An EDD-ter’s Tour of Italy – Florence

“You may have the universe if I may have Italy.” – Giuseppe Verdi

Beautiful quote. Beautiful city. Florence!

I had this sense of calm walking the streets of Florence. I’m not sure if it was the beauty of the Cattedrale de Santa Maria del Fiore, the Battistero, or Michaelangelo’s David, which in person seems to slow time down to one’s own heartbeat – a feeling only something truly beautiful can evoke.

My soul felt alive and palpable as it absorbed one magnificent sight after the other.

I was drunk on watercolor and oil and marble by the time lunchtime arrived, so our effervescent guide Sandra tipped us off to a wet market nearby and better yet, a place right next door for lunch that was a favorite of hers and other locals.

Sounded perfect.

Mushrooms were in season this time of year and these beauties seemed to sing to me as I walked by.

I could have spent hours at this patch trying to memorize the funky Italian names for the fungi until I heard an embarrassingly loud “waaooorr!”. I looked over at Jordan. He looked down at my tummy.

Time for lunch!


Papa di pomodoro

Unlike any kind of soup I’ve ever had. Imagine ripe sweet tomatoes thickened with bread, giving the thick soup a a light airy texture. Little soft gnocchi-like dumplings naturally formed in the soup from bread that didn’t dissolve completely. Heavenly.

Ribollita
Sandra absolutely insisted we order this here. And considering how traditional ribollita is to Florence, I thought coming from her it must have been extra special. And it was. Imagine a soup thickened with layers upon layers of fresh garden vegetables, cannellini beans, and love from your Italian grandmother (even if you’re not Italian!). Comfy cozy, robust yet gentle, it was one of the best things I ate in all of Italy!

Pizza del forno a legna
After getting up close and personal with those super fresh funghi, I had to have some on a piping hot pizza from the brick oven. It was even better with a healthy sprinkle of spicy peperoncino on top!

Lasagne
The best lasagne I’ve ever had. No foolin’.

Although I could barely move after our late lunch, I couldn’t have been happier with the day or the meal we just had. I still dream of the papa di pomodoro and ribollita.

I’ll be taking a stab at recreating these dishes at home soon (stay tuned for recipes!), and maybe with each bite, that same calm I experienced in Florence will descend on me and I’ll fall in love all over again.

Next up: Hiking in Cinque Terre and feasting on the fruits of the sea!

An EDD-ter’s Tour of Italy – Cooking Class in Tuscany

One of the absolute must-do things I had on my list was to take a cooking class in Tuscany. My agent was able to secure a private day at the Castello di Tornano. From the chef Manuel, we’d learn how to make traditional Tuscan dishes including fresh pasta, biscotti, and pork, and best of all, eat it all for lunch!

It was everything I imagined! Rejuvenating views of lush rolling hills and olive groves, citrus trees along a pebbly trail up to the castle, little kittens purring on the kitchen floor, and a charming chef who’s worked in his simple kitchen for over 20 years.

Getting there was an adventure!

Over 1000 years old, the castle has survived war, bloodshed, and political intrigue. It’s most famous and notorious owner was Warnellottus, lord of Tornano and Campi, who (long story short) shrewdly exploited the strategic position his castle and lands had between the warring city-states of Siena and Florence.

After a warm welcome by the chef, and a customary tsuts (as my mother-in-law would call it) of Prosecco which Chef Manuel insisted was a truly Tuscan tradition, abbiamo cucina (we began cooking)!

Cantuccini – Sweet almond biscuits with Vin Santo
While baking, the kitchen smelled of almonds, sugar and Vin Santo.



Pomodori al forno – Roasted tomatoes with garlic, capers, hipollito, breadcrumbs, parmesan

This simple appetizer was the perfect way to whet our appetites. We used a local wild Italian herb called hipollito (?) for the mixture on top. It looked like oregano but tasted like a cross between thyme and mint.

Ravioli ricotta e spinaci, salvia e burro salsa – Ricotta and spinach ravioli, sage and butter sauce
Making fresh pasta was the highlight of my lesson! Practice makes perfect. We must have made 3 or 4 dozen!

Costolette di maiale salsa Chianti – Pork cutlets with wild rosemary, juniper berries, Chianti Classico
This dish perfectly captured the essence of our Tuscan afternoon at Tornano.

I must say I was feeling mighty fine after our amazing lesson and lunch. We strolled around the castle grounds a bit and enjoyed the sun as the mist slowly drifted away.

Now all that was missing was a long nap.

Those sleepy kitties had the right idea…

Next up: Florence! P.S. recipes for all the above coming soon!

An EDD-ter’s Tour of Italy – Siena

One of the most wonderful surprises during our trip was the medieval village of Siena in Tuscany. It’s easy to imagine princes and princesses, dukes and dragons, and all manner of swords and sorcery while walking the narrow cobblestone streets of this town.

It’s also easy to gawk at the tempting nibbles of salami, formaggio, and gelato along your stroll.

So much of the town seemed untouched in the rainy drizzle of the November morning when we arrived. We made our way slowly toward the famous Piazza del Campo that when entering felt much like emerging out of a dense jungle into a wide ocean. It was thrilling to imagine the bartering and marketplace activity that must have happened here day in and day out in medieval times.

I must mention that this famous tower is called “The Eater’s Tower” due to its first guardian being known to spend all his money on food. Was this a prophetic sign for things to come?

But nothing could have prepared us for the Duomo in Siena and its adjoining cathedral. Towering above all the orange brick buildings of Siena are the dramatic black and white marble towers of this incredible gothic cathedral. It appears adorned on every corner of its outer facade with elaborate carvings of medieval creatures and intricate designs. And within its walls, every inch is crafted with purpose and care – a testament to the time, sacrifice and devotion its artists had for this structure. We were extremely lucky as well to have viewed the legendary marble-etched floor inside which was uncovered in its entirety (only 6 weeks out of year)!

I also must mention the Piccolomini Library that felt alive when I walked into it. Its wonderfully preserved Renaissance frescoes teeming with gold inlay and brightly colored detail, as well as, an amazing collection of medieval choir books took me back in time to something akin to a historical fairytale.

As we left the cathedral, we walked as if in a waking dream and only snapped back into reality when our stomachs started growling and we absolutely had to find the perfect dining experience to go along with our new found love for Siena.

And we found it – Antica Osteria Da Divo.

Da Divo is housed in ancient Etruscan rooms cut out of the ‘tufa’, the soft volcanic rock on which Siena is built. Cozily lit and surrounded by exposed ancient rock walls, we settled into our table and couldn’t believe our luck in not only finding the place but squeaking in with a last-minute reservation.

We had an array of rustic yet elegant Tuscan dishes that ranged from crispy breaded anchovy fillets pungent with extra virgin olive oil, famous Florentine-style T-bone steak carved table side, Senelese style pasta – thick and chewy – in a rich robust wild boar ragu flavored with whole juniper berries, and an indulgent porcini mushroom risotto finished table side in a Tuscan pecorino cheese wheel. Unbelievable.

We finished off our many courses with plenty of Chianti Classico and homemade Italian cookies with espresso. Oh, and there was a chocolate lava cake – more chocolaty than sickly sweet – that just happened to appear on our table.

Needless to say we were seriously delirious and pretty slap-happy when we finally stood up after the hours of warm-cozy-delicious-sumptuous-all-day-sight(eat)seeing in Siena.

The cold drizzle outside was a welcome embrace when we walked outside. Again we were immediately transported back in time except now the village looked excitingly dangerous in the dark.

Somehow we found our way back to our car and sadly bid farewell to Siena.

We vowed to return one day.

But now, it was time to head to Florence.

p.s. Don’t forget to check Food Pix for more photos from Siena!

An EDD-ter’s Tour of Italy – Along the A1…

One of my favorite things to do while traveling, especially in foreign countries, is to stop and eat at rest stops dotting the highways or at shopping mall food courts. Sure the food is fast and cheap, but it’s the weird snacks, foreign takes on typical foods like burgers, never-before-seen or sampled local eats, and of course a unique view of local life that make for some of the most memorable impromptu visits.

On the A1 toward Florence, we stopped at a Cafe Express. The name sounds innocuous enough, boring really, but my jaw dropped when I walked through the automatic sliding doors. Imagine a dungeon crawl of sorts, only the “walls” are stacks of dried pastas, cookies, pastries, bread, chips, canned tomatoes, chocolate, candies, and pretty much anything else that comes in a shiny vacuum sealed package. It’s a labyrinth of food of every kind, in every foreign language, and it beckons you further and further into its winding corridors.

And you can’t get out.

The walls are high enough that you can see a lit-up array of salami, prosciutto, and mortadella paninis glowing like a beacon on the other side, but any attempt at a short cut would cause a disaster of Godzilla-like proportions.

So you have no choice but to press ever further into the maze of delectable delights – picking up too many things a long the way – wishing you’d grabbed a basket at the beginning. Darn it!

Seconds later (or apparently 20 minutes later according to your husband waiting for you on the other side), you realize you’ve made it through despite the ache in your arms, both of which are embracing (and balancing) 3 chocolate bars, 2 bags of chips, a package of cookies, a bottle of extra virgin olive oil, a jar of Marcona-stuffed olives, and a bag of trofie pasta with a pretty red, green and white bow on it.

But a waft of fresh espresso and fragrant savory salami draws you out of the haze, and you realize, you’ve made it. And now, yes now, is the time to partake of your spoils.

Mwahahaha!

OK, OK so I didn’t make it out of the store with ALL that stuff, but boy was it glorious while it lasted. See how much fun road stops can be?