Curious Appetite

seasonal eating

What’s in Season Fall 2015 (Florence, Italy)

It’s so fun to peruse outdoor markets and I personally love the change of seasons, smelling tasting and exploring the new goodies on the block.

I usually hit up the Sant’Ambrogio market for just about everything. Especially meat from the butchers inside the market and fresh, dirt cheap veggies. It’s also not very touristy thanks to uber-touristy, kitschy Mercato San Lorenzo that keeps Sant’Ambrogio pretty real. I do love San Lorenzo for cheap eats and the foodie oasis within- just not my cup of tea for produce shopping. Although the Sant’Ambrogio market is starting to be inundated with vendors and not farmers, you can still experience a slice of Italian life with a shop through this market. There are some farmers still around (and definitely none at San Lorenzo) and it’s a modest reminder of how Italians live and eat in normal circumstances. Continue Reading

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

Rare and protected foods in Italy- not alfredo.

Every stage of my Italian life dives deeper into the underbelly of what makes this culture tick, a new breakthrough is made every month or so, a new language barrier has been breached. And this applies also to my understanding of Italian food.

The basic level is understanding a real pizza (no tomato sauce base or thick deep pan crust here), a real plate of pasta (made fresh and with minimal ingredients like cherry tomatoes, garlic and olive oil- no Alfredo sauce ever) and that Italians actually drink beer with their pizza, not Chianti.

Then when you are here for a bit, and if you are a wanna-be food anthropologist, you’ll see that pizza and pasta really isn’t truly Italian. You’ll learn about food from the Renaissance  (wild boar cooked in a cacao spiced sauce), cakes and breads made from wild chestnut flour, foraged porcini and truffles, heirloom beans, salami made from cooked blood and pig hearts and cheese made from rare species of bovine and mountain sheep in obscure villages. This is what makes my heart flutter. This is what proves to me that Italy is a gift to the world. And the best place to live.

There are consortia, funded partly by the chamber of commerce, local governments and agricultural ministries, that PROTECT these ancient foods, and provide a means for these precious commodities made since centuries past; to survive and be cultivated for generations to come. This is what blows my mind about Italy. That here the government takes an active role to protect biodiversity in agriculture and food culture. And the aggressive stance against allowing GMO’s to be grown in the region and demanding labeling of incoming food products from abroad. How can a country like Italy be so deep in recession and so backwards in certain ways- yet is more advanced in food democracy than a supposedly free and democratic country like America where none of these protocols exist? Hey America, just label it already!

In the Fall, cities across the boot celebrate the harvest of countless foods and hand-made products like cheese, preserves, dessert breads, etc. They are put out on display at events and sagre (local fair) in piazzas and open-air markets, with live traditional folk music and dances, with wine (variety is according to the region, or the district even) that was just pressed and fermented weeks ago. And here is a little collection of what I have discovered so far:

Heirloom beans from Lucca (Tuscany)
Truffles
Aged Pecorino Toscano at a farmer’s market, so nutty and full of umami.
Biroldo (salami made from the scraps we would normally throw out like blood, heart, other organs and random face parts)- centuries old Tuscan delicacy
Panetone (big sweet bread made during the holiday season) but this one was made with Marrone del Mugello- an ancient breed of sweet chestnut that only grows in the Mugello district of Tuscany. Italians are now brewing beer with this nutty thing!

Il Cariton! This is a dessert typical to Piedmont- the slow food capital of the WORLD! This is made with some unique grape varieties that are like a cross between a cherry, strawberry and raspberry! Believe it or not, this dessert is being safeguarded as a sort of endangered cultural food. Italians do not let old traditions die.
You know its Fall and you’re in Tuscany when you see this dessert on display and at wine festivals. Its a bread (la schiacciata, which literally means smashed or squashed) with the new ripe and ready sangiovese grapes from the region! I consider the presence of la schiacciata col’uva an interlude to new wines about to be released.

Want a taste of a secret Italian dish? Try out this recipe for la schiacciata con l’uva (taken from Epicurious.com):

  • 1 package active dry yeast (2 1/2 teaspoons)
  • 3 tablespoons Chianti or other dry red wine
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 3/4 cup warm water (110–115°F)
  • 2 1/2 to 3 cups Italian “00” flour or half all-purpose flour and half cake flour (not self-rising)
  • 1/4 cup fine-quality extra-virgin olive oil (preferably Tuscan)
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 3 1/2 cups Concord or wine grapes (1 1/2 pounds)
  • 1/2 cup sugar

For instructions: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Focaccia-with-Grapes-Schiacciata-con-Luva-104514#ixzz2CVT6nUXN

BUON APPETITO!

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