Curious Appetite

eating and drinking in Italy

La Ghiotta: a Florentine Tavola Calda

I love when someone wants to get lunch. On a weekend in Italy. Especially this time. There is this little hole in the wall in my neighborhood that I look into every time I pass, curious as to the simple Tuscan delights that lie within. Most good restaurants in Italy are brown and mustard decorated hole-in-the-walls. They have paper place mats, uncomfortable chairs with the straw seat that give you splinters especially if you wear a skirt and get stuck in your leggings and hand-written menus. And mostly everything is under 10 euros a plate. The exception being the bistecca fiorentina (Florentine steak) which is like 30 something euros a kilo and you usually split with others. But personally, I wouldn’t get a bistecca fiorentina at one of these. When in Rome, or rather Florence, stick with the mom-style comfort food in a joint like La Ghiotta.

When you walk in, you immediately are greeted with all the tavola calda type items like roasted pork, polpettone (big Tuscan meatballs that are typically meaty and breadcrumby), small fried fish medley, hot gooey lasagna, fried polenta (a decadent goodie I discovered in Florence) and maybe some random slices of pizza. You can either order some of this to-go or to bring immediately to a table, or you can order from the hand-written menu. There is nothing pretentious here with nothing to hide or show off. What you will find is simple Tuscan food at modest prices. Antipasti include salami boards and crostini toscani. Primi include spinach and ricotta ravioli in a fried sage and butter sauce. Mains include generous slabs of Milanese style veal cutlets and roasted fried potatoes. No fru fru fusion, just damn good (real) Italian food. What I had was the mare caldo (warm ocean) with a personal carafe of sparkling house wine:

Delicious. The calamari had a perfect balance of chewy and meaty. The clams were little buttons of flavor. and the Mussels were creamy and retained a good deal of garlic and herbs. The sauce was silky, herbaceous and woven nicely with garlic. I was even taken aback by the shrimp, which I usually do not care for in restaurants as they are rubbery and freezer burned. Again, the buttery texture soothed my senses and revitalized my appreciation for this little meaty sea creatures. This was served on a modest piece of toasted (very plain) Tuscan bread which soaked up all this wonderful broth and it basically melts like pure umami in your mouth.

After this, of course we enjoyed an espresso and a dessert: Tiramisu’

Tiramisu’ literally translates into “Lift me up.” Well, how could this not lift you up? It’s a booze cream and marscapone cheese cake with cookies soaked in espresso. Not to mention the obvious sugar high this invokes.

Tiramisu’ is not a traditional Tuscan dessert, but La Ghiotta was out of frittelle which are little fried rice donut-like sweets- I’ve seen these in Venice also so may not be exclusive to Tuscany. And sometimes I see them in the bakeries filled with custard.

The point is- when you are in Florence, eat off the beaten tourist path. Be okay with getting squished in the corner with straw-bedded chairs that drive splinters up your bum. It’s okay. You know why? Because you will probably have one of the best meals all month at a traditional hole-in-the-wall without burning a hole in your wallet. And leave with a slight buzz at 3 in the afternoon. These gastronomic moments in Italy are priceless.

Food and Wine Pairing- Chocolate + Marsala!

I just discovered something a little amazing: dark chocolate and dry Marsala:

 

I’m just about certified in Food & Wine pairing and one of the 1st things I ever learned was: Red Wine and Chocolate is not a good pair. GASP! I’m sorry ladies, it’s true. There is too much bitter clash and the sugar in the chocolate confuses the tannins in the wine. My instructor said it best: It’s like sex on the beach: in theory it sounds like a GREAT idea- but then you got the sand and the rocks…the reality is that it’s pretty uncomfortable.”  I mean, there are ways to pair red wine and chocolate if you really want to. Like with a bitter chocolate with low sugar content and a careful selection of red wine that has some bitterness and tannin to match. But the general rule of thumb is that chocolate pairs best with a fortified dessert wine like port or….MARSALA…

When I was just recently living in the states, the only marsala wine you found was for cooking. And unlike most wine, you don’t drink it as you cook with it. I don’t know, maybe its because how some wine is not imported well that I never believed in a marsala. So recently a friend came and made some veal marsala and left the bottle behind. I asked, what the hell am I going to do with all the leftover wine? I’m not making a tiramisu’ anytime soon. They said: drink it! 

I never would have thought of that, you know.

So I poured some in my snifter, swirled it about and went through the usual motions of analysis….butterscotch, toffee, caramel, vanilla and coconut…and then gulp! Heaven! The nose proved accurate on the palate. Pretty damn tasty.

Together with dark chocolate…the cacao echos…like a nutty hazelnut caramel toasted fairtrade chocolate s’more…

I don’t know if you can get this kinda stuff in the states- but try! The states is always improving the channels of fine imports.

Notes on the Marsala that was left so graciously behind:

Producer: Florio 1833, VECCHIOFLORIO Marsala Superiore Secco (DOC) ’08, aged for 30 months in oak (hence all the toasty toffee notes)

buon dessert! 🙂