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Food | blog.artofcookery.com

Non Tuscan Food

Posted by aperion | Posted in Food

If you are traveling in Tuscany specifically, or Italy in general for a while, or perhaps are here for school then sometimes the craving for non-Tuscan food gets you in its grasp. Now, I luuuuurves me some Tuscan cooking, but occasionally the idea of some regular old diner style food sets my comfort food meter into overdrive. A juicy, blood rare cheeseburger loaded with bacon and all the trimmings, anyone? Anyone? Bueller, Bueller.

So, I had actually been mentioning this to a certain tall, not-so-dark, but deliciously handsome. The week of my birthday his friend took him to a EXACTLY the type of place I was craving. Then he took me there.

The visual is this: historical center of Florence with its characteristic narrow streets bounded by centuries old buildings. A few small tables outside the front door of the place. Walking distance from T, N-S-D and DH’s apartment. Bright red walls, music memorobilia and the scent of charred bovine wafting out of an open kitchen. Time for REAL burgers.

We sit in the second of the two small dining rooms…I want to watch one of the only open kitchens I have ever seen in Florence. There are other Americans and quite a few Italians chowing on burgers and fries already. The menu is dinerific. We order: he gets a bacon cheeseburger and I get a burger with gorgonzola, both of which are served with fries. Real fries, made with real potatoes, steak fry style. We only come up for air while inhaling our burgers because colleagues of his come in. Then we proceed to order and share a third burger and fries…yes it was good enough to do it.

Remember the $5 milkshake in Pulp Fiction? Well here they have the 5€ milkshake…inflation actually makes it almost reasonable…one of those will serve you well for dessert, as will their cheesecake with the strawberry glaze (even if yours doesn’t have a birthday candle.)

Better than all that is that they serve real breakfast…pancakes, omelettes, mimosa bla bla bla. They have a selection of standard omelettes plus a create your own option. This is not easy to find in Florence. Plus they have extensive hours and do not close between meals…so if the burger craving hits you at 3pm you are in luck, they are open from 8am until 10:30 daily.

Plus, unlike many restaurants in Florence they also have a website.

I are a Cookie Monster

Posted by dynise | Posted in Food

Being a writer type chick, it would not surprise most people to learn that I consume my fair share of coffee.  Consuming my fair share of coffee it would not surprise most people to learn that I like cookies.  This is all solely “job research” you understand.  So, I’m cruising around buying food and come across some of the most lovilyfied packaged Cantucci (the Tuscan biscotti) and since it’s hard to find a biscotti that I can’t make friends with, give it a shot.

Holy, saints in heaven, little angels flew down and made these things!!!  The perfect crispiness for coffee dipping, almonds that had more flavor than I have ever encountered in Cantucci before and an addictive quality that has you reaching for “just one more.”

So I think, should I be greedy and keep this information to myself, or should I share it?  And being a softie, I go with the sharing option.  So I call them up and ask if they ship to the good ol’ U S of A.  And it turns out that despite the fact that they are fairly small local company here in Tuscany, they do ship to the US.

So if you have a penchant for heavenly biscotti made with ingredients that are grown by Slow Food producers and want to pick up a fresh, new lively addiction go to http://www.sfizioitalia.it/english/company.htm.  Then go buy bulk quantities of coffee, sugar and milk.

Pizza, the Italian Way

Posted by dynise | Posted in Food, General

For those that have never been to Italy or never eaten authentic Italian style pizza fired in a wood oven, the switch to true Italian pizza can be a bit surprising.  The pizzas at California Pizza Kitchen would outrage most Italians.  If you try to ask for an New York style pizza or a Chicago style pizza you will get a strange quizzical look unless the pizzeria owner happens to have family in New York or Chicago.  There are two different regional styles here, Roman style and Neapolitan or Napoli style.

What makes the differences are mostly the dough and the toppings.  Dough is hand tossed here. Period.  And it is tossed as thinly as angel wings for the Roman style.  The Napoli style is a touch thicker than a New York style.  You will only find thicker crusts in the pizzerias that sell slices by weight.  Cuz then they make more money with the same amount of toppings.  I have yet to find a deep dish style pizza in the Chicago tradition, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

You will not notice a significant difference in pizza sauce, except in the quantity, generally just enough is used to complement the flavors of the toppings.  There will not be tomato sauce oozing all over your plate.  There are also a significant amount of white pizzas.  When the flavor of tomatoes does not blend well with the toppings the pizza will be sauceless, or very occasionally have a white sauce.

Toppings are the difference people tend to notice first.  Yes, mozzerella is used, and in the better pizzerias they use a low water content mozzerella because the water doesn’t leach out and make the crust soggy. But, and this is a big but, the amount used is a lot less than anything you will see at Round Table or Pizza Hut.  Far and away the most popular pizza is the margharita, tomato sauce, mozzerella and basil.  Most pizzerias will have about 20 different types you can order.  You will find pork products of every incarnation on pizza, pepperoni, sausage, prosciutto etc.  You will also find anchovies, capers, mushrooms and most types of vegetables.  You will find egg.  Give it a shot, it’s actually quite good, anyone who likes a bacon and egg breakfast should try it at least once.  If you are looking for BBQ sauce or chicken you will be looking for a long time.

Unless you are eating a thick slice from a by the slice pizzeria people here eat the pizza with a knife and fork, at least until getting to the outer crust.  And most places do not slice the pizza, with the thinner crust it cools faster and slicing before it goes to the table makes it cool even faster.  Drizzle some of the olive oil infused with peppers over your pizza if you are a fan of spicy food and you will be in pizza heaven


The Tree of Life

Posted by dynise | Posted in Food, General

If you have done any amount of traveling in the Mediterranean region you know how much olives are a part of daily life. Not only in olive oil which is used throughout the region, but in the fruit itself.  The trees are remarkably short unless they are extremely old, trees have been verified to be over 3000 years (not a typo) and still bearing fruit. In Tuscan and Italian cuisine, as well as many other Mediterranean cuisines, olive fruit is used abundantly.

The fruit itself will give you a nasty little surprise if you pluck one from a tree and eat it fresh.  If you have ever seen a baby suck on a slice of lemon and remember that face, then you know the kind of response I’m talking about.  The fruit itself is naturally quite bitter.  The olives you find in your store will have been fermented or brined or fermented and the brined.  The milder the olive, the more likely it has only been brined and not fermented.  If you taste a “California” olive alongside a Kalamata olive you will notice a distinctly milder flavor in the “California” olive.

Olives as an appetizer or snack are extremely common through all of the Mediterranean.  But they are used extensively in entrees as well.  They are a surprisingly good combination with raisins when you are creating your own dishes, especially with pork and chicken.  For snacks and appetizers olives that are not pitted are fine, and there are a much greater number of varieties of non pitted olives available, some of the deepest, darkest, tastiest olives still have their seeds.  When you are using them in an entree it is highly recommended to either slice around the pits or buy pitted olives.  You or a friend biting into a pit and needing immediate dental care is not the most entertaining way to spend an evening.

Open yourself up to the many different types of olives as well.  There are a huge number of varieties beyond the pimento stuffed version the bartender tosses into your martini.   You can find them fermented with peppers for those that like a little kick, stuffed with the typical pimentos, stuffed with a variety of cheeses from feta to blue and even stuffed with capers for those that like the full brine effect.  For most cooking the smaller darker varieties, kalamata, niciose and lugano work best in most dishes.  If you have a neighborhood Italian deli they will possibly let you have a taste before buying.  If you happen to visit wine country in California there are a fair number of producers there and some will offer wine and olive tastings, this is a growing trend as more and more artisanal olive producers are popping up in the region.  For a little further reading: http://tinyurl.com/cuk3ht. or http://tinyurl.com/2uc5p4

Regionality of Italian Cuisine

Posted by dynise | Posted in Food, General

One misperception those that have never traveled to Italy have is that Italian cuisine is Italian cuisine.  And nothing could be further from the truth.  The food in Tuscany is not the same as Emilia Romagna  is not the same as Sicily.  While you will find restaurants that cater to a tourist perception by serving dishes from every region on their menu you can be assured that like those restaurants in the US that try to do everything, the more expansive the menu the more mediocre the food.

Italy historically has only been Italy since 1861, and previously was composed of a collection of small kingdoms, principalities and duchys.  Combine this political regionalism with variability of climate along the peninsula, which ranges from snow covered alpine peaks to Sicilian beaches on the same latitude as northern Africa.  The Apennines stretch down the center of the peninsula offering varied elevations that mean snow actually falls even in the southernmost regions of the country.

The differences in cuisine extend to the types of wine, types of meat, cheese, produce and virtually every facet of cuisine.  While pork dishes are served in every region, you will notice extremely little fish when you are more than 20-30 km from the sea.  Follow along with regional preferences when you are in Italy and you will have not only a more authentic food experience, but the food will also be amazingly fresh.  Cheeses and wines from all over the country are available everywhere, and most areas also have a large amount of French cheese and wine as well.  If you follow the adage, “If it grows together, it goes together,” you are generally going to be happy with the results.  Trying to substitute or alter dishes to suit the American vision of Italian cuisine will only serve to earn the ire of restaurant staff and it definitely won’t taste as good.

A good guide that is easily accessible to read before traveling to Italy is http://italianfood.about.com/od/regionalcuisines1/Italian_Regional_Cuisines.htm

Soak up Tuscan bistecca, Neapolitan pizza,  Saltimbocca from Lazio, Milanese risotto and Venetian fish dishes.  Take an Italian/English food dictionary and eat in the restaurants that DONT have English menus, food that is twice as good for 2/3 the price.  Your tastebuds and tummy will say thank you and grazie mille.

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