Not so much Florentine cooking in our new home in Florence

October 2, 2021

A very unpredicted chain of events has caused Florence to become our new home. It was never a plan or an idea to come and live here, even for a short period of time. Although I’ve always wanted to get to know this city of art better (short visits in the past don’t count) I had never imagined ourselves moving to Florence.

The truth behind this new and unexpected adventure and leaving Venice lies in the welcome, or rather lack of it, that Venice shows to new potential residents.
The constantly diminishing number of residents (full time residents, not the ones who spend just a few months a year) in Venice is a hot topic. In a city dominated by holiday short term lets of all kinds (from teeny- tiny apartments to grand palazzos) and service driven industry, this is unlikely to change. As the Dégustateur says: it’s a very much a closed shop and it’s the cancer within, which is what made us leave. A fundamental problem with our house, which became apparent after the first night, was fully ignored, for months (cutting a long story short). But above all, it’s the arrogance and a substandard product offering that we refused to tolerate.
We left with a bag full of wonderful moments but also with a fairly unpleasant aftertaste. This unfortunate experience by no means will stop us going back to Venice, in fact, I can’t wait. There are so many things that I deeply miss. It will be interesting to see the lagoon filled or even brimming with tourists again and more importantly, how we feel about it. You see, our year in Venice was quite a serendipitous one. Upon our arrival Italy was just lifting the very last lockdown related restrictions from lockdown one and just after a couple of months, we were in another, a very long one this time. Which meant complete lack of tourists all the way. To be able to have Venice „to ourselves” was an utterly magical and one off experience. It will never happen again.

We were initially supposed to stay for a year and a half to two years (in the house we had found) and then probably never even leave Venice. But in the end, after a summary of many problems, we made the decision. We did’t have too much time left to travel in order to search for a new home (crossing between the regions wasn’t really allowed almost until towards the end of our stay in Venice). We thought we were lucky and found something after three days of viewings, but in the end, we came back to square one . Since our clock in Venice was ticking, we called an agent in Florence, that we had just established a relationship with over the past winter, just by sheer curiosity (of mine). We said to each other: Florence can be fun!

We didn’t know what to expect and it wouldn’t be a long term thing, six months or so. Well, now I can say that we will stay a bit longer than that, in the city of the Renaissance, artisan shops, botegas and perfume makers.

We are happy with the apartment, bear in that mind we took it sight unseen, so there was always room for compromise.The star of our new adopted home is the roof terrace over looking the Filippo Brunelleschi’s Dome as well as the tower of the Palazzo Vecchio in it’s full glory on one side and the Basilica of Santa Croce with the Basilica di San Miniato al Monte behind it on the opposite side. In between we can see a stretch of hills, something which makes us feel as if we were not living in a city centre. While moving to Florence dominated by carnivores we were pleasantly surprised by the restaurants. Not only by the food that is just outstanding, and there is a lot to chose from apart from la bistecca, but the approach to the customers. Even during our first meals in this new town we were not treated just like another tourist that will most likely never come back. We immediately were remembered and felt very welcomed on our return, also given the same table if available. Florence is very busy right now and it is fascinating to observe this slight subtle difference in hospitality among the Italian cities of art.

First weeks we left to our intuition in regards to where to eat, with one exception, a trattoria just outside the old city walls, to which we were introduced about 8 years ago. Still very good.

Most of the dinners however (lunches are quick and simple, adequate to the Florentine summer heat) we’ve been having on our terrace. Long, pleasant, warm and occasionally humid (still nothing compared to Venice) evenings, just the two of us, enjoying each other’s company, chatting about everything and nothing in the setting of dreams.

My recent cooking has been a higgledy- piggledy mix of dishes, the ones that I haven’t made in a long while, those that we’ve particularly craved for and a few new ones. The new dishes are the ones that I had marked „to make” in my cook books whilst leafing through them and the time for them has finally arrived here in Florence.

We haven’t fully immersed ourselves yet in Chianti drinking culture but I will be making more of the red wine jellies with the Sangiovese wine grape instead of Cabernet Sauvignon. I am already thinking of Christmas, it is never too soon. Torta Tenerina, a soft almost flourless chocolate cake, can always be made without cherries (as you can find in the recipe) and spiced with some brandy for a different touch to it.

There is a bread that we particularly enjoy and I buy it often from Mercato di Sant’Ambrogio. It is made with raisins and fennel seeds and I am totally taken by this flavour concoction. That is how Yogurt Bundt Cake with Fennel Seeds and Dry Figs was created. Suitable for any time of the day.

When we go home to Poland, my mother cooks for us. I would never take this pleasure away from her. I always have a typical Polish soft, pillowy yeast cake with sour cherries (my favourite) and a crumbly topping waiting for me still warm. In Italy I can’t buy sour cherries but I make it with apricots (or plums) instead and drizzle with a lemon and lavender icing.

After several years of not going to Sicily due to covid I made us Pesto alla Trapanese, refreshing paste made of toasted almonds, tomatoes and basil (or mint, which is just lovely) followed by Gelo di Limone. It’s a wonderfully fresh jelly, a staple in Sicily and flavours can vary: watermelon, orange, almond and jasmine, and many more. Sicily for me is the cornerstone of unforgettable inventive flavours. The secret lies in infusing the water overnight with grated zest of the most fragrant lemons you can possibly find. Worth a try. While I still dream of Sicily, I am delighted to share a recipe for Little Ricotta, Marsala and Bitter Cocoa Balls. They have totally stolen our stomachs and I’ve been making them very often, especially recently as for me, they do taste like a late summer evening. It’s the gentle warmth of amber Marsala.

There is always Pesce al Sale in my repertoire. Very simple and unbelievably good, especially when made with a wild fish. Little calamari in a sauce with capers and olives, as I used to prepare them in Venice, were also delicious. I do miss that fish market near Rialto Bridge. Here the choice of fish and sea food is limited, I can’t be extremely creative and I have to make the most of what is available. But we’ve found a really fun enoteca with oysters and champagne. Love it.

Whilst the tomatoes are bountiful and sweet „we” make in Tuscany Papa al Pomodoro, a thick tomato bread soup. The essence of simple, hearty and seasonal cooking, a great example of the poor man’s food. You will need ripe, vibrant and sweet tomatoes, stale bread, basil and olive oil (and some garlic). You cook it slowly, it should be gently bubbling away, and never underestimate the value of a good bread, a good sourdough bread. A generous drizzle of a fragrant olive oil just before serving will make this dish complete.

Peas alla Fiorentina will be perfect with a Sunday roast, although I will be most likely using frozen peas as it’s way too long to wait until Spring. What I also enjoy a lot in La Toscana, mainly during autumn and winter, are crostini. Can’t wait to start making Chicken Liver Crostini al Vin Santo followed by Stracotto al Chianti Classico (Slow cooked beef in Chianti Classico wine). There is so much comfort in both. The Dégustateur is away for a few days and I’m planning to make a trio of crostini accompanied by a bottle of excellent Chianti we had just bought in Castellina in Chianti village. Crostini are nothing else than sliced crunchy bread, best if toasted and served still warm. There will be a cristino with the chicken liver and a mousse of mortadella. On the latter I still have to decide if to add some creamy ricotta to the mousse or not. I am also testing a new recipe right now for a lemon and bean crostino, which I had in one of the restaurants that we really enjoy going to. I shall find out the verdict soon. Should you feel like making them too, be adventurous with the bread, if available try the one containing olives, walnuts or raisins.

The temperatures are turning much gentler right now and the sun is very soft during late afternoons, just perfect for ambling through the streets until late. Walking up to the Piazzale Michelangelo seems much easier, definitely more pleasant, and the stroll up the hills to marvel at elegant villas and Florence from a distance is a real joy, which I can’t wait to share with you soon.