Friday, October 23, 2009

A Day in Florence, A Day in Rome

If you visited the blog a couple of weeks ago, you know that I recently returned from a trip through France, Italy, Greece and Turkey arranged by the Thomas P. Gohagan & Company, out of Chicago. This installment is about a couple of days in Italy, specifically the days I spent in and around Florence and Rome.

Our boat left Nice, France and sailed overnight to Livorno, a port outside of Florence. We would spend the morning walking around the area of the Duomo, near the museum that houses David, which we would visit later in the afternoon. The shops around the area feature all kinds of sweets and treats like huge mounds of gelato in every imaginable flavor.Here are some fruit and nut cakes, dense and rich. These keep very well and make great holiday gifts.

After a few hours of strolling we had built up our appetites, which were about to be thoroughly satisfied. We took a bus a short distance out of town, up into the hills to Villa Viviani. This lovingly restored, stately home is now a space used for functions such as private parties, such as ours. We strolled through the gardens to a glass-walled tent where our hostess and organizer, Elaine Trigiani awaited.

I know Elaine through the IACP (International Assoc. of Culinary Professionals). She lives in Tuscany and had arranged for our afternoon at this villa. It began with a guided sensory tasting of three Tuscan olive oils. She is a certified olive oil taster and her presentation was as delicious as it was educational. We learned about olive oil harvesting and production, about sensory evaluation, reading labels and health benefits as well.

Then we rested briefly in an adjourning garden, overlooking the city.....

and enjoyed fresh squeezed blood orange juice, prosecco from the Valdobbiadene and an array of antipasti:

Parmigiano Reggiano, Pecorino di grotta with honey, ricotta from Seggiano, Tuscan salami with wild fennel seeds, chicken liver crostini, and a special Sbriciolana - a salami from the Sienese black and white heritage pigs. We continued with oil-preserved baby artichokes, sweet cippolini onions, v

fritters of vegetables and zucchini blossoms, pat├ęs, salumi and prosciutto of Pratomagno carved to order.



Then it was on to a proper meal inside the villa.

We began with a porcini mushroom risotto with mint,

then papardelle with wild hare.

Onto some fabulous white beans drizzled with spicy, peppery Tuscan olive oil, and a main course of Tuscan steak, Norcia roast pork loin, and roasted potatoes and tomatoes that were so concentrated in their flavor, they were almost unbelievable. Even though they had been drizzled with oil and herbs and roasted, they tasted as though they had just been plucked off the vine. With vegetables this fresh, you could literally taste the earth. They were startling in their intensity.

Along with the meal we enjoyed a fabulous chianti. The Renzo Marinai wine is organically produced in Tuscany, but available in the U.S..

It was one of those wines that was just so easy to drink, that held its own alongside they food, yet never overpowered. I am told it is available in the States. We finished off with a chocolate zuccotto. None of us had any stomach room left – but we were not going to miss out. We made room. We then finished with Vin Santo (a sweet wine) and the classic accompaniment of Biscotti di Prato.

Here are some other pictures of the villa, inside and out. I could imagine a wedding there…..

That evening we sailed to the port of Civitavecchia, outside of Rome. While we did tour the Roman Forum, the Colosseum and the Church of St. Peter in Chains, I want to bring you the culinary highlights.

I was looking forward to our visit of the famed Campo de Fiori green market, and it did not disappoint. As we approached, the view was of a bustling scene.

It seemed to be made up of about half tourists and half locals, buying produce and a few flea markety items.

There were larger, very permanent looking vendors with refrigerated cased featuring cured meats and cheeses.

Fraise de bois, the tiny potently flavored strawberries were abundant; those are pomegranates behind them.

There were tomatoes of all sorts, including these squat, ridged Casalino. The aroma emanating from this stand was intoxicating.

Mushrooms were plentiful, as were tender, small cippolini onions and large purple tinged artichokes.

Several vendors offered a salad mix, which I thought was brilliant. I know we have similar products in the U.S. but these somehow seemed fresher and more creative in their blends and presentation. They just begged to be purchased, brought home and put on the table immediately.

A few things I hardly ever see stateside are these fabulous multi-colored lettuces

and zucchini blossoms in such profusion.

We then boarded buses and drove outside of Rome to the ancient (400 year old!) L’Archeologia Restaurant for a five course lunch. Here we are entering the restaurant where we sat outside under large umbrellas:

We started with a plate of roasted and fresh vegetables, fresh buffalo mozzarella and Colonnata fat bacon crostini.

Next was a soup, "etrusca style". The pasta course was so simple, yet so delicious – a very typical, classic dish. Just a bit of pasta tossed with some of the cooking water, bits of Pecorino and ham.

Here is the "recipe" as it was given to us: "Cook strangozzi (thick spaghetti) in boiling salted water. In the meantime prepare a soffritto (garlic lightly fried in oil) with diced ham and add a few drops of white wine. Add the pasta when it is cooked and cook together for 1 minute. When it is served on the dish, grate a little bit of Pecorino cheese on top".

We went on to Argentinian beef filet with ceps mushrooms and mixed fried vegetable fritters , concluding lunch with fresh fruit and tiramisu. Now, let me tell you that I was so stuffed and so uninspired by the dessert, that I almost didn’t have any….boy would that have been a mistake. It was a truly well executed rendition. Very light on the palate in taste and texture. I was so busy eating, I forgot to take a picture.

Join me on my next installment in a week or so, on the Greek Honey tasting I conducted on board Le Diamant. As you can imagine, this was a trip of a lifetime for both David and me.

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