THE ART OF ITALIAN DINING
When my friends learn i am coming back to Florence they all seem very eager to come and pay me a visit.
They are even more excited when i send them (ahead of time) the calendar of dinners and lunches planned at the house during my stay.
Yes, we literary have a calendar, so that my friends can pick and choose and eventually show up. With time, I learned it is difficult to coordinate everybody’s schedule and this
was an easy solution to deal with that.
Now, they all receive an email a few weeks before my arrival with some potential dates.
Everybody brings something: vino, antipasti e il dolce. We sit when the sun goes down and we do not get up until late night. Usually we feel heavier. I might know why.
This is our social life; A close group of friends, good wine and great conversation which is exactly the philosophy I apply to my business. My life evolves around food and wine. I can’t imagine a good meal without the people i love and the people i love without some food in their hands.
Last week we had a ‘grigliata‘, an Italian BBQ – charcoal only – , at my house. Tuscany has the luck of producing the best meats Italy has to offer. The sausages spiced up with salt, pepper and fennel seeds are famous all over the country. We poke them with a fork to let the grease drip so that the flavor becomes even more concentrated. The best ones have been drying for a while. Fresh sausages are not good to eat alone.
‘Rosticciana‘, beef ribs, are rubbed with lemon, salt, pepper and sage and grilled at high temperature. They are categorically eaten with your hands. No silverwear allowed.
Then, ‘bistecchine di maiale’ (pork chops with bones), agnello (lamb) and cervo (deer).
But the queen of every grigliata is always her, ‘Bistecca alla Fiorentina’.
The name ‘bistecca’ derives from the English word beef-steak. Tradition wants that in the early 1800, during the celebration of San Lorenzo (the saint of Florence) in the square of the central market, thick slices of beef were distributed to the people. During one of these events, tradition says, a group of English aristocrats happened to be there and loudly they started to ask for “beef steak please”. The pronunciation of “beef steak” was translated by the people of Florence as Bistecca.
This flagship, Tuscan steak is made from the region’s Chianina breed of cattle, the largest and oldest existing cattle breed in the world, which are prized for their tenderness and flavor.
These truly beautiful animals are also informally called the “White giants of the valley” since there were originated and still live in the Chiana Valley in Tuscany.
The Chianina originally dates back to the time of Roman Empire and it was developed as a dual-purpose breed for meat and draught purposes.
Thickly cut and very large, the Bistecca is invariably served very rare (good restaurants do not make any accommodation for guests who do not eat rare meats).
In typical Italian style, simplicity rules the day; little more than olive oil, rosemary, and salt are needed to highlight the rich flavor of the grilled meat. Sometimes it is garnished with lemon wedges and always accompanied by a glass of Chianti or SanGiovese.
Tuscan beans, roasted potatoes and grilled vegetables are the usual side dishes.
So I went to the Mercato Generale (general market) in Florence to shop for fresh produce and of course meats. There isn’t anything that makes me happier than to choose my own ingredients, to see them, smell them, feel them, talk to the farmers, see people interacting in this little food paradise.
It involves all my senses. It adds a story to the final dish. And when you finally get to the first bite you will suddenly realize why it tastes so divine…