Florence has over 80 museums. Here are just a few:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.”
Baccala alla Vincentina (Stewed Codfish)
- 1 lb. dried codfish
- 1 1/3 cups thinly sliced onion
- 2/3 cup olive oil
- 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
- 4 anchovy fillets, chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 2 1/4 cups milk
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.
Medieval Rabbit or Chicken Stew With Herbs and Barley
- 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
- 15 fresh sage leaves, roughly chopped
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.
- 1 medium eggplant, peeled and cut into large chunks
- 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
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.
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.
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.
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
- 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
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 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.
- 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
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.
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.
- 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
- Olive oil
- Oregano, rosemary and hot chili pepper as desired
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.
Pappardelle with Duck
- 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
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
- 2-pound T-bone steak, three fingers thick
- Sea salt (coarse)
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.
Schiacciata Alla Fiorentina
Serves: 12 servings
- 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
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.
- Autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini – a renowned scultor (autobiographiestoread.wordpress.com)
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 Supper. The 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.
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.
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.
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
- 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
- freshly ground black pepper
- 1 pound spaghetti
- Italian parsley for garnish
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
- 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
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.
- 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
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
- 3/4 cup all-purpose flour, sifted
- 2/3 cup sugar
- 4 eggs
- A pinch of salt
- A teaspoon vanilla extract
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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