Italy is one of those places you can’t help but love. You’re guaranteed a good meal nearly anywhere, anytime, in every region. My love of Italy started on a trip during middle school, so I knew when I had the opportunity to study abroad in college that I would definitely choose an Italian city. Living in Florence for six months was the best experience of my life because it not only afforded me the ability to taste and explore what Florence had to offer, but it also allowed me to travel extensively throughout Italy. I loved Italy so much that when I took a trip to Paris this past spring, I made sure I had a few extra days to head back to Italy.
I’m probably partial, and don’t get me wrong, the food was good in every region, but the food in Tuscany is my favorite. I was only in Florence for a day this May, but I planned out every snack and meal to make sure I was able to fit in all my Tuscan favorites. As soon as we got off the train, we headed for the Mercato Centrale – the central market. I’m truthfully not even sure why anyone in Florence would even step foot in a grocery store with this market around. I have fond memories of going every day after class to shop for that evening’s meal. It’s a must for anyone traveling to Florence. The vendors love to have you sample meats, cheeses, ravioli, oils, vinegars etc (the truffled pecorino is my favorite). Fair warning, after you’ve been to the Mercato Centrale, a farmers market will never look as good anymore!
Just outside the Mercato Centrale is a piazza with lots of vendors, great people watching, and an amazing restaurant called Tratoria ZaZa. We got the caprese salad, Florentine fried chicken and the fettucine with walnut sauce. Walnut sauce puts alfredo to shame! Next time you’re in the mood for a creamy sauce try Salsa Di Noci (walnut sauce). It’s just as easy as making pesto and so flavorful!
Salsa Di Noci
10oz shelled walnuts
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 slices bread, crust removed
1 cup milk
2oz freshly grated parmesan
5 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste
Blend the walnuts and garlic, the bread soaked in milk, cheese, and olive oil until it’s a cream sauce consistency. Season with salt and pepper. Enjoy over pasta!
After dragging my boyfriend nearly 11 miles on foot to see the Ponte Vecchio, the David, the Duomo, and everything in between, it was time for dinner. We headed to La Giostra for Bistecca Fiorentina, a Florentine porterhouse - a specialty of the city. The steak is cooked over high heat and gets a great crust on the outside. This one weighed in at nearly 3 pounds. Needless to say, we had leftovers… at least until it was time for a late night snack!
When we got back to Rome, we stopped in a local bar, and I had my first Negroni. The only downside was realizing that I had lived in Italy years earlier and never had one! I was hooked. It’s sweet, it’s bitter, and it’s just plain delicious. Speaking of a Negroni… if you’re looking for a great one here in Chicago, head to Parson’s Chicken and Fish for a Negroni slushy – my favorite summer drink!
I’m sure you’d really like to head to Tuscany right now, right? What if you could eat your way through Italy without ever getting on a plane? Good news! There's no need to pack your bags, just sign up for a spot in The Chopping Block's Passport to Italy on Friday, August 4 from 6pm to 8:30pm.
Join us as our chefs take you on a journey through Italy by starting with an antipasto spread, followed by demos of dishes from the northern, central, and southern regions of Italy including Porchetta, fresh pasta with Bolognese, Spicy Shrimp with Calabrian Chilies, and Eggplant Parmesan to name a few. This is the perfect event to enjoy alone or as a large group. You’ll learn how to make these amazing dishes and learn about the regional differences in Italian cuisine. We’ll end the evening on a sweet note with olive oil cake, cannoli, and plum crostata. Stop by the cash bar for a Negroni or a glass of one of our wonderful Italian wines. Arrivederci!