Spring in a bowl

I think it would be very easy for me to sit here and list all my favourite foods I have enjoyed this year and no doubt bore you to tears. No one wants that. However, one of the best foodie tastes I have had this year (and I am putting it right up there with truffles) is the creamy, delicious, succlent, mouth-watering delight called burrata. I was first introduced to it on a pizza at PizzaMan (awesome pizza in Florence). The pizza was thin with a smearing of tomato sauce and mozzarella melted into the crust, then topped with fresh cherry tomatoes, rocket leaves, dollops of burrata and lashings of olive oil: HEAVEN!

Whenever I see it on a menu I order it without a doubt and think there is nothing greater. So when all the delicious spring veggies started popping up in the markets and begging me to buy them, I knew there was a salad I just had to make: spring vegetables seasoned with truffle salt and burrata.

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Fava beans, fresh peas and rocket leaves finished with parsley, truffle salt, burrata and olive oil

I could eat fava beans and fresh peas all Spring long and still want more; however, when they are paired with the creamy goodness of burrata and the peppery leaves of rocket, the taste just ignites your senses and you can’t say no! The only way you could make this even better would be to serve it with grilled asparagus…

Grilled asparagus with shaved parmesan

Grilled asparagus with shaved parmesan

And with that said, this would have to be my most favourite meal this Spring…

 

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Culinary school gem in Florence

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Entrance to Ganzo

Yesterday I was introduced to a fabulous restaurant called Ganzo. My friend Melanie who is also a chef in Florence had been telling me about this little gem for a while now and it wasn’t until yesterday that I finally got to see it for myself. All the food and service you receive at Ganzo is coming from up-and-coming hospitality cooks, servers and sommeliers who are under the watchful eyes of the teachers there. Ganzo is a restaurant run for the purpose of giving hospitality students a chance to ‘play’ the real game of restaurants. I remember working at my culinary-school restaurant on every other Friday and it was always so exciting to be cooking for the general public, unleashing your very newly learned skills on the paying public. Ok it was about 16 years ago that I was at culinary school, however, when you got to work in the restaurant it was always very exciting.

This type of restaurant is a win-win for students and customers alike. The students get to practice on customers, learning the pressures of a service, the speed, pace and temperatures needed under pressure; while the customer gets a fabulous meal for very little euro! I was very surprised to see the place was pretty much empty when we went and so I thought I would get the word out so local peeps from Florence/Tuscany can try it out for themselves. After all, it is in every diner’s best interest to give these students as much practice as possible, because when they are out in the kitchens of the world you’ll be eating their food and paying full price; so you want to know it is good! 

Ok lets get down to business…what we ate.

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Spritz

Our lunch started with a civilised Spritz, which is always the perfect way to start off a delicious meal with friends and I think Mel would agree. The restaurant is small and comfortable with the kitchen going down the hall and into another section of the building. They always have daily specials and I love to try the special menu because nine-times-out-of-ten the chef uses fresh, seasonal ingredients that usually have a bit of a twist or spin added to the dish. A ‘special’ as I know it is always the creative side to the regular menu so worth trying out. My zuppa was the special of the day. It sounded interesting and unusual. A white cabbage soup finished with grilled shrimp and a sprig of fresh thyme.

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white cabbage and shrimp zuppa

To be totally honest, this was the best soup I have tasted in a very long time. I couldn’t find a fault with it at all, it was perfect!

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See — I liked it so much I took another photo

The delicate flavour of the cabbage came through with a beautiful creaminess without it feeling heavy or forced. I absolutely loved the combination of flavours and its execution. It was one of those meals you want to cry over because you ate it all!

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Funghi zuppa

Melanie had the funghi zuppa and said it was delicious (and it was, I also dug my spoon in for a taste). A very earthy, full bodied flavour of the funghi that was cut beautifully with a salsa verde. A truly wonderful start to our meal. For secondo, I had pici pasta with a clam, broccoli rabe and sausage sauce.

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Pici pasta

When it came out, it looked great and colourful. The flavours were subtle and tasty; however, I think they forgot to add the sausage to my meal as I couldn’t taste it at all. I certainly was not disappointed with the flavour, however, the sausage would of been a great addition.

Mel chose the special risotto (I was very envious as I wanted that too; but you can’t have the same thing when you want to try everything!).

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Fennel and orange risotto

The risotto was fennel and orange which got Mel and I both excited to see how it was executed. I have to say I love these risotto bowls, it looks like a plate with a very slight dip in it so the liquid doesn’t slosh everywhere: fabulous. I would have to say this flavour combination was my second favourite of our meal. They executed the flavours beautifully, and it was very morish. However, the rice had more of a bite to it than I like and I thought if it had been cooked a little more then it would of been spectacular instead of fabulous.

Please don’t take this the wrong way. This is a school where students are cooking the food. You cannot expect to have all the i’s dotted and t’s crossed. Cooking is a constant learning game as any chef will tell you. The fact that they were pulling great flavours out of these dishes is brilliant and when they have more practice up their chef sleeves then I think these up-and-coming cooks will be stars in the kitchens around Europe, the USA and maybe even Australia. I will be going back to Ganzo again; this much I know. Not only is the service wonderful as well as the food but I haven’t told you the price… 

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White chocolate and raspberry mousse

We started with the spritz, followed by soup; then the pasta/risotto with a yummy glass of house red to complement our dish and then we shared a white chocolate and raspberry mousse for just under 50 euro (oh, and a carafe of sparkling water, of course). You will be hard pressed to have this standard of service and quality of food served to you for that price anywhere else and I encourage anyone visiting Florence to go and check out this culinary delight. They serve dinner, lunch, snacks and I do believe brunch on Saturdays for a limited time. It’s also exceptionally easy to find just off piazza Sant Ambriogo on via dei Macci. I think I might take the family for brunch one of these Saturdays, as I know it will be totally worth the walk into town.

 

 

Acquacotta

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So I told you I have been celebrating my birthday all week and now I am going to tell you about a place you should visit if you’re in Florence and after a fantastic meal. Acquacotta is a wonderful restaurant that is tucked away off the main tourist track for those of us who are looking for delicious Tuscan flavours.

I had no idea where Nic and the boys were taking me for lunch on Sunday. We walked around a few streets I knew well, however, I should know it isn’t Nic’s style to take me directly to a secret location (I’m sure he did this so I wouldn’t be able to go back without him- smart!). From the outside it is a very non descript trattoria so don’t be looking for bells and whistles to draw your attention to the wonderful food inside, just trust me!

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When you enter the small, warm and inviting trattoria the first thing that hits you is the beautiful smells coming from the kitchen. That mixed with soft yellow lighting, red and white checkered table cloths and the really friendly server are a fantastic combination and one you can only enjoy. The trattoria is made up of three small dining rooms while the small kitchen is smack bang in the middle. I love a kitchen you can look into and see the engine purring. We were sat in a small, intimate room next to the windows which was lovely. There were about 5 other small tables in the room and all were full!

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Nic ordered a delicious bottle of Morellino di Scansano which hit the spot and paired beautifully with our antipasto of Tuscan meats. I have to appologise as I forgot to photograph the meat platter and we polished it off before I remembered, I was too busy being caught up in the moment! However, I did manage to get back on track with the artichoke and pecorino salad which we also shared as a starter…

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A very simple and typical Tuscan salad excecuted perfectly. The raw artichoke was thinly sliced with a lovely soft crunch that paired beautifully with the sharpness of the thinly sliced pecorino. The boys were not keen to try so Nic and I didn’t push the matter and enjoyed the delicious salad while they polished off the bread!

They were busy, very busy in fact and with only one server for the entire restaurant there was a bit of a wait between courses. It wasn’t that long but try telling that to the boys who would of happily chewed through the bread basket if we let them!

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When our meals arrived I was tickled pink! I ordered the rabbit and was not disappointed. The flavour was delicate, yet morish and with a side of roasted potatoes cooked beautifully I was really happy. Alex ordered the cinghiale (wild boar) with polenta mash and devoured it within minutes (he did manage to offer me a piece for a taste of the rabbit and it was divine).

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As much as I loved my rabbit, I have to admit I was totally envious of Nic’s beef! He ordered the tagliata di manzo (sliced beef) and without a doubt I can honestly say it was the best steak I have eaten (kind, dear husband let me have two slices!!). Not only was the meat cooked to perfection, it melted on your tongue with it’s sweet, sweet flavour……breathtaking to say the least. Poor Nic had his whole family eyeing off his dish. Max ordered the homemade beef ragù with parpadelle, it was another dish full of deep, rich flavour, though I do wonder if he paused long enough between bites to actually enjoy it!? (pre-teen age boys are scarily hungry ALL the time!)

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We all sat there after our meal feeling comfortably full, savouring the beautiful flavours we had just consumed.

The birthday plans prevented us from eating dessert at Acqucotta (that is another blog entry), however, that didn’t stop the boys from getting a piece of chocolate cake to share from our server! I did manage to sneak a bite and it reminded me of my mum’s death by chocolate dessert she use to make in her restaurant years ago, a dessert people would wait out in the cold for!

Acquacotta is a trattoria I will be taking people to when they come to town and want a fantastic Tuscan meal. I hope I have managed to talk some of you into going…….just don’t tell too many people!

Sant’ Ambrogio Market

For a while now I have been wanting to walk into town for a bit of exercise and to re-visit my old stomping ground (I remember there were a lot of fabulous shops along the strip of road that took me to my old supermarket) and to hit the food markets. For the summer months it was way too hot to even think of going on a 40-minute walk into town. However, now the boys are in school, I have mornings free and my friend Shelly is also up for morning market visits, and so we finally wandered into town last week.

It seemed like a very quick walk, we hit Sant’ Ambrogio in about 40 minutes which also included the obligatory coffee and pastry stop off (when living in Firenze!). Shelly is very passionate about the organic movement and she had found a farmer a few weeks back who grows organic produce and wanted to go back to him. We have talked about the organic movement quite a bit and if I am honest, I don’t think a lot of the farmers in Italy use chemicals quite as much as Australian and American farmers and I am more than happy to shop around picking up produce that looks good and smells like it is the real deal, I haven’t been disappointed yet.

The farmer was very nice and his produce didn’t look like other organic farmers I have seen, where the bugs have got to veggies first and you get the second best parts but pay a premium. No, this was good looking produce, I’m sorry to say I didn’t get any photos of the produce…….. I was too busy buying! How about a market shot instead?

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The other surprising fact with this organic farmer was it didn’t cost an arm and a leg. I bought some polenta, carrots, potatoes, peppers, cavolo nero, eggplant and something else for the glorious price of 12 euro! I have since cooked all my veggies and made some polenta and can happily report they were all delicious, flavoursome and have me thinking I need to go back for more.

I went a little crazy in the outside section, it was pretty hard not to considering there was a man selling gorgonzola & olives and an Asian lady with all her Asian produce; by the time we went into the covered section I had already blown a hole in my purse. However, this did leave me time to window shop and take photos.

As soon as we walked in through the doors I was drooling over this pasta store. Vibrant colours of pesto and homemade pasta were staring at me…what had I done, how could I not remember the inside section!!???

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Shelly highly recommended the lemon ravioli which I was already eying off along with the fungi porcini parcels and ragù di carne….heaven without the coin is somewhat of a wet blanket; however, I won’t be so narrow minded with my next shopping trip!

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Shelly pleased as punch with her purchase…..and I love that they write the cooking time on the packet, so you don’t ruin all the hard work that has been put into making the pasta.

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Cheese was our next destination, you could just follow your nose to this store as it was pungent and mouthwatering. I’d just bought a lovely piece of pecorino the day before so I wasn’t so miffed I didn’t purchase some of the offerings this time round.

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While Shelly was asking the lady about the organic cheeses on offer I was poking my head around looking at the meat counter which always catches my attention. I looked a little further and this is what I found….

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It was concealed in it’s own compartment and looking like something from a Doctor Who episode! I know it looks VERY unappetising but I couldn’t stop looking at it and wondering what all the bits were (it’s the chef in me). It did help me figure out what I was eating in a restaurant a few weeks ago, though part of me wishes I still didn’t know but the texture of tripe is kinda hard to disguise. I know, I know, I can’t finish the blog with this as my last offering to you so here is another rose from my blooming garden to wipe the eyes clean….

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