It was Friday night and the lights were low as we crossed the double-door threshold into the mellow L’Ideale – Cooking in Florence events space. On a previous visit a few days prior, chef Gianluca Somigli had beckoned me into his kitchen as he respectfully unpacked Muscovy ducks couriered from Scotland: “My near-blind uncle hunted them. No, I don’t know how he did it either, but look at these beauties!” Now, I’d been invited to savour the spoils at one of Somigli’s eclectic dinners.
What strikes you on walking into the via Ghibellina loft are the smiles. Laura Franceschetti, resplendent in a red dress, welcomes me with a hug before introductions are made to the evening’s guest producers. Lapo Ranfagni’s a nomadic beekeeper, who moves his hives every few weeks to follow the peak flowering. While he’s based near Poggio Ugolino, just outside Florence, Ranfagni’s always in transit and his passion project is presenting a challenge. “Now that the climate’s changing, honey’s becoming even harder to make. Production’s down this year in particular.”
Lapo explains how he heads to the Valdarno for acacia and high up above Lamole for chestnuts as Laura brings round ricotta made by her Mugello-based shepherd friend drizzled with the producer’s thousand-flower honey. The combination is sublime and Lapo’s eyes light up as he discerns our delight.
I sink my teeth into a seriously gorgeous cube of Tuscan pecorino topped with Laura’s mamma’s homemade quince jelly as guests gather for dinner in the modern Tuscan lounge. Regardless of whether you’re seated at the long, wooden social table or the arty paint-splattered square setting, the focal point’s still the same: the floor-to-ceiling windowed kitchen where Gianluca works his creative magic.
Dinner is served, so we take our gray-upholstered seats: to-die-for oven-baked pecorino, honey citronette and mixed salad leaves is ensued by a meaty rabbit terrine that sits beside a tangy onion chutney topped with a Mediterranean salt-cured anchovy (“We cured them ourselves on September 27: look, it says on the pot!”). Both the wine and the conversation are flowing by this stage: brackish and mineral-rich Vermentino and Viognier by the renowned Elba islander Antonio Arrighi, who recently presented his sea-macerated wine Nesos to the press.
Then, something special happens: we all eat sturgeon for the first time. Famous for parenting caviar roe, the leaping fish makes quite a splash, slightly smoked, with pureed leeks, thyme, dried tomatoes and parsley water. The pasta course—hand-rolled pici with cheese, pepper, lemon zest or gnocchi and a long-stewed beef sauce with a dash of Lapo’s chestnut honey—meets an agreeable ally in Arrighi’s gorgeous Elba Rosso, primarily Sangiovese with some Syrah spiciness.
It’s time for the duck and our expectations are exceeded: Gianluca’s pan-fried it to perfection on one side and balanced the richness of the meat with gastrique, a honey and vinegar sauce. The final flourish: a hint of saffron and cavolo nero pesto, to stay local and seasonal. The evening ends with a square of castagnaccio chestnut cake before a few parting hugs—and a jar of Lapo’s ethereal chestnut honey. I spent the train ride home digesting the depths of Gianluca and Laura’s culinary knowledge and that of their dedicated producer friends.