Tag Archives: italy

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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Ristorante Pietro Valentini

Fried egg and asparagus with fresh black truffles

My last holiday post ! It has been so so so wonderful being able to extend the memory of the trip by reliving each of the amazing places where we were lucky enough to eat. And it’s been such a journey. I am hungry and full and happy and sad at the same time.

Our last stop in Italy was Rome – just for one night as that was where we were flying out from. It was intentional, we had half a day to visit our favourite monuments (the awesome Pantheon and the Trevi Fountain) and to eat at the restaurant that we chanced upon two years ago, Ristorant Pietro Valentini.

Our palate has grown increasingly hungry for truffles since we last visited, and I do recall then ordering only one dish with truffles, instead filling precious tummy space with fritto misto (lightly battered and deep fried seafood) and stuffed zucchini flowers.

Fresh tagliolini with white truffles

This time we ordered with laser focus (although we couldn’t resist some of their fresh homemade walnut bread). Fried eggs and asparagus to start – a slightly strange dish for dinner but who wants to stick to tradition when it comes liberally covered in shaved black truffles ? The asparagus spears were thick and green and cooked to perfection, the egg cooked through but with a runny yolk, and that’s all you get served with. What ? Oh, wait, here comes Simone, the daughter in-law of the owner and cook, with a tray of black truffles, selects one nonchalantly and grates it with a microplane over the dish. The warmth of the egg seems to enhance the smell of truffles even more.

Parmesan risotto with fresh white truffles

For mains we thought we’d stick to simple dishes – parmesan risotto and fresh tagliolini. Again, both served plain at the table, and then the lovely Simona arrives with a wooden box which she opens to reveal four beautiful white truffles. She then proceeds to thinly shave about two of these over our two dishes. And here we thought the black truffles smelled good. The aroma of the white truffles when they hit the warm rice and pasta filled the small restaurant to the point where all conversation in the place stopped, replaced with oohs and aahs of delight. Guess they were also there for the same thing and it was a taste/smell of things to come ūüôā

I don’t really need to say much more than that other than we risked walking across the city amongst strikes and protests and riots (including riot police!) to get to Pietros. And boy was it worth it.

Ristorante Pietro Valentini
Via dei Pianellari
Rome, Italy
Tel: 066868565


Nerbone at Mercato Centrale, Florence

I’m excited that this is my first post with a video ! I really think the video captures the entire experience, which is waiting for the slightly Soup Nazi guy behind the counter to slice super tender bollito¬†– boiled beef – or lampredotto¬†– tripe/the fourth stomach of the cow – before piling it on to crusty roll along with a fresh green salsa and fiery red sauce.

The place is mobbed with hungry locals and tourists. No-one tells the tourists that there is no queue system here. You order and pay at a separate counter, then it’s like being in a bar – shuffle your way (using elbows if you must) and try to make eye contact with the man who will give you what you want. You can see how soft the meat is as he slices and¬†chops it, and before he adds the meat to the crusty roll, he dips the roll into the beef’s own juices. It adds just the right amount of juiciness to the roll, which is probably why they have been around since the market opened in 1874.

My topped up panini being assembled

D and I ordered one roll of each. I love tripe, but even for me, an entire roll full of tripe was a bit much, so I went back and ordered a half portion more of the bollito and “topped up” my roll.

Both beef and lampredotto were meltingly tender and so full of flavour. We stuffed our faces while watching him make roll after roll for other hungry customers.

If you are in Florence and love simple food, you absolutely must go to the Mercato Centrale (which is awesome in itself for the produce you can get there) and visit Nerbone.

You can also get roast meat sandwiches, which also looked awesome, but you need to prioritise your precious stomach space because they are only open from 7am – 2pm.

Nerbone
Inside Mercato Centrale, entrance on Via dell’Ariento, stand no. 292 (ground floor)
Near San Lorenzo & the Mercato Centrale


Trattoria Mario

The photo does not do the size and deliciousness of the steak any justice

Trattoria Mario was once written up in an American newspaper as one of Florence’s great secrets, which of course led to thousands of visitors wanting to sample the house speciality – Bistecca alla Fiorentina. For a good reason.

Skip breakfast (you’ll need the tummy space) and head there for an early lunch if you don’t fancy waiting outside the tiny trattoria with your nose pressed up against the glass watching people feasting inside. It’s rustic Florentine fare, from the simple seating area with waiters and cooks doing what they do best amongst the loud chattering customers, to the delicious T-Bone steaks they serve there. There is one menu written on the chalkboard next to the kitchen, and beverages are written in ink on the window that separates the kitchen from the seating area.

The menu is limited. They don’t really need much else, people go there for the steak. And with good reason.

Bistecca alla Fiorentina is essentially a large (minimum 700g) T-bone steak of mature beef, aged at least 20 days grilled over hot coals for a quick five minutes each side and then 15 minutes standing on its edge. No seasoning is added until being served, where salt and pepper is liberally sprinkled over with a final drizzle of olive oil and a wedge of lemon on the side.

The steaks are cut to order from an enormous slab of beef. The outside is seared till it’s almost crispy, while the inside of the steak is perfectly rare. The flavour explosion that comes from the first and each subsequent mouthful is insanely good. It needed nothing other than a caraffe of Brunello di Montalcino.

I also love that on their home page it says “we only have indoor seating and we don’t serve pizza”. ¬†No compromise.

Trattoria Mario
Via Rosina 2r
Firenze, Italia
Tel: 055 218550

email: trattoriamario@libero.it

Open for Lunch only.
Seating from 12:00 to 3:30 Monday through Saturday.
Closed Sundays and holidays.

No reservations. We will take your name when you arrive and seat you when space becomes available. Seating is communal.
Cash only. We do not take credit cards or travelers checks.


Procacci – home of the truffle sandwich

Procacci’s famous truffle sandwich

Procacci has been serving panini tartufati in the heart of Florence since 1885. Translated directly as truffle sandwich, soft rolls are filled with delicious truffle salsa. They do serve other small snacks, but really, why would you bother ? A gorgeous place to have a short afternoon break with a glass (or several) of prosecco to accompany the sandwiches.

Coincidentally, Procacci opened their first operations outside of Europe in Singapore ! (Their second was opened in Vienna in 2006)

I’m thinking that may be the destination for dinner very very soon.

Procacci
Via Tornabuoni, 64/r
50123 Florence

Tel: +39 055 211656
Email: firenze@procacci1885.it

Open: 10:00 a.m. until 8:00 p.m., from Monday to Saturday; closed on Sundays

 


24 Apostles

Amarone risotto

Well, the second time we went to the 12 Apostles, actually. We had had such a fun and delicious experience there a few nights earlier, and there was so many dishes that went unordered, we felt we simply had to go again.

D and I were intent on trying dishes that we would not normally order. This time around, again on recommendation, an amarone risotto, a gorgeous dish of saffron shrimp au gratin and my first taste of monkfish.

The amarone risotto tasted exactly as you would expect a risotto that was made with a heady, heavy, sweet red wine instead of stock. With no other ingredients or accompaniments, the flavour was a little strong for my liking – not sure if it’s habit or preference, but the flavour of risotto for me is usually quite delicate. Still, I’m glad I tried a speciality of the region – presumably because they have a large supply of amarone (so jealous). And the risotto was cooked perfectly – with a good amount of bite and lots of gorgeous starch from the grains.

Saffron shrimp au gratin

The shrimp came on a bed of wilted spinach, smothered in cheese and then oven-baked so that the cheese melted over the shrimp. Oh. My. Goodness. Heaven on a plate. I never think of combining shrimp with cheese but that sweet and savoury mix worked beautifully together.

Pan-roasted monkfish with frutti di mare

Monkfish was my main course. ¬†It isn’t commonly found in Asia or Australia, and we’d seen it in the Venice Fish Markets – not really sure why it seems to be filleted so that it looks like it’s exploded like some alien, but assume because the only edible part of the fish is the tail (and it’s liver) – and looking at pictures of the whole fish, it’s a pretty ugly looking thing. Which is ironic because it tastes absolutely delicious. The texture of it is dense and sweet, similar to lobster-meat but not quite as heavy and is beautifully flaky. This came simply pan fried with a simple stock reduction and seafood with vegetables. I have to say, that in the whole of our trip, the Italians seem to really overseason and overcook their vegetables. Still, the fish was wonderful and I’m glad to have finally tasted this fish I hear so much about from watching travel/cooking programs.

Vanilla ice-cream with amaretti pastry and crushed hazelnuts

Of course we couldn’t skip dessert. Only this time we were more restrained and just ordered one – essentially a round ice-cream sandwich, with vanilla ice-cream in the centre, flaky amaretti pastry on top and bottom, and with the ice-cream dusted in crushed sugar and hazelnuts. The dish was warmed in a hot oven for literally 30 seconds before serving, melting the sugar and hazelnut mixture and providing you with incentive to eat it before all the ice-cream melted. I think it wasn’t on our table for much longer than it was in the oven.

I would recommend Verona to anyone who asks, and also this restaurant. Your dinner is sure to give you a true taste of Veronese food and wine, as well as its culture and history.

12 Apostoli
Corticela S. Marco 3,
37121, Verona, Italy
Tel: +39 045 596999
Email: dodiciapostoli@tiscali.it

Closed Sunday and Monday evenings


Dal Pescatore

The cosy entrance to Dal Pescatore

I had this very romantic, relaxed idea of us hiring a car while we were in Verona and taking day trips out, enjoying driving through the Italian countryside – you know the visual, wind through our hair, laughing when we got lost but easily making it to our destination.

How different the actual experience actually was.

As a start, I forgot my drivers license (smart). Then D had to adjust to driving on the right hand side of the road – kept hitting his left hand on the door each time he tried to change gear, both of us terrified with each left turn or encountered a roundabout. Then I couldn’t figure out how the “never lost” GPS system in the car worked. When I finally did, it calculated the fastest route to our destination, which was always always the tollways. Not exactly scenic.

Having said all that, it was fun to drive out in the classic Italian cinquecento, and our first destination was Dal Pescatore in Mantova. All the dramas in the car was worth the trip to a real treat of an experience.

This three Michelin star restaurant is nestled at the back of a small road, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. But once you enter the house, you are warmly greeted by Valentina Santini, the sister, daughter and granddaughter of the three cooks of the restaurant.

She and her father and owner Antonio are always present in the room – either walking you through the amazing menu, explaining each dish as they arrive, or just chatting to guests – some of whom are clearly local regulars.

Mantovan salami with polenta

Dal Pescatore has been serving simple, traditional Mantovan cuisine since 1926, when Antonio’s grandfather bought a fisherman‚Äôs hut by a lake and opened a small osteria with his wife. From those humble beginnings, the restaurant now attracts chefs from all over the world who want to train there, while the wine cellar is reputed to be one of the best in Italy.

Our amuse-bouche was a pumpkin soup Рsilky, warming and with an intense sweetness from the pumpkin of which Mantova is famous for.

Thinly shaved culatello 

It was our first (and certainly not the last) taste of culatello Р(the king of all prosciutto that is made from a smaller part of the traditional prosciutto cut of meat, and only in Basse Parmense in Italy). The taste is sweeter than prosciutto and almost creamy in texture and was served with traditional salami of Mantova, with small cubes of polenta and a teeny tiny quenelle of pork fat mixed with parsley.

Agnoli in broth with lambrusco

We also had agnoli served in broth. The agnoli were little parcels of a mixture of braised raw and cured meats that were served in a clear broth, to which a splash of lambrusco was added at the table. This is the first time I’ve ever had pasta in a broth. I think the warmth of the broth made the agnoli even more tender and the overall flavour was so delicate and light.

Tortellini di zucca 

For mains we ordered more pasta – the tortellini di zucca – the house speciality of pumpkin filled pasta with Amaretto, mustard and Parmigianna Reggianno. How they manage to balance all those strong flavours to end up with a parcel that is not too heavy in flavour or texture is beyond me.

Duck ravioli with asparagus, fennel and black truffles

My pasta was ravioli with duck, cream of asparagus, crunchy fennel and black truffles. Again, a masterpiece with all the flavours and textures working in harmony with each other.

I wish we could have had the time to sample some of the fish and meat dishes but we had reached our capacity and we were also worried about getting too sozzled to drive…

The whole experience was effortlessly perfect. So glad we battled all our driving and navigational demons to dine at this exquisite restaurant on a gorgeously sunny October afternoon.

Dal Pescatore 
Località Runate 15
46013 –¬†Canneto sull”Oglio
Mantova – Italia
Tel:  +39 0376 723001


12 Apostles

Prosciutto with black truffles and parmesan with confit red peppers

On this trip, we fell in love with Verona. Forget all the Romeo and Juliet stuff – it’s fictional after all, and all a bit tacky for me – Verona is charming and just very very pretty.

We managed to eat at so many places this trip and this restaurant is the only one where we went back twice it was that good.

Just around the corner from our our hotel (the wonderful Gabbia D’Oro), 12 Apostoli got its name from the 12 tradesmen who used to meet every day after work back in the 1700s when it was an inn. In was only in the early 1900s that it became a restaurant but still serves simple food, stunningly prepared.

I have to say that it was a bit more formal than I expected, but the staff there were so cheeky in a totally professional way that it lured us back a second time.¬†On recommendation, we started with shaved prosciutto with black truffles and parmesan on a bed of rocket, with red pepper confit. I don’t really need to say any more, do I ūüôā

shaved salami on grilled polenta

We also had a traditional Veronese dish, shaved salami on top of grilled polenta. The Italians don’t seem to season their polenta at all but the saltiness of the salami took care of that.

Mains we both stuck to pasta – D had the beef tortellini tossed in butter and sage and I had the papaline (which amusingly is translated to “skullcaps”) filled with marscapone and olives.

Dessert was a total revelation for me. I’m familiar with dessert carts, but not three. It was such a thrill being surrounded by so much sugar ! And we usually had eaten so much that we had no space for dessert but that night, we had three between the two of us. And there were two winners which I would never have dreamed I would even order let alone love.

Traditional Sicilian cassata

The first was a cassata. Now my knowledge of cassata is vanilla ice-cream with dried candied fruit that you can order in Italian takeaways back in Australia – not all that appetising. Apparently that is a type of cassata but the version that we were served that night was the traditional Sicilian version – sponge cake moistened with liquer, layered with ricotta cheese and covered with a shell of marzipan and topped with candied fruit and peel. It was absolutely gorgeous. Light, with no overpowering flavour of marzipan (which I don’t really like the taste of), just delicate and somehow worked beautifully.

Sliced orange with candied orange peel

The second dish was “an orange”. I mean, that makes it sound so .. dull, but essentially it was peeled sliced orange with candied orange peel. That was pretty much it. But the zing of flavour in that orange made all the tastebuds in your mouth sing. Honest.

We had to almost roll ourselves out of 12 Apostles that night but not before we made a reservation for dinner on our last night in Verona. Perfect way to start a visit to this lovely city.

12 Apostoli
Corticela S. Marco 3,
37121, Verona, Italy
Tel: +39 045 596999
Email: dodiciapostoli@tiscali.it

Closed Sunday and Monday evenings


Osteria Enoteca San Marco

Caprese salad

Wandering around through the streets of Venice near St Mark’s Square you are bombarded with high-end labels, Venetian glass baubles and masks. Choosing where to eat lunch can also be daunting, with so many choices – D and I ended up picking a place that looked the least like Italy. The modern interior appealed to us and by chance we seemed to pick a touristy restaurant that also happened to serve super good food.

Wild mushroom with fresh pappardelle

Osteria Enoteca San Marco offers a selection of delicious fresh pastas with the added bonus of a great selection of wines by the glass – from prosecco to a Brunello di Montalcino, which we took advantage of ūüôā

Buffalo ricotta and scarmoza ravioli with tomatoes

There was the beautifully presented caprese salad, bursting with tomatoey, mozarella-ey and the all important basil goodness, a ravioli with buffalo ricotta and scarmoza (a lightly smoked cheese) and tomatoes, and a simple wild mushroom pappardelle angling for attention on our table with the wines.

D and I swapped the dishes we ordered – he loved the smokey cheese ravioli and I loved the simpleness of the mushroom pappardelle.

And so ends our Venetian eating adventures…next…on to beautiful Verona !

Osteria Enotica San Marco
San Marco 1610 – 30124 Venice
Tel: +39 041 528 52 42


Corta Sconta

The beautiful courtyard at Corta Sconta

Venice is a bit of an¬†anomaly¬†with the rest of Italy – it’s one of the main cities, but few people wax lyrical about the cuisine or share all of their great food experiences there. The locals cater to the masses of tourists, so expect to find trattorias with lots of pasta and pizza options on the menu, and expect to pay a premium to eat anywhere within sniffing distance of St Mark’s Square or with a view of/near a canal.

However, there are some definite brilliant hidey holes and Corta Sconta is one of them.

Carpaccio of sea bream and tuna 

For a start, the entrance to the restaurant is a bland blink-and-you’ll-miss-it hole in the wall, but walk through the small indoor seating area and you’ll pop out the back to the most gorgeous courtyard. It feels like you have entered a secret garden, where some diners eat alone with their books and a glass of wine, amongst groups of locals catching up over never-ending spritzers – a refreshing mix of Aperol and prosecco.

There is a standard menu with a list of fresh pastas, made on the premises – sauces are whatever is available that day, which the owner and hostess, Rita, will happily share with you.

Steamed local clams with white wine and ginger

The daily menu consists of dishes made from strictly seasonal products – with the great option of letting them choose for you.

We started with a tuna carpaccio marinated in balsamic vinegar and sea bream marinated in orange. The fish was delightfully fresh and firm and I loved the sea bream but thought (secretly) to myself it was a shame to marinate gorgeous tuna in such a strong flavour as balsamic.

Next up we had clams steamed with white wine and ginger which were awesome. The sweetness of the clams were released into the broth that was quickly mopped up by crusty bread.

Sardines and prawns – two of the “six fish from laguna”

Third (and for us, final) dish was a dish consisting of “the six fish from Laguna” – the Venetian Lagoon. The six “fish”- recommended to be eaten from the more delicate to the more robust flavours – were cuttlefish roe, mantis shrimp, spider crab in cream on top of crusty squares of bread, prawns, octopus and sardines. Most were simply steamed and served with a generous drizzle of olive oil and a good squeeze of lemon.

We really did consider ordering some of the pasta dishes we saw served at other tables but by this stage both of us were full of seafood and prosecco but if you can squeeze it in, based on the quality and flavour of what we ate, I would definitely recommend it.

There’s such a strong feeling that the family are cooking for you, their friends, at Corta Sconta – it’s a place where you could easily spend the entire afternoon to escape the hustle and bustle outside.

Corta Sconta
Castello 3886
Calle del Pestrin (Arsenale)
Venice
Tel: tel 041 5227024
Email: corte.sconta@yahoo.it