Firenze – September 2018

It’s been along time between visits to Italy and especially Florence. I think as I have gotten older I appreciate the slower pace of this city more. I love the proximity of the city to where food is grown as well. We contemplated a week staying on a farm in Tuscany, but I think at heart I am a city girl and I need to be able to have access to a cafe in the mornings.

I also just feel … at home … in Italy. I can’t quite explain it, but I feel genuinely happy when I am here. There is warmth from the locals and I even feel less self conscious about my attempts at speaking Italian than say Spain or France.

Florence (and in general Italy) to me, is all about comfort food. Of course there can be refinement – but moreso it’s about a generosity with the bounty of fresh ingredients they have access to.

And having lived now in Singapore for 11 years, where mostly everything is imported, fresh is really a treat.

We stayed at an Airbnb literally just off the Ponte Vecchio across the river from the main part of town. Florence is small – and living on he less touristy side of the city means that you are eating with Florentine locals.

Just down the road from us was Il Santino, a tiny and always busy wine bar serving snacks. Before you even get to order your glass of prosecco you are given small bits of crostini with grilled pecorino cheese and thin slices of Parma ham sitting on top, melting lightly over the hot cheese. It’s a tight squeeze I side and often patrons spilled out on to the roadside but everyone was warm and friendly.

“Coronets” or croissants with a slice of prosciutto

Coffee and breakfast at Ditta Atigianale

It’s tough being a tea drinker in Italy. The coffee in any establishment (we had ones in cafes in piazzas, in the shopping area, even near train stations) is fantastic. Robust and rich, almost creamy – not the horrible dishwashing liquid of Starbucks or in any of the coffee chains in Singapore. Add small bites of food like this simple croissant with Parma ham, and that’s your caffeine-fueled breakfast!

Quickly dipping the crusty roll in to the beef broth before adding the bollito in our panini

Markets are still our favourite go-to’s in any city and the Mercato Centrale has had a bit of a face left since we last visited Florence. Upstairs is now bustling with food stalls, bars and cafes and piped with funky tunes for visitors to enjoy. Downstairs of course there is still old favourites like De Nerbone, which sells panini lampredotto (tripe) or bollito. Cheap cuts of meat that have been slowly cooked over hours gives the most flavoursome and tender meat you can imagine, with a bright salsa verde and a spicy piccante sauce, encased in a crunchy bread roll that has been first dipped briefly in to the beef broth. Always a queue, always worth the short wait.

We of course had to reward ourselves with a truffle sandwich at Procacci – a small wine bar in the middle of town – with a glass of prosecco to wash it down. Indulgent treat!

Kneading our pasta dough

Our tagliatelle

Our simple zucchini and ricotta and mint-filled ravioli tossed in a some sage butter emulsion.

This trip we signed up for a pasta cooking class. Pasta is the one thing that is common across the country. Truffles are from Alba, fresh cheese from Puglia, Parma ham from Parma, but pasta, in all it’s various shapes, is truly just Italian. Again, simply prepared – 100g of plain flour mixed with some semolina flour (for “roughness”, to make sauces stick to the pasta) to one egg. Simple. It takes a lot of effort to knead the dough to get it to that smooth stretchy texture and it was to finally feel the dough get to the right texture. I will admittedly probably make pasta at home in my Thermomix but at least I know what the texture needs to be.

Our stunning view from the Ponte Vecchio

D came down with a 24 hour bug and I took the time to wander around the streets with my headphones and ended up standing by the Duomo and felt myself get quite emotional.

Lunch overlooking the spectacular Antinori vineyard

Weather-wise we had perfect weather. Crystal clear azure skies with an almost Arctic wind which kept the temperatures down. Which was perfect for visiting the Antinori vineyard, where we had a tour of the vineyard that ended with a wine tasting (hic) and lunch overlooking the spectacular vineyard. The place is enormous – Antinori is Italy’s largest wine producer with over 140 labels. It really is a big business – expensive videos screened theatre-style – although still family run. A stark comparison to the small, also family run Zenato vineyard near Verona. Both were thoroughly enjoyable days drinking Italian wines in the Italian countryside.

62 degree egg

Tagliatelle

Coffee mascarpone

And what is Italy in autumn without the white truffle?? After getting lost before finding out the restaurant was tucked away inside a hotel we found Savini Tartufi where we basically had white truffles shaved over all three courses. First was a 62 degree cooked egg, second was over a simple tagliatelle and finally dessert was over an airy mascarpone cream which was divine.

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About Carolyn Chan

A girl slowly eating her way around Singapore and farther afield when she's lucky. View all posts by Carolyn Chan

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