I am constantly in search of the next best morsel of food- and I will do anything to get my hands on it. This "passion" (some call it a problem), is magnified ten-fold from the moment I step off of the plane and onto the streets of Italy. Once there, I will go nearly anywhere to find the best gelato, panino, or trippa (yes, I'm a strange creature). However, Firenze has posed a particular challenge to my food endeavors. In a city infested with tourists and thus restaurants offering dishes like pasta with meatballs, tiramisu, or pizza that are mediocre at best and made simply to satisfy the tourists' idea of "Italian food," you could say that it's no simple task to find good food in Firenze. In fact, I was very apprehensive about coming to Firenze in the first place for this very reason. However, having spent almost five weeks in this city, I have discovered that there is no lack of delicious and authentic Tuscan food. The catch? One must simply try harder to find said food. But when it comes to Italian food, me and my stomach are always up for the challenge.
So this post is dedicated to (just a few of) the dishes and places, mostly off of the beaten path, that have made me giddy and renewed my faith in Firenze.
Osteria de' Benci
Finocchiona e fichi (Tuscan salame and figs). While I will never tire of prosciutto & melon, this new (to me) combination is another perfect way to satisfy my craving for sweet & salty. Move over chocolate-covered pretzels.
Riso alle fragole (strawberry risotto). Although I was nervous to try this for fear of a flop, I am happy to report that this was as delicious as it is unique. Being a girl and all, I also loved the fact that the risotto was pink. I am still dreaming about this dish and I hope to be able to replicate it when I return to the States. But let's not talk about that. ONWARDS!
Granita alla mandorla (almond slush/sorbet). I have discovered that no matter how old I get, I am still a sucker for sweet, slushy things. The first day in May each spring when I have my first slush of the season is rather momentous. However, unlike my beloved Blue Vanilla Richie's Slush, this little lovely that you see here is made from all-natural ingredients and is perfetto for those rare times when I want something other than gelato (GASP!) but something slightly more satisfying than a typical water-based granita. With actual pieces of almond as well as a subtle yet not overwhelming almond flavor, this granita is quickly moving up on my list of favorite foods.
La cioccolata calda (Italian version of "hot chocolate") Yes I know- hot chocolate in June?? Well once you have a taste of this beautiful creation, you will understand. However, this is ain't yo mamma's Swiss Mix Hot Cocoa complete with mini "marshmallows." I would compare this to straight up chocolate ganache but slightly thicker. So yes, drinkable dark chocolate pudding that will satisfy any chocoholic's craving.
Pollo al burro (Chicken with butter). "So Julia, you're telling me that you went all the way to Firenze to eat CHICKEN??!!?" Let me explain. This is unlike any other chicken I have eaten over the course of my 20 years on this planet. The dish features two beautifully plump and juicy breasts (THAT'S WHAT SHE SAID!) that are browned in butter and then finished in the oven. The whole thing is presented in a lovely cast-iron skillet that is "molto caldo (very hot)" and sizzling like a sparkler on the 4th of July. This chicken was one of those dishes that made me close my eyes while I chewed in order to savor each bite. Truly amazing.
Bistecca alla Fiorentina (REALLY GOOD STEAK). As an ex- non-red-meat-eater, the world of steak is still very new and exciting to me. I recently had my first Porterhouse and it was bomb. However, this is the steak to end all steaks. Bistecca is special is because it is made from Chianina cattle- an ancient species (about 2000 years old) which is raised only in central Italy (Toscana and Umbria). While it doesn't look amazing (blame it on the poor lighting?), it was the most perfectly cooked and seasoned piece of red meat to ever pass my lips. The thing I love about Bistecca alla Fiorentina is that restaurants that offer it do not allow the customer to order his or her preferred level of doneness. If you're a well-done kinda guy/girl, you can take yo business elsewhere! (TOO HARSH??) But seriously, these Florentine chefs have been cooking this type of steak for years and I am sure that they know better than us as to how it should be prepared. And according to the beautiful medium-rare piece of steak that was plopped down in front of me, I have no problem placing my fate of my meat in Italian hands.
Covaccino con burrata e pomodorini (amazeballs pizza with burrata and cherry tomatoes). Okay so, imagine your ultimate pizza. For me, it is has slightly crisp yet doughy crust, not TOO much sauce, lots o' cheese, and minimal toppings. Well this gem that you see here is all that AND a bag of chips. The crust is magical because it is actually a kind of focaccia, known as schiacciata, made solely in Toscana, seasoned with olive oil and salt. The whole thing is topped with cherry tomatoes, oregano, and burrata(!) I stumbled upon this place a few weeks ago and everyone who I have introduced it to couldn't stop raving about their experience. I've been to Napoli, the pizza capital of Italy, and eaten a pie or two and I have consumed my share of pizza in the U.S.- but I can safely say that I have truly found the best pizza I have ever eaten right here in Firenze. As my time here in Italy comes to an end, this pizza is on my list of top five things that I will miss about Firenze. VIVA ITALIA!
Il Mercato Sant'Ambrogio
Pesca gialla (peach). Despite the myriad of restaurants in Firenze, nothing (NOTHING) beats a sun-kissed, perfectly ripe summer peach from the market. Il Mercato Sant'Ambrogio is the smaller of the two major food markets here. I prefer it over the larger Mercato Centrale simply because it is not overrun by tourists and thus more authentic and representative of a true Italian market. In Boston, in the dead of winter, memories of biting into one of these babies and its sweet juice running down my chin are what keep me sane. I have yet to find a better peach in the world than I have found in Italy. And that's something to write home about.