Category Archives: Florence

Serving up home-style cooking: truffles for everyone

By Hannah Dustman

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Lunch at Trattoria Za Za, an oasis behind the Mercato Centrale. Photo by Hannah Dustman

FLORENCE, Italy – Trattoria Za Za sits just behind the Mercato Centrale, where owner Stefano Bondi has shopped for the ingredients for his restaurant for over 40 years.

The freshly sourced menu draws locals and celebrities alike, evident from the snapshots of famous personalities, like Michael Jackson, hanging from the walls of the trattoria.

But don’t let the framed superstars deter you from tasting the home-style cooking. And don’t forget to check out the separate menu solely for delectable truffle dishes.

Truffles, which can be described as the fruit of an underground mushroom and classified as a fungus, is commonly found throughout Italy. Truffles are often incorporated into sauces and glazes, such as truffled veal roulade.

Try this at home:

Truffled Veal Roulade (Involtini di vietella saporiti e tartufati)

Recipe adapted from Trattoria Za Za by Stefano Bondi

Serves 4

4 slices of veal approximately 120 g or ¼ pound each

4 slices speck

4 salt-packed anchovy fillets

1 egg separated

4-6 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

Truffle and mushroom sauce (available from Italian delicatessens)

4 basil leaves

Ready or homemade stock plus ½ bullion cube

1 cup of white wine

White flour for dusting

8 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil for frying

4 tablespoons butter

Salt

White pepper

Arrange veal on a work surface and flatten to a uniform thickness. Season with a little salt and place one speck and one anchovy fillet on each slice of veal, topping with the following mixture: egg yolk, a dollop of truffle and mushroom sauce, white pepper, 1 basil leaf, and a sprinkling of grated Parmesan cheese (to taste). Next, spread egg white along the edge of each veal slice before rolling up the meat. Roll up and secure with toothpicks. Roll the outside of the roulades in flour, and season with salt to taste. Pour olive oil in a wide-bottomed pan and heat. Once the oil is hot, brown the roulades on all sides. When the meat turns a dark color, add a half glass of white wine and increase the heat to evaporate the alcohol. Remove veal from pan when done. Add bullion cube and another ½ cup white wine. Then, reduce heat. Dip butter in flour and stir into roulades in the pan. Once the butter has melted and the sauce has thickened, remove from the heat and stir in 1 tablespoon of the truffle and mushroom sauce. Pour the sauce over the roulades and serve.

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

Joy in the hunt

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A wild boar swims below Santa Trinita bridge spanning the Arno River between the old city center of Florence and Oltrarno. Photo by Nadav Soroker

By Nadav Soroker

FLORENCE, Italy – Tourists pack Florence streets in the summer, flowing through the city in waves, their mass ebbing and flowing around monuments, stores and shops, spinning off in eddies of free space. In one of the thoroughfares bordering the Piazza della Republica, at a small kitsch tourist store loaded down with masks and postcards and knick-knacks packed in so tight you can barely see the man running the joint, there is an ATM, and around the corner from that ATM is the mother lode—bright, electric-blue Fanta. This, after days of searching for the elusive elderberry flavored soda-pop, is a prize. The drink is refreshing, and the taste sublime, citrus-y with a mellowing, sweet taste from the elderberry.

It is the hunt that led up to this that makes the find even better since my first discovery of blue Fanta atop a hill in Cinque Terre. On the prowl I saw local markets with cardboard crates of vegetables stacked on folding tables picked over for the freshest ingredients, small cafe’s with a lonely stack of panini and a hissing espresso machine as the only patron paused to chat with the barista, bored shop owners reading a book in the tiny closet liquor store a door down from the university. But for days, no blue Fanta.

There are other quests here. Most wouldn’t think of a city like Florence, one of the most “civilized” in the world by any metric, as a center of a massive hunting tradition. But the tradition around wild boar that goes into pappardelle al cinghiale across the city is on a much bigger scale than a hunt to find a soda-pop. It is easy to tell that Florentines have never forgotten a tradition, and their pappardelle with wild boar sauce is one that no one would want them to forget.

Available in many of the trattoria and ristorante throughout the city, the wide pasta is covered in a thick ragu sauce with earthy, root vegetables and chunks of gamey boar meat. The best time to get it is during the hunting season in the winter, November through January, when the hunters are bringing in boar and across Tuscany. Off season it is still available to try in many of the cities restaurants because the boar population has exploded without any natural predators, and some licensed hunters and forest service members have to cull the population. Some boar are also raised on farms to accommodate the large demand.

In Florence, the city itself a thick Tuscan forest of a different kind— towering trees of cut stone, edged with leaves of red terracotta—is the perfect place to be on the hunt for something. Pause while hunting for that photo atop the Piazzale Michelangelo to turn around and see the rose garden you hike through on the way up. Don’t ignore your nose in the middle of the night when you are hunting your bed lest you stumble right past a bakery preparing the pastries for the small bars across the city. And definitely pause before going into the museums to look at the local artist before seeing the masterpiece—you never know where the next Michelangelo will appear.

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Psst…an insider’s note on where to eat in Florence

 

By Vivian Farmer

FLORENCE, Italy– “Do you like frogs?”

That is how my conversation with Francesco Giannini began. Giannini has been making decorated papers by hand at Johnsons & Relatives since the 70s and when I spoke to him, he was drawing frogs. Unsatisfied with his drawings, Giannini took a break to talk to me.

Giannini and I chatted about Florence (“Too many people”), good areas to visit around Florence (in Arezzo there is fresco of the pregnant Virgin Mary for which “there are no words”) and inevitably, food.

“It’s difficult to eat in Florence because so many of the restaurants cater to tourists.” Those words were barely out of my mouth before Giannini was carefully writing down his favorite places to eat at.

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Keys to the Florentine food kingdom – handwritten list of restaurants by artist Francesco Giannini. Photo by Vivian Farmer

Le Mossacce, Via del Proconsolo: right around the corner from the Duomo yet sometimes difficult to find. Locals come here for lunch and dinner but it is closed on weekends. It’s cozy inside and serves traditional Florentine food.

Sergio Gozzi, Piazza di San Lorenzo: unusual because it is only open for lunch. When the stalls of the San Lorenzo market used to cover the street, the restaurant was hidden and only workers went there. “Don’t order pasta, get their soups,” Giannini said.

Sostanza, Via del Porcellana: good for dinner, the tables are long and on one side of you “there’s the plumber, on the other, Steven Spielberg.” It seems that all socioeconomic classes share the tables for a bite of Florentine steak or, Giannini’s favorite chicken breast cooked in butter. “You will thank me if you order it,” Giannini said.

Perché no, Via dei Tavolini: Perché no, literally “why not”, is a gelateria that has been in business since the 30s. “My mother took me here when I was a kid,” Giannini said. They have delicious peach and mixed fruit flavors and “their pistachio is not green,” proving it is made from scratch, Giannini said, and is thus a cream or yellowish color.

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Water? For fish!

By Raina Brooks

FLORENCE, Italy – “Water for fish.” This is what I was told in a thick Italian accent as I attempted to order water with my meal at Trattoria Antellesi. Tony Antellesi, family member, our waiter and chef proceeded to tease me throughout the duration of our dinner. He seemed very upset that I did not order wine with my meal.

A manager at another restaurant in Italy once told me “the Italian diet is based in three things: olives, wine and bread.” Wine can cost less than water in some Italian restaurants. And when they serve it, it’s not tap water but glass or plastic-bottled water.

While the waiter’s comment to me at Antellesi seemed somewhat harsh, it was likely rooted in Italians distrust of tap water. Before World War II, the water in Italy was unsafe and could cause disease, according to Rachel Black in “The Trouble with Bottled Water in Italy.” Even after the water became clean enough to drink, most Italians stuck with the old habits. To this day, some Italians believe that their water can cause illness, an idea stemming from the old distrust, with kidney problems being commonly suspected.

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Water or wine? Photo by Raina Brooks

Despite the antics from our waiter and the entertainment of eating out on the street in Florence, the restaurant actually had amazing food. I ordered picci with tomato sauce. The noodles, thicker than spaghetti but with the same round shape, were boiled to perfection. Not mushy or too hard to chew, but just right. The pasta noodles were immersed in creamy tomato sauce with stewed tomato chunks. The meal was absolutely delicious and it was probably the best tomato sauce I have ever tried.

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Picci with tomato sauce at Trattoria Antellesi. Photo by Raina Brooks

Although the waiter was not thrilled with my selection of water (he actually patted my head) to pair with my meal of picci, the water complimented the pasta well enough. Nonetheless, maybe next time I will ask for a recommendation for wine, wouldn’t want to disappoint the chef.

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Italian food- harbinger of happiness

By Jenna Severson

When I had first arrived in Florence I felt like a kid in the largest candy store – if the candy store was filled with pici, pappardelle and penne. Every sight seemed to sparkle and I looked at every meal with love and adoration. I thought nothing could beat this feeling and that this was going to be the most perfect, trouble-free trip I’ve ever been on.

9 days later.

I rolled out of bed ten minutes before we had to leave for class, with a stuffy nose and a sore throat. Between the busy schedules filled with miles of walking and the long nights, courtesy of jet-lag, the reality and difficulty of adjusting to a new place was finally starting to set in.

The day moved along at its normal pace, but for some reason it felt different. I felt different. I felt disconnected from my family and friends back home, with the time difference and inability to make calls creating a void in communication. I felt disconnected with the city I was currently in, unable to understand the norms and languages heard all around me. I felt disconnected from myself, pushing my body harder than it is used to without a lot of time to recover and attempting to sweep these negative thoughts under the rug and move on. Finally, I had reached the point where I was full on homesick, people-sick and plain old sick sick.

By the time dinner came around I forced myself to leave the comfort of my bed where I had been napping and join the study abroad group for a dinner at a highly suggested trattoria. I sat down at the table with low spirits and a nap-hangover that I couldn’t shake, but figured a proper meal would probably help soothe my sickness.

The first item I spotted on the menu was pappa al pomodoro, a tomato soup in which day old bread is mixed in to make it thicker and more hearty. We discussed this dish in my Italian culture class the day before, so I decided a nice soup and some zucchini risotto would be the perfect 1-2 punch of Italian food to cheer me up.

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Pappa al pomodoro – tomato soup with a twist at Trattoria San Lorenzo, Florence. Photo by Jenna Severson

I can’t really remember the last time a meal made me legitimately giggle out of pure happiness, but this one sure did. The soup trickled down my throat and warmed me to the very core, wrapping me in a comforting embrace of Italian goodness. The risotto wasn’t as robust as the soup, but followed up with broth-based comfort and some much needed vegetables. As the waiter came up and asked about dessert, I asked for the chocolate gelato, instead of the standard vanilla. He looked at me with a mischievous glint in his eyes and said: “You don’t want both?”

He knew.

I was easily convinced and about ten minutes later had a glass bowl of chocolate and vanilla gelato sitting in front of me. Slowly but surely, this one meal brought out the happier me I had been missing all day and I will be forever thankful to that trattoria for it.

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Zucchini risotto at Trattoria San Lorenzo, Florence. Photo by Jenna Severson

The meal convinced me, food is a miracle worker. It can be used as medicine, like a big bowl of chicken noodle soup (or perhaps pappa al pomodoro). It can be used as a conversation topic, like discussing that one place that you tried that one time that has that great dish. It can be used a time machine, when one taste of an oatmeal cookie takes you back to stealing bits of dough out of the mixing bowl while mom was baking on a crisp autumn afternoon. Food brings people together and can realign your thoughts and emotions. All it takes is one bite.

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Eating like a Florentine

By Vivian Farmer

FLORENCE, Italy– To eat like a Florentine, watch what the locals do. Observe the times they eat, which dishes they choose, and where they go. Their choices reveal the pace of their lives, layers of culture, and, perhaps most importantly, what is good eat.

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Start the day Florentine-style with a coronetto  and espresso- a quick breakfast all over the city and here at Pasticceria Zani.  Photo by Vivian Farmer

 

7 a.m.-10 a.m. Colazione

Florence opens her eyes and takes her time waking up. Locals line the counter at their favorite bars, handing the barista their tickets. Outside, shopkeepers scrub the sidewalk in front of their stores with soapy water and brooms and unlock doors. Italians eat small breakfasts that don’t sit heavily in the stomach. A coffee drink and pastry starts the day. A bottle of gassata water, if you want bubbles, or naturale, in hand and light food in your tummy, and you’re ready to start exploring the museums, churches, and stores of Florence.

1 p.m.-4 p.m. Pranzo

Perhaps you’ve already walked a few miles exploring the city or climbed the cool stone stairs of an old tower or the Duomo. The sun is reaching its zenith, the day is probably hot, and throngs of tourists choke the narrow streets. It’s time to duck into some shade and eat. Lunch can be filling or light, depending on your needs. Bars sell sandwiches made of cold cuts such as salami and prosciutto, tomato, and thick slices of fresh cheese. Pizza slices are another quick choice.

For a longer break with more sustenance, sit down at a restaurant and order pasta, soup, salad, or any of the local antipastos. A glass of wine or beer is perfectly acceptable with lunch. Or, wash everything down with a little espresso, but not a cappuccino or caffè latte–those are for breakfast here. Next, replenish your water. All restaurants charge for water because they don’t use tap water. If you want to keep the bill down you can refill your own bottle in any sink. The tap water in Florence is safe to drink and in my personal experience, doesn’t cause any gastrointestinal distress.

7:30 p.m.-10:00 p.m. Cena

The day is winding down. You’ve watched the sun set over the river, contemplated some of the famous sites, and maybe gotten lost a time or two and nearly been run over more times than you care to think about. It’s time to settle in for the biggest meal in Italian culture. You might have noticed a sign or two with 10 p.m. on it and thought maybe that was a typo. It’s not.

But dinner options do open at 7 p.m., at the absolute earliest. Most restaurants aren’t full until around 8 p.m. If you’re peckish during the interlude, grab a gelato.

As far as menu choices for Florentine dinner:  Florence is known for its dishes that make use of wild game such as boar, and its huge steaks– large T-bone cuts that are quickly seared so the outer-most layer is crisp and the inside soft and raw. You can order multiple courses, but make sure your appetite is ready. If you don’t finish everything on your plate the waiter will think you did not enjoy the meal. If you want to keep that from happening, you can skip the antipasto course and primo course and go strait for the secondo course and a “contorno” (side dish). To put the finishing touch on your night, order a “dolce” (dessert)- one Easter specialty of Florence is schiacciata alla fiorentina, a light sweet cake enhanced with orange zest that’s a perfect finish any season. Wash the meal down with a sweet wine or a pallet cleansing caffè and you’re ready to wander back to your abode full, happy, and having eaten like a Florentine.

Note: During your day of eating in Florence, you might wonder, “where’s the bill?” at times. Here’s the scene: couples and families chat around you, relaxed and happy. The food is moving out of the kitchen at a comfortable pace. The waiter is lounging in the doorway enjoying a brief cigarette break. You’ve been done with your food for 15 minutes; you have places to be, what gives? In Italy, you have to ask for the bill. Ask the waiter “il conto per favaore” and your bill will promptly appear on your table.

 

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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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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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