Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Food Glorious Food

Napoli style pizza in Florence
Italian food is popular in America.  However, the "Italian Food" that we have in the US is a far cry from what it is in Italy.  Rather, we enjoy "Italian-American" food - most of which is based on southern Italian cuisine.  I think a lot of folks would be shocked that there isn't "spaghetti and meatballs" served up at restaurants in Italy.  No bread served with pasta.  Pasta isn't swimming in gloppy sauces.  Pizza doesn't have a ton of toppings.  Some folks might be upset about this, that their life-long idea of Italian food was false, but me?  Nope.  I absolutely LOVE real Italian food.  LOVE IT.

Just last week, I was enjoying the foods of Italy - more specifically, the foods of Florence and the surrounding Tuscan region.  And, I must say - I really really miss it!  I can try (and have tried) to attempt to re-create some of the dishes I ate while in Florence, but unfortunately, I can't recreate all of them due to the fact that we do not have some of the foods here in the US that they have over in Italy (much to my dismay).

My favorite yogurt brand in the world - YOMO.  Unfortunately, not available in the US.

But I digress.

Let me take you on a little journey of food...

Food from the region of Florence and Tuscany is fairly simple.  Their primary herbs of choice are rosemary, sage and parsley.  Lots of vegetables and bread.  Tuscan bread (pane toscano) is made with no salt, which renders it rather bland tasting.  A lot of folks won't like it, but to me, there is nothing better to go with a meal.  It has a nice crunchy crust and a chewy interior.  It makes for delightful crostini and bruschetta when toasted, as it doesn't compete with the flavors.

Leftover salsa di pomodoro on top of toasted pane toscano 
Seafood and fish is plentiful in Italy, due to the fact that it is mostly surrounded by water.  The variety of seafood available would make your head spin.  Frito misto is a very popular dish and it's quite easy to make.  All it consists of is a variety of seafood and fish, battered and fried in olive oil.

Frito misto with lemon, made at home in Florence.
If you find yourself near the coast, try going to a local trattoria and sampling their fresh catch of the day.  When I was there in April, we hit up a small place a couple kilometers from the sea.  They didn't have a menu, but would cook up whatever they got in fresh that day.

Lunch at a small outdoor trattoria near the sea (April 2011)
Walking down the streets of Florence around lunchtime, you might catch a whiff of the famous Lampredotto. These sandwiches have been around since the 15th century and are unique to the city of Florence.  You can find them sold by street vendors or in little shops throughout the city.  The smell is amazing and the taste is out of this world.  Lampredotto is made from the fourth and final stomach of a young cow.  I know what you're thinking - YUCK!  But, really, you must believe me - this sandwich is extremely tasty!  After having it for the first time just last week, I fell in love with the flavor and now just thinking about it makes my mouth water.  The lampredotto is cooked in a vegetable broth and when finished, is pulled out and sliced very thin before being stacked on a tuscan style bread roll that, when ordered bagnato, is dipped in the cooking broth before the meat is added to the sandwich.  A little sale e pepe (salt and pepper) and it's a cheap, nutritious lunch.

My first lampredotto.  The only photo I have of it, unfortunately.  I was too busy eating it to take a better picture! 

Another delicious dish from Florence is the bistecca alla fiorentina.  This delightful steak is HUGE.  It comes from the tuscan Chianina breed of cow.  The steak is seasoned with salt and pepper and cooked rare to medium-rare.  It is divine.  If you love steak, you will be in seventh heaven with a bistecca.  You can find this dish in many restaurants around Florence, but they are rather pricey and huge.  I would suggest, unless you have the appetite of a ravenous lion, that you get one to share.

Our bistecca fiorentina, before it was cooked.  YUM!

I've already discussed gelato in a previous post, but there are more dolci to be had in Italy!  Stop by a pasticceria and sample some of Italy's delicious pastries.  If you find yourself in Prato, which is just northwest of Florence, stop by Antonio Mattei on via Ricasoli and pick up some of their famous cantucci biscotti or a torta mantovana.

Antonio Mattei - Via Ricasoli, 20 - Prato (photo credit: Simone Cinotti, 2011
Torta Mantovana from Antonio Mattei, Prato

I could honestly write a blog just on the food of Florence and Tuscany.  I've just touched on a small handful of tasty treasures.  There are so many delightful things to eat in that corner of the world, that it would make your head spin.  If you find yourself in Tuscany, or anywhere in Italy...or the world, for that out local foods.  Most of the time, you will not be disappointed!

Buon appetito!

(If anyone would like for me to post some recipes of traditional Tuscan/Florentine dishes, please let me know.  I've got several recipes that have gotten the stamp of approval from my Tuscan and I'd be happy to share them!)

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