We love Florence!
Monte San Savino – Florence, Italy
After trading our auto for more appropriate Florentine mode of transportation – our walking shoes – we let them take us to the Santa Maria Novella shop for lotions and potions. A new wing for displaying the ancient implements of helping people look younger than they are is open. One of the items displayed seems incongruent but very interesting: a bound set of Leonardo’s notebooks. Most of the originals are in Milan, but about a quarter of them are in the library of the University of Washington. There’s also a tiny chapel turned into a book store. The books are about making perfume out of flowers, the fresco cycle on the ceiling features scenes from the life of Christ.
The monk’s shop offering potions at Monte Oliveto Maggiore yesterday is a mere roadside stand compared to this gourmet food boutique – a pharmacy office formerly operated by the nuns in the convent connected with the church of Santa Maria Novella.
More walking through the outdoor market of San Lorenzo to the Mercato Centrale (this is part of the "Markets" we provide in Music and Markets) where we sample some excellent sun-dried tomatoes and meet with Daniele Conti. He’s quick to tell us he’s opening a branch of his high-end fresh vegetables/olive oil/balsamic vinegar/wine shop in San Francisco this fall. He also offers a tasting of balsamic vinegar ranging from 15 to 25 years old and another tasting of several types of olive oil for the education of our palates. They have a new brand of flavored balsamics (they taste nothing like vinegar at this level, so I’m avoiding calling them vinegars) including cherry, coffee, fig. We can imagine drizzling some of these on ice cream. Betty imagines her son’s reaction to the offer of vinegar on ice cream as, "Mom, you’ve been in Italy too long." Maybe so, but they do enjoy using simple quality ingredients to make delightfully tasty and satisfying meals.
We wind down narrow sidewalks, avoiding mo-peds, buses, taxis, and tour groups to the east side of town to the Teatro del Sale. Here the famous Cibreo tradition continues but across the street with a fun twist. In a converted theatre, happy cooks prepare, then present dish after dish on a table where diners gather and fill their plates buffet style. Each new offering is shouted out from the kitchen and described with pride and sometimes a warning to be careful the serving dish is hot. The stuffiness of serious food in a serious restaurant is modified just a tad to be serious food in a totally entertaining environment. Here are SOME of the dishes on the buffet table:
Pappa al pomodoro – puree of tomato, basil and bread drizzled in EVOO
Spiedini (skewer) of chicken and sausage, and roasted potatoes – sizzling from the open wood fire
Panzanella (a delicious bread, tomato, onion, and cucumber salad)
Sformatone (a soufflé – like casserole) of zucchini
Crispy thin strips of foccacia drizzled with more EVOO
Foot long dog bones of bread for the kids to enjoy
Bite-sized diamond shaped flourless chocolate cakes dusted with powdered sugar
Casks of red and white wine by the spigot
Photos are not allowed, (we did get one of the kitchen before being reprimanded) else we’d have spent more time taking pictures than eating.
Then we toured the church at Santa Croce where some of the Renaissance luminaries such as Dante, Galileo, Michelangelo and Alberti are buried. Michelangelo designed his own tomb and even designated where it should be in the church – by the front doors so that on resurrection day, the first thing he’d see would be the dome of Florence’s cathedral. Outside in the bright sunshine, an art class tries to capture history on canvas.
On the way to the Piazza Signore, a smart leather jacket reached out and grabbed Gerri. We sat on comfy red leather chairs while she was showed every jacket in the store – and some from the store next door – by a most helpful and friendly attendant.
Through Florence’s main piazza admiring the copy of David to the Ponte Vecchio for a glimpse of the Ponte Trinita considered by some to be the most beautiful bridge in the world, we finally reached the Duomo and the statue of its designer and builder, Filippo Brunelleschi, stopping for a "We came, we shopped, we conquered" shot.
Two more stops on the way to the car included one at the Santa Trinita church to see the Ghirlandaio Nativity scene and the church at Ognissanti for the dueling saints – Girolamo by Ghirlandaio and Agostino by Botticelli.
We only saw about 1 percent, if that, of the world-class art in Florence, but ready to call it a day, we turned south to Monte San Savino for dinner at La Terrace, owned by the brother of Manuela who owns the hotel where we’re staying. At our last meal with our guests on the Tuscan Extension to the Amalfi Coast Music Festival tour, we enjoyed tortelloni with pumpkin cream sauce, another composée of appetizers and pork slices with apple and prune sauce, and a sformatone of cauliflower. It was really fun to introduce so many new places and things to all our guests these two weeks, but we consider it a special privilege to introduce a whole new world of curiosities, food, architecture, landscape, smells, and flavors to Betty, a first time international traveler.