From the Market to the Garden
Florence, Settignano Italy
December 28, 2006
Made our own coffee and breakfast before going with empty bags to the central market near San Lorenzo. We got there early enough to have some quality time with one vendor who is usually swamped just filling shouting customers’ orders. It’s obvious he prefers the slow time when he can give samples of cheese and pear preserves, sausage on bread with balsamic vinegar drizzled on top, ham chunks with bar-b-que sauce, and novel ideas for preparing the hundreds of gourmet products behind that high counter. We got fresh ricotta cheese there and will try his recipe for sprinkling ground coffee and sugar on top for breakfast tomorrow. We stocked up on sun dried tomatoes, olive oil, and artichoke hearts for our apartment’s empty cupboard then went to say hello to the happy couple who slices and vacuum packs our parmigiano reggiano every December. Then we greeted the Contis who could have single handedly filled our cupboard with oil, vegetables, olives, truffle honey, pine nuts, mushrooms, and Brunello di Montalcino. While we were there, Judy Witt arrived with her cooking class for today. We gave her all the props she deserves and told the students to do everything she says and buy everything she recommends.
Also while at Conti’s shop ( we were there a long time) we met Tracey McCormack, a delightful American who is a friend of the Contis and has an apartment for rent near Santa Croce. We gave her our cell phone number and she will call us later today when she can show it to us. She had to run to the Police station with Mr. Conti to get one last document for the dossier she presents to immigration for dual citizenship.
We enjoyed a sliced pork (porchetta) sandwich and a battered eggplant before heading home with our heavy load of goodies.
The number 10 bus to Settignano is the only one that departs from the left side of the SMN train station instead of the right side. It only took about 30 minutes to pull into Settignano’s main square with the fountain. The town is on a hill to the east of Florence overlooking the Arno River and Florence’s valley to the west. From the bus stop it’s about a 25 minute walk (past this tiny doorway on the road) to Villa Gamberaia, a country pallazo built in the early 1600’s that is world-renowned for its garden. It has passed through many owners and the father of the present owner extensively restored the villa and its gardens. It isn’t large, but as Edith Wharton wrote in 1904, it has all the features of a classical Italian garden – abundant sunlight, and air around the house, plenty of water, easy access to dense shade, and the skilful use of terracing, and the composition’s breadth and simplicity. I especially liked the bowling green, a 500 yard long, 30 foot wide lawn separating the main house from the little forest , rustic grotto, and lemonaia. For as far as we could see, in all directions, olive trees cover the surrounding hills.
We had just enough time when we walked back to the bus stop to have a hot chocolate with whipped cream (and not just hot cocoa, but rich liquid chocolate – the shop is a chocolateria and gelateria) before the bus to Florence came to take us back down to river level.
We were the only ones to stay on the bus all the way back to the train station; and when we got off, we discovered we were dangerously close to Santa Maria Novella. We’d read in a local English newspaper that their pomegranate candle smells positively out of this world. So after barely two days in Florence, we’re making our second trip to SMN. We can’t keep this up. The candles do smell awesome in the box and we picked up several boxes of “scented wax tablets for lingerie and linen drawers.” Great stocking stuffers! While we were trying to escape from SMN without having to take out a mortgage, Tracey called and we went right over to Santa Croce. Her apartment is right across Via Giuseppe Verdi from Paulo’s Osteria, Pazzi, one of our favorites from years ago. Her 2 bedroom, 2 bath 1st floor apartment is entirely remodeled with American scale furniture and a beautiful modern kitchen. We were ready to move in. Ed and Sandy, we’re thoroughly recommending this one for you!
Back to our tiny apartment (up 63 steps!), where Anne made spinach/mushroom/pine nuts salad and we finished off the prepared food from last night.