Curious Appetite

Local/Organic

What’s in season in Florence (Tuscany, Italy Spring 2014)

I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: I love the seasonal produce culture in Italy. I am lucky enough to be near a food market which reinforces my love for love. Because food is love. Unless we are talking about industrial farming, there is intention and warmth every step of the way from the hands that sow the seeds which yield the colorful bounty, all armed with a variety of nutrients, picked with sweat and tears, that then go on to be carefully crafted by the hardworking chefs and cooks onto our plates and go to nourish our bodies (and senses) to allow us to continue our love affair with this life on earth. I know, a bit dramatic. But to me, the world revolves around food. And while industrial food would like to separate us from that very organic and wholesome experience, there are still some little pockets where food still makes its world go round. I imagine industrial food like this virus, coming after all of us, consuming us community by community. It has arrived in Italy, but ironically in Italy its claws are taking the longest to clench into. I think that ancient food cultures are dying making room for the modern diet. While new cultures are fighting tooth and nail to create their own gastronomic identity.

Well, in the little pocket where I do my shopping for a few moments I feel as if I live in a wrinkle of time. Where food culture is still strong and seasonal produce is still abundant, cheap, bright and delight all 5 senses. I get to live in the small nook of true and whole food culture and I am reminded of all the things I must try to bring home with me should I ever return for good.

I lead food tours in Florence and one of my guests asked me what my favorite things about living in Italy was. And I told them it was the market I had just toured them through. Sometimes my life is a Seinfeld episode living in Florence, chewed up and spit out on a daily basis (example recently I was walking through the streets giggling with a girlfriend and a boy my age snarls and barks “tourist, go home!” at me. Neat.) But all of that washes away at the market. The aspirated Tuscan hoots and hollers, flowers and vintage dresses get me every time.

I wanted to share with my readers of few of the gems I recently noticed in season at my local market in Florence.

Graffiti Eggplant

I love how there are a few different varieties of eggplant (aubergine for the silly brits) in abundance at this time! Perfect to grill and drill with Tuscan olive oil:)

Heirloom tomatoes!

Heirloom, or in Italian Otello tomatoes, are expensive but totally worth it. They have a thick skin (like me!) and a umami rich flesh. Perfect for making a caprese salad. I recently made a tomato basil caprese using stracciatella cheese which is like burrata cheese “let loose” which is basically one of the most amazing things in this world.

These things are crunchy, bell peppery peppers that almost have no flavor other than that fresh spray of bell pepper but they are really good as a crostini topper with diced tomatoes (like Otello!), olive oil and drizzled with a thick balsamic.

Agretti! Not wheatgrass

I have never seen this stuff before in my life but apparently it’s called saltwort, or Russian thistle and it’s a type of succulent shrub. Mmmmm, da-licious– right? I’ve seen it prepared as like a side of spinach or used as a base to mix in with fresh pasta. Agretti Spaghetti, please!

Spring asparagus is coming to an end shortly, but when it was in full spring I took the opportunity to make a risotto with it. I really love using french sorrel which I used to find in shops back home but I guess in Italy getting french herbs may be a touchy topic. Oh and can’t forget cucumbers which have been rocking my salads and sandwiches.

Chanterelle mushrooms!!

Okay, so there is a fungi guy (teehee) at the market and funny enough, he told me these came from the Veneto (which is where Venice is). Yes, not all the produce at the market is from Tuscany but I actually like that other regional goodies are brought in from time to time- ESPECIALLY the guy from Naples who brings Neapolitan bread, cheeses, sun-dried San Marzano tomatoes, olives so huge and juicy you’ll cry and other Neapolitan specialties.

cherry berries!

This reminds me of summer back home since summer in Seattle is actually mostly like spring and they tend to stay late into early summer months. This year I’d like to make a cherry crostata or cherry jam with these studs! Stay tuned:)

According to my main fruit and veg man, these are the 1st Italian apricots of the season and come from Basilicata. I wonder if those of you reading know what that means and it is basically one of the Southern regions in Italy known mostly for the UNESCO wonder of Matera and the region itself I hear musing over its beauty but aside from Matera, most that remains is a agricultural sector. And Aglianico wine. People from Basilicata are called “Lucano” and I always thought that was cool.

That’s all folks! Enjoy:)

In earthly delight,

Curious Appetite

The art of Tuscan soup making

One of the things I absolutely LOVE about Tuscany is seasonality in the local cuisine. It’s not trendy like it is in the states, it’s just the way it’s done because: IT MAKES BLOODY SENSE. I love how the markets change the availability of foods with the season and I love that restaurants change their menù, too. I can’t stress enough how much that I love that eating seasonally isn’t mega trendy like it is back in the states because otherwise it would come at a hefty inflated marketed price. In Tuscany, we can get a bunch of local, organic kale for THIRTY CENTS while in Seattle the same costs $3 a bunch. Continue Reading

Brac Florence- Libreria Caffè

Jesus Christ, Florence. You’re beautiful. You’re a gem. But you’re stuck in a moment. And that moment is the Renaissance. 

Brac is the embodiment of the anti-renaissance, pro-hipster movement of Florence. It bleeds with contemporary “we’re so alternative but artsy organic homey Anthropology-store front displays”, it hurts. Even the menù is a collection of food porn- taken with a Polaroid camera all pinned up on the bar wall. Jesus, if this was the antimony of Renaissance…well it would be.

You might be asking…so what the hell is it…BRAC?

It’s a restaurant caffé that has a bunch of books in it so it’s called a “literary caffè.” Barf. Europe, how pretentious you may can be. So I have books in my bike sometimes…so does that make me a literary biker??? Those books I generally don’t read but accumulate in order to look educated and like I give a damn about anything else but hooch and hot butchers.

I digress… Basically, it’s a little bistro style resto in some random alley that serves up some gourmet, fancy frilly vegan and vegetarian food. Despite all its sickening cuteness and “cool,” you can’t beat Brac for wicked solid vegetarian meal. Or vegan at that.

Vegan Tartare- the world is a big fat paradox!

I’d been here for dinner on a pair of occasions. I highly recommend the piatto unico and it’s basically a mix of all their fancy savory mains like Sardinian flatbread pie, lasagna and fagottino style cheesy pasty.

This time recently however, I was here for brunch (pronounced “braaaaanch” by moi). I came on a Yelp-event occasion and most people were pining for pancakes…and I knew better than to order pancakes from some fru-fru bourgeois literary caffèpancakes are for hungover American wolves of the indulgent excessive palate. It’s quick risen lazy man crepes with some blood sugar roller coaster-inducing syrup doused on top…to me pancakes are like diabetic sponges that only lead to stomach aches and cavities.

My theory is “when in Rome”…and when in some snooty vegan bistrot, you are best to order the snobbiest thing on the menu and for me- my dear readers- was the wild fennel and citrus vegan tartare (oxymoron, right?) atop a crema di spinaci which was fancy foodie talk for blended spinach. 

For €8, it was a fab-bo deal. Beautiful presentation, lovely flavors, crunch consistency and a mark in my “I’m an adventurous eater” book of brags.

So word to those who need an escape from the grandma house decor of Renaissance Florence for an equally revolting overdose of all things modern, hipster and contemporary Brac is your man. Or woman. Or whatever.

With a smile,

Curious Appetite

p.s. Here is your BRAC info:

via dei vagellai 18r 50122 firenze http://www.libreriabrac.net info@libreriabrac.net +39 055 0944877

Tastes of London- I’ve come around…

Last time I was in London, I ragged pretty hard on the food culture in this post. How can you blame me- I live in Italy ferchrissake. However, I returned in May to be greeted with a brand new view. I realized, the food culture in London is better in certain ways than in Italy. GASP!!!! HOW DARE I??? The English??? Better food culture??

Wait, wait just hear me out! I have a few reasons. Some of the most celebrated chefs have come out of the UK. Nigella, Jamie Oliver, Gordon Ramsay, just to name a few big wigs in the food world. 2nd reason: The youth is leading and taking charge of the artisan, slow food movement in the UK. In Italy, everyone talks about the cute mom and pop bakeries that start rolling out dough at midnight in order to have fresh breakfast pastries and bread by dawn. But key word: mom and pop. Pay attention the next time you are in Italy in these wine shops, veggie stands, bakeries, banco mobili (food carts) selling lampredotto or porchetta. They are sadly mostly in a similar (older) age bracket. Due to the idea that there is little opportunity left for the Italian youth, a large percentage (of the youth) are fleeing this country at an alarming rate and not following behind their parents slow food from scratch ways. Instead, the food supply is increasingly becoming monopolized by questionable entities, and in come regions affected by polluted water ways from illegal dumping and improper municipal waste management (by more questionable entities) which eventually seep into the food system. Afterall, water is the principle ingredient in the feed for crops and livestock. You have polluted water, you have polluted soil. If given a choice, I would much rather purchase mozzarella di bufala produced in Devon (UK) than from Campania (Southern Italy).

This time in London, I was refreshed by the amount of youth working at these artisan food markets. Even delighted that I found various young Italians as slow food purveyors, too. Struck by this reality, I returned to Florence only to notice I was one of the few young people on the morning commuter bus. But also discovered how fortunate I am to have a job in Italy and even more determined to not give up on Italy and the necessity to the positives or else if I do, with everyone else, many things that the world loves about Italy will be flushed downstream, just like toxins polluting the precious mozzarella.

That being said, here is a slideshow of what I found during my last trip. Enjoy:)

Cheese. amazing cheese. cheese that will make you drunk.
Borough Market vs Mercato Centrale. Of course Italy wins.
Swedish brain looking (blue) cheese! Amazing!
even deer salami! So yummy!
Makes me miss the PNW fish scene at Pike Place!
Hake! You gotta creature lurking in your mouth:/
love the baked goodies!
My first pastry pie- beer and beef w minty mushy peas by Pieminster
Buns that will go straight to your buns! 😛
CORAL MUSHROOMS!!! 🙂
Craft ale and smokey stout. I love England.
Pulled pork sandwich at the Real Food Festival by Jamie Oliver
My 1st sunday roast in the UK! Lamb, cabbage, yorkshire pudding (puff pastry on top) w duck fat roasted potatoes. And of course, craft beer.
At home (well, someones) making bacon wrapped dates stuffed with manchego. I enjoyed being able to find international cheeses and turkish dates in UK. Italy can be very Italian food centric.

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