Florence: Day 8

We enjoyed a quiet morning in the apartment and then around noon walked up to the Central Market of San Lorenzo (I promise we will branch out beyond this place, it’s just so amazing to live so close to a market like this). We had noticed a stand in the seafood section of the market the other day that served plates of fried mixed fish. We decided it would make a great lunch. So we got the calamari – baccala (cod) – gamberi (prawns) plate with fries. The mixed fish were simply tossed in flour, fried and then served with a couple lemon slices, which was all the fish needed to be delicious. To this point, Emily had never eaten fish. We had tried tuna and salmon a couple times, but it seemed seafood was one of two things she consistently wouldn’t eat (the other being eggs). But she ate the baccala and loved it! I also love that the stand served glasses of wine for less than a coke – €1 vs. €2. And there was no choice of wine. It was just a white wine served in a plastic glass. In other words, there is one type of wine they believe goes well with this food, and that’s what you get. This lunch was one of the best plates of food I’ve had in Florence yet!

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After lunch we explored the city a bit more and found a square for Emily to practice walking, piazza della Passera.  We decided to try Trattoria 4 Leoni off that square for an early dinner.  This setting was the prettiest yet.  The area seems to attract a lot of Italians and it was fun to people watch while having dinner.

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I ordered ribollita which is a famous Tuscan soup made from bread, cannelini beans and vegetables.  I had been wanting to try it since we arrived in Florence.  It was much thicker than I expected (to call it a soup seems wrong) and the version I had reminded me a lot of Thanksgiving stuffing.  This is another dish I will be curious to compare other versions, to see if the flavors and consistency vary from place to place.

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Joe ordered the pici salsiccia.  Pici is a thick, hand-rolled pasta like a fat spaghetti.  The pasta was tossed in a sausage-tomato sauce that was heavily seasoned with fennel seeds.  It was very delicious!

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After not having done anything too adventurous for a few days, tomorrow we plan to go on a hike to explore an area outside of Florence, and I’m working on lining up cooking classes for the next two weeks.  There is a lot to look forward to!

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Florence: Day 7

We survived daylight savings in Europe, far better than we did in the US!  Regardless, I woke up this morning craving an American cup of coffee.  I do love the espresso here, but today I wanted more volume.  So we stopped into a cafe as usual, but today I ordered a caffe americano and I splurged on a nutella waffle.  Joe didn’t stray from the usual espresso and pastry.

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After a morning of sight-seeing, we came back to the apartment around lunch time to put Emily down for a nap.  We just snacked at home before venturing out again in the afternoon.  We stopped into a pub to watch some soccer and then grabbed an early dinner at a restaurant that was recommended to us by our apartment owner, Il Barroccio.

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We didn’t branch out much from a variety standpoint with this dinner, but both dishes came recommended by our apartment owner and the waiter, so we decided to get the tagliata di manzo con rucola e parmigiano (steak with arugula and parmigiano reggiano, all drizzled in balsamic vinegar) and the ravioli ai funghi e tartufo (mushroom & truffle ravioli).   Our table was set up on the sidewalk of a quiet side street and the weather was gorgeous.  We split a half bottle of Chianti again.  I do wish half bottles were more readily available at restaurants in the US.  It is the perfect amount for dinner!

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The tagliata di manzo was even better than the first we tried earlier in the week.  The steak was very tender and the balsamic was rich and sweet.

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The ravioli was not as good as the other pastas we have had.   The pasta was extremely soft and the dish wasn’t extremely flavorful.  But “not great” pasta in Italy is nothing to complain about!  We certainly still enjoyed it.

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At the end of the meal, we splurged on Tiramisu.  This one was again more focused on the mascarpone cream than the lady fingers, which is what both Joe & I prefer.  And Emily loved it too!

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Florence: Day 6

Today was a great food day!  We walked up to the Central Market of San Lorenzo so I could spend more time there and so that Joe and Emily could experience it for the first time.  After wandering around and purchasing a few things (dried porcini mushrooms, cheese, fava beans and some herbs), we ate lunch at a stand in the market called Nerbone which has been serving food in the market for over a hundred years.

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We had risotto asparagi (asparagus risotto) and a glass of chianti.  The risotto was far more al dente than any I’ve had before.  I’m curious to see if this is the traditional Italian way.  I look forward to trying other risottos in the near future to compare. But this risotto was extremely flavorful and quite affordable.  After lunch we went to a fish stand in the market and bought some salmon to cook for dinner.  I love the lifestyle where you purchase your ingredients fresh on the same day you cook them!

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In the afternoon we stopped off at a small wine bar near our apartment (Il Panino del Chianti) where they had €2.50 glasses of wine and €0.50 crostini.  It was a great afternoon snack and I’m sure we will return.

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Once we returned home and put Emily to bed, I started cooking dinner. As a first course, we snacked on Marzolino cheese and fava beans.  Marzolino is a type of fresh Pecorino that is seasonal in the Spring (Marzo = March).  Pecorino is the most abundant regional cheese in Florence and before coming here, I didn’t know fresh Pecorino cheese existed.  The Marzolino was truly delicious!  The texture was soft and creamy, which is my favorite.  And the flavor was sharp, which I love!  Fava beans are currently in season as well.  I originally purchased them at the market to go with our salmon for dinner, but then read that people in Florence traditionally enjoy Marzolino cheese with fava beans, so we gave it a try.  It was a great combination of flavors.

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We chose to keep dinner light after all of the pasta, pizza and bread we have eaten lately, and we were both craving seafood.  So I cooked salmon with fava beans in a butter-dill sauce.  All ingredients came from the Central Market of San Lorenzo.  I’m enjoying cooking with just a few ingredients.  Simplicity is a great lesson to learn.  There still was so much flavor!

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Florence: Day 5

Because we will be in Florence for 88 days, we can’t afford to eat a big meal out every single day. Now that we have had a few days to get settled into our apartment, we decided to take it easy for a day. We stopped in at a small cafe for a couple sandwiches for lunch. Again, the sandwiches were super simple. One was lettuce, tomato and fresh mozzarella on ciabatta bread and the other was prosciutto and mozzarella on croissant-like bread. Italians don’t use condiments like mayo or mustard at all, but with the quality of ingredients, you really don’t miss them. Emily is getting used to using her four teeth to take bites out of sandwiches!

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Late afternoon we walked up to the Piazzale Michelangelo which boasts one of the best views of the city. Joe and I split an Italian beer and enjoyed the sunset.

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Florence: Day 4

Today I took my first cooking class in Italy!  The class started with a tour of the Central Market of San Lorenzo.  This market is filled with endless booths of butchers, food purveyors, and local artisans.

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I could spend hours in this place.  We had a tasting of pomodoro sauce, cheese, bread, olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  We then were able to shop for a few minutes before the group headed over to a butcher (one of about 12) to buy the meat for the bolognese sauce we would be cooking later.

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After touring the market, we headed to the kitchen to begin cooking.  We first made tiramisu and it was truly one of the most delicious I’ve ever eaten.  The focus was more on the mascarpone cream than it was on the lady fingers, which I prefer.  Although I’m not much of a dessert-maker, I definitely plan to make this again!

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Next, we assembled the bolognese sauce as it needs at least an hour and a half to cook (some Italians will cook it up to 5-6 hours).  The ingredients were simple (quickly becoming a theme in my food experience here): carrots, celery, onion, pork, beef, Chianti and then tomato paste.

Lastly, we made fresh pasta.  Although I’ve made pasta several times before, I learned some new tricks that will help make my pasta even better.  And it inspired me to tackle fresh pasta in Italy, even in our small apartment kitchen without any of the tools I’m used to using at home.

While our pasta dough rested, we enjoyed some bruschetta and wine.  Once the pasta dough was ready, we rolled the dough and made ravioli (filled with a ricotta/spinach filling and served with a sauce made from butter and sage) and tagliatelle (served with the bolognese).

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Once everything was prepared, we feasted! And after we finished the pasta, we enjoyed our carefully crafted tiramisu desserts.  I was stuffed when it was over!

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Today was Emily’s first birthday! To celebrate, we let her munch on a cannoli in the Boboli Gardens. Joe and I of course had some cannoli as well. It was a wonderful indulgence! It was creamy and crunchy, but not overly sweet.

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In the late afternoon we went out to dinner at another restaurant just down the street from our apartment, Ristorante Santa Felicita.

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We were sure to order something with mushrooms, so we had a pizza al prosciutto cotto e funghi (pizza with ham and mushrooms). This was another delicious pizza with a perfect balance of toppings to crust, but not quite as flavorful as the pizza we had on our first day in Florence.

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I also thought it would be a fun treat for Emily to try truffles for the first time (I’m happy to find any excuse to eat truffles). So we ordered chitarrine tartufo, which was a spaghetti-like fresh pasta in a black truffle cream sauce. I didn’t know if Emily would like truffles, but knew Joe and I would enjoy the dish if she didn’t. To my delight, Emily loved it all!

Florence: Day 3

After a long night helping Emily adjust to the time change, we had a late start to the day. We grabbed a late morning espresso and small pastries for breakfast. We also had some fruit from a local market. This seems to be the Italian way, so I imagine most breakfasts will be this way for us. We then kept ourselves busy wandering around and getting settled in our apartment. Come late afternoon, we stopped in at a Trattoria for a late lunch/early dinner.

We started with a mixed antipasto platter called Nandina.  I really enjoy starting a meal this way.  We noshed on an assortment of meat, cheese, olives, tomatoes, eggplant, frittata and crostini.  Being in the Chianti region of Italy, we enjoyed a small bottle of Chianti with our meal.  The traditional bottle of Chianti has a wider bottom that sits in a basket.

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Next we split gnocchi sorrentina (gnocchi in a tomato, basil and cheese sauce). The gnocchi were incredibly light and the sauce was rich and delicious. And the tomato flavor was so fresh.

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Lastly, we split the tagliata di manzo con rucola e grana (steak, lettuce salad, grana padano cheese, all drizzled with balsamic vinegar). The steak was hearty, the arugula was extremely fresh and flavorful and the salty bite of the cheese and the sweetness of the balsamic vinegar brought the whole dish together. This was an excellent meal!

Florence: Day 2

We kept our first dinner in Florence simple as we were all recovering from the long flight and time change. Since Emily LOVES mushrooms, we got a porcini mushroom soup to start and then enjoyed a pizza al pomodoro e salsicci (pizza with tomatoes and sausage) at a small restaurant down the street from our apartment, Le Delizie. The soup was so velvety and delicious and the croutons were so generously toasted in olive oil, they were addicting.  And the pizza was perfect.  It had a lightly charred flavor and the toppings were fresh and delicious.  The pizza had just the right amount of toppings: not too much, not too little.  And of course we enjoyed a couple glasses of Chianti. Sometimes simple is best!

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IMG_0025Florence: Day 1

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