A Taste of Florence and Tradition
After a few hostel nightmares, this little RD made it to Florence, Italy! After checking into New York University’s campus, La Pietra, and recharging in my new Italian home… It was dinner time.
The perfect welcome activity: a dinner of traditional Tuscan specialties at Osteria Pepo. Many of the typical Tuscan foods evolved from the old peasant cuisine. Since foods and ingredients were so costly, Italians had to be innovative in creating meals that were inexpensive, filling and also delicious. True Tuscan cuisine has immensely flavorful dishes made with very few ingredients. It is hard to believe such dishes have only five or six ingredients at the most.
First at the table was the house Chianti wine in a woven-bottom bottle and traditional bread. Bread in this region of Italy contains no salt because the other foods are very salty. Eating common salted meats and cheeses with this bread allows for a compliment of flavors, enhancing the taste and preventing an overwhelming saltiness. The amount of salt in the food was noticeable for our lower-sodium palates, but it was still delicious, although we did find ourselves constantly reaching for the water.
Our first dish was a simple crostini, a basic appetizer of toasted bread with tomatoes, basil, olive oil, salt and pepper (a personal favorite and summertime staple at home). Regretfully, even homegrown tomatoes do not compare to the powerful flavor of the tomatoes in Italy. Our first course was a sampling of bread soups, or minestra di pane. As a staple in Florence during peasantry, this meal utilized abundant ingredients like beans and undesirable foods like leftover bread. By combining beloved flavors and these ingredients, peasants were able to create filling and delicious meals for their families. Despite arriving at better economic times, the dishes were so tasty that they became traditional Florentine dishes. It was evident how bread soups are truly a Tuscan favorite and a source of pride for the region.
The primi piatti (first course) was a sampling of pastas. Gnocchi was served with a gorgonzola cream sauce and a linguini with funghi (mushrooms). Our secondi piatti (second course) was a medium-rare/medium sliced beef and seasoned grilled chicken adorned with beautiful slices of parmigiano reggiano. Now I want to put a slice of parmagiano reggiano on top of everything I eat… But I won’t. Sides included deliciously seasoned and sautéed greens, and cannellini beans cooked with peppercorns. Last but far from least, the dolci (dessert) was a traditional almond biscotti with sweet wine where you dip the biscotti in the wine, then eat. A perfect ending to an exquisite evening of eating… So can you guess how long we were at dinner? Three hours! We ate the Italian way: slowly, moderately and while enjoying the food and each other’s company. While it was a lot of food, we were able to eat small amounts slowly and enjoy every second for every bite. The whole meal was such a beautiful insight on the history of Florence and a unique opportunity to be truly immersed in the culture.