Italy Day 12 – Florence Cooking Class

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DISCLAIMER: This entry contains more pics from the market. Don’t worry. All of the food is free range. Including the asparagus. However, if you don’t want to see the pictures of meat and veg, and would prefer to live in happy oblivion, you can go here instead.

So with two days left in the trip I’m finally adjusted to the time change. I woke up at 6:30 this morning and couldn’t fall back asleep.

So, I hit the shower and headed out to take some pictures. But an amazing thing happened when I left the hotel: there was water falling from the sky! It hasn’t rained hardly a drop the whole trip (with the exception of some drizzling the second day in Venice). So I guess it was long overdue. Anyway, instead of waterlogging my camera, I went to central market to take some dry pictures.
Chicken

cheese

Chicken

Butcher
meats

fish

prosciutto

(Prosciutto)

Butcher

Butcher

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Butcher

tripe

(Sometimes gross is beautiful. This is tripe.)

asparagus

pears

Cherry Tomatoes

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meat

Zucchini Blossom

lettuce

pigs feet

In Italy, there are no legos, so kids build stuff with pig’s feet.

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I took several pictures of this guy. I like this one the best. Because he’s inadvertently giving me the finger.

(Come to think of it, maybe he’s advertantly giving me the finger.)

For breakfast, I had an orange glazed croissant with cappuccino at the bar upstairs. It was good. Didn’t take a picture. But I can try to describe it:

It was brown.

After roaming the market and annoying most of the vendors with my camera, I went back to Conti to pick up some goodies to take home. A bottle of the 12 year old balsamic vinegar, and a bottle of the Balsama Bianca.

Then I did an olive oil tasting. It’s amazing how big of a range there are in the flavors. Some go down mild like butter. Others leave a peppery taste on the back of your tongue a moment after you swallow. It’s almost like wine – different oils seem like they’d be better suited for different dishes.

Of course, I had to buy a bottle.

I took this picture on the way back to the hotel. I thought she did a very convincing Michael Jackson impersonation.

woman in the window

Today’s class started with a trip to Pasticceria Sieni for coffee.

Pasticceria Sieni is renowned for their excellent coffee, freshly baked pastries, and, most notably, for being the only bar in Florence that still operates in black and white.

bar

I had a cappuccino. We also tried what I think were mini crème filled Sfogliatelle

breakfast pastry

They were AMAZING. The outside was golden and crisp spirals of phyllo, and when you took a bite, you got a burst of sweet filling. (Maybe mascarpone?)

Then we went to the market. And ate more cheese. (There’s always room for cheese.)

cheese tray

Parmesan with balsamic, parmesan without balsamic, and parmesan with a red pepper jelly.

butcher

On the right, a regular rabbit. On the left, the rare Tuscan Boneless Rabbit, found only in the remote hills of the Chianti region. It’s considerably slower than your typical rabbits, but every bit as wascally.

butcher with apron

Why is this butcher is stabbing himself with a knife?

a) To demonstrate that his apron is made of chainmail.
b) To demonstrate that he is emotionally unstable.
c) All of the above

I was SO tempted to rotate one of this guy’s bottles like 15 degrees to see how long it’d take him to fix it.

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Here, he’s holding a picture of himself working at the market back in 1733.

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As you can see by the alphabatized-by ingredient cans behind him, the OCD was fairly developed even then.

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After our shopping trip to the market, we swung by the “Wine boy” for a glass of prosecco. Thus giving me the opportunity to look like a ladies man. “How YOU doin’?”

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(EDITOR: These women were paid handsomely to pose for this shot.)

baker

If you put two foccacia in a plastic crate and leave it overnight, they reproduce like bunny rabbits.

After our wine, we headed back to the studio to cook.

ingredients

For Antipasti, we had a bread called Schiacciata from a baker by the market who, according to Judy, makes the best bread in town. After tasting it, I’d have to agree. It’s a little bit like foccaccia, but thinner and crispy on the top and bottom.

bread

We also had a few different cheeses. The first was called Gorgonzola Dolce, a “weeping” gorgonzola cheese. (So named because it has deep-seeded psychological issues.) Judy said they probably used gorgonzola dolce to make the sauce in my gnocchetti last night. We also had Robiola cheese. It’s a triple cream cheese. It’s also phenomenal. The third was a cheese with almost a puddling-like consistency called Squaquerone. It’s like Italian cream cheese.

Also on the menu was a quick-sauteed sardine dish. The sardines were butterflied, placed around the bottom of the pan and smothered with high quality dark chocolate. (Acutally it was olive oil. Just testing to see if you’re still paying attention.)
judy

sardines

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For the primi, we (and by we, I mean Judy) butterflied a boneless, skinless chicken breast and stuffed it with sausage and pistacchio nuts. Then we rolled it up, wrapped it in foil and cooked it in a pot of water for 20 minutes. When it came out, the roll was set. So all we had to do was slice it into medallions.

stuffed chicken

stuffed chicken

Next, we made Inzimino di Totani, an Italian squid stew. To clean a squid, you place it on the cutting board and grab a knife. Then, you make a face and say “ewww, gross.”

Squid, though tasty when cooked, are really nasty little buggers to clean. (That’s right. I said buggers.) Thus proving that the first person in history to eat squid clearly lost a bet.

squid

Anyway, to make the stew, we set a pot on the flame and added garlic, tomatoes, spinach, the squid and some other stuff that I don’t remember. (Fortunately, the recipe’s in the book.) The stew was good enough to make us all forget how nasty the insides of the squid were a half hour earlier.

squid stew

We also made Carciofi Fritti (fried artichokes). These were absolutely amazing. I think I could probably eat 20. And they were really, really simple to make too. After trimming the artichokes, we cut them into sixths and dumped them all in a bowl. Then we mixed in egg and flour until the bits were coated. We fried them in olive oil and salted them when they came out. Sooooo good. My favorite of the day. They disappeared so fast, I didn’t even get a picture.

Dessert was no slouch either. We made Pasta Frolla, which is like a jelly tart. Only instead of using jelly for the filling, we made it with Nutella. So it was like a giant Nutella brownie with a pie crust. (Note to self. Buy a jelly roll pan ASAP.)

pasta frolla

Speaking of kitchen toys, I swung by the cooking store after class and got a stovetop espresso maker and a Mezza Luna. A Mezza Luna is a half-moon shaped knife with two handles that you rock back and forth on the cutting board. It’s great for mincing things up really small. It’s not great for carry-on bags.

After class, I walked down to the Ponte Vecchio and got some really nice sunset pictures from the bridge. Sunsets on the Arno are gorgeous because the sun sets dead center on the river.

florence sunset

florence sunset

florence sunset

florence sunset

florence sunset

While on the bridge, I met a couple from Kent Island. Which was a bit odd. I didn’t expect to be talking about the Annapolis dining scene on the middle of the Ponte Vecchio in Florence. (Cue animatronic children singing “It’s a Small World”)

After stuffing myself in class (again) I wasn’t terribly hungry for dinner. I was also too tired to make the effort of opening the Food Lovers Guide. So I just picked some random pizzaria called Trattoria Marino. It was on a little side street by the Duomo. If you go, don’t try to find it. Because It sucked.

They only had three kinds of pizza on the menu, (How can you call yourself a pizzaria with only 3 pizzas?) I got the Margherita. The outside of the crust was nice and crispy, but the center was limp and undercooked. A big let down after being spoiled by the pizza in Rome.
pizza

I also had the Fagioli. It was ok. Too much garlic though.

fagioli

All in all, kind of a crap meal.

BUT all was not lost. Because dessert was THE BOMB. (or IL BOMBE as they say in Italy).

The other day, I was all set to hand the Gelato title over to Rome. But then I tried the gelato at Grom, a gelateria that Judy recommended, a few doors down from Coquinarius.

Grom wins the fourteen-days-in-Italy-gelato-a-day title by a landslide. I had half caffe, half pistaccio.

grom gelato

The flavor was so much richer and more concentrated. Especially in the pistaccio. The gelato at Grom is worth the price of the airfare to Italy. Go there now. Seriously. Run. Hop on the very next flight. And bring some back for me.

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