Nugolo: garden of goodness

Home-grown bounty near Sant’Ambrogio market

Helen Farrell
January 14, 2020 - 16:07

I skimmed my trusty dictionary the weekend before checking out the latest culinary kid on the Sant’Ambrogio block. The name was nagging at me. What did nugolo mean?

 

 

 

Bunches of tomatoes dangle like cotton-wool clouds from the ceiling as excited diners cross the threshold into the garage turned garden-style restaurant along via della Mattonaia.

 

Bunches of tomatoes dangle like cotton-wool clouds from the ceiling as excited diners cross the threshold into the garage turned garden-style restaurant along via della Mattonaia. It’s all about the tomato for owner Nerina Martinelli, a food buyer by profession, whose family grows 200 or so varieties of the fruit and other vegetables in scenic Settignano—the menu’s currently reliant on the latter given the winter season. Otherwise known as the “traveller’s tomato”, the “nugolo” is an ugly variety that’s tricky to grow, but is worth the effort; that pleasure awaits us in sunnier months.

 

 

The pedigree of globetrotting chefs Simone Caponnetto and Antonio Badalamenti precedes them. Simone’s worked at three Michelin-star marvel The Waterside Inn in Bray, England, while Antonio trained under the likes of Joel Robuchon in Paris. Together they cooked up a seasonal storm in the greenhouse-feel kitchen while we contently chatted on slightly bouncy garden-esque chairs, toying with the cute weathered steel table lamps and breathing in the sweetly scented roses. (Disclosure: Antonio’s proud mum Suzy, a friend of mine, had arranged the pre-Christmas girly get-together.)

Potato and shallot gratin with celeriac remoulade

 

 

First to be served in the contemporary locale was a soulful potato and shallot gratin with celeriac rémoulade (8.50 euro), a refreshing side of tuber, mayonnaise, lemon and mustard I’ve since endeavoured to recreate at home. Surprise crunchy cubes of squash delighted in the depths of the pumpkin, gorgonzola and bitter orange soup (8 euro). The homemade primi are worth the carb intake, especially the tomato-filled cappelletti studded with hazelnuts and perched on a pecorino sauce (15 euro). It’s surely the restaurant’s signature dish: the pasta parcels pop open to release the tomatoes’ addictive umami richness. On to the mains, which the portion sizes make possible (neither paltry nor abundant): the squid, ink and black salsify (16 euro) were presented as a Pollock I couldn’t wait to dip my quill into, the mild sweetness of the scorzonera standing sentry against the saltiness of the cuttlefish’s attack liquid. My fellow diners S. and S. tucked into a skirt steak, typically on the chewy side, served with blood-red earthy beetroot, which resembled a plated scene from a Coen brothers’ movie. A sweet crescendo delivered where so many meals fail in Florence with a sublimely sugary tarte tatin cleverly de-cloyed by sour cream (6.50 euro) and a delish chocolate mousse, candied orange and wild flowers (7 euro) poised in the prettiest of bowls.

Tomato-filled cappelletti, hazelnuts, pecorino sauce

 

 

 

 

Out we merrily bundled into the December Florentine night, high on a cloud of home-grown bounty, which is what Nugolo does so brilliantly. The name says it all. I could have left the dictionary alone.

 

 

 

Nugolo

Via della Mattonaia 27, Florence. Closed on Tuesday.
Open for dinner

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