Friday, April 20, 2007

Food in Florence

Well, what can I say about the food in Florence other than magnifico, tutti buono!!? First of all, we have to start with the ingredients. Fiorintines use all fresh ingredients. Occasionally, on a menu, you will see a frozen item, but it is always noted. In the grocery store, the frozen food section is very limited. Some prepackaged foods, but mostly vegetables. No TV dinners, Lean Cuisines, or anything like that.

Fast food doesn’t really exist. Italians do not "take out" very often. Occasionally, you will see a pizza go out, and there are fresh sandwiches that you can buy to eat while walking, but you never see anyone carrying a paper cup of coffee, or soda (maybe a bottle of wine or a beer).
Menus consist of several categories: Antipasto, which is an appetizer, Primi-which is the first course, usually a pasta or risotto, Secondi-which is the main entree, Insalata-the salad course, which is eaten after the meal and supposed to be better for digestion, and then there are the Pizzas (not usually eaten in a several course meal) Contorni-which are the side dishes, and Dolci-or desserts.

Let me tell you a little bit about what might be in each category. Since I am not a "meat eater", sometimes my choices are very limited. Florence is not near the ocean, so their fish dishes are not abundant. They do however eat almost every other animal known to man, and all of the pieces and parts of those animals!

The Antipasto course may be something like bruschetta, crostini, caprese, cheese. The bruschetta is somewhat similar to what you might find in an Italian restaurant at home, but it will only ever have fresh tomatoes on it! No canned, and the most excellent olive oil.
The Primi Course will be pasta, gnocchi or risotto. These are relatively small portions, but could easily be a meal. I like to share these if I am with another person. Some of the most popular ones are Porcini risotto, Quattro Formaggia Gnocchi (4 cheese) and this is my personal favorite, Spaghetti with meat sauce, or Bechamel Lasagne.

Secondi consists of the famous Bistecca Fiorintina, which is at least a 1 kilo (2.2 lb) T-bone, of the most excellent Italian beef, grilled and cut into pieces and served on a wooden platter. I, of course, haven’t eaten this, but the boys did when they were here, and they did not leave any of that 2.2 lbs to waste! It looks delicious and I could consider being a carnivore over it!

Additionally, on menus you will find hare, chicken, fillet of beef, tripe (cows stomach), and calves liver. Sometimes fish, although rare, and usually Gambrini (shrimp)

The salads here are extraordinary. I have commented before on the quality of the tomatoes in the area, and that pretty much applies to all of the produce. I think that most of the produce that is used is grown in Italy (Southern) so it doesn’t have far to be shipped. It is always so beautiful and fresh and tasty. Italians do not appear to have ever heard of iceberg, which I think is a blessing. Or if they have heard of it, they have the good sense not to eat it and instead use all types of other greens like rucola, arugula, spinach, white and red leaf lettuce. They use yellow kernel corn in most of their salads which adds a nice color, grated carrots, tomatoes of course, and then top with avocados, shrimp, tuna (which is canned and packed in olive oil, and unbelievably delicious) olives, cheese, or peppers. All of these ingredients would probably never be found on one salad. They use them in different combinations that are extraordinary! Let me tell you something about Italian Dressing. That stuff we use at home is not it! The only dressings that Italians use for their salads is Olive Oil (and they make some of the finest in the world-and you can tell the difference!) and vinegar (either Balsamic-again they make the best! Or Red Wine)

Next we have the pizzas. I swear I eat this almost every day! They are about 12 inches in diameter, but one person can easily eat the whole thing because the crust is so thin and light and the ingredients used so fresh and delicious. You will never find anything appalling like "the meat lovers" or the "cheeseburger explosion", or a "supreme" here. Most pizzas have 1 to 3 ingredients on them. They usually contain the usual tomato sauce, and some type of cheese (with fresh mozzarella or buffalo mozzarella) then you can have porcini mushroom, olives, tuna, sausage, salami, ham, onions, artichokes, feta cheese, fresh tomatoes, spinach, garlic, to name a few. The Margarita pizza is a popular one from Southern Italy which has only fresh mozzarella and basil on it.

Contorni, or side dishes consist of sauteed spinach, patate frites (friend potatoes, but unbelievably tasty and not greasy!), roasted potatoes, beans, etc.
Dolci-which I have not been able to eat because of the egg issue, usually consist of Tiramisu (of course) a type of cheese cake, a chocolate torte, and gelato.

I have to talk about Tuscan bread. I hate it. It is dry and tasteless because they do not use any salt in it. Italians do not use butter, and they also do not mix olive oil and cheese and dip bread in it like they do at Macaroni Grill! Go figure! The bread is only useful, in my opinion, if you have a sauce on your dish that you want to sop up!

Aside from the bread, I have not put one bad tasting food in my mouth! Of course, I have the wonderful wine to accompany every meal! And still, I have managed to lose 7 kilos (15.4 lbs!)
I wish I had some photos of the food, but that would be just too odd, wouldn’t it?

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