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Healthy Mediterranean Cooking at Home

Category Archives: Florence

 

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Florence is in the Tuscany region of Italy. Much of its area lies in the plain of the Arno River and it has become a suburban sprawl around the city of Florence. The northeastern part of the city, located in the Apennines, remains less developed.

Florence is a well-known cultural and tourist center and has been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Major tourist attractions include the Piazza del Duomo, Duomo of Santa Maria del Fiore, the Baptistery of San Giovanni, Giotto’s Bell Tower, the Loggia del Bigallo and Museo dell’Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore, Ponte Vecchio and many others.

Sights in Barberino di Mugello include Cattani Castle and Palazzo Pretorio. The Certosa del Galluzzo houses artworks by Pontormo. Giovanni Boccaccio’s hometown, Certaldo, is home to the Palazzo Pretorio and Boccaccio’s House, while Vinci, the birthplace of Leonardo da Vinci, houses a museum dedicated to his work.

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Florence’s cobblestone streets are best navigated in relation to two landmarks: the Arno River, which splits the city in half from west to east and the old city doors, or porte, the remains of which mark the center of Florence, or centro storico. North of the Arno is where you’ll find the majority of famous sites and most of the tourists. The south side of the Arno is called the Oltrarno. It is similar to Paris’s Left Bank and is Florence’s bohemian quarter that is made up of art schools, artists’ studios and casual cafes. Florence is also a great base from which to take day trips into surrounding Tuscany or even nearby Emilia-Romagna, Liguria and Umbria. The best time to visit is late spring, early summer or early fall, when the streets are filled with locals and the weather is pleasant.

Corn, wine and silk are the chief products in the valley regions. Silk manufacturing was an important industry in the medieval times. Industrial complexes in the suburbs produce goods from furniture, to rubber goods, to chemicals and food. However, traditional and local products, such as antiques, handicrafts, glassware, leather work, art reproductions, jewelry, souvenirs, elaborate metal and iron-work, shoes, accessories and high fashion clothes also dominate a fair sector of Florence’s economy. The city’s income relies partially on services and cultural interests, such as annual fairs, theatrical and lyrical productions, art exhibitions, festivals and fashion shows.

Food and wine have long been an important staple of the economy. The Chianti region is just south of the city and its Sangiovese grapes figure prominently, not only in its Chianti Classico wines but also in many of the more recently developed Tuscan blends. The celebrated Chianti Rufina district, geographically and historically separated from the main Chianti region, is also a few kilometers east of Florence.

Florentine food grows out of a tradition of peasant eating. The majority of dishes are based on meat. The whole animal was traditionally eaten; tripe (trippa) and stomach (lampredotto) were once regularly on the menu and still are sold at the food carts stationed throughout the city.

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Antipasti include crostini toscani (sliced bread rounds topped with a chicken liver spread) and sliced meats (mainly prosciutto and salami) that are often served with melon when in season. The typically saltless Tuscan bread, made with natural leavening, is frequently featured in Florentine courses, especially in its soups: ribollita and pappa al pomodoro or in a salad of bread and fresh vegetables called panzanella that is served in summer.

While meat is a staple of Florentine cuisine, pasta is important in the cuisine. For example, pappardelle sulla lepre. which is pappardelle (a long, wide and flat pasta) served with a sauce made from hare or other meats, such as goose.

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Bistecca alla fiorentina is a large, 1.2 to 1.5 kg [40 to 50 oz] Chianina beef steak that is cooked over hot charcoal and served very rare over a bed of arugula with slices of Parmesan cheese on top. Most of these courses are served with local olive oil, also a local product that enjoys a worldwide reputation.

It Is Almost Carnival Time In Florence

The first day of Carnival is called “berlingaccio” in Florence and it comes from an old word describing a day spent around the table eating, drinking and being happy.
The parades draw thousands of visitors of all ages, who come to see both the spectacular floats and the parade, as well as participate in the festive masquerade processions.

The following photos were taken by friends and depict their favorite costumes:

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The “Carnevale di Viareggio” actually takes place over an entire month with 5 days of processions each year. These are held on 4 Sundays and on Fat Tuesday. The parades take in the fours weeks that precede Lent (which is the forty day period before Easter).

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The Burlamacco is the character shown above and is the official symbol for the Carnival in Viareggio. It is inspired by characters of Italian “commedia dell’arte” including Harlequin, Balanzone, Pierrot and Rugantino. Burlamacco is dressed in a long red and white checkered suit with a cocked hat and a long black cape at his shoulders.

In each of the parades, the Burlamacco is accompanied by a float composed of female participants called the “Ondina” in honor of Viareggio’s association with the sea (onda means wave in Italian).

Recipes For Carnival Time

The three most common, must-eat foods in Florence during Carnival are:

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Cenci

Cenci or Chiacchiere – Cenci meaning “rugs” are slices of fried dough that are drenched in powdered sugar and sometimes dark chocolate.

Ingredients

240 gr or 2 1/2 cups flour
2 eggs, large
20 gr or 1 oz butter, softened
20 gr or 1 oz sugar, granulated
1 espresso cup of Vin Santo, Marsala or milk
Pinch of salt
Zest of one lemon
Oil for frying ( I use extra virgin olive oil, but corn oil is fine)
Powdered sugar (icing sugar) for dusting.

Directions

Beat the softened butter with the sugar. Add the eggs one at a time, stirring until incorporated. Add the lemon zest and the liquid (Vin Santo). Add the flour. Mix well. The dough will be hard.

Knead and when smooth, cover and let rest for one hour. Heat oil for frying. Roll out the dough as thin as possible or use a pasta machine. Cut into 3 inch wide strips.

Then cut a slit in the middle of the strip, leaving the ends attached. Deep fry in hot oil until lightly golden. Remove to a paper towel, let drain and serve dusted with powdered sugar.
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Frittelle di riso (Rice Fritters)

Frittelle di Riso – Imagine rice pudding that is rolled up, fried and immersed in sugar. That is what a frittelle di riso is. Sometimes, the bakers inject custard cream or chocolate nutella into the center of the pastries. These sweets are also bite-size, so they are easy to pop in your mouth.

Ingredients

400 gr or 2 cups short grain rice, Arborio
1 litre or 4 cups milk
4 tablespoons sugar
Peel of one lemon, grated (zest, only the yellow part)
1 ounce liqueur (sherry, brandy or amaretto)
80 gr or 3/4 cup flour
1 tablespoon baking powder (lievito in polvere)
Pinch of salt
3 eggs, separated

Directions

Bring the rice to a slow boil in the milk with sugar and lemon zest. Stir occasionally to avoid the rice sticking. When the rice is cooked, it will have absorbed all the milk.

Place the rice in large bowl, add the liqueur, egg yolks, flour, baking powder and salt. Mix well and let cool. DO NOT REFRIGERATE.

Whip the egg whites until stiff. Fold the whites into the rice mixture.

In a heavy pan, heat 3 inches of oil for frying. Drop the fritters by teaspoons into the hot oil. Fry quickly and remove them when they are golden. Do not brown.

Drain on paper towels and serve sprinkled with granulated sugar. They are best hot but can also be served cold or reheated.

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Schiacciata alla Fiorentina

Schiacciata alla Fiorentina is a sweet flatcake, traditional to Florence, made with citrus flavors and sometimes spread with chantilly cream in the middle. It is also coated in powdered sugar and in Florence, you find the fleur de lis “giglio” crest of Florence etched in with powdered cacao.

Ingredients

2 1/2 cups (300 grams) plain flour
3/4 ounce (20 grams) fresh yeast dissolved in some warm water
3 1/2 ounces (100 grams) lard (or, less traditional, butter)
1/2 cup (100 grams) sugar
1 egg plus 2 egg yolks
Zest of 1 orange
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
Powdered sugar and powdered bittersweet cocoa for dusting (optional)

Directions

In a bowl, combine the flour and fresh yeast (along with the water) until a dough forms. Cover with a tea towel and place in a warm, dry spot to rise for about one hour or until it has doubled in size.

Beat in the lard, sugar, eggs, orange zest, vanilla and salt until well combined. Place the dough in a buttered rectangular tin. It should be about 2 cm or 2/3 inch in height.

Cover with a tea towel and let the schiacciata rise for 2 more hours. Bake at 350 ºF (180ºC) for 30 minutes or until the surface is golden brown and a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Turn onto a wire rack to cool and when cooled completely, dust liberally with powdered sugar. If you like, cut out a mask of the Florentine lily and dust with cocoa powder.

If desired, cut through the middle of the cake and fill with some slightly sweetened, freshly whipped cream or pastry cream before dusting with powdered sugar.

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Ribollita

This very simple Tuscan peasant soup is commonly called ribollita because it is served the day after its preparation when it is warmed up in a pot with extra-virgin olive oil and reboiled. Ribollita is simple, inexpensive and its base is made with stale unsalted Tuscan bread and a variety of winter vegetables including Tuscan kale.

It is good to have on hand to make a quick supper on Carnival days.

10 servings

Ingredients

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
4 celery stalks, chopped
3 medium cloves garlic, chopped
2 medium carrots chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
1- 14-ounce can diced tomatoes, no salt added
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 pound cavolo nero (lacinato kale, Tuscan kale), stems trimmed off and leaves well chopped
4 cups cooked white beans, such as cannellini
1/2 pound Italian bread (such as ciabatta), crusts removed
1 ½ teaspoons sea salt
Zest of one lemon
Parmesan Cheese

Directions

In a thick-bottomed soup pot over medium heat combine the olive oil, celery, garlic, carrot, and onion. Cook for 10-15 minutes sweating the vegetables, but avoid browning them.

Stir in the tomatoes and red pepper flakes, and simmer for another 10 minutes or so, long enough for the tomatoes to thicken up a bit. Stir in the kale, 3 cups of the beans, and 8 cups water.

Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer until the greens are tender, about 15 minutes.

In the meantime, mash or puree the remaining beans with a small amount of water until smooth. Tear the bread into bite-sized chunks. Stir both the beans and bread into the soup.

Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the bread breaks down and the soup thickens, 20 – 30 minutes. Stir in the salt, taste and add more if needed. Stir in the lemon zest.

Serve immediately, or cool and refrigerate overnight. Serve reheated the next day and finish each serving with a drizzle of olive oil and grated Parmesan cheese.

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Panini di Lampredotto

The lampredotto sandwich is real Italian street food! The Florentines eat it at any time: breakfast, lunch with a glass of wine or dinner with friends.

The tradition of eating tripe and entrails in Florence is very old and probably arises from the need to combine simple bread with something inexpensive but nourishing.
Typically, tripe wagons offer a couple of options for their sandwiches: salt and pepper, salsa verde (a green sauce commonly made with parsley, capers, garlic and anchovies, among other ingredients); and salsa piccante (basically, chili oil). Also, you can opt to have the roll briefly dipped ( bagnato ) in the cooking broth.

1 – 1.5 kg will make about 8 hearty panini or about 20 mini ones. You don’t often find lampredotto in small portions, as it is generally sold whole, so if you have leftovers, you can freeze it.

For the lampredotto:

1 kg lampredotto (abomasum tripe or stomach)
3 litres of water
1 stalk of celery
1 brown onion
1 carrot
1 tomato
5 whole black peppercorns
Salt

For the salsa verde:

2 anchovy fillets
¼ of an onion
1 garlic clove
Bunch of parsley
Handful of basil leaves
2 tablespoons of capers, rinsed
Lemon juice
Extra virgin olive oil

For the lampredotto:

Prepare a broth by roughly chopping the vegetables and adding them to the water in a large pot with a generous amount of salt and the peppercorns. Bring to the boil and allow to simmer for about 30 minutes.

Add the lampredotto, whole, and cook until soft, covered with a lid. The cooking time is really a case of checking and testing, it may take about one hour.

Make sure the lampredotto is always submerged under the broth, you can add more water as necessary. Keep the lampredotto warm, in the broth, until you are ready to use it.

For the salsa verde:

Chop the anchovies, onion, garlic, capers and herbs together finely (with a knife or a food processor) and add olive oil and lemon juice to bind it into a paste-like consistency. Season with salt and pepper.

To assemble the panini:

Roughly slice the tripe and chop enough to generously heap onto the panino roll. The bread rolls are normally, split open in half and a bit of the bread in the middle is taken out to have more space for the filling.

Add a heaping spoonful of salsa verde on top and season with extra salt and pepper. Dip the top half of the roll into the broth if desired.

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Florence’s hot temperatures, al fresco dining and a busy open-air arts and concert season make it one of Italy’s most vibrant cities in the summer.

The classic Italian dinner, or “cena”, has a very specific structure. Traditional dinners begin with “apertivo,” which is usually a drink with snacks to get ready for the large meal to come. “Antipasta,” the appetizer, comes next, followed by the “primo”, which can be a pasta, a soup, polenta or a rice dish. The “secondo” follows the primo, which is the major protein of the meal, consisting of meat, eggs or fish and often accompanied by “contorno,” or a side dish of vegetables. The meal is then topped off by “dolce,” dessert and a “café,” coffee.

At the heart of Florentine cuisine, you will find bread (plain, unsalted, well-baked with a crispy crust and light and airy inside); without any doubt the best extra-virgin olive oil, Florentine steaks of beef, roasted or wine-braised game such as boar, deer and rabbit and wine.

There is a reason that Italians live long lives and everyone looks healthy and happy: they eat really, really well with a focus on seasonal vegetables, simple cooking techniques and lots of olive oil. The bean and chickpea salads we serve at backyard barbecues, marinated vegetable salads and the cooling end to a meal with panna cotta and gelato, all have their roots in Italian summer recipes. There is even a minestrone designated for summer and it is one of the best because of all the fresh tomatoes and squash available at this time of year.

Italian cocktails… are delicious year-round. But in summer, when the temperature rises and the humidity sets in, there’s nothing more refreshing than—a Bellini, spritz or limoncello.

Eat the Italian way: slowly and moderately, while enjoying the food and each other’s company.

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Florentine Market

Cocktails

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Classic Negroni

This classic was first created for Count Camillo Negroni in 1919 at Florence’s Café Casoni.

For each cocktail:

  • 1 oz. Campari
  • 1 oz. gin
  • 1 oz. sweet vermouth

Directions

Stir Campari, gin and vermouth in an ice-filled tumbler; pour into a glass and garnish with an orange slice.

Appetizer

Caprese Salad with Red and Yellow Tomatoes and Buffalo Mozarella

Pesto Caprese Salad

Serve with Italian bread.

Serving 6

Ingredients

  • 6-8 fresh tomatoes, depending on their size
  • 8 ounces fresh Mozzarella cheese
  • A handful of fresh basil leaves
  • 2 tablespoons basil pesto
  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and fresh cracked pepper, to taste
  • High quality balsamic vinegar

Directions

Slice the tomatoes about 1/4 inch thick and place on a serving platter. Slice the mozzarella cheese about 1/4 inch thick. Place cheese slices between the tomato slices. Tuck fresh basil leaves in between the tomatoes and the cheese.

For the dressing:

Stir together the basil pesto and olive oil to make a thin dressing.  Drizzle over the salad and season with salt and pepper. Splash a little balsamic vinegar over the salad. Serve.

First Course

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Pasta zucchine e ricotta

Serves 6

Ingredients

  • 8 medium-sized zucchini
  • 20 leaves of basil
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 3 oz. ricotta cheese
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 12 oz. short pasta, such as penne
  • Grated parmesan cheese for serving

Directions

Slice the zucchini into rounds and cut each round in half.

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a frying pan and sauté the zucchini on a high heat until they turn lightly brown.

Add the garlic, cook for 5 seconds and turn off the heat, continuing to stir so that the garlic infuses the zucchini but does not burn. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Cook the pasta in salted, boiling water until al dente (a good minute or two less than the package instructions; until it is cooked but still firm to the bite).

Reserve ½ cup of the pasta cooking water.

In a warmed bowl, combine the pasta with the ricotta, remaining olive oil and the pasta cooking water.

Tear the basil leaves into small pieces and stir into the pasta. Serve with grated cheese.

Second Course

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Tuscan Pork with Spinach and Chickpeas

Serves 6

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 1 1/4 pounds pork tenderloin, cut into 1/2″-thick slices
  • 1 can (15 ounces) low sodium chickpeas, rinsed and drained
  • 1 can (15 ounces) chopped Italian tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 bags (10 ounces each; 15 ounces total) baby spinach leaves (15 cups)
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice

Directions

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and onion. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 2 minutes until the onion softens. Push the onions to one side of the pan.

Add the pork. Cook for about 4 minutes, turning once, until well browned on both sides. Add the chickpeas, tomatoes, Italian seasoning and salt. Stir. Adjust the heat so the sauce is at a moderate simmer. Cover and cook for 5 minutes.

Add the spinach, a large handful at a time, covering the pan between each addition. Cook until all the spinach wilts. Remove the pork to a serving plate.

Add the lemon juice to the pan. Stir to combine. Spoon the spinach mixture over the pork slices. Serve.

Dessert

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Zabaglione & Orange Liqueur

Use any fruit that is in season in this recipe.

Serves 6

Ingredients

  • 3 cups peaches, peeled and cut into thin slices
  • 3 tablespoons crumbled amaretti cookies
  • 1 pound fresh strawberries, cut into quarters
  • 7 tablespoons orange liqueur (Grand Marnier)
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • Fresh mint for garnish

Directions

In the top half of a double boiler, whisk the egg yolks and sugar to a creamy consistency. Place the egg mixture over the hot water in the bottom of the double boiler, making sure that the pot containing the eggs doesn’t touch the water. Beat the mixture well with a whisk until it starts to thicken. It should take about 5 minutes. Be careful not to beat too long or you will cook the eggs.

Remove the pan from the heat and stir in 1 tablespoon of the orange liqueur, whisking until it is well incorporated. Return the pan to the double boiler and whisk until the mixture is thickened, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Divide the strawberries and peaches among 6 wine glasses or dessert bowls, Sprinkle each with the amaretti crumbs and spoon 1 tablespoon of orange liqueur over each. Top with some of the custard and decorate each with a mint sprig, if you wish.

This dessert can be eaten warm or it can be refrigerated and eaten later.


FL museums

Florence has over 80 museums. Here are just a few:

Uffizi Gallery

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The Uffizi Gallery, housing one of the finest collections of art in the world today, is Florence’s most visited museum. It is housed in the Palazzo degli Uffizi and was commissioned by Cosimo I of Medici in the year 1560. The building, designed by the famous architect, Giorgio Vasari, was later added on to by Bernardo Buontalenti and Alfonso Parigi, with its construction finished in 1581.

The Palazzo degli Uffizi was initially built to be an office for the magistrates of Florence, but was turned into an art gallery by Francesco de Medici, Cosimo’s son, who set aside certain rooms on the upper floors of the building to be used as a museum where objects from his collection could be exhibited. Francesco’s collection, which he started in 1574, was eventually added to by succeeding Medicis, most notably Leopoldo de Medici, who is credited with owning almost half of the total number of paintings on display in the gallery today.

It was Leopoldo, who is also credited with having collected the vast number of artist’s self portraits in the museum and the gallery’s collection of miniatures, which is second only to the world’s largest collection of miniature paintings housed in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. The history of the Uffizi gallery and its collection goes back, not just to the 16th century when the gallery was started, but to art created in the 13th century and displayed in the corridors of the gallery. The Medici princes and kings kept on contributing to the gallery from their personal collections until the 18th century and ended up creating a legacy of some of the finest and exceptional works of art that can see anywhere in the world, today.

After the house of Medici was extinguished, the art treasures remained in Florence by terms of the “Patto di famiglia” negotiated by Anna Maria Luisa, the last Medici heiress; it formed one of the first modern museums. The gallery had been open to visitors by request since the sixteenth century and in 1765 it was officially opened to the public.

Because of its huge collection, some of its works have in the past been transferred to other museums in Florence—for example, some of the classical statues went to the Bargello. A recent project expanded the museum’s exhibition space from 6,000 metres (64,000 ft) to almost 13,000 metres (139,000 ft), allowing public viewing of many artworks that had been in storage. Today, the Uffizi is one of the most popular tourist attractions of Florence. In high season (particularly in July), waiting times can be up to five hours. Visitors who reserve a ticket in advance have a shorter wait.

Bargello Museum

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The Bargello Museum is a sculpture gallery for Renaissance art. Officially titled, the Museo Nazionale del Bargello, the museum contains priceless marble and bronze statues created by artists Donatello, Verrocchio and Michelangelo. Built in 1255, this turreted fortress is a recognizable structure in a city filled with memorable buildings. Throughout its existence, the Bargello has had many uses, including a mayor’s office, a prison and a courtroom. In 1574, the building earned the name that it is now known for because Florence’s chief of police (il Bargello) moved his headquarters there. The Bargello began its life as a museum in 1859 in order to accept the overflow of sculptural treasures from the Uffizi Gallery.

Laid out over three floors in beautifully decorated and vaulted loggias surrounded by an inner courtyard (which was used, during its prison days as the site of executions), the Bargello has a museum setting that is more manageable than the sprawling Uffizi. On the ground floor is the Michelangelo Room, that also houses art works by Cellini, Giambologna and a few other notable artists.

One flight up is the enormous Donatello Room, formerly the Salone del Consiglio Generale (the Great Council Chamber). It holds Donatello’s bronze sculpture of David, his marble sculpture of St. George and the original bronze door panels that Lorenzo Ghiberti and Filippo Brunelleschi sculpted for the Baptistery doors competition. This floor contains several other rooms including the Mary Magdalene Chapel, which has frescoes attributed to the work of Giotto; a room of Islamic artworks; and other rooms displaying ivories, majolica work and sculptures and iconography from the 13th and 14th centuries.

On the top floor, visitors will find rooms dedicated to the artists Verrocchio, Andrea and Giovanni della Robbia; a collection of small bronze sculptures in the Sala dei Bronzetti; and a section consisting of sculptures from the Baroque period.

Galleria dell’Accademia

Fl museum Accademia

The Galleria dell’Accademia is one of Florence’s top museums, chiefly because it is home to Michelangelo’s, David, and the statue is the highlight of an extensive collection of Italian art. Michelangelo’s David was moved here in 1873 to protect it from the elements. The sculpture had once stood outside the Palazzo Vecchio and was “the” symbol of Florence. So it was imperative that the Accademia provide a gallery worthy of such an important piece of Florence’s heritage. Architect Emilio de Fabris was hired to design a special wing for the prized statue.

In 1784, Grand Duke Pietro Leopoldo founded the Accademia di Belle Arti, Florence’s Fine Arts Academy and the adjoining Galleria dell’Accademia. For the gallery’s collection, the Grand Duke amassed Tuscan works to serve as examples for the student’s of the academy to study. Over the years, the Accademia acquired many drawings, painting and sculptures dating from the 13th to the 16th centuries, including works by Botticelli, Pontormo, Giambologna and Lorenzo Monaco. Over the years, the Accademia has grown to include a Department of Musical Instruments, which houses historic musical instruments from the adjacent Cherubini Conservatory.

Museo Galileo

Fl museums Galileo

On the banks of the Arno, close to the Ponte Vecchio, stands a small and often missed museum. Hidden from the crowds milling outside the nearby Uffizi, the Museo Galileo sits in the heart of Renaissance Florence. The museum’s origins are centuries old. It is housed in the 12th century Palazzo Castellani. In 1657, in memory of the recently deceased Galileo Galilei, the city of Florence founded the world’s first scientific institution, the Accademia del Cimento – the Academy for Experimentation, which was the start of a passion for the discovery of scientific knowledge and principles.

A part of the museum is dedicated to the life and works of Galileo, with many of his experiments faithfully reproduced. A display of his original instruments includes telescopes by which he revolutionised astronomy and validated the theories of Copernicus – which led to Galileo being summoned before the Inquisition. The objective lens Galileo used when discovering Jupiter’s four largest satellites, now named the Galilean moons, is also displayed, as are some of his notebooks.

Palazzo Pitti

Fl museum Palazzo-Pitti

The massive palace that was once home to the Medici Grand Dukes now houses six museums and the Boboli Gardens. The galleries contain works by late-Renaissance and baroque artists Caravaggio, Rubens, Perugino, Giorgione, Guido Reni, Fra Bartolomeo, Tintoretto, Botticelli, Filippo Lippi, Pontormo and Beccafumi.

The Giardini di Boboli (Boboli Gardens), one of the finest parks anywhere, was designed between 1549 and 1656. This statue-filled park features fountains, grottoes, a Kaffeehaus for refreshments in the summer, grassy meadows for relaxing and pleasant wooded areas.

It is also where the world’s first true opera premiered. In 1589, the Medici held a wedding reception in the Boboli Gardens and for the occasion commissioned musical entertainment from Jacopo Peri and Ottavio Rinuccini. The composers came up with the novel idea of setting a classical story (Dafne) to music and having actors sing the whole thing. Thus was the birth of opera. The team later collaborated on Euridice (1600), which also premiered here and whose score has survived as the oldest opera.

The rest of the Pitti Palace contains:
The Galleria d’Arte Moderna (Modern Art gallery) and The Galleria del Costume (Costume Gallery) with costumes dating back to the 1500s.The Museo degli Argenti (Silver Museum) contains a decorative arts collection, the Museo delle Porcellane (Museum of Porcelain) and the Museo delle Carrozze (Museum of Carriages).

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Medieval Cuisine

The cuisine of the Middle Ages was more international with recipes, ingredients and flavors that were practically identical throughout Europe and unified by the social standards. On one hand, there was the nobility with its preferences for wild game and fish. These dishes were favored by the dignitaries that passed from one Court to the next and were characterized by an exaggerated use of spices, the real status symbol of the period. On the other hand, there were the common people, who were able to sustain themselves with what came from the land or the market, giving life to the “characterizations” that would later define separate national and regional cuisines, specific ingredients and local customs. For example, the well-recognized use of vegetable oils in the south of Italy versus animal fat (lard and butter) in the north.

The three main cookbooks from the period were Liber de coquina (a cookbook contained in a miscellaneous text dedicated to Charles II of Anjou at the beginning of the XIV century), the Libro della cocina bolognese (written in Tuscan dialect) and the Libro per cuoco (by an anonymous Venetian written at the end of the century). These books are actually real kitchen manuals, written and copied (before the printing press was invented) to be sold to professional chefs, who would be able follow the suggestions and recommendations. The chefs would have also been capable of estimating how much of an ingredient to use, as quantities were entirely missing from the books.

Here are details of a banquet given on January 23, 1529 by the son of the Duke of Ferrara for his father and various dignitaries. The total guest list numbered 104.

“The antipasto course consisted of cold dishes: a caper, truffle and raisin salad in pastry, another salad of greens with citron juice and anchovy salads. There were also radishes carved into shapes, little cream pies, prosciutto of pork tongue, boar pies, mortadella and liver pies, smoked mullet served several different ways and gilt-head bream. The first course had capon fritters sprinkled with sugar, quails, tomaselle (liver sausage), capon liver stuffed into a caul (netting of pork fat) and roasted pheasants, an onion dish, pigeons in puff pastry, tarts of fish ilt (spleen), fried trout tails and barbel (a fish), quails, meatballs, white cervelat sausage, veal, capon in sweet wine, pigeon pastries, carp, turbot, shrimp, trout roe pies, a yellow almond concoction and pastries. The next course had partridge, rabbit, turtle-dove, sausages, boned capon, pigeons and more fish. This proceeded on to a fourth course, again with birds, fish, a rice pie and other dishes. A fifth course followed with some suckling pig, veal and more birds and fish as well. A sixth course with more veal prepared a different way, peacock, goat, boar and also more fish was eaten. The seventh course finally sees some vegetables, fennel, olives, grapes, pears and other pastries; citron, lettuce, cucumbers and almonds in syrup and various fruits and confections.”

Fl fish

Baccala alla Vincentina (Stewed Codfish)

Ingredients

  • 1 lb. dried codfish
  • 1 1/3 cups thinly sliced onion
  • 2/3 cup olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • 4 anchovy fillets, chopped
  • Flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 1/4 cups milk

Directions

Prepare the fish: skin and cut into thick slices. Saute the onion in the oil over a low heat until soft. Add the parsley, garlic and anchovies and stir until just coated. Remove from heat. Mix the flour, cinnamon, salt and pepper. Coat the fish with the mixture and place in a heavy metal or earthenware pan. Fish should fit snugly in a single layer. Sprinkle with cheese, add the anchovy and onion sauce and cover with milk. Bring slowly to boiling, cover and set over a very low heat until the liquid is absorbed, about 2 1/2 hours. Serves 4.

FL stew

Medieval Rabbit or Chicken Stew With Herbs and Barley

Ingredients

  • 2 ounces butter
  • 2 -3 lbs rabbit joints or 2 -3 lbs chicken pieces
  • 1 lb leek, washed and trimmed, sliced
  • 4 garlic cloves, chopped finely
  • 6 ounces barley
  • 3 3/4 cups water
  • 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar 
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 15 fresh sage leaves, roughly chopped

Directions

Melt the butter in a heavy pan and fry the meat with the leeks and garlic until the vegetables are slightly softened and the meat lightly browned. Add the barley, water, vinegar, bay leaves and seasoning.
Bring the pot to the boil.Cover it and simmer gently for 1 to 1 1/2 hours or until the meat is really tender and ready to fall from the bone. Add the sage and continue to cook for several minutes. Adjust the seasoning to taste and serve in bowls.

Fl eggplant
Petonciane in Agrodolce (Sweet & Sour Eggplant)

Ingredients

  • 1 medium eggplant, peeled and cut into large chunks
  • Salt
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 tablespoons raisins
  • 1 small stalk celery, diced
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon minced mint

Directions

Salt the eggplant chunks. Heat the oil in a skillet and fry the eggplant. Drain. Remove the oil, wipe the pan of any excess oil and add the remaining ingredients, along with the cooked eggplant. Cook over medium heat until tender. Add mint. Serve at room temperature.

FL book

Libro della cocina bolognese

 

 

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The father of modern political theory, Niccolo di Bernardo dei Machiavelli, was born in Florence, Italy on May 3, 1469 during a time when Italy was divided into four rival city-states. Machiavelli was born in a tumultuous era—popes waged wars against the Italian city-states and people and cities often fell from power very quickly. Foreign powers such as France, Spain, the Holy Roman Empire and even Switzerland battled for regional influence and control. Political-military alliances continually switched allegiance, mercenary leaders changed sides without warning and the rise of many governments were short-lived.

The Machiavelli family were believed to be descended from the Marquesses of Tuscany and produced a number of Florentine Gonfalonieres of Justice. Machiavelli was the third child and first son of attorney, Bernardo di Niccolò Machiavelli, and his wife, Bartolomea di Stefano Nelli. Machiavelli was taught grammar, rhetoric and Latin in his younger years.

In 1494, Florence restored the republic—expelling the Medici family, who had ruled Florence for some sixty years. Machiavelli was appointed to an office in the second chancery, which put Machiavelli in charge of the production of official Florentine government documents. Shortly thereafter, he was also made the secretary of the Dieci di Libertà e Pace. In the first decade of the sixteenth century, he carried out several diplomatic missions: most notably to the Papacy in Rome. From 1502 to 1503, he witnessed the brutal reality of the state-building methods of Cesare Borgia (1475–1507) and Borgia’s father, Pope Alexander VI, who were then engaged in the process of trying to bring a large part of central Italy under their possession. The pretext of defending Church interests was used as partial justification by the Borgias.

After Machiavelli’s involvement in an unsuccessful attempt to organize a Florentine militia against the return of the Medici family to power in 1512 became known, he was tortured, jailed and banished from an active role in political life. Machiavelli then left Florence and moved to his estate at Sant’Andrea in Percussina (near San Casciano in Val di Pesa) and devoted himself to study and to the writing of political treatises that earned him his intellectual place in the development of political philosophy and political theory. Despairing of the opportunity to remain directly involved in political matters, after a time, Machiavelli began to participate in intellectual groups in Florence and wrote several plays that (unlike his works on political theory) were both popular and widely known in his lifetime. Still, politics remained his main passion and, to satisfy this interest, he maintained a well-known correspondence with politically connected friends, attempting to become involved once again in political life.

In a letter to Francesco Vettori, he described his exile:
When evening comes, I go back home, and go to my study. On the threshold, I take off my work clothes, covered in mud and filth, and I put on the clothes an ambassador would wear. Decently dressed, I enter the ancient courts of rulers who have long since died. There, I am warmly welcomed, and I feed on the only food I find nourishing and was born to savor. I am not ashamed to talk to them and ask them to explain their actions and they, out of kindness, answer me. Four hours go by without my feeling any anxiety. I forget every worry. I am no longer afraid of poverty or frightened of death. I live entirely through them.

The prince

It was during this time period that he wrote, The Prince, a handbook for politicians on the use of ruthless, self-serving and cunning behaviors, inspiring the term “Machiavellian” and establishing Machiavelli as the “father of modern political theory.”  Instead of the more traditional subject of a hereditary prince, this work concentrates on the possibility of a “new prince.” To retain power, the “hereditary prince” must carefully maintain the sociopolitical institutions to which the people are accustomed, whereas a “new prince” has the more difficult task, since he must first stabilize his newfound power in order to build an enduring political structure.

Machiavelli asserted that social benefits of stability and security could be achieved in the face of moral corruption. Additionally, Machiavelli believed that public and private morality had to be understood as two different things in order to rule well. As a result, a ruler must be concerned not only with reputation, but must be willing to act immorally at the right times. As a political theorist, Machiavelli emphasized the occasional need for brute force or deception in order to retain power. In a sense, he established the framework for power and how it can be achieved and maintained in the realm of the political scene. Politics became a separate space in society with its own set of rules, concepts and moral codes.

The main theme of this work about monarchical rule and survival is man’s capacity for determining his own destiny in opposition to the power of fate. This political philosophy has been interpreted to mean that one may resort to any means, in order to establish and preserve total authority.

Many believe that the book’s main character, the prince, was based on Cesare Borgia and still others view it as a work of satire. Pope Clement VIII, however, condemned The Prince for its endorsement of rule by deceit and fear. One excerpt from the book reads: “Since love and fear can hardly exist together, if we must choose between them, it is far safer to be feared than loved.” “Machiavellianism” is a widely used, negative term to characterize unscrupulous politicians of the sort Machiavelli described in The Prince. The book itself gained notoriety and wide readership because the author seemed to be endorsing behavior often deemed as evil and immoral.

In addition to The Prince, Machiavelli wrote the treatise, On the Art of War (1521) and several poems and plays, including The Mandrake. In his later years, Niccolò Machiavelli resided in a small village just outside of Florence. He died on June 21, 1527 and his tomb is in the church of Santa Croce in Florence which, ironically, he had been banned from entering during the last years of his life.

Machiavelli’s ideas had a profound impact on political leaders throughout the modern west and his work was widely published following the invention of the printing press. It was reported that The Prince was spoken of highly by Thomas Cromwell in England and the work had influenced Henry VIII in his implementation of political tactics. A copy was also possessed by the Catholic king and emperor, Charles V. Catholic writers associated Machiavelli with the Protestants, whereas Protestants saw him as Italian and Catholic. In fact, he apparently influenced both Catholic and Protestant kings.

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The Italian Renaissance Table

During the Renaissance, Italy had the most skilled, well-known and creative cooks in Europe. They took Italian fine dining to new levels of refinement and prestige. Large, elaborate banquets were held in the dining rooms of the dukes and princes who governed the many small states throughout Italy.
Many of the Medieval flavors and preparations were carried over to the Renaissance, like the generous use of spices, the addition of sugar to savory dishes and the widespread consumption of roasts, stuffed pastas, tarts and pies.
The use of light sauces made of fruit or aromatic plants were mixed or thickened with the soft part of bread, flour, almonds or eggs. Sometimes, these sauces were flavored with acidic juices and mixed spices.

During the Renaissance, people developed a great love for giblets and other offal, poultry and fish. In addition, you could find a large selection of stews, long pasta noodles, stuffed pasta and maccheroni. Milk and dairy products were used often: butter became as important as lard, heavy cream became popular and people began cooking with all types of cheeses.
Fruit and citrus were fundamental flavoring agents and fruit became a popular part of the dishes served at the beginning of a meal.

Here are some recipes as they would have been made during the Renaissance years.

Herb Tart

Here is the translation from Latin left by Giovanni Bockenheym, cook to Pope Martin V:

“Take some fine aromatic herbs, such as parsley, marjoram, rue, mint or sage and so on, and pound them in a mortar. Then take some raw egg and fresh cheese and mix with some raisins; add saffron, ginger and other sweet spices together with some fresh butter. Then make the dough; use it to line a greased pan, fill with the mixture and some more butter and cover with more dough. When it is cooked, sprinkle with sugar and whole pine nuts. And this will be superlative for courtiers and their wives.”

The recipe comes from:G. BONARDI, Giovanni Bockenheym e la Cucina di Papa Martino V, Milan, Mondadori, 1995, BIGAB 1. 112. 3.

Cappelletti alla Cortigiana

“Boil 100 grams of belly of pork and half a capon breast and chop them up very finely. Add 200 grams of soft cheese and 50 of matured cheese, two eggs, some spices, very little ginger, pepper and salt and mix everything together carefully.
Cut out some thin discs of pasta and use to enclose the mixture, so that each “cappelletto” is no larger than half a chestnut. Cook the “cappelletti” in a good capon stock, made yellow by adding saffron, and serve sprinkled with sweet spices and grated Parmesan cheese. These special “cappelletti” were also made with a filling of breast of pigeon, pheasant or other birds.”

The recipe comes from:L. BARTOLOTTI, A Tavola con i Malatesti, Rimini, Panozzo, 1988, BIGAB 9. 23. 4.

Panunto con provatura fresca (sweet-sour spicy fried bread with mozzarella)

“Heat some butter and use it to brown some slices of previously toasted bread.
On each of these put a slice of mozzarella and grill. When the cheese has melted and become golden, dust the “crostini” with a mixture of sugar and ground cinnamon, sprinkle with rose water and serve piping hot.”

The recipe comes from:M. SALEMI, La Cucina Rinascimentale, Florence, Libriliberi, 2003, BIGAB 9. 22. 8.

Melon Tart

“Take a melon that is not too ripe and clean it; beat eight eggs together with eight ounces of sugar; grate eight ounces of fresh cheese and four of mild matured cheese and mix together with some cinnamon, cloves and pepper.
Amalgamate everything to obtain a homogeneous mixture and put this into a buttered pan lined with a very thin layer of pastry; then cook slowly, covering the pan with a lid and placing some embers on the lid, so that it also receives heat from above”.

The recipe comes from:G.L. ERCOLANI – D. LOSCALZO, La Dieta Ermetica. la Cucina nel Rinascimento, Lugano, Todaro, 2003, BIGAB 9. 23. 7.

Here are some modern interpretations of those old Tuscany recipes.

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Swiss Chard and Herb Pie

Ingredients

  • 1 pound Swiss Chard – stems and ribs removed 
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove minced 
  • 1 15-ounce container ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh oregano
  • 1/8 teaspoon fresh nutmeg
  • 1-17.03 ounce package frozen puff pastry, thawed (two sheets)

Directions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Oil a 9 inch pie pan. Chop the Swiss chard.

Heat oil in large, heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the chopped garlic. Saute 1 minute. Add chard and cook until just wilted, about two minutes. Transfer chard to large mixing bowl. Let cool. Mix in ricotta and the next 7 ingredients.

Roll out 1 pastry sheet on a lightly floured surface to about a 14-inch square. Transfer pastry to the pie pan. Trim edges leaving a 1-inch overhang.

Fill pastry with the chard mixture. Lightly brush pastry overhang with a pastry brush dipped in water.

Roll out the 2nd pastry sheet to a 13-inch square. Using the pan as a guide, trim pastry square into a 10-inch round. Drape over filling. Seal edges.

Bake about 45 minutes until pastry is golden brown. Cool ten minutes before cutting the tart.

cappelletti

Cappelletti

Ingredients

  • 1/2 chicken breast sautéed in butter and minced
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • 1 whole egg plus 1 yolk
  • A pinch of nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated lemon rind 
  • A pinch of salt and pepper
  • Homemade or store-bought pasta sheets or lasagna noodles

Directions

Stuffing:

Mix the ricotta, cooked chicken, eggs, cheese. nutmeg, lemon zest and salt and pepper. Mix well.

For the pasta, make homemade pasta sheets using 2 1/2 cups of flour and three eggs or purchase several sheets of store-made fresh pasta or lasagna noodles.

To make the cappelletti:

Place a sheet of fresh pasta on a well floured surface. Use a round cookie cutter to cut out 2-inch diameter circles of dough. Put a level teaspoon of the stuffing in the middle of each circle and fold the circles over to make half moons, dampening the edges of the disks a little to make sure they stay stuck together.

Then wrap the half moons around your little finger, giving them a half-twist to turn up one pair of corners and pressing the other pair together to make little rings.

With this recipe you should get between four and five dozen cappelletti.

To serve the cappelletti in broth, you will need two quarts of chicken broth. Gently boil the cappelletti in the broth until they are al dente, about 3-5 minutes.

Serve in pasta or soup bowls and pass extra cheese for topping the soup.

cheese toast

Toasted Garlic Bread

Ingredients

  • 1 (1 pound) loaf Italian bread
  • 5 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
  • Chopped parsley for garnish

Directions

Preheat the broiler.

Cut the bread into slices 1 thick.

In a small bowl, mix butter, olive oil, garlic, oregano, salt and pepper. Spread the mixture thinly and evenly on the bread slices.

Place the bread slices on a baking sheet and broil 5 minutes or until slightly brown. Check frequently so they do not burn.

Remove from the broiler. Top with the mozzarella cheese and return to the broiler for 2 to 3 minutes or until cheese is slightly brown and melted.

Garnish with parsley.

melon tart

Melon and Lemon Curd Tart

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/3 lb (10 1/2 tablespoons) unsalted butter, chilled, chopped
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 tablespoons chilled water
  • 1/4 small cantaloupe melon, rind removed, sliced thin
  • 1/4 small honeydew melon, rind removed, sliced thin
  • 2 passion fruit, halved and chopped
  • 10 oz jar of lemon curd

Directions

Place flour, sugar and butter in a food processor. Process until mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add egg yolk and chilled water. Process until dough just comes together.

Turn out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead until just smooth. Shape into a disc and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Grease a 9 inch round tart pan. Roll out pastry between 2 sheets of wax paper to fit the tart pan. Line pan with the  pastry. Trim excess. Refrigerate for 15 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Place prepared pan on a baking sheet. Line pastry with parchment paper. Fill with ceramic pie weights or uncooked rice. Bake for 10 minutes.

Remove weights or rice and baking paper. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes or until light golden. Set aside to cool completely.

Spread lemon curd in cooled pastry. Arrange cantaloupe and honeydew melon slices on top of the lemon curd. Sprinkle with chopped passion fruit. Refrigerate for 2 hours to chill before serving.

 

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Dante-alighieri

Durante degli Alighieri, simply called Dante (1265–1321) was a major Italian poet of the Middle Ages. His Divine Comedy is widely considered the greatest literary work composed in the Italian language and a masterpiece of world literature.

Dante was born in Florence, Italy. The exact date of birth is unknown, although it is generally believed to be around 1265. This can be deduced from his autobiographical information found in the La Divina Commedia. It is in first section of the “Inferno” and begins, “Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita” (“Halfway through the journey of our life”), implying that Dante was around 35 years old, since the average lifespan was 70 years then. Some verses of the “Paradiso” section of the Divine Comedy also provide a possible clue that he was born under the sign of Gemini: “As I revolved with the eternal twins, I saw revealed, from hills to river outlets, the threshing-floor that makes us so ferocious”. In 1265, the sun was in Gemini approximately between May 11 and June 11.

The poet’s mother was Bella and she died when Dante was not yet ten years old. His father soon married again to Lapa di Chiarissimo Cialuffi and she bore him two children, Dante’s half-brother, Francesco, and half-sister, Tana (Gaetana). When Dante was 12, he was promised in marriage to Gemma di Manetto Donati, daughter of Manetto Donati, a member of the powerful Donati family. Contracting marriages at this early age was quite common and involved a formal ceremony, including contracts signed before a notary. But Dante had fallen in love with Beatrice Portinari (known also as Bice), whom he first met when he was only nine. Years after his marriage to Gemma, he claimed to have met Beatrice again and he wrote several sonnets to her but never mentioned Gemma in any of his poems. The exact date of his marriage is not known: the only certain information is that, prior to 1301, he had three children named Pietro, Jacopo and Antonia.

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Statue of Dante in the Piazza di Santa Croce in Florence.

Statue of Dante in the Piazza di Santa Croce in Florence.

Not much is known about Dante’s education except that he studied either at home or at a school attached to a church or monastery in Florence. It is known that he studied poetry at a time when the Sicilian school (Scuola poetica Siciliana), a cultural group from Sicily, was a presence in Tuscany. His interests brought him to discover the poetry of the troubadours, such as Arnaut Daniel and the Latin classical writers, including Cicero, Ovid and especially Virgil. While still in his teens, Dante became involved with a group of poets, who would later be known as the founders of Dolce Stil Novo (Sweet New Style) poetry.

The Divine Comedy describes Dante’s journey through Hell (Inferno), Purgatory (Purgatorio) and Paradise (Paradiso), guided first by the Roman poet Virgil and then by Beatrice, the subject of his love in another of his works, La Vita Nuova. While the vision of “Inferno ‘ is vivid for modern readers, the theological concepts presented in the other books require a certain amount of patience and knowledge to appreciate. “Purgatorio”, the most lyrical and human of the three, also has the most poets in it; “Paradiso”, the most heavily theological with the most mystical passages.

With its seriousness of purpose, its literary stature and its range of content, The Divine Comedy, soon became a cornerstone in the evolution of Italian as an established literary language. Dante was more aware than most early Italian writers of the variety of Italian dialects and of the need to create literature with a unified literary language,in that sense, he is a forerunner of the Renaissance with its effort to utilize vernacular language.

Dante’s knowledge of Roman antiquity and his admiration for some aspects of pagan Rome also point toward to the 15th century. Ironically, while he was widely honored in the centuries after his death, The Divine Comedy slipped out of fashion among men of letters during his lifetime. It was considered too medieval, too rough and tragic and not stylistically refined in the respects that the Renaissance came to demand of literature.

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He wrote The Divine Comedy in a language he called “Italian,” a literary language mostly based on the regional dialect of Tuscany, but with some elements of Latin and other regional dialects. He deliberately aimed to reach a readership throughout Italy, including laymen, clergymen and other poets. By creating a poem of epic structure and philosophic purpose, he established that the Italian language was suitable for the highest sort of literature.

Publishing in the vernacular language marked Dante as one of the first (among others such as Geoffrey Chaucer and Giovanni Boccaccio) to break free from standards of publishing in only Latin (the language of liturgy, history and scholarship in general, but also of lyric poetry). This break set a precedent and allowed more literature to be published for a wider audience, setting the stage for greater levels of literacy in the future. However, unlike Boccaccio, Milton or Ariosto, Dante did not really become an author read all over Europe until much later. Throughout the 19th century Dante’s reputation grew and solidified and, by 1865, he had become solidly established as one of the greatest literary icons of the Western world.

Dante is credited with inventing terza rima (a set or group of three lines of verse rhyming together) and chose to end each canto (sections of a long poem) of the The Divine Comedy with a single line that completed the rhyme scheme. The triple stanza likely symbolized the Holy Trinity and early enthusiasts, including Italian poets Boccaccio and Petrarch, were particularly interested in the unifying effects of the form.

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Readers often cannot understand how such a serious work as The Divine Comedy can be called a “comedy”. The word “comedy” in the classical sense refers to works which reflect belief in an ordered universe, in which events tended toward not only a happy or amusing ending but one influenced by a divine will that orders all things to an ultimate good. Using this meaning of the word, Dante wrote in a letter, “the progression of the journey from Hell to Paradise made by the pilgrim is the expression of comedy, since the work begins with the pilgrim’s moral confusion and ends with the vision of God”.

Dante’s other works include Convivio (The Banquet), a collection of his longest poems with an (unfinished) allegorical commentary; Monarchia, a summary treatise of political philosophy in Latin which was condemned and burned after Dante’s death by the Papal Legate Bertrando del Poggetto, De vulgari eloquentia (On the Eloquence of Vernacular), on vernacular literature and La Vita Nuova (The New Life), the story of his love for Beatrice Portinari, who also served as the ultimate symbol of salvation in The Divine Comedy. The Vita Nuova contains many of Dante’s love poems written in Tuscan which was not unprecedented, since the language had been regularly used for lyric works before and during all the thirteenth century.

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Due to the monumental influence that his work had on countless artists, Dante is considered among the greatest writers to have lived. As the poet T. S. Eliot wrote, “Dante and Shakespeare divide the world between them, there is no third.”

Dante, poised between the mountain of purgatory and the city of Florence, displays the description: Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita in Domenico di Michelino's painting in Florence, 1465.

Dante, poised between the mountain of purgatory and the city of Florence, displays the description: “Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita” in Domenico di Michelino’s painting in Florence, 1465.

Dishes That May Have Been On Dante’s Table

The heart of Florentine cuisine is simple and abundant with local produce, mellow cheeses and grilled meats. Tuscans are also known for their appreciation of beans, especially white beans cooked with sage and olive oil. Beef Steak Florentine, roasted or wine-braised game such as boar, deer and rabbit and thick and hearty soups cover the table of a typical Tuscan meal. Plus this is the home of Chianti wine.

  • Pinzimonio is a typical appetizer and can be varied according to the season and the availability of vegetables. The success of this simple and tasty dish depends on two elements: fresh, young ingredients and, above all, superb olive oil from the hills of Tuscany. The vegetables come with a small bowl containing the oil, salt and pepper into which you can dip the pieces of vegetables.
  • Ribollita -Tuscan bread soup is a classic comfort food; it’s hard to think of any dish that’s more intimately associated with Florence than ribollita, a classic cabbage-and-bean soup that gains body and substance from a generous infusion of day-old Tuscan bread. The word ribollita literally translates as reboiled and for a ribollita to be authentic it must contain black-leaf kale, a long-leafed winter cabbage whose leaves are a purplish green and which has distinctive bitter overtones.
  • Stracotto – actually means “overcooked”, but in fact it is a good description, as it is intended for the tougher cuts of meat which require long, slow cooking.
  • Before the discovery of America and the importation of tomatoes, stracotto was cooked with agresto – a sauce made from crushed, tart grapes, boiled and flavored with cloves, cinnamon and the juice of a squeezed onion.
  • Piselli novelli in casseruola – is a speciality in springtime when tiny, tender, sweet new peas are available. They are ideal not only with stuffed rabbit but also with roast pork, peppery stew and braised beef. The dish is simply new peas cooked with pancetta and seasoning.
  • Casseruola alla fiorentina – Pasta or noodles are covered with a sauce of spinach, cream of mushroom soup, garlic, tarragon and marjoram and pieces of sausage, which is in turn covered with an egg and ricotta mix.
  • Castagnaccio – Chestnut cake For many centuries chestnuts were part of the staple diet in mountainous and hilly areas and for the poorer classes in general as they provided an inexpensive form of nutrition. The original, Florentine version of castagnaccio is also known as migliaccio (black pudding) in some parts of Tuscany.

Rolled Bell Pepper Appetizer

peperoni-arrotolati

Ingredients

  • 6 red or yellow bell peppers (or a mix), cut into 1 inch wide strips (along the longest length, in order to have long strips)
  • 1 lb ground beef or pork or turkey
  • ¼ lb mortadella
  • ¼ lb. prosciutto
  • ½ cup fresh breadcrumbs
  • 1 egg
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Extra-virgin olive oil

Directions

Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C). Oil a baking dish.

To make cutting the bell peppers into strips easier, you can first soften them by placing 2-3 at a time inside a small plastic bag and heating them up in the microwave for 2-3 minutes. The vapor that forms makes them soft and easier to cut and clean.

Prepare the meat filling by pureeing the mortadella and prosciutto in a processor. Remove to a mixing bowl and add the bread crumbs and egg. Mix well. Add salt and pepper.
Spread some of the filling on the bell pepper strips with the back of a spoon. Take one end of the strip and roll it up. Fasten with one or two toothpicks.

Place the rolled up bell peppers flat on one layer, close to each other (you should see the meat filling from the top in the prepared baking dish.

Bake for 20-25 minutes or until tops of rolls are slightly browned. Remove and let cool 10 minutes before serving. They may also be served at room temperature.

Trippa Alla Fiorentina

tripe

Tripe is a type of edible offal made from the stomachs of various farm animals.

Ingredients

  • 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 large celery, chopped
  • 1 large carrot, chopped
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 pounds beef tripe, cleaned, pre-boiled* and cut into strips
  • 1 (10 ounce) can peeled plum tomatoes, with juices
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
  • Fresh chopped basil for garnish

Directions

*Precooking the tripe:

Trim any pieces of solid fat from the tripe and wash the tripe thoroughly under cold running water. Put it in a large pot and pour in enough cold water to cover by four to six inches. Add 4 bay leaves and bring to a boil over high heat. Adjust the heat to a gentle boil and cook for two hours. Pick out the bay leaves, drain the tripe and cool to room temperature

In a saucepan, heat the extra-virgin olive oil. Add the garlic, celery, carrot, and onion and saute until they are soft. Add the tripe and cook together on medium heat, for about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes including the juices. Break up the whole plum tomatoes with a fork.

Let the mixture cook together until the sauce has reduced and thickened, about 15 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat, season with salt and pepper, to taste, and add the freshly grated Parmigiano cheese and basil. Stir well and serve warm.

Piselli alla Fiorentina

piselli-alla-fiorentina

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
  • 3-4 oz diced pancetta 
  • 1 ½ pounds fresh or frozen petite peas
  • 1 cup water
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 1 tablespoon chopped parsley

Directions

In a 2-quart saucepan, cook the olive oil, garlic and pancetta for 2-3 minutes, being careful not to brown the garlic.
Add the peas, water, salt and pepper and cook covered for approximately 15 minutes. Adjust salt and pepper, stir in parsley and serve.

Castagnaccio: Chestnut Flour Cake

cq5dam.web.616.462

Ingredients

  • 14 ounces chestnut flour
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • Pinch salt
  • 2 cups
  • 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 1/2 cup pine nuts
  • Sprig fresh rosemary
  • Zest of 1 orange

Directions

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

In a mixing bowl combine the flour, sugar, salt, and water. Whisk the batter well until the batter is smooth.

Add the olive oil to a nonstick pie pan and heat in the oven for 5 minutes. Once the oil and pie pan are hot, add the batter. Smooth out the batter evenly.

Sprinkle the raisins, pine nuts, rosemary and orange zest on top.

Bake the cake for 10 to 15 minutes or until the top is golden.

 

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cellini

The self-portrait of master goldsmith Benvenuto Cellini. An Italian Renaissance painting that disappeared from view for 450 years was yesterday declared to be the previously unknown self-portrait of the 16th century master goldsmith Benvenuto Cellini. The painting was unveiled in Paris after a team of experts concluded during 11 months of art detective work that it was genuine. Although the value of the work is said to be difficult to calculate, its owner, a private collector who apparently has no wish to sell, is insuring it for £60 million. He found the painting in an antiques sale in France a year ago, paying an undisclosed sum. Convinced that the painting was Cellini’s, the collector approached Italian art authorities, offering it for research and display, only to be turned away. He then commissioned the Parisian art laboratory Cosmo di Medici to conduct a detailed study. By a process involving comparison with the only other known portrait of Cellini, physio-chemical analysis and even psychological profiling, the experts agreed that the work was Cellini’s, painted in his native Florence between 1555 and 1565. (colin.randall@telegraph.co.uk)

Benvenuto Cellini was a Florentine sculptor, goldsmith, soldier and writer. He was born in 1500 in Florence, Italy and his parents were Giovanni Cellini and Maria Lisabetta Granacci. They were married for eighteen years before the birth of their first child. Benvenuto was the second child of the family. The son of a musician and builder of musical instruments, Cellini was pushed towards music,but when he was fifteen his father reluctantly agreed to apprentice him to the goldsmith, Antonio di Sandro. However, at the age of sixteen, Benvenuto attracted attention in Florence by taking part in an altercation with his companions. He was banished for six months by the magistrates and went to live in Siena, where he worked for a goldsmith named Fracastoro. From Siena he moved to Bologna, where he became a more accomplished flute player and made progress as a goldsmith. After a visit to Pisa and a period of studying sculpture in Florence, he moved to Rome.

His first artistic works were a silver casket, silver candlesticks and a vase for the bishop of Salamanca, which won him the approval of Pope Clement VII. Another celebrated work from his time in Rome is the gold medallion, “Leda and the Swan”, created for Gonfaloniere Gabbriello Cesarino that is now in the Museo Nazionale del Bargello in Florence. He also took up the flute again and was appointed one of the pope’s court musicians.

In the attack on Rome by Charles III, Duke of Bourbon, Cellini gained fame as a soldier. According to his own accounts, he shot and injured Philibert of Châlon, Prince of Orange. His bravery led to a reconciliation with the Florentine magistrates and he soon returned to his hometown of Florence. Here, he devoted himself to crafting medals in gold, the most famous of which are “Hercules and the Nemean Lion” and “Atlas Supporting the Sphere”, the latter eventually falling into the possession of Francis I of France.

He returned to Rome and this time he was employed in the craft of making jewelery and in casting dies for medals and the papal mint. In 1529 his brother, Cecchino, killed a Corporal of the Roman Watch and, in turn, was wounded. He later died. Soon afterward Benvenuto killed his brother’s killer – an act of blood revenge, but not justice, as Cellini admits that his brother’s killer had acted in self-defense. Cellini fled to Naples to escape the consequences. Through the influence of several cardinals, he later obtained a pardon. Cellini next went to Venice, where he was restored with greater honor than before.

At the age of 37, after returning from a visit to the French court, he was imprisoned on a charge (apparently false) of having embezzled the gems of the pope’s tiara during the war. He was confined to the Castel Sant’Angelo, escaped, was recaptured and treated severely. The intercession Cardinal d’Este of Ferrara, eventually secured Cellini’s release, in gratitude for which he crafted d’Este a gold cup.

Bust of Benvenuto Cellini on the Ponte Vecchio, Florence

Bust of Benvenuto Cellini on the Ponte Vecchio, Florence

Besides his works in gold and silver, Cellini created sculptures of a grander scale. One of the main projects of his French period is probably the “Golden Gate” for the Château de Fontainebleau. Only the bronze tympanum of this unfinished work, which represents the Nymph of Fontainebleau (Paris, Louvre), still exists, but the complete spectrum of his work can be known through archives,his preparatory drawings and reproduced casts. His most distinguished sculpture, the bronze group of “Perseus with the Head of Medusa” now in the Loggia dei Lanzi at Florence, was his attempt to surpass Michelangelo’s, “David” and Donatello’s, “Judith and Holofernes”. The casting of this work caused Cellini much trouble and anxiety, but it was called a masterpiece as soon as it was completed. By 1996, centuries of environmental pollution exposure had damaged the statue. In December 1996 it was removed from the Loggia and transferred to the Uffizi for cleaning and restoration. It was a slow, years-long process and the restored statue was returned to its home in June 2000.

The autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini was started when he was 58 and ended just before his last trip to Pisa around the year 1563, when Cellini was approximately 63 years old. The memoirs give a detailed account of his career, as well as his loves, hatreds, passions and enjoyments, that is written in an energetic, direct and racy style. They show a great self-regard and self-assertion, sometimes running into extravagances which are impossible to credit. Despite its exaggerations and its often boastful tone, it is a document of surprising frankness and incomparable authenticity and, thanks to it Cellini’s character, is more intimately known than that of any other figure of his time.

He died in Florence in 1571 at the age of 71 leaving behind a magnificent legacy of work. For all his exploits, Benvenuto Cellini remains a hero of Florence, in the Piazzale Degli Uffizi, outside the famous Uffizi Gallery, a life-size sculptor of him stands alongside the great masters of renaissance art, Da Vinci, Raphael and, of course, Michelangelo.

Still in the news today, Cellini’s gold and enamel masterpiece the “Saltcellar of Francis I” executed in 1540 for the King of France and valued today at $60,000,000, was recovered recently after being stolen from a museum in Vienna. Being chosen as a member of the Accademia delle Arti del Disegno shows the respect he commanded: not just as an artist but as a patron of Florence.

florence

Some Florentine Specialties

Much of the simplicity of Tuscan cuisine was born out of necessity. Wild herbs and greens were used in simple soups. Every part of the animal was used–cibreo is a popular Florentine chicken stew that features cockscombs. Tuscan bread, a rustic sourdough baked in a wood-fired oven, traditionally was made without expensive salt. That meant it quickly went stale and so ribollita was born, a vegetable soup thickened with bread. Panzanella is a summer salad made from stale bread cubes, fresh tomatoes, basil and Tuscany’s famed olive oil. Wheat flour was another expensive ingredient and so Tuscans created dishes like castagnaccio, a cake made with chestnut flour, raisins, pine nuts, orange zest and olive oil.
Dishes here have hearty, rustic flavors, well-matched to the area’s famous wines, and Florentines enjoy eating their regional cuisine in friendly, warm, informal settings.

Typically, Florentine people never start a meal from the main course but always have a starter first. Whether eating in a restaurant or at home with friends, you will always find liver crostini (thin sliced toasted bread with liver patè) on the table. Alongside liver crostini the usual antipasto also offers different types of sliced salamis and hams.

Pappardelle (similar to spaghetti, but a thicker pasta made with egg) with boar or hare sauce. It can be seasoned with other classic ingredients: porcini mushrooms, meat sauces, artichokes and sausages, etc. Other first course dishes are the soups: pappa al pomodoro, ribollita, carabaccia and black cabbage. These are all variations of a single base made from vegetables, bread and tomato.

The hills around Florence abound with game, including wild boar which is used in locally made salamis and air-dried hams. Duck and rabbit appear on the table grilled. Fish from the region’s lakes and seafood from the coastal areas appear on the table. Porcini, wild mushrooms, are another favorite served in the fall after foragers have combed the woods around the city.

Bistecca alla fiorentina (a T-bone steak) is served rare with a drizzle of Tuscan olive oil and often accompanied by white beans, roasted potatoes or a green salad. Porchetta is a suckling pig, stuffed with garlic and herbs and brushed with a rosemary branch while its roasts. Trippa alla fiorentina, tripe cooked with wine, tomatoes and herbs, is another signature dish.

Florentine desserts: cantucci (small almond biscuits) to eat at the end of a meal dipped in Vinsanto or in the colder seasons the castagnaccio, that takes its name from the nearby mountains , is a thin cake made of chestnut flour and pine nuts. During Carnival or after the Epiphany, you can find schiacciata alla fiorentina, a soft sweet, sponge cake which can be filled with cream or chocolate and covered with powdered sugar.

Sometimes Florentines like eating a sandwich in the street for lunch. In addition to steak, Florence offers other meat specialties such as tripe and lampredotto. These are foods that are eaten in kiosks on the street, even in winter.They can be seasoned with green sauce and enriched with other vegetables, such as leeks.

chicken-liver-crostini-Bourgeois

Chicken Liver Crostini

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 red onion, diced
  • 2 tablespoons capers
  • 2 anchovy fillets, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 1 pound chicken livers, rinsed
  • 1 cup Marsala wine
  • 2 sprigs of thyme
  • Salt, pepper and red chili flakes to taste
  • 2 tablespoons butter at room temperature
  • Baguette, sliced thinly and toasted
  • Sea salt, optional

Directions

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over low heat. Add the onions, capers and garlic and sauté just until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the thyme, Marsala, anchovies and chicken livers. Season with salt, pepper and chili and cook until the chicken livers are just cooked through, about 5 minutes.

Remove from the heat and discard the thyme. Transfer the contents of the skillet to a food processor. Add the butter and purée until smooth. 

To serve, spread the chicken liver on toasted baguette slices and garnish with sea salt, if desired.

pappa

Pappa al Pomodoro

Many Florentine recipes make use of leftover ingredients. Pappa al Pomodoro, a thick, hearty soup made with dry bread, is one of the city’s classic dishes.

Serves four

Ingredients

  • 4–8 cloves of garlic, according to taste
  • 1 14-ounce can of plum tomatoes
  • 1 pound of dry, stale (preferably unsalted Tuscan) bread, broken into small pieces
  • 4–6 cups of water or warmed vegetable broth
  • 1 bunch (20 leaves) of basil, coarsely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • Half teaspoon of crushed and dried chili pepper
  • 1 leek (white flesh only), finely chopped

Directions

Place the bread in a bowl and add water or broth. Cover and put aside for at least an hour.

Sauté the garlic and leek in oil. Add dried chili pepper, the tomatoes, half the basil and a dash of salt and pepper. Simmer for 20 minutes.

Squeeze excess broth from the soaked bread and add to the oil and tomatoes. Cook for at least 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Serve hot with remaining basil and a swirl of olive oil.

Minestra

Ribollita

Ribollita means “reboiled,” because to make this rich, thick vegetable soup correctly, it must be cooked and recooked. Ribollita appears with many variations, but the key ingredient is cavolo nero ( winter black cabbage), though kale, chard, or green and Savoy cabbage can also be used. Add zucchini, potatoes, Brussels sprouts and other vegetables according to taste.

Ingredients

  • 1 chopped onion
  • 2 cloves chopped garlic
  • 1 leek (white flesh) finely chopped
  • 3 chopped carrots
  • 3 fresh or canned peeled plum tomatoes
  • 2 cups canned white cannellini beans
  • 1 quarter cavolo nero or equivalent
  • 1 bunch Swiss chard and/or spinach
  • 1 finely chopped celery stalk and leaves
  • 4 chopped zucchini 
  • 2 peeled and cubed potatoes 
  • 1 pound stale Italian bread 
  • 4 tablespoons of tomato paste
  • Salt and pepper
  • Water
  • Olive oil
  • Oregano, rosemary and hot chili pepper as desired

Directions

Sauté the onion, leek, and garlic in a Dutch Oven in 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add carrots, celery, chili pepper and cook for ten minutes. Add tomatoes, cabbage, beans, herbs and salt and pepper to taste. Cook for 10 to 20 minutes.

Add tomato paste, zucchini, potatoes or other vegetables of choice and water to cover the ingredients. Cook gently for 90 minutes, adding water as necessary,

Chill the soup overnight. The next day purée half the mixture, return to the pot. Bring to a boil and reheat.

Ladling the soup over a thick slice of toasted dry bread and add a swirl of olive oil to each serving.

ganugi-pappardelle-gross

Pappardelle with Duck

4 servings

Ingredients

  • 1/2 pound duck breast, skin removed
  • Zest of 2 oranges
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 1 bay leaf, broken into small pieces
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 medium carrot, chopped
  • 1 stalk celery, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • Salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste
  • Fresh rosemary
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 1 can (14 ounces) diced tomatoes
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1/2 pound dried pappardelle pasta

Directions

Rub the meat with the orange zest, lemon zest, rosemary and bay leaf. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Remove the duck breast from the herbs and dice the meat.

Heat olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Sauté the onion, carrot and celery until soft, about 5 to 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds.

Add the diced duck meat. Cook until the meat has changed color, about 5 to 7 minutes.

Add the red wine; cook until the alcohol has reduced and evaporated, about 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and chicken stock. Simmer for 45-60 minutes, until the sauce is rich and thick.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cook the pasta until al dente. Drain pasta and mix with the sauce to serve.

Bistecca alla Fiorentina

Traditionally, a T-bone from local Chianina beef cattle is preferred, but an ordinary T-bone (or porterhouse) can also be used.

Serves at least four

Ingredients

  • 2-pound T-bone steak, three fingers thick
  • Sea salt (coarse)

Directions

Florentines grill the meat over a very hot wood or coal, but it can also be cooked on a hot skillet or griddle.

Grill the steak, without seasoning, for three to five minutes. Florentines often grill the steak standing up on the bone for a few minutes at the end to cook around the T-bone.

The meat should be seared and crispy on the outside and red, almost raw at its heart. Allow to rest for ten minutes then cut the meat off the bone into large chunks.

Season with coarse sea salt and serve.

cake

Schiacciata Alla Fiorentina

Serves: 12 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons baking powder
  • Zest and juice of 1 orange
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup warm whole milk
  • 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Powdered sugar, for topping

Directions

Preheat the oven to 360 degrees F. Spray a 9 by 13-inch baking pan with cooking spray.

Mix flour, sugar, baking powder and orange zest in a mixing bowl.

In another bowl mix orange juice, eggs, milk and oil and pour into bowl with flour.

Beat with a hand mixer until thoroughly mixed together, about 3 to 4 minutes.

Pour the batter to the greased pan and bake for about 25 minutes.

Test the cake with a toothpick inserted into the center. If it comes out clean, the cake is done.

Let cool for about 30 minutes on the counter, then turn the cake out of the baking pan. Slice and serve sprinkled with powdered sugar.

 

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The city of Florence showing the Uffizi (top left), followed by the Pitti Palace, a sunset view of the city and the Fontana del Nettuno in the Piazza della Signoria

Florence is above all – a city of art. It is the birthplace of many famous people such as Dante, Boccaccio, Machiavelli and Galileo Galilei. Artists like Botticelli , Michelangelo and Donatello made Florence one of the artistic capitals in the world.

It was during the reign of Julius Caesar that Florence came into existence. In the year 59 B.C. he established a colony along the narrowest stretch of the Arno, which is the point where the famous Ponte Vecchio crosses the Arno. After conquering the Etruscans during the third century A.D., the Romans established Florence as an important trading center.

In the fifth century, the Roman Empire crumbled after invasions from northern European conquerors. The “Dark Ages” had begun and Italian unity was lost for nearly 1400 years. After these hard times, Charlemagne’s army crushed the last of the foreign kings of Italy. However, this reprieve was short-lived. In giving thanks, Pope Leo III gave Charlemagne the title of Holy Roman Emperor to secure his loyalty.

Most of Italy came under the rule of Charlemagne and this led to future conflicts between the Emperor and the Pope that eventually led to civil war. The population of Florence became divided over their loyalty between the two factions: Guelf, those who supported the Emperor, and Ghibelline, those who supported the Pope. Over the following centuries, control of Florence changed hands many times between these two groups and families built towers to provide protection from their enemies within the city. At the end of the 13th. century, with the Guelfs in control, the conflict came to an end.

Despite this turbulent history, the region and Florence enjoyed a booming economy. At the end of the 14th. century, led by members of the wealthy merchant class, Florence became a gathering center for artists and intellectuals that eventually led to the birth of the Renaissance. During this period, the Medici family rose to power and fostered the development of art, music and poetry, turning Florence into Italy’s cultural capital. Their dynasty lasted nearly 300 years. Cosimo de’ Medici was a successful banker, who endowed religious institutions with artworks. He generously supported the arts, commissioning the building of great cathedrals and commissioning the best artists of the age to decorate them. Many artists, such as Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, and Correggio, trained and completed some earlier work in Florence. One painting in particular done by Leonardo da Vinci captures the Renaissance essence of the 16th century: The Last SupperThe last of the Medici family, Anna Maria who died in 1743, bequeathed all the Medici property to the city.

The Food of Florence

Florentines call their cuisine il mangiare fiorentino—“Florentine eating”— and la cucina fiorentina, meaning both “Florentine cooking” and “the Florentine kitchen.” This language emphasizes what is important to them about food—its eating and cooking—both of which have traditionally taken place in the kitchen – the heart of family life.

Florentine Antipasto

The typical Florentine antipasto consists of crostini, slices of bread with chicken liver paté. The crostini are also served with cured ham and salami. Fettunta is another typical Florentine antipasto: a slice of roasted bread with garlic and Tuscan extra virgin olive oil. Last but not least, cured ham and melon are extremely popular even outside Florence.

Florentine First Courses  

 

Panzanella is a typically summer first course. Panzanella is a salad made of water-soaked and crumbled bread with tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, Tuscan extra virgin olive oil, vinegar and basil. Reboulia, a winter course, is a vegetable soup with bread. Another  famous Florentine soup is Pappa al Pomodoro, a hot soup made of bread and tomatoes. Pappardelle alla lepre (pasta dressed with a hare sauce) and pasta e ceci (pasta with chick-peas) are two Florentine specialties.  

Florentine Second Courses

A main course favorite is the bistecca alla fiorentina ( a grilled T-bone beefsteak ). For a long time, the beef only came from Val di Chiana area steers but nowadays it comes from several Tuscan areas because it is in much demand. 

Since the Florentine cuisine has peasant origins, people use every part of an animal; therefore, entrails are fundamental in the local cuisine and dishes like kidney, tripe and fried cow udder served with tomato are very common, as well as dishes based on wild animals like wild boar, rabbit, pigeon and pheasant.

Florentine Desserts                                                                                                                                               

A typical Tuscan dessert consists of almond biscuits, such as, Cantucci di Prato , that are often served with Vin Santo (a dessert wine). The Schiacciata con l’uva , a bun covered with red grapes is prepared in autumn, during grape harvest. Other Tuscan desserts are: the  Brigidini di Lamporecchio – crisp wafers made of eggs and anise, the Berlingozzo – a ring-shaped cake prepared during Carnival time in Florence – and  Zuppa Inglese, made of savoy biscuits soaked in liqueur.

Many desserts boast medieval origins. One of the most famous is the Panforte, cakes made of almonds, candied fruit, spices and honey, Buccellato, a cake filled with anise and raisins and “confetti di San Jacopo”: little sugar balls filled with an anise seed that have been produced there since the 14th. century.  

Florentine Wines

Florence stands at the heart of one of the most famous wine regions in the world. During the month of May, many Florentine wine producers open their cellars to visitors, who can taste some of the wines from their vineyards. Tuscany is renowned not so much for the quantity but for the quality of its wines. In fact, despite being the third Italian DOC wine-producing region, Tuscany ranks only eighth, as far as the quantity is concerned. Only a small part of the Tuscan territory can be cultivated with vineyards; this is the reason why since the 1970’s Florentine and Tuscan wine producers have decided to aim for quality of their product instead of quantity. Of the 26 Italian DOCG wines, six are produced in Tuscany: the Brunello di Montalcino, the Carmignano, the Chianti, the Chianti Classico, the Vernaccia di San Gimignano and the Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.

The flower of Tuscan oenology is the red Chianti Classico, which is produced in seven areas with different procedures. The Sangiovese vine is the basis of all Chianti Classico wines; to that, several other species of vines are added in variable quantities. The emblem of the Chianti Classico is the Gallo Nero (the black cock).

The Sangiovese vine is the basis of another Tuscan wine: the Brunello di Montalcino, a red wine produced in the province of Siena. The Brunello, one of the most refined and expensive Italian wines, ages four years in oaken barrels and two more years in its bottle. A third wine, the Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, is produced with Sangiovese vines. Like the Brunello, the Vino Nobile comes from the province of Siena. In the late 1980’s, many wine producers began to use different species of vines and procedures to produce a new generation of wines, called super Tuscans. The first representative of this new generation of wines is the Sassicaia, that a branch of the Antinori family began to produce with some cabernet vine shoots coming from Bordeaux, that the family had planted in 1944 in its estate in Bolgheri, on the southern coast of Tuscany. The Antinori family created Tignanello using Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon vines.

At present, wine producers increasingly blend Sangiovese with Cabernet, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Pinot Noir and other foreign vines. Tuscany also produces white wines. The most famous Tuscan white wine is the Vernaccia di San Gimignano. Another excellent Tuscan white wine is the Bianco di Pitigliano, which is produced in southern Tuscany.                                                                                                                    

Spaghetti with Peas and Prosciutto

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 lb. Prosciutto, in one piece
  • 2 small garlic cloves, peeled
  • 15 sprigs Italian parsley, leaves only
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 pound fresh peas, shelled or 1 pound “tiny tender” frozen peas
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 pound spaghetti
  • Italian parsley for garnish

Directions:

Cut prosciutto into small pieces. Finely chop the garlic and coarsely chop the parsley.

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over low heat. When the oil is warm, add the prosciutto, garlic and parsley; saute for five minutes, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon. Add the peas and the broth. Simmer until the peas are tender. Season with salt and pepper.

To cook the pasta: bring a large pot of water to boil over medium heat. When water comes to full boil, add salt and the pasta and cook until al dente. Drain the pasta and add it to the saucepan with the peas. Mix very well. Cook for one minute more, mixing continuously, while the pasta absorbs some of the sauce. Transfer to a large warmed serving platter and sprinkle with parsley leaves.

Braised Pork Loin                                                                                                                                             

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb. boneless pork loin
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 2 tablespoons raisins
  • 2 tablespoons pine nuts
  • 1 oz. capers
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 lb. plum tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped (or use canned)
  • 1 tablespoon parsley
  • salt and pepper

Directions:

Slice the pork loin three-quarters of the way through lengthwise and flatten slightly with a wooden mallet.

Chop 2 of the cloves of garlic finely, mix with the raisins, pine nuts and capers. Place this mix over the pork and roll the pork into a cylinder. Tie with string.

Brown the remaining garlic in oil, and then remove it. Add the pork roll, brown on all sides, add tomatoes. Add salt and pepper to taste , cover and cook for 25 min. over a low flame. Add parsley, remove from heat. Let rest a few minutes before cutting into one inch slices.

Zuccotto                                                                                                                                                       

Ingredients:

  • Sponge Cake, recipe below
  • 3 tablespoons liqueur (Grand Marnier, Benedictine, Framboise)
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons heavy cream
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons fresh ricotta
  • 6 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 cup hazelnuts, toasted and chopped
  • 1/2 cup almonds, toasted and chopped
  • 1 1/2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped fine
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder

Directions:

Cut the sponge cake into 1/2 inch thick strips. Spray a 1 1/2-quart bowl lightly with vegetable spray. Line bottom and sides with cake strips, ensuring a tight fit to completely encase the filling. Sprinkle with liqueur and set aside.

Whip cream until it holds soft peaks. Separately, beat ricotta and sugar until smooth, about 3 minutes. Fold together whipped cream and ricotta. Fold in half the nuts.

Pour half the mixture into the cake lined bowl. Make a well in the center large enough to hold the remaining cream mixture.

Thoroughly blend remaining cream mixture with chopped chocolate and cocoa powder, then spoon mixture into the center. Sprinkle remaining nuts on top, cover lightly with plastic wrap and freeze until very firm, at least 6 hours.

Fifteen minutes before serving, remove from freezer and invert onto a plate. Slice into 8 servings.

Sponge Cake Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour, sifted
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • A pinch of salt
  • A teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions:

Spray a 10-inch round cake pan with cooking spray and flour bottom of the pan.  Heat oven to 375 degrees F.

Separate the yolks and put them in a bowl with the sugar. Beat the mixture until very fluffy. Beat in the vanilla extract.

In a separate bowl beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form, add a pinch of salt and gently fold them into the beaten yolks. Fold the flour into the batter and pour it into the pan.

Put the cake in the oven, reduce the temperature to 350 degrees F, and bake the cake for about 35-40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake is dry and the cake pulls away from the sides of the pan.  Turn the oven off. Open the oven door and let  the cake cool for one hour in the oven. Turn out onto a wire rack and let rest for an hour before cutting



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