Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Il Mercato Centrale

When visiting Florence, you can't help notice the different markets throughout the city.  The Central Market in Florence is actually a fairly new (by Florentine standards) market.  It was started in the 1874, during the time of Resanamento, the time when Florence was reorganized in order to be better suited to be the capital of the newly united country of Italy. Many dilapidated houses were torn down and the city hired architect Giuseppe Mengoni, who had previously designed the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan.  The building itself is a mix of eras, the base being in the classical loggia style, but with the stone columns integrated with glass and iron.  Natural light filters in from the windows at the top, creating a fabulous open air feel.

photo credit - wikipedia image
This market is one that I consider to be a must-see if you are a foodie visiting Florence.  The various market stalls host a variety of goodies that are as beautiful to see as they are to eat.

Fruits and Vegetables

Fresh produce abounds at the market.  There are many vendors with different fruits and vegetables for sale, some you may recognize, others might be new to you.  Make it an adventure and try something different that you may have never heard of or seen before!


The market is home to several butchers, some specializing in things such as tripe, poultry, beef, etc.  There is even a kosher butcher on the premises.

One of the things I love about Italy is the variety of meats that they have to offer at their markets.  They have the standard beef, chicken, turkey and pork, but they also have things that are sometimes hard to find in the US (at least where I came from).  Quail, rabbit, and rooster are just a few of the things I've found (and tried) here that I had not seen at my local supermarket in the US.

This vendor specializes in poultry and offers such things as
chicken, turkey and rooster, as you can see here.

And of course, there are places that sell salumi!


There are several cheese vendors here as well, selling all sorts of lovely cheeses.  I have enjoyed trying new cheeses since being here in Florence.  Every week, we pick up something new to try.  I haven't been disappointed yet!


There are several pasticcerie at the market.  You should definitely stop by at least one of them to try a pastry, cookie, cake or fresh bread...or two.  Or three.

If anything, at least buy a slice of Schiacciata alla Fiorentina, which is a Florentine sponge cake dusted in powdered sugar that is popular around the time of Carnival (February), but you might be able to find it year round here.  

If you're not in the mood for something sweet, then try a schiacciata (focaccia) made with olive oil and a sprinkling of sea salt.  Or perhaps a nice loaf of fresh tuscan bread (just remember that tuscan bread is baked without salt.  It is good, but it may seem strange to those who are not used to it).

Fish and Seafood

One of my favorite departments in the and seafood.

Since I hail from the midwestern US, to be able to see and smell fresh seafood like this is a real treat!  So many varieties to choose from...whole fish, filets, seafood of all is simply fabulous!  Here you can find shrimp, calamari, octopus, etc.


Of course you are.  Walking through this market is bound to make you hungry!  Luckily, there are several places where you can grab a bite to eat!

My favorite would probably be Nerbone, who sells a delightful lampredotto panino among other equally as delicious items.  Nerbone has been at the market since the day it opened it's doors in 1874 and the quality is amazing.  There are a few tables to be found across from the stall, or you can eat at the end of the counter and watch as they prepare food for hungry shoppers.

Slicing up lampredotto

Delicious lampredotto panino!
In the fish department, one smart vendor has set up a fried fish and seafood window adjacent to his fish shop.  We had a mix of fried calamari and fish nuggets with a few "chips" (french fries, for my US friends).  It was quite good alongside a glass of white wine!

Other things that can be found at the market include wine, olive oil, fresh pasta, nuts, dried fruits, flowers and mushrooms (porcini, of course!).  There is even a vendor who sells Chinese vegetables, rices and other foods associated with that culture.

If it's food, it can probably be found here at the Central Market.  The market it open from 7am until 1:30pm every day and is free to walk around and browse...but who can't resist buying at least one thing?

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Pasta con Zucca

Apologies for the lack of blog posts over the past month.  The internet has not been very reliable, but I think (maybe) it's fixed (for now)!

Happy New Year!  Buon Anno!

With the new year and a cold winter in some parts of the globe (we've had a wet one here in Tuscany), why not try a new recipe to help warm the bones?

We've had a lot of these rainy days lately!
(View from Ponte Vecchio)

This recipe is an adaptation of "Ziti alla Zucca" by Mario Batali.  I ran across it when Simone brought home a couple large slices of zucca from the supermarket one day.  I had NO clue how to fix it into something delicious.  Zucca is the Italian word for pumpkin or squash.  The only way I had ever had pumpkin before was in pie or roll form.  Both delicious, but I had no clue how to make either thing from the real thing.  Whenever I made a pumpkin pie in the US, I used the canned stuff.

So I searched the interwebs for a zucca recipe.  Thank you Mario.  You saved me.

I made a few tweaks to it to fit my purposes.  This is my version.  My Tuscan heartily much so that he brought home more zucca a week later!

You're going to need some olive oil, an onion, garlic, pumpkin, salt, parsley, pasta, and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.

First things first.  Cut up the zucca/pumpkin into little julienne strips.

Then chop up  your onion and your garlic clove.

Throw all three into a big pan with some olive oil and cook it for one minute over high heat.

Add a cup of water, season it with some salt (you can use some pepper too, if you'd like, but I don't), lower the heat and cover it.  Let it cook for about 8 or 10 minutes until the zucca is soft.  Then add the parsley.  And by the way, when I say parsley, I mean the flat-leaved, Italian kind.  Always!

Meanwhile, cook your pasta until it's al dente.  What kind of pasta, you ask?  Well, that's up to you.  I used pipe rigate shaped pasta because that's what I had in the cupboard.  Anything that will capture the sauce like rotini or penne...those would work.

Save about a half cup or so of the pasta water and drain the rest.  Add the pasta water and pasta to the zucca sauce and cook it for about a minute or two (until the water is absorbed) over high heat.

Serve it up topped with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano!  This is some good stuff!  You won't look at a pumpkin in the same way!

Pasta con Zucca (serves 4)

2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 onion, chopped fine
1 clove garlic, chopped fine
1 pound (approximately 0,5 kg) zucca (pumpkin), cut into julienne strips
1 cup water
2 Tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
200 grams dried pasta
Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated

In a large pan, heat the oil over high heat and add onion, garlic and zucca and cook for 1 minute.  Add the water and salt to taste.  Lower the heat to medium and cover.  Let cook, stirring occasionally, until the pumpkin is soft, approximately 8-10 minutes.  Add chopped parsley and heep warm.

Cook the pasta until al dente.  Drain, reserving approximately 1/2 - 3/4 cup of pasta water.  Add pasta water and pasta to cooked sauce and toss over high heat for approximately 1-2 minutes over high heat, until the water is absorbed.

Serve topped with plenty of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.