Sunday, February 24, 2008

The markets in Venice

3 covered markets. 1 each for fish, meats and produce. I focused on the fish offerings. And you got to love delivery by boat...

Shopping at the market

Just look at these beauties! 13 euros per kilo.

These are terrific raw. Ate them this way at La cantina.

Feb 22nd. Last supper in Venice

It was a dark and foggy night strolling across the canals and piazzas of Venice. The owner of the hotel is sending us to a most famous seafood restaurant

La Furatola, down a tiny street off a small piazza. The fog is everywhere and you are in a different world. As you enter you hear a woman's voice singing Frank Sinatra's "One more for my baby and another one for the road" over the sound system. A good start to the evening. At our table we are greeted with glasses filled with prosecco and a waiter to discuss the menu in English. Looking around the quiet and cozy dining room , we see it half full but will fill up quickly over the next half hour. The place is warm, inviting and relaxed.

Jennifer is feeling better and we are about to begin her first and only great restaurant experience in Italy. The waiter helps us decide on a tasting menu of sorts...

The menu

Baby razor clams in light saute of parsley and wine.
This is it folks. Simplicity at its best. Venice is the home of seafood.

Scallop in shell, scampi with white polenta and a fish salad.

Fish, octopus, scampi, prawns, sepia egg and langoustines.

Olive oil poached salmon, large sepia egg, marinated sardines, sun dried tomatoes, marinated sardine with onions.

A simple pasta with cherry tomatoes & scampi. Perfection.

A palate cleanser
Lemon sorbet mixed with prosecco. They also do a version with coffee sorbet, sambucca and prosecco with espresso beans crushed in. I will be making the coffee soon.

The waiter then comes to our table after this little drink to ask what we would like to order next! We are stuffed, glowing and drowsy. The meal was superb. The service excellent and one day we shall return. A perfect way to end a chef's journey in Italy. Now all we have to do is find our way back through the fog.

That's Jen in the foreground.

We are following the man in the hat.

Venice. Feb 22 lunch.

Went for a walk in the Ca`d`Or section of Venice. More residential area. On a friend's suggestion I went to La Cantina. The place is a small wine bar cafe. Some tables a proper meat slicer, some seafood on display. Totally unassuming place, a little hole in the wall No menu, bad English. Makes for a perfect meal. The chef is nuts. He is cooking top notch cuisine. Loved it!

Spaghetti with baby clams and diced vegetables.
Have to say this is one of the best dishes it Italy.

Roast scallops on half shell , sliced raw tuna over vegetables, fresh water prawns with olive oil.
What the heck do you do with this but eat it and love it.

Venice. Feb 21-23.

Finally made it to Venice. Now have only 36hrs to see it all.

First some tourist pics...

Parking in Venice

Lions over Grand canal


Grand canal from Rialto bridge. It was foggy the whole trip.

Food in the following posts...

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Pregnant? Got Brochitis? Visit Italy!

Ok, so it's not the best way to visit a foreign country but let me tell you something. The Italians love pregnant women and babies. Everyone has gone out of their way to help out and be overly good to my wife.

Judy Witts gave great advice and translated our needs into Italian.

The landlord extended our stay in the apartment by two days so that Jen can get some bed rest. They even offered to drive us to the doctors office.

The Conti family ( from the Central market) offered to call their own doctor when we had none.

Tratorria Mario offered to cook food to her liking.

And Doctor Stephen Kerr took our call last night, had us come in at noon today for a private consult (no waiting and only $60 euro). The pharmacy for 2 prescriptions and tylenol ($39 euro). Got us our drugs and out the door in 5 minutes. What a country! What a health care system! This is how basic care and preventative medicine should be.

Our thanks go to everyone who gave so much of themselves so that we could have some proper care and peace of mind.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Monday night dinner

Well, that's it. My wife is sick, can't really eat and have had to cancel reservations all over town. So much for some R&R in Italy. We stayed in today and I cooked up some simple fare for Jen.

Mache, tomatoes, artichoke hearts and olive oil marinated tuna.
Lemon zest with local made red wine vinegar viniagrette.

Artichoke & spinach rissoto.
No cream, just butter, stock and grated aged parmesan.

The saddest meal ever. Jen cried through the meal. Not sure if it was the illness, ruined plans or not getting to see Florence. I like to think it was because the food was soooo good.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Sunday dinner with my wife

Jennifer has arrived from NYC jet lagged and with a head cold. Not good and not up for a walk about. Looks like a home cooked meal Florentine style...

Aged parmesan, 15yr balsamico, Sicilian tomatoes & marinated artichoke hearts

Potato ravioli with pancetta & garlic infused pomodoro sauce. Basil chiffonade.

Osso bucco with salsa verdi & lemon

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Last dinner for one.

Wanted to do something simple and hearty. I've had variations on this dish a few times now during my stay. Usually it's done as a lasagna with layers of polenta cake, ragu and bechamel. But i'm craving mushrooms, pancetta and creaminess.

Prima: The four p's
Sausage infused polenta cake with porcini, pancetta and parmasan bechamel

Recipe: depends on portions needed.
Polenta cake
-Rehydrate dried porcini mushrooms in hot water.
-Saute sausage meat with minced shallot and sage in pan using butter.
-When sausage meat is broken up and just cooked through add water following instant polenta recipe on box. When water is boiling stir in instant polenta and follow directions to finish.
-In oiled small rectangular pan, pour in polenta sausage mix and smooth out to fill pan.
Ideally you want a polenta cake 1" high.
-Cover with cling wrap and into fridge at least 1 hour to chill.
-When firm, remove pan and cut polenta into individual portioned squares.

Bechamel sauce
-Saute till cooked; minced pancetta, shallot, and rough chopped porcini mushrooms in at least 2 tablespoons butter.
-Stir in same amount flour as butter and stir to blond color.
-Add some vin santo or white wine, at least 1 cup mushroom water and milk or cream.
-Raise heat and whisk well to create bechamel. (Check online for exact ratio for your servings.)
-Add grated parmasan and touch grated nutmeg to bechamel. Mix well.
-Reduce heat and keep warm.

-In new pan with little butter, pan fry polenta cake both sides to reheat and lightly brown.
-Plate the polenta cake and spoon over bechamel sauce.
-Garnish with fresh or fried sage leaves or just some parsley.


Indecent proposal

After a month of statues everywhere they kind of become invisible and then after a while you start to notice things...

Like, how come the guy that posed for this never thought "Hey, ya know what, i'm going to be forever remembered as that naked guy with two small naked boys between my legs". "I really shouldn't be doing this". But no, apparently he liked it. Must have beens hours holding that pose with those kids.

My mentor in Florence.

Months before, while planning my trip, I contacted & booked Judy Witts at Divina Cucina, (found her in Bon Appetite magazine). An American living in Florence who knows the ins and outs of life there. She helped me plan my month's stay, pick a neighborhood to rent an apartment, complete a pack list of kitchen equipment to bring along and generally held my hand through the process of fulfilling a chefs fantasy; To live and cook in Florence!
The view from Michaelangelo hill, Florence.

The main event with Judy was a 3 day class (along with another chef friend and my brother who visited for the 1st week). This included a market and neighborhood tour each morning followed by cooking a 3-4 course menu at her kitchen studio close by. She is an experienced chef who has done it all, a serious plus over many of the other tours in town. We met and befriended many of the shop owners. Tasted their wares and talked food, life and Italy. This process enabled me to return day after day when shopping for my own meals. Their help was invaluable and I formed new friendships that will last a long long time. More on these shop owners in another posting, stay tuned.

We decided to book an excursion for our first full day in Florence together. Judy drove us out to Chianti. We toured the back roads through villages, vineyards and farm land. The highlight was a stop at Antica Macelleria Cecchini where we met Dario Cecchini of "Heat" fame. More about Dario here. We then stopped along the way for walks, pictures and snacks. Met wonderful people and sampled terrific cured meats, paninis and wines

Paolo Gaeta. Proprietor of Il Vinaio, Panzano in Chianti.
And God blessed the espresso...

3 panini @ Il Vinaio: Grappa, fennel salami, pecorino. Vin santo, cooked ham and parmagiano. Vin santo, proscuitti and parmesan.

Church steps. Panzano alto, Chianti.

Metal dragon on wall. Panzano alto, Chianti.

What can I say? Divina Cucina made this chef's dream a reality. Judy's knowledge, recipes and tours have been amazing. She has continued to be of help with restaurant, recipe and shop advice.

It's been only 21 days and yet it feels like years . I can have the wine shop owner pick the perfect wine for each dish, the produce/ gourmet food shop family select my ingredients and the butcher preps the correct meat after we discuss what is to be cooked. Feels like home to me.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Valentine's dinner for Jennifer

Hope you are all getting cozy with that someone special.
Tonight I cook not for myself but for my wife Jennifer who is at home in the states.
I love ya darlin'.

Valentine tasting menu

Insalate roll: Proscuitto & dolce gorgonzola with baby arugala and aged balsamic vineger

Steamed artichoke with garlic & lemon aioli

Pecorino cheese with sliced pear and pepper jelly

Olive oil marinated tuna in tomato with lemon vinaigrette

Fresh made tortolini with spinach, pancetta and mushroom broda

Ameretti Virginia, Vestri hazelnut dark chocolate bark and strawberries.

Hope you enjoyed looking at your dinner as much as I enjoyed cooking and eating it.
Happy Valentine's day!

Monday, February 11, 2008


Went out to Viareggio yesterday for Carnival.
Beautiful seaside town. I am told much like Venice beach, CA. but with Tuscan architecture and on the Mediterranian.

So wouldn't you know it but my camera runs out of life after a few images. Good thing I caught the important one.
From afar I saw a vision of Arabian nights, sexy harem girls with pom poms??? Yes pom poms. Lots of jumping about and writhing to disco. I work my way through to see these young voluptuous lovelies giving their best.... and it's all women 50-60+. Having a blast, been up there shaking it for at least 2 hrs so far and loving it. The crowd too judging by the looks of it.

And that's Carnival 2008. Hopefully next year my camera will work and we will be in Brazil. Crazy Italians.

What to eat on a cold day.

Saw the weather report for back home. Cold and nasty (insert joke here if ya know it). So I thought a nice hot meal for the folks at home should do it.

Went to Ristorante del Fagioli (on the map) for something i'd been craving. My own steak. Haven't done that yet. Observe what some flame, salt and pepper can do to a fine piece of Bistecca alla Fiorentina. 600 grams of pure high grade beef. Zero marbling, buttery tender and tastes like heaven.

And this is what it should look like towards the center.
Such good healthy product that rare/raw is the norm for all steak. I swear it's delicious. Raw here tastes better than any cooked piece of meat in the USA.

And for dessert, something I saw the other day at Grom.
Cioccolata al latte (hot) with hazelnut gelato.
I think this one speaks for itself.

Note to wife: I walked about 4 miles today to work this off, really.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

My last two weeks in Italy

With my time here at a midpoint I wonder what should be added to my list of things to do and see. If anyone from Italy reading this might give advice, your help would be appreciated.

Grazie mille

Francesco of Trattoria Mario.

Francesco, my apologies but some ladies have requested another picture of you. I think this is what they are looking for.

Winning quote goes here.
Picture: Courtesy of anonymous friend.

Francesco: Age 20, single. Bilingual chef & knows how to treat a fine steak.
Location: Trattoria Mario,
Via Rosina, 2, Florence Italy.

Table for one please.

Remembered to shop today. Did it between Mario's and meeting friends for lunch. I wanted to do Braciola but with a twist. Usually it's made with breaded thin cut and pounded beef fillets which are fried then simmered in a simple pomodoro sauce with chopped parsley and garlic. But tonight was my last home cooked meal for a few days so I had to clear out the pantry.

Decision: Bracialo with a veal and mushroom Toscano ragu.


-In plenty of olive oil saute: 2 minced shallots and 2 cloves garlic followed by 1/4lb ground veal meat and then 6 sliced mushrooms. Saute on high heat till shroom liquid is gone.
- 1 cup red wine and reduce
- 1 can whole tomatoes in juice, break up in your hands first. + 1 can water.
- Salt, pepper and spice Toscana (corriander,cinnamon, all spice, nutmeg,anise,cumin)
- Simmer for 40 minutes

NOTE: Mild jerk seasoning is pretty much the same thing. At the very least add a 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon.

- Egg wash & plain bread crumb two thin sliced and pounded beef fillets.
- Fry in enough oil to cover. Flip and finish other side.
- Place in baking dish, Sprinkle over some chopped garlic and parsley. Cover with sauce and into low oven for 45 minutes to heat and combine.

Typing this I thought of a change that will work nicely. Instead of garlic & parsley in the baking dish, how about a gremolata? After all this dish is similar to an Osso buco and it will really liven up the dish.

1 cup parsley
2 teaspoon lemon zest
4 clove garlic

Rough chop or processor.
Sprinkle over the Braciola when plated

Lunch with the honeymooners

From Trattoria Mario I ran to meet up with Judy from Diva cucini who was giving the market tour to the newly weds (Rebecca and Josh of Memphis TN).
I was invited to lunch! We took them to Trattoria Gozzi to share pasta al forno, done a bit differently here:
And a killer Florentine steak! That's for the four of us by the way, really. I swear. Seared on the outside with fire, salt and pepper. Rare, very rare on the inside. Who's a happy guy?
Then took these new friends on a walk to Grom of Gelato fame for their first non touristy gelato. Rebecca very quietly consumed an Italian hot chocolate with a big dollop of fresh made whipped cream and Josh had the espresso gelato. A good day was had by all. Congrats again and have a great honeymoon in Italy.

Pasta al forno OR how to eat 1000 calories and feel good about it.

Spent my last day at Trattoria Mario observing in the kitchen. Saturday is a day of plenty. A day to sit back and eat some stick to your ribs foods. Florentine steak, Osso bucco and Pasta al forno. Let's talk about that last one. Forget baked ziti and really forget lasagna (way too much work). Pasta al forno is a dish of ease, of richness, of well o.k. i'll say it. A fat mans meal but in a good way. Little work, big return, sumptuous, warming and oh so rich in that creamy, heavenly and childhood happy sort of way.

It's such a good dish that I bet you are still drooling puddles after that description. I wish I had a pic but alas the drooling clogged my head and I just stared at it.

Recipe: Cook off medium shell pasta, drain and into pan. Take left over meat ragu and mix with fresh made bechamel sauce. Take this creamy oozing meaty sauce and mix it into the medium shells reserving some to spread over the top. Sprinkle this lovely mess with grated parmesan cheese and now spread over the reserved ragu bechamel sauce. Into the oven to combine and reheat. Serve with some good chianti and as many friends as you can cram around the table. It will feel like mama's house on a Saturday afternoon somewhere in Toscano. Keep dessert simple, maybe some biscotti and vin santo or perhaps some bacci (chocolate and gianduja, a hazelnut and chocolate paste.). After all a meal like this is about pleasure, family and friends.

The crew of Trattoria Mario.
From left to right: Fabio, runs front of house. Brother of Chef Romeo. Translator.
Andrea, Cook. Part of the family. Good man.
Chef Romeo. Great chef, generous with time and recipes.
Francesco: Up and coming future head chef. Son of Chef Romeo. Translator.

A great family run restaurant. Good people and delicious food.
They took me in, showed me their secret recipes and made me part of the family for a short period of time.

And God bless Fiorentina (the Florentine soccer team)
Forza Viola!