sharp turn into what seems like a dodgy alley and disappear into one of the few green nooks of Florence to La Beppa Fioraia. My favorites here are the tagliere (Tuscan smorgasbord of cheeses, dips, spreads, fried breads, cold cuts, veggies and cured olives) and wild boar pappardelle. The wine list is somewhat decent (good € range) from what I remember and the interior decor is alive with color.

I have heard that in recent years this resto has gone south from what it used to be (surprise , surprise…Florentine restaurants loosing quality after being discovered by the arbitrary rating world of tripadvisor?) However, I still don’t think you can beat the ambiance and abundant gourmet tagliere.

Address: Via dell’Erta Canina, 6r

Gecko Bar & Grill- This is a new burger, sandwich and cocktail spot which is very trendy, contemporary and I may go as far as saying “hipster”. I went recently with my pal Georgette of Girl in Florence who recommends it and I must say it was decent. The service was good, which says a lot. I enjoyed their BBQ pulled pork sandwich (pictured) but then again, if you are visiting Florence for the 1st time or visiting in general, why would you want something not Tuscan such as a pulled pork BBQ sandwich, similar to bar & grill food in the U.S.? In any case, Gecko would definitely be a great spot for craft beers and cocktails on a late night since the bars Zoe and Negroni next door are not exactly the greatest.

Address: Via Dei Renai 11/R

lardo crostoni. cured fat and cheese- that’s Tuscany!

Fuori Porta- One of my favorite wine bars, Fuoriporta is loved by wine enthusiasts all over the city. They have high quality wines by the glasses ranging from caliber to obscure, quarter liter carafes and gourmet wine friendly foods. Their patio is a trap- you can sit out there for hours slightly removed from the chaos of center Florence with a medieval gate as your backdrop which is lined with random greenery. I personally enjoy their gourmet crostini toasts with things like black truffle cream and soft, salty prosciutto to go with their excellent selection of mouth watering white wines.

Address: Via Monte Alle Croci, 10r

Cent’Ori- This is a gourmet trattoria I’ve decided. Burrata with shaved truffle, Savory, juicy sliced pork arista and baked to perfection potatoes, fresh ravioli in a heavenly sage sauce and they have a fixed menu for lunch which is actually a great value for 10 euros, including a glass of wine. The food is pretty delicious but I must warn, the service is pretty horrible unless you are there with a Florentine or you speak Italian enough to know that service in Florence in general is a alien concept. The owner is somewhat temperamental and the food presentation/order if they are busy is extremely inconsistent. The only reason why I am even mentioning them is because most places to eat in San Niccolo actually suck and if you have to eat well, don’t want to spend a fortune and can put up with lame/slow service- then Cent’Ori is worth a go. The wine list is non-existent and you have to go to the wall inside to pick your wines, half of them aren’t even marked for price and your lucky if they remember to bring your wine glasses. All that being said, I would still go back if in a bind and none of the other eateries on this list had a table available.

Address: Via di S. Niccolò, 48, 50124 Florence, Italy

In your quest for soul in Florence,

Curious Appetite

Are you curious about food tours in Florence? Take a progressive dinner crawl (with me!) for a curated, delicious evening while discovering the best food and drink spots with soul. Follow me on Instagram and Facebook for live travel tips and subscribe by e-mail to this blog for future updates. Happy travels!

Piadina- the Italian flatbread

Piadina Tartufato- by yours truly

La Piadina is a wonderful thing. What it is IS an Italian flatbread made of flour, lard (or olive oil), salt and water and stuffed with 2-3 ingredients- usually a meat, cheese and a veg. In Emilia Romagna, where la piadina romagnola originates, you will find piadinerie that make the flatbread fresh (even with little charred blots on) and stuff it with local cheeses, prosciutto and fancy sauces (truffle cream upon request!!!).

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Il Santo Bevitore- Florence

In August, It is a bit challenging to find good restaurants open as a lot of businesses close up and say “I’m blowing this popsicle stand- I’m off to the beach!” It is not impossible to find good places open, it just becomes more of a challenge.

Dear anyone planning a visit to Italy in August- THERE ARE FEW PLACES OPEN AND LOCALS AROUND IN AUGUST!! DON’T BE SURPRISED!! Call restaurants ahead of time!

Il Santo Bevitore is Italian for “The Holy Drinker” or as I’d like to think, the holy boozer…

I called Il Santo Bevitore in Santo Spirito (my favorite neighborhood and the last Florentine quarter that hasn’t yet been ruined by crap shops and plastic tourism) and they were thankfully open. With every morsel of delight, I highly recommend Il Santo Bevitore in Florence.

Some people say this restaurant is for tourists. Or rich schmoozy expats. I disagree. It is not the typical Italian mom and pop trattoria where service is non-existent and cuisine charismatically inconsistent. It is, however, for those who appreciate dining culture, graceful service, a handpicked wine list, cozy candle-lit aesthetic and beautifully thoughtful food. Yes, the price is not 5 euros for a pasta but for those extra 5 you get something truly incredible.

In restaurants, I almost never order a risotto. This is a pretty cliché dining intolerance among snooty gourmands. However, the menù tickled my intrigue…curiosity one may say. It was a black squid ink risotto with squid and cuttlefish. I love fish and anything seppia nera (black squid). I said yes…I will take a risk.

It was the best 10 euros spent on any 1st plate any fish and/or risotto groupie could wish for. The rice was perfectly chewy but not slimy. Dancing with umami…the fish had an unbelievable buttery texture and it seemed like the chefs made this risotto to order. Creamy, layered and luscious, you may now forget about any distrust you had for a resto risotto…

Black squid ink risotto

**This was not the plate I enjoyed..I was too busy in sensorial bliss to document that moment with a foodporn shot. I suppose you will just have to go and try it on your own.

The most unexpected surprise was the few slices of nutty soft cheese almost slightly Parmigiano in nature nestled on top just barely softened by the warmth of the fresh churned risotto.

The wine of the night was a super Tuscan white blend of chardonnay and malvasia. It was luxurious synergy on your palate. Gushing with euphoric acidity. This dinner- my curious readers- was indeed one of the most orgasmic gastronomic experiences I’ve been blessed with this year in Florence. Bravisssimi.

To finish, we had an amaro made from honey of the Brunello producing region of Tuscany (Montalcino). It was divine…reminiscent notes of a cardamom creamsicle. I am very much an adorer of amari (after-dinner bitter liquors) and get quite disappointed going to bars and restos only to see the usual sugary suspects of Amaro del Capo, Montenegro and if you’re lucky Amaro Lucano. So when I saw a honey Amaro from Montalcino, I nearly blushed…these guys at Il Santo Bevitore in Florence have it right: they are tasteful and artful with every detail of the menù.

***golf clap***

I bid you a sweet a due…my dear curious eaters,

Curious Appetite

Vacation on Elba Island, Tuscany

I love that in Italy, August is the national month of vacation. Towards the end of July, people go around saying “I’ll see you in September!” and this appreciation for leisure is partly why the Italian life is so hard to give up.

I went to Elba for a week. I’m not going to bore you with cultural facts and history (boring!).

My idea of a vacation is eating, working out (on getting a wicked sweet tan aka lying on the beach), drinking and lounging. And not feeling guilty for having brioche everyday at breakfast overlooking the sea. Fresh fruit and sweet island baby tomatoes. Crisp minerally wine. FISH. Oh man, I learned how to make octopus! I’ll make that adventure in a new post.

Elba island is off the Tuscan coast and can be reached easily by ferry from Piombino. It is one of the most authentic vacation spots with thriving fishing villages. Their wine and agriculture sector is exploding and bursting with deliciousness. The weather is perfect for ripe wine grapes and catches the perfect amount of breeze from the sea. The summer fruit like peaches and susine are simply incredible and juicy. However, this is not historic. In the sense that, Elba was originally a mining center and agriculture is just now starting to take root. If you are an Italophile like me, I highly recommend a stay in Portoferraiofor a real taste of Italian island life off the typical tourist path. If you do, do not miss a visit to one of the most beautiful wine bars I have ever been to in my life: Enoteca della Fortezza. They showcase Slow Food Italy wines from Elba and it is so not expensive! And you can get small platters and purchase bottles of wine on-site. Of course, you can sit outside with a view of the sea…che bellezza!

Enjoy the slide show!

Island cherry sweet tomatoes! Like candy!
Fishing man at the beach!
Gnocchi with clams and porcini
Fish antipasto platter- this Island got me hooked on octopus (literally!)
Pistachio semifreddo! It’s like a creamy pistachio ice-cream cake!
olive tree?…probably not. Still pretty, though!
Elba Rosso, Elba White and Rosato- at Slow Food Italy Enoteca Fortezza dei Medici. Best Cantina of the Year! (in my book;)
Bubbly and oysters- made me think of home:) These slippery umami pearls of gold were pretty damn good!
Rocky beaches! Off the beaten path!
Beautiful views from the shore! Not for the faint of vertigo!
Seriously one of the coolest vespas I have ever seen…

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