Sunday, 17 August 2014

edible florence

ricotta and lemon tortelli at ristorante del fagioli
on our first evening in florence the sun set over ponte vecchio colouring the sky flamingo pink. the duomo was bathed in strawberry blonde and the river arno changed colour to ink blue. florence is much more compact than rome. but like rome it is marked by history and grandeur. piazzas with fountains, churches and old buildings punctuate its narrow cobbled streets. the ascent to piazzale michelangelo affords a panorama of the city and even here the duomo reigns supreme.

on our first evening we had aperitivo (a pre-dinner drink and snack to whet the appetite) at le volpi e l’uva near ponte vecchio. o and i took to this pre-dinner drink ritual through-out our trip, sometimes having wine and at others the quintessential aperol spritz. le volpi e l’uva was packed and takes reservations, which we did not have and therefore we stood with our glasses of wine. the air was heavy with the smell of toasted bread and cheese as the enoteca is well known for its crostini. we resisted the temptation of these to save our appetites for dinner at ristorante del fagioli.

wine bottles at le volpi e l'uva
the décor of ristorante del fagioli was similar to most old trattorie that we ate in throughout trip; wood panelled walls, pictures and wine bottles on the walls. the menu, handwritten and photocopied is in italian only. we found the waiting staff to be very helpful in helping translate it. the food here is rustic and homely so do not expect any flair in its presentation. there are hearty portions of red meat as del fagioli is famous for its boiled meats and the florentine special of bistecca. bistecca is a t-bone steak served very rare with salad or vegetables as sides. i watched the diners (a party of six men) at the table opposite us share platters of it. they carved the steaks to reveal a very raw and red interior. so mesmerized were they by the steak that they paid perfunctory attention to a plate of green beans glistening with olive oil and a pile of salad leaves. o and i shared a plate of the house special fagioli beans cooked until tender and served in a pool of grassy olive oil with a dusting of pepper. this was followed by pillows of tortelli filled with a soft ricotta and plenty of sweet lemon zest in a tomato sauce for o. i had the boiled beef coated in a thick tomato sauce with a deeply savoury flavour. we finished with a bowl of refreshing summer sorbets – a honeyed melon for o and a genteel and delicate pear one for me. 

o and i love walking through food markets and in florence, we visited mercato centrale whose iron and glass building is a thing of beauty. the ground floor houses fresh and dried produce. vegetable stalls groaned under the weight of summer bounty – tomatoes in colours of lipstick, orange and streaks of green, courgette flowers and salad leaves in hues of aubergine and maroon. the fruit vendors were enveloped in the blossom like smell of peaches, figs so weary with ripeness that they were marked with sugary juices and tiny little wild strawberries that look like boiled sweets. there were wheelbarrows of dried sicilian tomatoes and i could smell the heady, meaty porcini even before the baskets of them become visible. i always buy dried porcini for myself and mama and find that no manner of plastic wrapping helps contain their strong scent. the first floor of the market is an open plan eating area with counters for pasta, pizza, salad and so forth. the glass ceiling reinforced by iron beams in maroon allows the sunlight to diffuse and illuminate the eating space. we pause briefly for lunch at nerbone, a bustling food stall on the ground floor. it is famous for its trippa alla fiorentina (tripe and tomato stew) and panini con bollito (boiled beef bun with pan juices). it is so hot that all o and i can muster is a salad and so we have the classic caprese. 

caprese, an italian classic at nerbone 
that evening we ate at trattoria sostanza. established in 1869, it is a firm favourite with the locals and is popular with celebrities too. its walls are graced with postcards, newspaper clippings and memorabilia. there is the slow whirl of ceiling fans and the din of conversation. we shared a communal table with three couples and are surrounded by families. o had the pollo al burro (chicken with butter) which together with the tortino di carciofi (artichoke tart) are the trattoria’s signature classics. the pollo al burro arrives at the table in a little metal pan seated in a shallow pool of bronzed butter. it smells like toasted hazelnuts and is perhaps the only time i have ever eaten chicken breast that is so very tender. a diner across the table dipped her spoon into a rich chicken broth with plump little tortellini bobbing on the surface. this too appears to be a classic on the menu. i had a simple and homely pasta al sugo (penne with beef ragu) with a dusting of parmesan. there was also a plate of soft and creamy white beans tossed in a verdant olive oil with a touch of pepper. o dipped these into his brown butter for added effect before mopping them up with crusty warm bread. the diners opposite us took their cue from him, following suit and expressing their approval of his way of eating.

there was so much more that i wanted to eat in florence – like the gelato and chocolate from vestri, brioche with sliced egg and truffle paste at caffe giacosa and a walk through sant’ambrogio market that emiko has written about. but as usual time was scant. i went looking for bizzarri only to find its doors firmly shut with no intimation of opening timings, and no one attended to the phone when i tried calling.

florence, like rome will remain calling.

*note: the recommendations in edible florence are credited to emiko davies and elizabeth minchilli.

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