September 25, 2008


Living in Florence often feels like living in Disneyland
without free bathrooms!

I actually LIVED downtown Florence for 24 years,
just moving full time to my place in the countryside this May.

Living in Florence often feels like living in Disneyland, with over 500,000 tourists
a day coming into town, often really running through.
Been there done that sort of attitude, if it's Tuesday,must be Florence.
Cruise ships, drop clients off in Livorno and they spend 1 1/2 hours coming into town and the same leaving, so they arrive around 10am and leave at 4pm.
In a country where the 3 hour lunch still exists, this cramps ones style.

This week I met some lovely tourists from the south who said that they had not had good Italian food - LIKE AT HOME- here in Italy.


I understand that, I hated Italian food in America and love it here.

I am really a city girl, love being able to wake up and walk outside
without having to drive to get an expresso or the paper.

Now I live in the middle of olive groves and vineyards
and sometimes don't leave for days.

Life is different now.
Thank God for internet ( even slow dialup!)
There is hope though news on a new service for my area, private router with WIFI too!

Yesterday, headed out to Prato to search out some places to eat while there
next week as a base for my Master Chocolate Program
for Ecole Chocolat.
Prato is a 12 minute train ride from the Rifredi train station,
where we changed trains instead of going all the way down to the Santa Maria Novella station,
but that would have only added on 4 or 5 minutes.

So close yet so far away.

Italy has only been united since the late 1800's
and animosity between the different towns is still alive.

In Florence they say:
" Meglio un morto in casa che un Pisano sull'uscio"
Better a dead person in the house that someone from Pisa on your doorstep. All because Pisa put a tax on salt!

I have never heard any sayings about people from Prato,
but saying someone was from Prato was said in a way
to let you know they were not Florentines.

So I have never spent much time in Prato, like Torino, famous for industry.

Yesterday I discovered a lovely town totally worth visiting for tourists.
Much like Lucca, Prato is a walled in city, which gives you the feel of
peace and quiet and a real town.

EVERYONE was on bikes or walking.

Sitting down to eat did not cost a fortune.

There are several churches with amazing fresco's.

detail of side of Prato's Cathedral

A wonderful textile museum, Prato has been famous since medieval times for fabrics.
On the edge of town is also a modern art musuem, Luigi Pecci.

Another reason to come to Prato is the lovely
Mattei Pastry shop.
This is the original store for Biscotti di Prato, often called Cantucci here.
They are celebrating their 150th anniversary on Monday;
and we wil be there!
WEAR SOMETHING BLUE, like their famous bags.

The Party starts at 6pm o Monday.
See you there.

True Biscotti have no butter.
Does that mean we can eat more?

Funny porta-potties for workers!

September 16, 2008

Torino- Mon Amor- Part One

The Grande Madre church, on the river. Full of mystery- Is that the Holy Grail in her hand?

Torino is a city of mystery and magic.

Everytime I visit Torino I fall more and more in love.
It is a city like San Francisco to me, great downtown,
fabulous food and wine,
great bar-caffe life,
wonderful musuems
still modern while retaining its older elegance.

It is more similar to Paris than Rome or Florence.

Torino became the capital of Italy as soon as it was united, in 1860's,
having been the home to the Royal family of Savoia.

Today Torino is probably more thought of for the Fiat Factory
and as an industrial town and not a place to visit.

Think again!

Torino has it roots in France which shows up in the architecture,
dialect and some of the older customs as well as food.

I adore grissini, the hand-rolled breadsticks from Torino

Torino has incredible musuems:
Cinema- very cool as well as interesting
Egyptian -( second largest in the world)
A modern art musuem, design musuem, EATALY for foodies, all the Royal palaces and parks.

This trip I went to see
Palazzo Madame and the special Exhibitian on Sicilian Coral

It took me a whole day, the place was facinating.

Another goal was to finally get to eat at
a "private club", for painters and decorators,
that has always been closed when I was there

Located in a nice neighborhood, behind the Grande Madre
in an area called Borgo Po,
this was opened in 1883 as a club.
Still today it is a place to gather, but now also offering food and wine.

We were seated out by the Bocce ball court,
candles lit everywhere, a lovely atmosphere.
Simple food, fixed men with choices of first course and main course.
25 euro plus wine.

Was simple but lovely.
here is my main course
an incredible assortment of cheeses with a homemade fig jam.

The full menu was-

warm spinach stuffed tomato,
puff pastry with prosciutto and cheese,
bresaola ( air-dried beef)

( they let me have a tasting of both)
Risotto with ragu
pasta with a hazelnut pesto

two of us had the cheese plate
My husband had the roast veak with a hazelut sauce.

There was a large choice of typical sweets
I had the baked peaches filled with chocolate and crushed amaretto cookies
My husband had a warm zabaione with cookies.

All in all PERFECT

The other reason I went was to find some modern classic places
to add to my Edible Torino project

Thanks to an Sandra
fellow Twitter-er blogger Vittorio
We dined at the wonderful
Sotto le Mole
Husband and wife team,
Simone Ferrero in the Kitchen and his wif, Rosa Anna Grosso in the front of the house.
She is a fabulous sommelier, let her guide you!

A tiny jewel located right in front of the Mole, where the Cinema Musuem is located.

It is the perfect place for special dinner, without breaking the bank.

Their tasting menu was 35 Euro, plus wine.
We had a fabulous meal and spent about 45 Euro a person, with wine.

I was not very good at taking foto's

an antipasto tasting

Piedmonte is famous for its beef, so I ALWAY
get tartare, here it is hand chopped and not seasoned.
It doesn't need it.
That is horseradish garnish, simple and lovely

Wer were 5 at dinner so I got to taste quite a few dishes.

There was fresh pasta with local mushrooms,
incredible veal tagliata with perfect fried potato garnish

even a rare dish called Finanzier, made with livers and other innards.

My friend Sandra had snails.

breaded and fried porcini to close the menu,
we thought!

One of the best bites was a Robiola cheese
served with a glass of Moscato di Asti sparkling wine.
No foto ate it too fast!
The cheese was perfectly ripe and creamy and the wine clean and not too sweet.

Desserts were lovely and not too sweet, but I was in a food coma!

I am just posting one,

More on Torino to come....
one post is not enough!

September 7, 2008

Edible Florence- Gastone


When I met my hubby Andrea, he lived in a wonderful neighborhood
near Santa Croce:
a block from Vivoli's ice cream parlor
and a block down from Borgo degli Albizi,
which is one of my favorite shopping streets.

Any place to eat here would be great locationwise.

Where I used to buy my bread, at one of Florence's original
Il Fornaio bakeries, where my neighbor Fedora Galli, the matriarch,
was at the cash register daily
now stands


a lovely new wine bar restaurant.

Federica and Dario
check out the incredible wine by the glass list.

I love having the choice of having a one course meal,
or a nice glass of wine with a sandwich or cheese.

They have combined it all here in a lovely modern space.

Our friend from Puglia, Giampiero, is working there during the day,
also prepares the incredible marinated veggies that came on my bagel plate;
roasted herbed cherry tomatoes, grilled green chili's,
grilled marinated eggplant and marinated zucchii ribbons.
Besides the smoked salmon, there was also smoked herring which has always been a favorite
at Tuscan wine bars.
Plenty of cream cheese for my toasted bagel too.

I will go back just to have those again!

We had a huge chicken salad served with a very light curry sauce to dip
the fried chicken pieces in.
The salad was filled with interesting lettuces and wild greens, corn,
cherry tomatoes and mozzarella

and my dessert!

Everything was lovely
but of course I MUST finish on a sweet note.

A very light and lovely twist on Panna Cotta,
Latte in piedi, made with wonderful local milk instead of the richer heavy cream,
the version I had today was with carmelized banana's and rum,
served with a port reduction.

Gastone Wine Bar Restaurant.
Via Matteo Palmieri,26/r
055 2638763

wine bar open from 11-midnight
lunch from 12-3
dinner from 7-11
closed Sunday

September 3, 2008

Taste of Tuscany- Fresh Beans

Shelling fresh Lamon beans from Cuneo

One of the best things about the markets in Italy is the service.

I love going to get my beans and my lovely vendor is sitting there shelling the beans for me!
It makes life so much easier.

I also adore cooking fresh beans as they only take about 30 minutes instead of hours for dried beans.

In American, my personal bean guru is Steve at Rancho Gordo.
He can get beans to you from his site, and now you can also get his book!!!!
His blog is full of great ideas too on cooking beans.

As the hot summer days are leaving us and cooler evenings and even rain is arriving. Soothing soups come to mind. If it is still hot outside, they can be eaten warm instead of hot.

To create a full meal, add a pasta or rice (or as we do here Farro, called spelt or emmer) to create a perfect protein. Soul food for Italians!

Made with tiny macaroni, known as Pasta Fasool by many or Pasta e Fagioli in Italian
there are as many variations as there are mothers.

Zuppa di Farro e Fagioli
Tuscan bean soup with Farro

12 ounces dried white beans, cannellini, pinto beans or cranberry beans called Lamon here
2 quarts water
2 garlic cloves
1 sage branch
1-tablespoon salt
3-tablespoons olive oil

3 oz farro

First cook beans:
Place beans and cold water in a heavy-bottomed bean pot.
Add sage, olive oil and whole peeled garlic cloves.
Cook slowly. Do not let the water boil. Add more cold water as needed.

Cooking time, anywhere from 2 to 3 hours if you are using dry beans or 30 minutes for fresh.
Add salt in the last 10 minutes of cooking time to prevent the beans from getting tough.
Tasting is the only way to know that the beans are done.
The beans can also be cooked in the oven in a casserole.
You can serve the beans drained, drizzled with olive oil and a twist of fresh black pepper.

To make Soup:
Parboil farro in salted water.
Purée half the beans and put the remaining whole beans in a soup pot together.
Heat, adding more water if soup seems too thick.
Add farro to soup and heat together.

In a small pot, heat 1 tbs of olive oil per person and 1 tsp of Tuscan Herbs, just to warm.
Drizzle into soup.

Enjoy this recipe as  pasta fasool, substituting short macaroni for the farro, precooking it in salted water. I also usually add a little tomato paste to add color.

Here is another twist on the classic which I enjoy at a wonderful trattoria outside of Florence.

Burde’s Zuppa di Fagioli
Bean Soup from Burde’s Trattoria outside of Florence

Cook the beans and farro together until the farro is really over-cooked.

In a small skillet, sauté one red onion, chopped, in some extra virgin olive oil.
Season to taste with Droghe Toscane, similar to pumpkin pie mixture and when the onions are softened, add to the soup. Add tomato paste and some water.

Purée the ingredients together until smooth. (In Italy I use a Passatutto, a food mill to remove any skins)

Life is as simple as a bowl of beans!
Enjoy the simple pleasures of the season.