Saturday, 13 October 2012

Eating Florence

I love when a new city is a complete and utter surprise. I fell in love with Florence almost instantly.

Staying in an apartment built in the 1400's (thanks with a wonderful piazza on our front doorstep with markets, cafes and bars to the wonderful city itself with a gorgeous labyrinth on windy streets, fantastic food markets and gelati as far as the eye could see, what's not to love about the capital of Tuscany?

Catching trains is so easy in Europe, and my preferred method of transport for short to medium-haul trips. And when first class is usally only 20-30% more, why not? Extra comfy seats and more-often-than-not complimentary treats. Like my espresso and shortbread fingers.

I was famished when I got into Florence, or Firenze to natives. So straight off the train, I caught a taxi to the piazza (public square) that our apartment was on and pulled up a table in the sun.

My main came out before my starter, but I was not bothered when it looked and tasted so amazing. Risotto con zucchini and parmisan.

THIS... This was a revelation! Melty, oozy mozzarella wrapped in prosciutto, fried with a crispy outer, served on a salad of rocket leaves. I am so stealing this recipe.

Dinner was a fantastic swordfish carpaccio served with the lovely bursty pink peppercorns that I first tried in Civitavecchia. So fresh and clean and yum.

My partner-in-crime ordered a tomato soup and let me have a try. It was unbelievable, pure taste of ripe, home-grown tomatoes, garlic and seasoning and nothing else. The tomato soups over here have bread though it, which gives it a real deep richness, but as J found out- also makes it very filling.

Wild boar ragu with tagliatelle. Wholesome, meaty, rich, definately hug-on-a-plate type stuff.

I have to mention (even with out pictures) J's choice which was such a little star of a meal: squash ravioli with duck in an orange sauce. What a sensation!

Room for dessert? NO! Ordered it anyway- YES! Creme Caramel gelati. My first try of gelati in Italy... it's good- take my word.

Brunch: gnocchi in cream with prosciutto and radicchio- very sinful and wonderfully delicious start to the day.

Side of grilled med-veggies.

Here I am torn. J and I stopped into a place which was chock full of tourists #warningbells but we were hungry and it had food. I had a Margarita as an apertif- it was very good. I asked for an ash tray, it never came. We shared a 4 cheese pizza for a starter which was exceptional. I had pork with spinach, it was pre-cooked, re-heated and flavourless, J had to struggle through his main too. The service was terrible and we left feeling hungry. Don't worry, I reviewed it on and found that I was not the only one who had these feelings!
Who garnishes with dried herbs anyway???
If in Florence, steer clear.

After such an average dinner this 'After Eights' gelati more than made up for it!

Firenze Central Markets

And this wonderful antipasto of meats- it went really well with afternoon beers.

There was a wood fired pizza place at the end of the piazza that always had lineups out the door, so we decided we'd try it for ourselves. They looked so good I dug in before I remembered to take a picture.

Simple, amazing pizza.

 A picnic in the park.

On our second-to-last night we stopped into a bar on the piazza and they had a sign up which we tried to figure out over cocktails. It said something along the lines of 'Apertif Buffet' 7pm-9pm. Was It an all-can-drink buffet? Foods? The answer came when we asked our waitress... for 1 euro with a drink pruchase we could help ourselves to the buffet they would lay out. Seemed like a good idea.

We certainly weren't expecting the layout in front of us... salad, ham, roast pork, roast potato and lasagne.

What a sensational idea. Were had just been thinking about getting some dinner and we stayed and bought several more drinks because of the great deal. Very clever marketing.

Florence really stole my heart, both the city and the food. If you get to Italy, I can not recommend it enough. Just try to steer clear of the made-for-tourist cafes.

Friday, 12 October 2012

Eating Rome

 I stopped into Rome purely for the sake of going to having been to Rome.

It was a very busy and hot city. With a million tourists. Many of the cafes and restaurants, you could tell, were purely set up for tourists. In saying that I still had some lovely food while there. And what else I found is that the waiters and restaurant owners were great for a chat.

I arrived in time for a late lunch/early dinner, and decided on a birra and a Spagetti Carbonara.

Carbonara is one of my Mum's perfected dishes and the one I had here was so on par with Mum's version. So, well done mum and well done Italy.

The crispy bacon really made this dish.

 I only had one full day and 2 half days in Rome and the full day was packed to the brim with sightseeing. It was hot and humid and I really looked forward to escaping the sweltering heat to the comfort of a cafe.

Another beer... for cooling purposes.
Nice bottle.
 I feel pretty blessed that there's no food I don't like. It comes in really handy when I can't actually understand menus. I really wanted a salad to start and insalata I could understand.

This one contained octopus, almonds, celery and sun dried tomatoes, and was absolutely delicious!

 For a main I tried the ravioli with ricotta and spinach in tomato sauce. It was delicious but the sauce tasted so much like Dolmio bottled sauce... I don't know if this means my palette has become too accustomed to bottled sauces or if big sauce companies have just got it right... or maybe it was just a bland sauce.

Don't get me wrong, it was still delicious, but different from what I expected.
 Dinner day 2.

I did not judge this book by it's cover. A very shabby looking street side cafe turned out to be a wonderful surprise.
 The waiter barely spoke any English but we had such a fun time trying to understand each other.

I ordered insalata Greca... a Greek Salad. It was fresh and tasty.

 And a Pizze con gambetta, a pizza with prawns.

It really was heavenly. Pizzas all around the Mediterranean are just awesome.

I have found that with pizzas you need 3 vital things... a wonderful base, a really fresh and well seasoned tomato sauce and buffalo mozzarella. 

 This low-cal (HAH) plate was the profiterole plate.. a recommendation from my waiter a la favorita. It was MENTALLY good. Chocolatty, and cakey and cream galore. I loved it.

 A limencello to settle the tum.

Limoncello is a wonderful Italian digestif which tastes just like lemon squash (cordial).

I don't know if I'd go back to Rome, but it was certainly an experience. Next stop. Florence.

Spoiler alert... best food I've ever eaten was in Florence!

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Eating Civitaveccia

 It's amazing how much of my time is spent doing exactly this.

My first port of call in Italy is Civitaveccia, the coastal port for Rome. It gets several cruise ships and ferries in every day, and thus, is loaded with tourist-friendly cafes and pizzerias.

I stopped here for 3 days as an R&R stop after pounding the pavement in Barcelona and chose a little hotel in the hinterland with nothing around it but hills, sky, ocean views and cows.

One of the great parts of Tenuta dell'Argento is it has a courtesy bus for trips into town. And as the restaurant was closed on monday (and I was out of fags) I chose to have a drive into town and a little look around.

The town is how you would imagine any cruise-port-tourist-trap, with expensive boutiques and 'THIS IS ITALIAN FOOD' cafes.

I chose to head off the main drag and found a small cafe with predominantly locals in. I ordered a 66cl Heinekin and a Pizza el Funghi con Bufala Mozzarella- A Mushroom pizza with extra buffalo Mozzerella.

For my first 'Italian' pizza, I was very impressed.  

 A stone-baked base. Plentiful with mushroom and very very tasty.

 This little devil lives around 50 m from me.

 The stables.

A very pleasant view.
The meat, raised just outside.
A wee carafe of vino and some aqua.


Tantula's Hors D'Oeuvre: including carpaccio (right), and the one on the left tasted like slow cooked, pulled beef- both were to die for. The carpaccio had the most beautiful pink peppercorns which exploded to the bite in a pleasant, not-at-all overbearing pepperiness which was so complimentary.

ALSO on the hors d'oeuvres (yes this was just a starter) was deep-fried beef meatballs, and two pastry covered beauties which were both different but both resembled the most wonderful little pasties. So yum.

I partially chose this hotel because I had read about the steak, and I asked the waiter for the best one they had. Here... is.. my 1 kg organically reared on-site T-Bone.

Served au naturele, apart from some olive oil and strangly enough a scattering of meat charrings- which tasted INCREDIBLE! I only added salt and pepper to witness its' true flavour.

It tasted so beautiful and natural and wholesome. It was utterly divine and needed nothing else.

Cooked to rare.

I actually surprised myself by finishing the whole lot.

Needless to say, I need a lie down after that, especially seeing I had promised myself dinner in this restaurant as well.

Starter: Caprese- tomato and mozzerella. It's amazing how perfect such a simple dish can be with nothing but 2 fresh ingredients, plus virgin olive oil, salt and pepper. Drink- persecco.

Main: risotto el funghi. Beautifully cooked and seasoned with the most intense Porcini mushrooms throughout.

I really love when I develop a repertoire with a waiter as I had here. It had literally gotten to a point where he would ask what I wanted, and I would give him free reign to bring me wait he willed.

He certainly didn't fail in the dessert department.

Behold: Puff pastry with chantilly cream, pepper and fragrance.

As hardcore as it looks, it was surprisingly delicate, and surprisingly light. The puff pastry was lighter-than-air, the cream was velvety and sumptuous. Quite possibly one of the most beautiful desserts I have ever eaten.

I called my waited back for a digestif (as you could imagine), and it was the perfect finale to a perfect day of eating.

If this is my intro to Italian food, I can't wait for the rest of my adventures.