A Photo-Filled Foodie Farewell to Florence!

Ciao Readers!

Well it has been quite some time!  I didn’t think I could leave Florence without one “farewell” post to say goodbye to all of things we have enjoyed about our temporary home.  And what better way to end our stay (and my blog) than with a cooking class!  Specifically, a hand-made ravioli-making class!

But before we start cooking, a quick update and “goodbye”…  Over this past month, we have been trying to enjoy all of the things that drew us here to begin with (in between trips to the post office, the vet, etc.).  As the weather has been way too sweat-inducing (much like Hell, it’s not the heat, it’s the humidity) to enjoy the (non-air-conditioned) museums or the gardens, this basically leaves us with…FOOD!   We have been going back to all our favorite spots and eating WAY too much – in the form of pizzas and pastas and pastries and bruschetta with fagioli & lardo, and…well, you get the picture!  It has also been a time to say “goodbye” to folks we were just getting to know, and to thank those who have helped us during our stay (you know who you are).   In an effort to go out on a positive (and delicious) note, we indulged in a one-day cooking class….

We took this class from Food for Friends, which provides small in-home cooking classes (our class was us and two friends from Oslo and London).  The “home” is part of a magnificent Palazzo owned by the Chef, Francesca (pictured with Steve, below) and the course is run/translated by her friend Jacqui (originally from England).  For our course we made two too-yummy to describe ravioli – a traditional spinach and ricotta with butter and sage sauce and a more modern radicchio and burrata.  The class was great fun, especially because Steve put me to shame.  After all my boasting to the chef (in Italian, no less) about all of the cooking courses I have taken, my first batch of dough was so rock-like I had to start over!  In contrast, Steve’s dough and ravioli were so perfect that Francesca actually put some of his away for herself for dinner!  (Lucky for all of us there were only a few of my dense ravioli in the mix).  Throughout our cooking session Francesca would whip up little snacks, and there was plenty of prosecco to boot.  Overall, a good (and scrumptious) time was had by all!   Since there still is no smell or taste-o-vision, you’ll have to make do with the photos (which walk you through both pastas as well as the snacks)…

With these yummy photos from our class, I leave you, Dear Readers, as the Italy chapter of our life comes to a close and the next chapter begins….  It has been a pleasure.  Enjoy:

Foodie Heaven! (Mercato Centrale)

Ciao Readers! (and Happy Halloween!) (and Happy Birthday Henry!)

Wow – I just got back from a trip across town to Mercato Central (the central market) – wow!  I can’t believe we’ve been here almost 3 months and I just “discovered” this (well-known) gem!

So here’s the scoop – in my effort to not be a tourist in my adopted home, I have been going to Sant’ Ambrogio market (which I have blogged about).  It is the “real” market for locals – and don’t get me wrong, it’s great and where we get most of our fruits and vegetables.  The Mercato Centrale, from what I had read, is where the tourists go (it’s right by the big outdoor leather market in the center of town) – so up until today I avoided it like the plaque.  Big mistake!  While some of the food is obviously geared towards tourists (fancy bags of multi-colored pastas at equally fancy prices), the market is a foodie dream and has lots of “normal” amazing food on offer.  (And, compared to the usual “tourists,”  the venders thought my Italian was “benissimo.”)

I actually went in search of yet another weird ingredient to replicate comfort foods (dried cranberries [for granola], which I found in the dried fruit stall pictured), but ended up discovering an entire new food-shopping haven (as an aside – I often write several posts on days when inspiration hits me – I wrote this one before I read the articles about culture shock – no more wild goose chases for now!).  Not only are there all of the beautiful prepared foods pictured below, there are numerous fresh-looking meat and fish stalls.  I had kinda given up hope finding any foodie markets as cool as the ones in Bologna, until today!  YAY!

Bon appetit!

A Trip to the Grocery

While  the grand finale of my “Assimilation” series continues to percolate, we will take a diversion back, again, to my favorite topic – FOOD!

Though the beautiful specialty shops and market stalls featured in earlier posts are still the more traditional and foodie way to shop in Italy, modern “American-style” grocery stores are popping up everywhere.  When you need several things and don’t have time for the pleasure of market shopping, a trip to the “supermercato” is in order.  Upon first glance, you might think you are in a grocery store in the US; however, you soon realize there are several subtle, but significant (and interesting) differences…

Produce – in Italy YOU weigh your own produce.  First, you take a pair of provided disposable plastic gloves, then you select your fruits/veggies and put them in a bag, you pay attention to the number on the bin as you will input it into the scale, you put your item on the scale, punch in the correct code, and out prints a label with the item/weight/price which you affix to the bag.  (As an aside, at the markets you never touch the produce, you ask the proprietor for what you would like).  For stranieri who don’t know the system and just put stuff in a bag and take it to the checkout, rolled eyes and a trip back to the produce department await.  However, as I discovered, there are exceptions…  One day I was buying artichokes (actually I bought artichokes MANY times – they are locally grown, plentiful, delicious and cheap) – I could not find a number on the bin anywhere – I searched and searched – leaving me with the dilemma of either giving up my beautiful artichokes or going to the checkout without a properly affixed tag….  Of course I wasn’t giving up my artichokes!  At that point I learned that some items have a fixed price per item and you needn’t weigh them (hence the missing number).  I got through checkout happily WITH my prized vegetable and WITHOUT having suffered any scorn!

(sorry no photos of weighing veggies, but here are some beautiful artichokes:)

Product selection – the grocery stores in Italy are pretty comprehensive, even more so since just a few years ago when we were there.  You can get almost anything you can get here (plus a ton of things you can’t get here).  You can even get Italy’s version of tortilla chips (“Amica Chips”), though they taste nothing like what you expect a tortilla chip to taste like.  It’s hard to explain – they have the same 3 ingredients – corn meal, oil and salt – yet they taste like slightly charred polenta and not at all like a Tostitos…  In any case, back to the main cultural difference…  You CANNOT buy any kind of medication whatsoever at a grocery or any other kind of store other than a “Farmacia.”  Nothing, nada, niente – no ibuprofen, no sore throat spray – nothing.  Any medicinal-like product at all requires a trip to the pharmacy and a request to a pharmacist (and a king’s ransom – 8 ibuprofen cost about as many dollars – the trade-off being, of course that doctors and prescriptions are free).

Checkout – this one still cracks me up.  In Italy, the checkout people sit in chairs and YOU are responsible for just about every part of the operation from unloading your cart to putting it away AND sacking your own groceries (either in the bag/cart you brought, which is the norm, or you have to ask for plastic bags for which you are charged).  And remember, you’ve already labeled and weighed everything as well. (You can take it a step further and use a self checkout lane, which are much more commonplace than the ones popping up here). While to us this may seem like a serious lack of customer service, it actually makes the (very long) lines go faster.  There are 2 sides where checked foods go, so while you are sacking your groceries the checkout person is already ringing up the next customer (and not having to weigh anything) and just putting their groceries down the alternate side.

Personally, I love grocery shopping in Italy.  I feel like I am on a cultural excursion each and every time.  Not just because of the subtle differences in the process, but of course because of the selection of foods and the subtle differences even with similar products (portion size comes to mind).  Once I discovered the secret to shopping in Italy (go early to avoid the crowds), I looked forward to running out of things as an excuse for my next field trip.  I felt a bit defensive in class one day after we learned the difference between “fare la spesa” and “fare shopping.”   “Fare la spesa” signifies “doing the shopping,” but with an air of chore to it (it was explained as shopping you have to do – for food, cleaning supplies, etc.), whereas “fare shopping” entails the “fun” kind of shopping (for clothes, shoes, etc.).  One day a teacher asked a student what she did for fun over the weekend and when she said “fare la spesa” everyone giggled and her misuse of the language was corrected (fare shopping).  I still take issue with those definitions!

Cucinare Con Ale (Cooking show)

Today I take a break from the profound to take a diversion and write about my favorite cooking show here – “Cucinare Con Ale.”

As you may know (or have figured out from the focus of much of my writing), I consider myself a foodie.  The Food Network and Cooking Channel are two of my favorite guilty pleasures (oh, and Bravo’s “Top Chef”).  The other is “House Hunter’s International” (big surprise).  I have found the equivalent of Italy’s combined HGN and Food Network – “Real Time.”  They play dubbed re-runs of Top Chef, lots of Gordon Ramsey and Cake Boss-based shows, and some of their own cooking (and cooking competition) shows.  (On a culturally embarrassing side-note, there is also a station that plays “Jersey Shore” reruns nearly round the clock).  My favorite cooking show is “Cucinare Con Ale” – I would say it’s like the first, more mellow, cooking show Guy Fieri did. Ale has a great personality, has fun cooking and is easy to follow.  I have actually learned a lot (of Italian cooking tips) and can follow most of the Italian – I think watching things I have a natural proclivity towards (food), or familiarity with (such as “Friends” dubbed), helps me with the language.  Here is a little taste of the show…some photos and a link to a clip making bruschetta…

Clip:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WjMBbPEiB7Y

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