Monday, March 22, 2010

Day 61

I ate a lot today. Don't judge me, but I fit just about four meals into my day. Hey, it's Italy, and when you're in two cities with some of the best food around in one day, how can you not? We woke up in Florence at our lovely little hotel and had a little breakfast (ok, maybe not that little, but you gotta start your day out right, right?).

Remember from my posts a couple of weeks ago when I ate that sandwich in Florence from Nerbone in the Mercato Centrale twice in two days and said that I would definitely go back. Well I did, two weeks later. But this time I did it right and got there early enough (before noon is usually a safe bet) to try the bollito sandwich, which they are most famous for. While I loved the tripe sandwich that I had last time, this one beats it by a slim margin. Bollito just means boiled meat, and here they boil beef in a very flavorful broth. The sandwich is made by taking there rolls, dipping the bottom half in the broth from the boiled meat, stacking on a nice pile of beef, and then the salsa piccante (spicy sauce) and salsa verde (green herb/garlic sauce).

Here is where it is made, it's just a stall in the market:

I would have eaten about three of these they were so good, but since I still had two meals left today and it wasn't even noon, I refrained from doing so. But these sandwiches are truly amazing and I hope I return to Florence at least one more time just so I can have another. Thank you Nerbone!

So the girls still hadn't eaten lunch since they didn't want the sandwiches, so we had to find somewhere for lunch. We found an adorable little salumeria near our hotel with the nicest woman ever who spoke with me in Italian - unfortunately I don't know the name of it but its in the small piazza on your left after the Ponte Vecchio walking in the direction away from the Duomo. The girls had some delicious sandwiches which she made from whatever meats, cheeses and prepared dishes (like cooked spinach or eggplant) she had ready. Since curiosity tends to get the best of me when it comes to food, I had to ask what this beautiful dish on the counter was. She told me it was ribollata, a classic Tuscan dish made of stewed mixed vegetables, bread, herbs, etc... I had to try some. It was delicious, very Tuscan in its simpleness, and saltiness. She also gave us free samples of some salami which were great. How I love this country...

We traveled to Lucca after lunch, a small medieval, walled in city in Tuscany. I think I want to live there for the rest of my life. We arrived in late evening, and there was floor lighting leading to the city walls, which after passing over what used to be a moat you enter and come upon an absolutely charming city, full of salumerias (meat and prepared food stores), bookstores, clothing boutiques, a merry-go-round, open piazzas, and people crisscrossing the city on bikes. They are also known for some of the best pasta in Italy because of the richness of the dough they make, adding lots of eggs because they were historically a very wealthy city that could afford to add the eggs (read this great article on Lucca by Mark Bittman from the NYT). After checking into our hotel, we walked through the dimly lit cobblestone streets to one of the restaurants reccomeded in the article. We ate at Trattoria Da Francesco (Via Tegrimi, 1, Lucca). While it was empty except for one other couple since it is low season there right now, the food and hospitality were great. We were greeted by the wife of the chef and her son, who sat us right next to the kitchen. I ordered pasta lucchesi, which consisted of pasta stuffed with meat sauce and topped with, well, meat sauce. The pasta was rich and delicious, and the sauce had the depth of flavor that you know took years to perfect and has probably been in the family for generations. I do not know how you make sauces with this depth of flavor. I can come close, but I feel that this is the type of thing that can only be passed down from Italian grandmothers, which I do not have. Really delicious.

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