Tuesday, December 11, 2012

"Weihnachtsmarkt" - Mercato Tedesco di Natale - Piazza Santa Croce

The "Weihnachtsmarkt", also known as the "Mercato Tedesco di Natale" or "Mercato di Heidelberg", has been setting up in Piazza Santa Croce for 11 years now.  55 wooden vendor stalls set up shop to open on 28 November this year and will be in business until 16 December.

This German Market is probably the most popular Christmas Market in Florence.  Crowds gather each day from 10:00 in the morning until 8:00 at night, milling about the vendors, browsing and purchasing gifts and ornaments from around Europe.

And then there's the food!  Walking toward Piazza Santa Croce, you can start to smell the amazingly wonderful aromas that waft through the streets.  German food abounds.  Some of the offerings include:  pork roasting "whole hog" on a spit, wurstel, pretzels (some as big as your head), sauerkraut, and of course, apple strudel!  To help wash all this delicious food down, they sell beer and warm cups of mulled wine.

Roast pork

Bomboloni - filled donuts.  Perfect for a morning at the market...or anytime!

Apple Strudel.  This version from Northern Italy.

This version of Apple Strudel is from Austria.

At the Austrian Strudel booth, you can find different kinds of strudel...traditional apple, mixed berries, etc.

Stirring the big pot of sauerkraut

Friends and families spend time here eating, drinking, shopping and visiting with each other.  It is a very festive atmosphere, one that the locals really enjoy each year.

Christmas shopping at the market is a very international experience.  The Chamber of Commerce works with the trade associations of participating countries to organize this annual event.  Last year, there were 11 countries that participated and crowds totaled 150,000 over the course of the 20 days that it was open.

Vendors sell a variety of goods, from German foods, Christmas ornaments, clothing, toys, to English tea sets and spices from around the world.

This vendor is selling lavender products from Provence, France.
Dried herbs, teas, and spices are for sale at this booth.
In addition to the food, drink and shopping, the piazza that the market is located in - Piazza Santa Croce - is one of the most beautiful in Florence.  The neo-Gothic facade of the Basilica stands facing the market.  Santa Croce is always a treat to visit, so if you are in the area, perhaps you can visit the church and then head over to the market.  (For more information on Santa Croce, you can read my blog post about it here).

If you happen to find yourself in Florence around the holidays, make a point to visit the Weihnachtsmarkt and some of the other Christmas markets around town.  These events really help to put everyone in the holiday spirit!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Schiacciata all'Olio

Schiacciata is a type of focaccia bread that is made in the Florence area of Tuscany.  There are a variety of schiacciata recipes, but my favorite is schiacciata all'Olio.  It's quite simple to make, like most Tuscan recipes.  I baked a schiacciata this morning to go with the zuppa Toscana that I made  and it was a big hit with my favorite Tuscan when he came home for lunch.  

The bread is usually around an inch or so thick, crispy on the outside and with a slight chew on the inside with plenty of air bubbles.

To make schiacciata, first dissolve 25 grams (1 teaspoon) of dry yeast in a small bowl containing 250 ml (1 cup) of warm water.

Let that sit for 5 minutes or so.  Then in a large bowl, mix together 45 grams (3 cups) of flour), 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt, 70 ml (1/4 cup) of extra-virgin olive oil, and the bowl of dissolved yeast.

When the dough comes together, turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until the dough is smooth.  It should take you around 10 minutes to achieve this.

Place the dough into a large, clean bowl that you oiled with some olive oil.  Turn the dough so that it is covered with oil. 

Cover the dough and set in a warm place to raise for approximately 1 to 1 1/2 hours.  

Oil a wide baking pan with some olive oil.  I used the roasting pan from the oven, covered it with foil and then oiled it.  

Spread out the dough with your fingers so that it fits the pan.  

With your fingertips, make indentations on the surface of the dough and then drizzle the whole thing with more olive oil and sprinkle with some salt.  (I prefer to use sea salt, but any salt will work)

Let the schiacciata rest for 30 minutes while the oven is getting hot.  You'll want to heat the oven to 220°C/425°F.

Bake for approximately 20 minutes, or until it is a nice golden brown.  Pull out of the oven and drizzle with some fresh olive oil.

It's fantastic fresh out of the oven, or later when it's completely cooled.  I personally can't wait that long and normally, I will grab a piece within minutes of pulling it from the oven!  

Buon appetito!

Schiacciata all'Olio

250 ml (1 cup) warm water
25 grams (1 teaspoon) dry yeast
45 grams (3 cups) flour
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
70 ml (1/4 cup) extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra
salt for sprinkling (coarse sea salt is best)

In a small bowl, dissolve the yeast in warm water and let sit for about 5 minutes or until activated.  In a large bowl, mix the flour, salt, olive oil, and dissolved yeast.  When dough begins to come together, turn out onto a clean surface dusted with a little flour.  Knead until the dough is smooth, approximately 10 minutes.  Place dough in a clean bowl that you oiled with a little olive oil.  Turn the dough so that both sides are lightly coated with oil.  Let rise in a warm place for 1 to 1 1/2 hours.  
Oil a wide baking pan and spread out the dough using your fingers so that the dough fits the pan.  Make indentations with your fingertips on the surface of the dough, then drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt.  Let rest 30 minutes.
In a hot oven (220°C/425°F), bake the schiacciata for approximately 20 minutes or until it is a lovely light golden brown color.  
Drizzle with olive oil as soon as you pull it from the oven.