Wandering and Wondering

Wednesday, May 16, 2007


Ok. I’ve been living in Florence far too long now to not have written something about food. A few people have been asking me recently about good restaurants to eat at in Florence. Until a few weeks ago, however, I couldn’t really give any recommendations because I hadn’t actually been to all that many restaurants. For most of the time while I’ve been living here I’ve been cooking for myself at home.

It is great to be able to walk down to the markets in the morning and pick up some fresh food that I can cook for dinner that night. The market is certainly a much nicer shopping experience than the supermarket. Once I wanted some spinach just as the markets were closing, and a vendor gave me a bunch for free because he had already packed up his cash register. Now that I am a regular at a couple of places, I usually get some sort of discount or something thrown in for free.

San Ambrogio Market

For my fruit and vegetables I always go to a stall run by a Bangladeshi family. Given that I am Australian, up until a month or so ago when the World Cup ended we would always talk about the cricket scores.

Weighing bananas

For my prosciutto and cheese (which I eat pretty much every day) I always go to Urbano’s store inside the market. Urbano and his wife (at least I think it is his wife) are always very friendly to all of the customers, letting them try a piece of cheese or meat. Most of the time I would end up leaving with lots more food than I had originally set out to buy.

Urbano greets a regular customer

Some of the recipes that I’ve been cooking for the last few months are from a great website that I found. Others I’ve learned from restaurants or from experimentation. Here are my favourites:

1. Spinach and Ricotta cannelloni: Cook some spinach until a little tender (not mushy) and mix it with some ricotta cheese (about 200-250 grams), basil, parmesan, salt and pepper. Spread the mixture on fresh lasagna sheets and roll them up. Get a baking tray and put a layer of pasta sauce (ideally home-made from fresh tomatoes) on the bottom. Then place the cannelloni in the tray and cover with pasta sauce. Sprinkle some parmesan cheese on the top and bake in the oven for 15 mins. Full recipe here: http://www.italianfoodforever.com/iff/news.asp?id=588.

Spinach and Ricotta Canneloni

2. Chicken and roast tomato pasta: Cut about 6-8 tomatoes in half and place flat side up on a baking tray. Drizzle with olive oil, salt, pepper, a little dried basil and a pinch of sugar. Bake in the oven for around 45-50 mins until they are semi-dried. Fry some diced chicken, onion and garlic in a pan and then sauté some spinach or rocket. Cook your favourite pasta (al dente of course) and mix it together with the tomatoes, chicken and spinach. Full recipe here: http://www.italianfoodforever.com/iff/news.asp?id=716.

Good food, good wine, good friends

3. Pasta Amatriciana: I learned this recipe when I watched them prepare it in front of me at Sabatini restaurant. Fry some onion, garlic and olive oil in a pan (sometimes I also add some mushrooms), then add some fresh basil and diced ham and fry for a bit more. Now add some tomato pasta sauce and simmer for a bit. Cook your pasta and mix it with the sauce. Separate a couple of egg yolks from the whites and mix the yolks with the pasta (no need for any further cooking: the heat of the pasta will cook the eggs). Let the pasta sit for a couple of minutes with the lid on the let the flavors meld.

My version:

Penne Amatriciana

Sabatini restaurant version:

Spaghetti alla Sabatini

4. Pasta with pesto and cream sauce: I tried making a pesto sauce once before back in Australia but failed miserably. Here in Florence I’ve just been buying freshly made pesto sauce from the market. In Australia you can get pesto sauce at the supermarket. When I get back to Sydney I hope I can find a nice Italian market in Leichardt somewhere. Anyway, once you have your pesto sauce (around 150-200ml), fry some onion and garlic and then add some diced ham. Add a dash of white wine. Now add the pesto sauce together with some double thick cream (around 150-200ml) and simmer for a couple of minutes. Serve with your favourite pasta.

5. Mushroom and asparagus risotto: Asparagus is my new favourite vegetable, and goes great in a risotto. Fry some onion, garlic and mushrooms in a deep pan or pot with olive oil. Add a cup of Arborio rice and some more olive oil and fry for a minute or so. Now you need to slowly add the stock, adding a little at a time and waiting until it has been absorbed until adding some more. You should keep the stock at the same temperature as the rice before adding it (ie don’t add cold stock to the rice). Keep adding stock slowly until the rice is cooked (should take about 20 mins), stirring continuously. For one cup of Arborio rice you need about 500-600ml of stock. You can add a dash of white wine as well. When the rice has finished cooking, mix in some parmesan cheese and pepper, cover and set aside. Cut the asparagus in half, discarding the bottom half (it is too stringy to eat). Boil it in some water for 3-4 minutes – it should still be a little firm. Remove from the water and sauté in a pan with some olive oil for a couple of minutes. Mix it together with the rice and serve.

To make the simple tomato pasta sauce mentioned in a couple of the above recipes, simply dice up 6-8 tomatoes and add them to a pot to simmer together with some olive oil, salt, pepper, fresh chopped basil and a dash of red wine. You need to simmer it for about 30 minutes until the liquid has reduced and the sauce thickens.

Ok, back to the question about good restaurants to eat at in Florence. The first one I would recommend is a place called Baldovino, just at the back of Santa Croce church. It is a little touristy at times, but they serve great pizza at a pretty good price, so it is a good place to go for lunch. For dinner I would recommend Golden View Open Bar. It isn’t cheap, but for what you get (great food, a very nice location right on the river near Ponte Vecchio, and a great atmosphere with a live Jazz band) I think it is good value. The photo below is from Jessica’s 21st birthday dinner at Open Bar:

Jessica's 21st birthday dinner

Buon apetito!

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