Two short days chock-full of tutoring Italian children, taking quizzes, and, let’s face it,
being pretending to be productive were all that separated me from another fun-filled weekend with the ‘rents. Florence, here we come!
I met my mom & dad at the train station in Florence that’s central to the city, Santa Maria Novella, after an uncomfortable train ride sitting beside a creepy Italian who texted out to me: “You are a very pretty girl.” Um…sorry to break it to you buddy, but you lost me with the cigarette stench that overcame the train cart the moment you stepped on.
- The Chow.
Before hitting “leather lane,” (the best place to get inexpensive leather handbags, belts, shoes, jewelry, but no, not whips, for you dirty-minded folks out there) we decided to stroll through an indoor food market and find something to eat. Most of the “stalls” in the market were butcher-stations, complete with large, hanging hogs and, well, other nasty things. But…we stumbed upon a stall specializing in bakery items that also featured some delicious looking paninis and slices of pizza. My mom and I each selected a piece of the following:
Thin, crispy crust served as the base for warm, melting mozzarella balls; thick, juicy slices of tomato; wilted sprigs of arugula; and thin slices of fresh, flavorful prosciutto. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to eat Pizza Hut again…
Our dinner that night? Can you even believe we managed to find a bad restaurant in Italy? I think I deserve an award or something, because that’s gotta be pretty hard to do! In all honesty, the minute we first bit into the “fresh” bread we knew we had selected a not-so-great dining establishment for our evening meal. I have never, ever, in my 20-years-of-life ate bread that stale…and in Italy, no less! My mom took the bullet for the fam and went up to ask the waiter if we could have fresh bread, as opposed to the stale bread we had been served. The waiter came out with “fresh” bread, an uber-fake smile, and said this had just come out of the oven.
Yeah Right, signore. One bite and I knew he was channeling ‘ol Pinocchio…because he was a lyin’ man! I didn’t even take out my camera for this meal: while the spaghetti bolognese wasn’t inedible, I could have made it on my own. I don’t know about y’all, but when I go out to eat, I like to have something either a.) I’ve never tried before, b.) one of the restaurant’s specialities that I am literally head-over-heels in love with, or c.) that is something I couldn’t make at home.
Thursday morning I stretched the ‘ol quads, did my regular 800 pull-ups (using the towel bar in the hotel bathroom), and drank 3 glasses of pure protein powder (I kid): this was biking day!
My mom, dad, and I thought it’d be fun to do a bike tour through the Chianti classico region of Tuscany. Fortunately for us, our tour stopped midway through (after all of the uphills!) for lunch and a tour of a local vineyard and winery. I mean, we deserved something for all that effort, right? Right?!
My heart was a-poundin’ on that first uphill, which our hardcore (you should have seen the size of her thighs) instructor Barbara so elegantly described as “a bitch.” But amazing fuel awaited me. You know what Lupe says, the show (must) go on.
The minute I sipped that first glass of Chianti classico wine, I knew all of those ginormous hills were worth it:
We were able to taste their least-expensive, table wine (of the three they make at that particular vineyard), as well as their highest quality, top-of-the-line wine. While I’ve really grown to appreciate wine while I’ve been in Italy, I can honestly say I was indifferent — both tasted great to me. (I guess that answers my friend Steph’s question…no, Steph, I haven’t turned into a wine-snob!)
The lunch’s appetizers were three small bruscetta of different varieties: one featured cannellini beans, another with a dollop of marinara sauce and meat (and a black olive that I so politely shared with my mother), the third polenta with lamb.
I had never tried polenta before (which translates into “cornmeal mush”), and while the taste and texture were something new and interesting, my mom and I agreed we think we’d prefer it served warm instead of at room temperature.
Next up was a dish I’ve also never tried before, but have heard it’s a fairly common Italian dish. Made up of tomatoes and day-old bread, this hearty “stoup” is served at room temperature and looks very similar to Mario Batali’s Tomato Bread Soup: Pappa al Pomodoro
I know, I know…it may look like mush, but I truly enjoyed this dish. The innovative texture combination of the tomatoes and the soggy bread was anything but disgusting (though I have a feeling it’s hard to convince you otherwise when you’re just looking at the photograph!).
Now for the main course: a piping hot bowl of medium-shell pasta al dente with generous bits of hearty meat tucked in and between the noodles, all bathed in a zesty tomato sauce:
As soon as the waiter brought out the steaming plate, I topped it with…DUH,
(My mother made fun of me for taking this photo. My response? Food bloggers know no limits. That, or they have just accepted their position in society as a total weirdo and have received enough strange glances at the mere task of taking millions of close-up photos of their food that they simply don’t care anymore.)
No dessert, but let me tell you — I was actually quite relieved. One more bite and I’m not sure I’d be able to get on that bike seat 🙂
For dinner that evening (after we worked off much of that midday feast on our descent home), we took the recommendation of one of our fellow bikers. He and his family had been in Florence for only a number of days, and had been to this restaurant 4 times!
Thank you, Jim/John/Joe(?) The restaurant truly lived up to all of our expectations (because when someone tells you they’ve eaten at a restaurant 4 times in 3-something days and they’re in a foreign country known the world over for its exceptional cuisine, one can’t help but think this place better be gosh darn good).
We settled in for a nice evening out with a just-as-nice bottle of wine (we had to select a bottle of Chianti Classico after our full-day excursion into the region and tour of a c.c. vineyard!).
(Don’t you love my mom’s new glasses? Très chic!)
After spotting the endless variety of delectable-sounding pizzas on La Bussola‘s menu, I ordered one with mushrooms & good ‘ol prosciutto:
Another day, another pizza.
Friday’s pizza was enjoyed in Siena (a stunning medieval town situated atop hills nearby Florence) at an inexpensive restaurant recommended as wallet-friendly but delicious in my mom’s 900-page Italy guidebook.
This time I went sans-meat and chanelled my inner-vegetarian. One order for a veggie pizza flooding over with grilled eggplant, char-grilled zucchini, roasted peppers of both the yellow and red variety, and oodles and oodles of onion slices. YES.
It’s obviously not a secret this place is really that good: by the time we were leaving the restaurant, locals and tourists alike were flooding in! (One positive of sticking with American eating times…no wait for a table 🙂 )
Before returning to Roma, I told my parents my Italian Professor Jim (originally from Milwaukee — woot woot!) told me that we had to try ricciarelli, a Siena specialty since the 15th century. Made from combining fresh almonds, sugar, and honey, these famous almond biscuits are generously sprinkled with confectioner’s sugar and shaped like the almond eyes of the Madonna of Renaissance painters.
I didn’t enjoy it one bit 😉
I didn’t expect them to be so moist and chewy…argghhhhh I should have bought 20 of them to take back with me. (I spotted them at the grocery store the other day, but for some reason I doubt they’d taste as fresh.)
(P.S. You should have seen my navy blue capris after this experience. White and blue go together, no?)
Before my parents left to head back to the tropical paradise that is Wisconsin, I took them to Giolitti (my mom had never been and my dad, well, he really likes gelato…can you blame him?).
All parties involved declared the hot-spot well worth the jungle atmosphere and Ryan Air-esque mob crowding around the counter yelling out flavors like barbarians.
Our last night’s dinner together (and our only in Roma) was the perfect way to end our time together. A relaxed atmosphere, the flickering flame of a candle, a bottle of wine, great conversation, and…
Okay, it’s not the lasagna’s fault that it’s not the most photogenic meal in the food world. (Remember my piece in Milan?)
This lasagna far exceeded the slice in Milan taste-wise: scorching hot and full of juicy tomato sauce, this (large) boy had layer upon layer of soft noodles that teamed up with big chunks of tender beef and melting, cascading cheese.
It’s never a bad way to end with a classic, stick-to-your-ribs comfort dish…
2. Florence…through the photos.
I’ve been fortunate enough to have been to Florence once before, when we traveled with our vacation buddies (shout-out to the Hansons and Cheneys!) to Rome, Florence, Venice, and Paris 3 summers ago. Since we chose to do the whole museum thang then, this time around, my parents and I decided we’d explore the surrounding area more — Tuscany/wine country (not for any particular reason…haha), Siena — but also make time to do some shopping in Firenze/Florence. Leather is to Florence like Beer is to Wisconsin.
Our activities ranged from a full-day bike tour in the Chianti Classico region (my bike Ziggy Stardust and I got along wheel good) to a 5-hour cooking class extravaganza where we learned how to make a 4-course meal and then dined on our hard work in a lovely wine cellar. Oh, did I mentioned we got our shop on?
Simply a stunning city…
(Found a pair of kicks for my brother…not coincidentally these are both the ugliest shoes I’ve ever seen and over 400 euro)
(He loves this building.)
And I Ask You: Do you ever get sick of pizza? Do you even like pizza? If so, crust & topping preferences? 🙂