This April issue is a tribute to Florence’s food—and, in particular, restaurant—scene.
Il piatto piange is an Italian expression, literally, “the plate is crying”, meaning that the salver is deprived of food. The anthropomorphism can be extended to the restaurants and eateries of Florence whose tables, in turn, have no customers.
This edition of The Florentine celebrates the joy of food so often induced by Florence and Tuscany. How do you put a new spin on fresh pasta? What’s the secret to making an artichoke omelette? What really goes on behind the scenes at a Florentine bakery? What’s the true definition of bistecca alla Fiorentina? We have brought together all these bites in a compilation of articles, recipes and interviews from across the region’s food community, so that you can savor a taste of Florence and Tuscany wherever you are in the world.
The timing is pertinent as Italy instigates lockdown measures for Easter. The country’s restaurants are amongst the worst affected by government-mandated pandemic closures and the dearth of tourism. As Harry Cochrane reports (page 5), “As consumers, we have done without restaurants for the best part of a year, save for a few months last summer and a brief burst of freedom in January”. The Ristoratori Toscana group, set up in March last year, estimates that approximately 3,000 of the 15,000 restaurants in Tuscany have closed permanently since the inception of the pandemic, 100 or so in the Florence province.
While we cannot eat out (apart from while staying in a hotel: the lone loophole to dinners out!), interest in the peninsula’s food has never been greater. Stanley Tucci’s suave new CNN series, Searching for Italy, is cooking up a storm, with spin-off articles on both sides of the Atlantic: Jane Farrell wades in with insight into the businesses and individuals featured in the Tuscany episode, which was broadcast on March 14. Though we still haven’t managed to secure an interview with the charismatic actor (I have tried: Mr. Tucci, you know where to find me!), we speak with two inspiring culinary figures: Mary Ann Esposito, the host of America’s longest-running television cooking program whose 30-year career championing Italian regional cuisines has been recognized with a knighthood, and Paula Carrier, the British chef at the United States Consulate General in Florence, who has cooked for consul generals, in addition to the likes of Tom Hanks and Ron Howard.
Health, wellbeing and sustainability remain foremost on our mind, which is why we go in search of the city’s nourishing nosh, farm-to-door deliveries and fresh produce. Alexandra Korey takes a step further and details her post-lockdown 1.0 experience of growing her own, while Hershey Felder recalls his elation on discovering the Sant’Ambrogio market and neighbouring specialty stores, and Danielle Cohen considers how bars and bakeries are reducing food waste in 2021.
It’s time to embrace spring’s seasonal fare—asparagus, artichokes, agretti!—and try your hand at a new recipe or two. Judy Witts Francini offers a traditional Easter savory pie, Kamin Mohammadi dishes up a duo of carciofo dishes, and Giulia Scarpaleggia rolls out creative herb-laminated tagliatelle. After celebrating Nowruz, Coral Sisk adds international flair with a survey of Tuscany’s vibrant Iranian food businesses and our very own Leo Cardini sketches his legendary seafood carbonara recipe, quashing the age-old cheese and fish myth. Sweet-toothed readers can rest assured that dolci will round out this month’s feast: iconic Florentine cakes from historic bakery Pasticceria Buonamici and Pasticceria Gualtieri, as well as Sheryl Ness’ lemon desserts and Emiko Davies’ apple and jam cake. We finish our meal with limoncello crafted by Pamela Sheldon Johns.
A thank-you to close this foreword. Deirdre Pirro wrote her first article for The Florentine in April 2006, which was aptly about lampredotto and all things offal. Fifteen years on, Deirdre sets the table for this Food Issue with her latest column about the Busatti weaving family in Anghiari. On behalf of our team, past and present, grazie Deirdre for your steadfastness and ever-enjoyable stories.
Enjoy the read and buon appetito!
Helen Farrell, editor-in-chief
What’s in the April issue of The Florentine
Restore the restaurants (Harry Cochrane)
A look at Tuscany’s restaurant scene savaged by government-mandated closures
Florentine flavours: Stanley Tucci’s CNN series, Searching for Italy (Jane Farrell)
The actor turns his attention to Tuscany, where Florentine flavours take center stage
Combatting food waste in Florence (Danielle Cohen)
Recently popularized app, Too Good To Go, takes steps to combat food waste in the Tuscan capital
Pay by weight (Jane Farrell)
Florentine stores are putting the environment first, having replaced excess packaging with pay-by-weight foodstuffs and household essentials.
Best events this April (Jane Farrell)
From Giuseppe Penone’s stainless steel tree sculpture in piazza della Signoria to the virtual Silk exhibition on the Salvatore Ferragamo website. Plus, the return of the Scoppio del Carro to an empty cathedral square, online community events and religious services for Easter.
The salt of another’s bread – and fishes (Hershey Felder)
How baccalà led to homemaking in the hills of Florence
Beyond Nowruz: Iranian food in Florence and Tuscany (Coral Sisk)
Ideas to celebrate spring while continuing to learn about Persian culture year round with these food businesses in Florence, Tuscany and Italy at large
Love in a Tuscan Kitchen: lemon dessert recipes (Sheryl Ness + Vincenzo Giangiordano)
A (very early) morning at the bakery: Pasticceria Buonamici (Phoebe Hunt + photos by Marco Badiani)
The day starts at 3.30am for the first roster of pastry chefs at Pasticceria Buonamici, one of Florence’s best loved artisanal bakeries.
What gardening taught me about vegetables and myself (Alexandra Korey)
A no-commitment opportunity to try one’s hand at vegetable gardening in a shared plot
Mary Ann Esposito: a knight of regional Italian food (Helen Farrell)
New Hampshire-based author and TV anchor Mary Ann Esposito has devoted her 30-year career to championing Italian regional cuisines. In this interview, the host of America’s longest-running television cooking program, Ciao Italia, recalls the beginnings of her love for Italian food, explains the charitable work carried out by her foundation and humbly plays down the distinguished achievements of being awarded an Italian knighthood and the Premio Artusi.
Feeding body, mind and soul: food cravings in Florence
Food is our fallback position. Museums, theatres, cinemas and nightclubs (remember those?) have all been removed from our field of play, but grocery store doors remain reliably wide open and restaurants are forever pivoting to make ends meet. We thank the food businesses who feed us mind, body and soul.
Draw + cook: Carbonara di Mare (Leo Cardini)
Our illustrator extraordinary Leo Cardini shares a favourite recipe, in sketch form.
Motivated by food (Andrew Cotto)
When you write a book, people ask you what it’s about. When people ask me about Cucina Tipica: An Italian Adventure, I tell them that it’s the story of a disheartened American who arrives in Italy on holiday and decides he never wants to leave—pretty much what’s written on the back cover.
Recipe: Torta Pasqualina: Easter savory pie (Judy Witts Francini + photo by Alexandra Korey)
Marzolino cheese: a true champion of spring (Stefano Frassineti + photo by Stefano Caffarri)
This is the time when the best sheep’s milk goes into producing the marzolino cheese, a true jewel in the crown of Tuscan cheesemaking.
Recipes: the vegetable with a heart (Kamin Mohammadi)
“The omelettes arrived immediately, fluffy and creamy, filled with fresh artichokes – they were now in season, I was told, as he poured me a small glass of wine, urging me to try it, dressing a salad of tender raw artichoke with Parmesan, tearing up chunks of bread with which to mop up the egg.”
Recipe: Herb-laminated tagliatelle (Giulia Scarpaleggia)
When I was thinking about which recipe would better represent the concept of create, my word for 2021, fresh pasta popped into my mind immediately.
What exactly is a Bistecca alla Fiorentina? (Suzi Jenkins)
The steak is cut from the loin, just below the rib cage and above the round or rump, depending on which side of the pond you come from. The higher cuts, nearer to the rib cage also contain the fillet, whereas the lower cuts do not.
The chef at the Consulate: Paula Carrier (Marco Badiani)
Paula Carrier is a diplomat in her own culinary right. An Englishwoman employed as the chef at the US Consulate General in Florence, she has stayed steadfastly at the stove for eight years as consul generals and their families come and go.
Alicia Roca + her leather knife holder (Kris Garland)
A true master of her craft, Alicia Roca hails from four generations of shoemakers and has been working with leather for over 45 years. She shares her commission for a chef.
Recipe: When life gives you lemons, make limoncello (Pamela Sheldon Johns)
Is it possible to have affection for a certain plant or its fruit? It might sound funny, but I have especially poignant memories when it comes to lemons.
Macarons + other sweet treats: Mirty Quibibí
Last year’s spring lockdown made me start working on the concept for this book: homemade Italian recipes (specifically Florentine and Tuscany desserts like panforte and pinolata) and French ones (madeleines, tarte tatin and cherry clafoutis).
Recipe: Apple and jam cake (Emiko Davies)
This soft, buttery loaf cake, with chopped apple and apricot jam swirled through the top, is essentially a dressed-up pound cake.
The Busatti Family: weavers since 1842 (Deirdre Pirro)
The showroom and factory I visited at the antique Palazzo Morgalanti in Anghiari belongs to Busatti, an eighth-generation family business. They have been weavers since 1842 and their showroom/shop is an Aladdin’s cave of the most magnificent handcrafted fabrics.