Monthly Archives: May 2016

Flying solo in Florence

By Jenna Severson

 

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What is more beautiful, the spaghetti or the view? Photo and question by Jenna Severson

FLORENCE, Italy – Now don’t get me wrong, I love my study abroad group and the adventures and laughs shared have been memorable to say the least, but experiencing a new city and culture with a group is entirely different than experiencing it alone. Time moves at a slightly different pace. You notice more details of the day like that one person dropping half of their gelato, or the radiant bride strolling through the piazza. Your schedule is loose and you can go into that shop if you want to, gosh darnit.

On my solo day in Florence, my main activity, besides shopping (sorry mom), was to just wander around the city and see where it took me. Armed with a map, water bottle, journal and PKW—phone, keys, wallet– I left the apartment in the afternoon with a pep in my step, ready to see what the day had in store for me.

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Much to note. Photo by Jenna Severson

The day somehow contained the perfect amount of activities. Being on my own in Florence gave me time to truly take in the culture of Italy, like a piece of bread soaking up olive oil. There is just something so beautifully satisfying about choosing to do whatever you would like to do, and more importantly, managing to navigate a city on your own without getting lost.

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Time to question life. Photo by Jenna Severson

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Filed under Florence, MU Journalism Abroad, Science ad Agricultual Journalism

Paté Florentine, anyone?

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Crostini de fegatini at Mangiafuoco, Florence. Olive oil drizzle garnishes the slathered toast. Photo by Nadav Soroker

By Nadav Soroker

Florence, Italy – “Local delicacy” seems to be coded slang for something that you have been socialized to find objectionable, and people know it. Take, for example, crostini neri or crostini de fegatini, two names for the same crunchy toast covered in a dark paté of warm, meaty, deliciously-salty goodness. This Florentine food is a traditional antipasti or appetizer, and is served in many of the restaurants in the city.

Made with a chicken liver, anchovies, capers and herbs, crostini neri has a strong, thick smell that is the equal of its salty, oily components. Spread as a thick paste over freshly toasted slices of bread, the antipasti was a perfect opener while waiting for my meal, in this case an equally thick Bistecca Fiorentina, one of the local platter-sized T-bone steaks.

The local delicacy part revealed itself when it arrived at the table, and myself and all my food-writing, freewheeling friends and I each grabbed a crostini, or for the less brave, sliced off a little piece. It wasn’t until our last member tried to take a bite that we heard anything other than appreciation: after barely a nibble, the smell overwhelmed her and she gagged. If you let your mind wander a bit, Crostini Neri’s smell is directly and irredeemably comparable to warm cat food.

I, however, had no problems finishing off the salty plate and washing it down with a glass of red wine; though maybe that is what helped it taste so good.

Try this at home:

Crostini Neri at Trattoria Mama Gina

Ingredients for 6 toasts

Spread:

12 ounces chicken liver, chopped

1 small onion, finely chopped

1 tablespoon capers, chopped finely

3 anchovy fillets, chopped finely

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons olive oil

White wine, as needed

Chicken stock, as needed

Crostini:

6 pices wholewheat bread

Salt & pepper to taste

Saute chopped onion with olive oil and butter. Add the chicken liver, continue to cook for 30 minutes over medium heat, adding wine to keep from burning. Remove livers from pan, place on a chopping-board and chop more finely. Put livers back into the saucepan, add the capers and anchovies. Cook adding some stock, season to taste. Spread the mixture on the toasted slices of bread which can be wetted quickly, only on one side in the stock.

Recipe from Trattoria Mama Gina, Florence

 

 

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Table grace

By Abby Kintz

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Leisurely dining in Florence. Photo by Abby Kintz

FLORENCE, Italy – At dinner after a long day of touring the packed streets of Florence our server came to take our orders about thirty minutes after being seated. In another thirty minutes, our freshly prepared food arrived at our dinner table. Enjoying every sip of the Chianti wine and each savory bite of the penne tomato pasta, there was no rush; we could enjoy our pleasant meal chatting with friends. Eventually, an hour or two into our intriguing conversations, we asked the server for the check.

To many in the U.S., the wait would have been an evening-killer. They would either complain to the manager, never come back, or insist for a discount or free meal. When we order food in America, we immediately expect it to be at our table in ten minutes. It’s rush-rush.

But we miss so much this way.

In Italy, servers feel socializing after meals for a long time is normal, adding to the pleasurable aspect of dining. Turning tables quickly seems to be important in the U.S. I won’t take leisurely dining for granted after being in Italy.

 

 

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Conto, per favore -check please

 

By Hannah Dustman

FLORENCE, Italy –Italy has ristorantes, trattorias and osterias. The good news? You can’t go wrong with any of them!

All three Italian restaurants offer basically the same types of food – crunchy bruschetta, an array of savory pasta dishes covered in creamy sauces and meat-based dinners, such as prosciutto and wild boar. These establishments are found lining the cobblestone streets and alley ways of every piazza, catering to locals and tourists alike. However, the official difference between ristorantes, trattorias and osterias is their level of formality.

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Ristorantes offer the most formal Italian dining experience, which often means they are the most expensive. Many times, tables are lined with a crisp table cloths.

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Trattorias seem to offer a more family-friendly dining experience and perhaps a more narrow selection of food choices—and design their menus to magnify the specialty of the city or region.

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Osterias are traditionally considered the least formal of the three dining options. Osterias sport simpler meals and fewer options to choose from. Their biggest perk is offering a lower price tag.

Remember that tipping your waiter is not required, suggested or necessary in Italy. Instead of tipping, a small charge called a coperto is automatically included in the bill. This is a per-person fee that is charged to set the table.

But unlike in the U.S., Italian waiters rarely split a table’s bill. It is also important to note while in Italy, most of the time it is necessary to wave the waiter down and verbally ask for the check, “conto, per favore,” or else you will find yourself sitting at the table for a long while after the meal.

 

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Wake me up in Firenze

By Vivian Farmer

 

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Espresso from Mama Gina in Florence. The cup and saucers here are fancier than those found in many coffee bars. Photo by Vivian Farmer

FLORENCE, Italy– Coffee is serious business in Italy. The drink is ubiquitous, as easily found as wine. The winding streets are filled with cramped stores where patrons stand at the counter and enjoy the bitter drink and in most restaurants there is a shiny espresso machine crammed somewhere behind the counter, waiting to make after lunch or diner espressos.

The caffeinated drinks in Italy aren’t what Americans call coffee but instead, espresso. But there are differences in other ways. To find a place to order an espresso, look for a “bar,” not a café. If you want to a get an alcoholic drink, look for a “pub,” and for the best prices look for coffee bars that are not near main tourist sites.

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Outside Caffe Riasoli, Florence. Photo by Vivian Farmer

 

Once you find a coffee bar, head for the register to pay first. And remember, a little Italian goes a long way: to order an espresso and croissant, say: vorrei un caffè e un cornetto. If that’s too much to remember, make liberal use of vorrei (I would like) and grazie (thank you). Or, depending on how much trouble you were, grazie mille (thanks a million). Now you can elbow your way to the counter and hand the barista your receipt. A quick grazie and your drink is in your hands.

But don’t run off to your nearest bar just yet! You need to know what to order. In Italy, there is a time limit to ordering milky coffee drinks. Giulio Piotti, a barista at Caffè Ricasoli, says that Italians only drink cappuccinos in the morning.

“If you wake up late, 11am, or if it’s Sunday, you can drink one [cappuccino],” Piotti says. Other than that, cappuccinos, café lattes, and any other coffee with milk is for breakfast only.

If you don’t want to go wrong, order “un caffè”. A caffè is an espresso shot. It is dark and bitter and served in a small cup on a saucer. The caffè shot is a quick interlude in an Italian’s daily life. Some hurried Italians down their caffè with one quick gulp. Most take two to three sips and move on to the next part of their day.

“It’s quick but you take the coffee with calm. Thirty seconds to a minute, but it’s calm.” Piotti says Italians stop into a bar and drink a caffè for a break meant to be a relaxing pause. Italians take these pauses throughout the day. Piotti drinks about five caffeinated drinks a day: two at breakfast, then one at lunch, one in the afternoon, and one in the evening.

In Florence if you want a to-go cup of cappuccino at noon, you can get one, but that’s not how the Italians drink their coffee. So pause, drink a caffé, and enjoy the brief calm.

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Roast beef by any other name

By Zara McDowell

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Roast beef at the Caffe Fiaschetteria Il Pucino in Siena. Photo by Zara McDowell

SIENA, Italy- Caffe Fiaschetteria Il Pucino, nestled along the Via Dei Termini, was filled with businessmen in powder blue button downs and dark blue ties, other local Sienese Italians and one confused group of tourists – us – who had unintentionally stumbled off the beaten path.

As we landed tiredly into our purposefully distressed white wooden chairs and matching table, the waitress placed different colored glasses and mustard yellow place mats, olive oil, salt, pepper and silverware onto the table. The tiny café, adorned with handwritten color-coded menus—blue for antipasti, green for salads and red for meat dishes— had an inviting atmosphere. Plus, prior to studying abroad, our group was told that if restaurant staff did not speak English, we were likely in the right place.

Being what I call a meatetarian, I opted for roast beef, no surprise to anyone that knows me. When I think of roast beef my mind automatically goes to the roast beef sandwiches on a hoagie roll with a side of au jus sauce that my mother made for me when I was little. But this was another thing altogether.

The thinly sliced roast beef arrived to the table on a round burnt orange plate. It is astonishing that one plate of meat can have a remarkably different taste when accompanied by varied sauces and oils.

“Olive oil and pepper. That’s it!” the waitress in a white Hard Rock Café Barcelona tee shirt exclaimed referring to the spices on the meat. I am still shocked that the delicious flavor came from only three ingredients.

The Toscana region of Italy is well-known for their olive oil, and when placed onto a plate of meat, it has my name written all over it.

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Pasta pronto!

By Raina Brooks

FLORENCE, Italy – People will tell you that Italians often run late, do not rush and actually slow down to enjoy life. Eating at an Italian restaurant may be an affair that lasts for hours as Italians pause and enjoy a meal of several courses. For some strange reason, the Oliandolo restaurant did not get the memo.

Oliandolo, about a block from the Duomo, served food quicker than any restaurant I have even been to. Seriously, I got my food in less than five minutes.

Not only was it quick, it also tasted amazing. Food served that quickly in the U.S. is guaranteed to be either greasy, taste awful, involve fake meat, E.coli, lead to high blood pressure or a perhaps a combination of them all. I would not expect to be served a quality meal so quickly in the U.S., let alone an Italian restaurant. Just as we poured our drinks into glasses and began looking around at each other for conversation starters, the food was in front of us. Stunned silence followed.

Psst: I ordered penne alla carrettiera (pasta with hot, spicy and tomato, sauce) for only €5. A restaurant that is cheap and fast, almost guarantees a revisit.

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Quick, tasty and high quality food at Oliandolo, Florence. Photo by Raina Brooks

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Say cheese

By Hannah Dustman

PARMA, Italy –Samuela Cavani’s eyes widen as she rattles off the cheese production process, primarily in Italian, and smiles widely as we filed through the storage house.

Wheels of traditional, handmade Parmigiano Reggiano cheese line the wooden shelves of her family-run Societa’ Agricola Saliceto cheese farm, as approximately 40 Mizzou students took turns entering into the small, plain white storage house to learn more about the iconic food of the region.

Parmigiano Reggiano has been produced in the Poe River and Apennine mountain area for the past 800 years, starting a long-lasting tradition of high quality and all-natural Parmesan cheese. Every step is regulated, beginning with feeding the cows.

Here’s the steps to create traditional Parmigiano Reggiano:

Step 1: The fresh milk is brought to the milk house and placed into holding basins where the cream naturally separates overnight, resulting in partially skimmed milk.

Step 2: The partially skimmed milk from the night before is added to whole milk gathered in the morning, and both are mixed and warmed in a large copper cauldron.

Step 3: Natural whey starter and natural rennet enzyme are added to the milk mixture then whisked by a large tool called a spino.

Step 4: The milk enters the cooking process that is carefully controlled by the Parmigiano maker, which results in a single mass of cheese.

Step 5: The cheese is removed from the cauldron and placed in a mold to rest for a couple of days.

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Cheese at rest. Photo by Hannah Dustman

Step 6: After resting, the cheese is placed to soak in a salt water solution for 18 days.

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Eighteen-day salt water soak. Parmigiano Reggiano in process at Societa’ Agricola Saliceto. Photo by Hannah Dustman

Step 7: The Parmigiano Reggiano is removed from the solution and set on the wooden shelves to begin a minimum 12-month slow aging process.

Step 8: Finally, the cheese wheel is inspected and awarded the certification mark of authentic Parmigiano Reggiano if it passes inspection. The certified cheese is stamped with specific labels, indicating it is indeed traditional Parmigiano.

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Certified Parmigiano Reggiano cheese at Societa’ Agricola Saliceto. Photo by Hannah Dustman

But the most important step for me was cheese tasting. Three round platters of Parmigiano sat upon a long white folding table, which also included a bowl of sweet honey and pitcher of  water. We were instructed to taste each of the three ages of the Parmigiano – 12, 24 and 36 months.

I lightly coated my cracker with a small chunk of cheese and drizzled a light dusting of honey on top. The 12 month cheese suited me best, over both the 24 and 36 month wheels, because of its lighter and creamier texture. The dense and dry older cheeses were a point of pride for the family-run cheese operation, however. The mother-daughter duo who assisted us throughout the visit to the farm took care to explain the production process. This work, I could tell, and this cheese was something they cherished.

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Filed under MU Journalism Abroad, Parmesan, Science ad Agricultual Journalism

Crossing the Arno- eat this

By Raina Brooks

FLORENCE, Italy – Oltrarno’14 (O’14) near the Pitti Palace has an €10 eggplant Parmesan worth the walk.

The eggplant practically cut itself. A slight amount of pressure from your fork would easily slice through it. It was cooked to perfection, the right amount of tender and the skin not too tough. The sauce was easily absorbed into the eggplant with Parmesan cheese melted throughout the dish. The flavor was potent but not too rich. There was plenty of sauce, without drowning the eggplant. There was an occasional piece with a slight crunch in the skin.

The O’14 restaurant was cozy, the owner’s glowing smile welcoming. In a surprising twist, rap music from Drake’s latest album played quietly in the background.

Eggplant Parmesan in the U.S. at multiple restaurants has never tasted as delicious as at O’14. There are other places to try the dish here in Florence, but now that my standards have risen, I will have pretty high expectations of any place else.

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Eggplant Parmesan from O’14 near the Pitti Palace in Florence. Photo by Raina Brooks

 

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Stomaching a stomach sandwich

By Nadav Soroker

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Minced meat, with colorful parsley salsa and chili drizzle, stuffs a bun to go in a panino con il lamredotto. Photo by Nadav Soroker

Florence, ITALY – Not one to shy away from something new, and with a plethora of beef-related experiences under my belt such as lengua, cabeza, and beef heart tartare, I took the plunge and ventured to the Mercato Centrale to hunt down a panino con il lampredotto: a beef stomach sandwich. I knew I was in for a cuisine adventure when even a local expressed hesitation.

Lampredotto is made from the fourth stomach of a cow and gets its name from the loose, flappy texture of the meat before cooking; its rubbery texture and bright white color when cooked is supposed to be similar to a lamprey’s mouth, though I cannot confirm this.

Stewing in water with light vegetables which stains it darker like a well- done steak, the meat is pulled from the steaming pot and diced on the table in front of you before being piled onto a bun that has been hollowed out a bit to help hold the hot pile. Drizzles of parsley salsa and a picante chili sauce brighten up the deep meaty color of the sandwich which is wrapped with one end open for immediate consumption in the crowded marketplace.

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A chef at the Mercato Centrale minces meat he pulled from the pot to add to the panino con il lampredotto. Photo by Nadav Soroker

Wandering back out into the Mercato’s surrounding leather stalls and others hawking their wares, I slowly munched my way to the nearby Piazza San Lorenzo to sit on the steps and finish off the strange, but rather delightful, sandwich. The most noticeable thing about it is its feathery mouthfeel, a cross between a pate and a soft fish. Second is the lightly meaty taste, like a very subtle essence of steak. Then at the back of the throat, you taste the fresh bitterness of parsley and the pizzaz of the picante chile sauce. The thick warm bun, barely dipped into the stewing pot of lampredotto gives it a final fullness.

A curious sandwich, with a truly unique texture. I will definitely be moving on to another small stand that, rumor has it, offers excellent panini con il lampredotto.

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