I just wanted to thank Josh for having me, and everyone else for reading and commenting. It's been a great week, and I hope everyone enjoyed this as much as I have. I'm back at work in Berkeley now, at a wonderful new restaurant, Eccolo -- it's so Italian, I almost don't miss Italy.
Anyway, I love to give tips on where to eat in Tuscany (and the Bay Area), so don't hesitate to contact me at anytime through my blog.
Buon appetito, e ci sentiamo presto!
This is Benedetta Vitali's recipe for timballo, which borrows heavily from the recipe in Jeanne Carola Francesconi's La Cucina Napoletana, one of my favorite cookbooks of all time. We are going to include it in the cookbook we're working on now, but the measurements haven't been converted from the metric system yet. So use the metric converter, along with some good judgment, and your timballo should come out beautifully.Read More >
Ever since seeing Big Night, my dreams had been filled with visions of the timpano. I tried to convince the chefs at Chez Panisse to put timballo on the menu, saying that though it might be a lot of work to prepare, it would be easy on the line, but they never went for it. I decided that I'd make a timballo for myself at my own goodbye party, with pesto, trenette pasta, minty meatballs and hardboiled eggs, but things got really crazy before I left, and I never got around to it. So when I got to Italy and Benedetta asked me to come help her with a cooking demonstration and dinner that the Marchesa di Frescobaldi was holding at her Castello di Nipozzano for the European press, I was thrilled to find out that timballo would be on the menu.
Timpano, which means "drum" in Italian, and timballo are two different names for the same thing. As they put it in Big Night, "A timpano is a drum with the best things in the world inside!" Traditionally from the south of Italy, there are different versions wherever you go -- some with rice, some with pasta, some with both -- the timballo is a slightly sweetened pastry crust filled with all sorts of savory treats, ranging from hardboiled eggs and meatballs to chicken livers and mozzarella cheese. It's a party dish, brought whole to the table and sliced with theatrical flare before the guests, accompanied, of course, with plenty of oohs and ahhs and in Italy, usually applause.
I can remember the first time I discovered my neighborhood rosticceria, or rotisserie -- I was at a friend's house, and she said that we should walk down there and get some chicken and lasagne for dinner. So we went over, just as the lasagne was being pulled out of the oven. Two young women worked behind the counter, expertly weilding the spits without burning themselves as I probably would, and carving whole roast chickens with two or three slips of a knife. Even before tasting anything, I was impressed.
When I got home, I was delighted to find that the spit-roasted chickens were the best I'd ever tasted -- herby, salty, and moist, the skin was just amazing. We'd bought a bit of each type of chicken, both the tondo (round) and the schiacciato (flattened). In recent years, I'd come to prefer chicken leg to the breast, because nearly every breast I encountered was dry and flavorless. But deep down inside, it's the white meat that I love, and after a bite of the pollo tondo, I knew I'd found The Perfect Chicken Breast. As one might expect, the breast of the pollo schiacciato was drier, but the skin was crispier, and the leg was absolutely heavenly.
The lasgane was an incredible heap of pasta fresca, ragú and besciamella, and over the months, I've come to realize that it's never quite the same. It's like a little lottery, except you never lose. Sometimes, there's more meat, sometimes more tomato, but it's always delicious, and always cheap.Read More >
A Guide to the Best Gelato in Florence, by Flavor
Especially in the summer, it seems like every other storefront in Florence sells gelato, so choosing the right place and the right flavor can be a little intimidating. Along with a comprehensive list of the city's best flavors and gelaterie, I'd like to give a little gelato primer, if you will, on how to choose an ice cream you won't regret (in case you forget the list I've prepared at home).
1. Start by looking for signs that say produzione propria, which means "house made," though even this is often not enough to guarantee that the gelato will be any good.
2. Every time I enter a new gelateria, I glance at the pistachio flavor. If it's neon green, then I leave. For me, this is a better indicator than produzione propria, because even homemade ice cream can be full of artificial flavors. Pistachios are relatively expensive, so many ice cream makers take the easy way out and use artificial flavors and colors to fake it. What makes gelato so lovely is the purity and explosiveness of its flavor -- if someone is stooping so low as to add food coloring to his or her pistachio gelato, then there's no telling what's being done to any of the other flavors.
3. My two favorite gelaterie, Vestri in Florence and San Crispino in Rome, use cylindrical steel containers to store their ice cream. The gelati are kept out of view, but are better refrigerated and preserved. For these places, the flavor of the gelato is advertisement enough -- they don't need to show their wares to attract customers, because they have the best product available. This sort of refrigeration system is more traditional, and also more expensive, than the hotel-pan-in-the-freezer-case setup that is much more common, but in my opinion, it is a sure sign that the gelato is of the highest quality.
4. When ordering gelato, try to limit yourself to three or four flavors. Having too many flavors can get messy, and it becomes difficult to tell which is which by the end of your cone or cup.
All of the gelaterie that I've listed below make their own ice cream from scratch using fresh, wholesome ingredients. For the most part, you can't go wrong choosing any flavor at any of them. But, each place does have its strong points, and I've generously done extensive taste testing to be able to bring you the best of each gelateria.Read More >
Throughout my time in Florence, I've lived in pretty much every neighborhood in the center: San Niccolò, l'Oltrarno, Sant' Ambrogio, and smack dab in the center between the train station and the Duomo. Though I loved San Niccolò and l'Oltrarno, living a minute's walk from the Mercato Centrale definitely appeals to the cook (glutton) in me.
When I first got to Florence and worked lunches at Zibibbo, the only day I had off was Monday, so every single Monday I went to Nerbone for lunch. One of the chefs at the Chez Panisse Cafe was obsessed with the bollito (boiled beef) sandwiches there, waxing poetic about the thin slices of costole, or rib meat, and especially herby salsa verde every time he put bollito misto on his own menu. So I made a point of having a panino bollito be one of the first things I ate when I got to town, even if I was still grappling with the mid-September heat. Bollito isn't exactly the perfect summer meal.
But oh, the joys of the perfect Nerbone panino. It took me some trial and error: in the beginning, when I didn't speak Italian, I got there once at nearly 2:00 p.m., just before the market closes, and asked for a sandwich. The cashier tried to warn me about something, but I acted like like whatever he was talking about was no big deal, and I just paid for the sandwich, anyway. He gave me my receipt, and I walked to the other end of the vetrina to order my panino, and Stefano, the paninaio, pulled out a big hunk of lampredotto, the tripe that looks like the ruffled shirt of a 1974 powder blue tuxedo, and started to make me a sandwich. I realized later, after my first -- and not entirely unsuccessful -- encounter with tripe that they'd been telling me there was no beef left.Read More >
The Food Section travels to Florence, Italy, this week for the second edition of Moveable Feast, an ongoing feature consisting of local food writing with a decidedly non-New York focus.
Professional cook and writer Samin Nosrat will be guest editing The Food Section for the next five days, providing a bellyful of culinary reportage on the flavors of Florence.
Ms. Nosrat spent three years at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California, before traveling to Florence to work on a cookbook with Benedetta Vitali, chef/owner of Trattoria Zibibbo and the author of Soffritto: Tradition and Innovation in Tuscan Cooking. She just returned to the United States, but during her final days abroad, she penned a series of reports on some of her favorite food finds and culinary experiences during her two years in Italy. From the secret culture of ordering a panino bollito at the Mercato Centrale to where to find the best gelato in Florence, Ms. Nosrat will be your gastronomical guide.
While Ms. Nosrat takes the helm, Appetizers, the daily links, and Agenda, the weekly listing of food events, will be on a one-week hiatus, returning the week of July 5.