Vegetarian food highlights from ten days in Tuscany

January 4, 2009 at 1:58 pm (Italian, Restaurant review, Trip report)

In October, Derek and I took a belated honeymoon to Tuscany, and lucked into a succession of nine perfect Autumn days: sunny blue skies, warm (but not hot) afternoons, and cool (but not cold) nights.  The weather was more consistently fabulous than the food,  but in the course of our holiday we did have a number of memorable food experiences. Here are my top ten food memories from our ten day trip to Tuscany.

  • Lucca: On our last day in Lucca we didn’t have much time for breakfast, so we just made a quick stop at a local bakery off the Piazza san Michele. (I think the bakery was Forno Alimentari). The crispy raisin foccacia drizzled with butter and sugar was delicious, even eaten out of a paper bag as we walked to the train station.   We also enjoyed a Linzertorte from the same bakery.
  • Lucca: My favorite cappuccino of our entire trip was one from a cafe on the southwest corner of the Piazza san Michele.   While we sipped our cappuccinos we were entertained by a slim Italian man doing modern interpretive dance while crazy opera music blared out of a small boom-box.
  • Florence:  Derek liked many of the pastries from Pasticceria Robiglio, but I preferred one over all others: the Pan di Ramerino, a soft white breakfast roll rich with raisins and olive oil, and fragrant with little bits of rosemary.  Sadly, they don’t make them every day, so I only got to eat them three times.  You can find these rolls at other Florentine bakeries as well.  Apparently, they were originally an Easter tradition but are now available year round in Florence.
  • Florence: I like most gelato flavors, and will happily eat chocolate gelato, fruit gelato, and gelato made from nuts.   But my all-time favorite flavor is yogurt gelato.  Don’t mistake it for frozen yogurt, it’s certainly gelato, just flavored with yogurt.  It’s creamy and rich, but as refreshing as a fruit flavor, offering the perfect balance of sweet and sour.  Some gelaterias make a better yogurt gelato than others, but even a mediocre Florentine yogurt gelato is delicious.
  • Florence: I only had one sandwich during our trip, but it was perfect.  My truffle oil, pecorino, and arugula sandwich was from I Fratellini, a tiny sandwich stall that makes exquisite sandwiches, each served on a rosette roll.  Not only are their sandwiches  super cheap, but if you show up at 10:45 a.m. like I did, then there’s no line!  See a photo of I Fratellini.
  • Florence: Foccaceria Pugi is a tiny, packed little store that sells foccacia and pizza by the slice.  Pugi’s specialty is schiacciata, a not-so-dense Florentine version of foccacia. To make schiacciata the chef flattens out a piece of the typical pane toscano dough, pokes lots of holes in it with her fingers, and tops it with an abundance of salt and olive oil.  At Pugi, in addition to plain schiacciata, they sell fruit-topped schiacciata (watch out, the grapes have pits!), and schiacciata topped with tomato sauce and pizza toppings.  Derek and I loved Pugi’s olive and tomato schiacciata pizza.  The dough was certainly tasty, but the real highlight of the Pugi pizza was the tomato sauce, which was absolutely perfect–tomatoey, savory, not too sweet, and with a great consistency that was not too thin or thick.  We went to two other pizza places in Florence, but Pugi’s pizza was by far the best of the three.  Read more about Pugi.
  • Florence: For pure simplicity and flavor the pasta pomodoro at La Giostra surpassed every other pasta dish I tried in Italy. The pasta was perfectly al dente, and the sauce (although almost pink in color) tasted incredibly tomato-y and… red.  The sauce didn’t taste remotely like any red sauce I’ve ever made. I have no idea what they put in the sauce to make it so good.  Derek also liked his pear and pecorino ravioli, and though tasty, delicate, and very beautiful, I thought they were kind of one-note.  Read more about La Giostra.
  • Florence: I loved my passata di peperoni gialli, the velvety yellow bell pepper soup from Trattoria Cibreo.  I was determined to recreate it when I got home, and decided to check my Italian cookbook for inspiration.  Lo and behold, Jack Bishop’s Complete Italian Vegetarian cookbook included a recipe for just such a soup!  I laughed when I read the introduction–his recipe was also inspired by the soup at Cibreo!  Clearly I’m not the only one who likes it.  Unfortunately, Bishop’s yellow pepper soup tasted nothing like the original, so I’m still searching for a recipe.  Besides the soup, our Cibreo experience was mixed.  We enjoyed sitting with a couple from Canada who were doing their own three month bike tour of Europe. The server, on the other hand, was quite rude and inflexible.  Even though there was no vegetarian main dish that I wanted, he refused to let me order two appetizers, and insisted I order the sole vegetarian secundi:  porcini mushrooms roasted in foil.  I didn’t care for the dish, and was annoyed at being forced to order something I didn’t want.  I was somewhat mollified, however, by the excellent coffee panna cotta we ordered for dessert. Read more about Trattoria Cibreo.
  • Montechiello: The porcini farro risotto at La Porta was so good I wrote a whole post about it. The texture of the risotto was creamy, but each grain was perfectly chewy and nutty tasting.  The mushroom flavor was intense, but not overpowering.  Even after finishing the (quite) large dish of risotto, I wasn’t tired of it.   La Porta also served us a complimentary appetizer which seemed to be a thin slice of a simple egg frittata, drizzled with a touch of truffle oil.  The combination of egg and truffle was simple but delicious.  Read more about La Porta at Slow Travel.
  • Montalcino: We had a delightful dining experience at the tiny mom and pop restaurant Il Gambe di Gatto. Emanuel (the husband) runs the front of the house.  He has a strong character, but his quirks are balanced by his obvious love for real food, and his pleasure in educating his customers about Italian wine, olive oil, cheese, and everything else food or Italy related.  Laura (the wife) is the chef, and a vegetarian (supposedly).  When we first arrived Emanuel insisted we do a tasting of five Italian wines before selecting which one(s) we would like with their meal.  Before we tried each wine he told us all about the wine and the winery where it’s from.  Emanuel can also provide a complimentary tasting of Italian olive oils (again with accompanying spiel).  Our first night at il Gambe di Gatto Laura started us out with these little crunchy rosemary-flavored ring crackers.  They were very simple, but I was amazed at how good they were when eaten with the extra fresh rosemary that came on the side.  The leek bruschetta was also an excellent appetizer.  Derek loved his main dish, and although my vegified dinner wasn’t quite as good as his, the whole evening was delightful, and amazingly cheap.  Emanuel loves to offer food and beverages on the house, and there’s no pressure to order a traditional full Italian dinner–if anything, Emanuel tries to get his customers to order *less* food! We received a huge amount of personal attention.  Even in a restaurant as small as Il Gambe di Gatto, I can’t believe that this is always the case, but we were one of the only customers there that evening (we came for dinner in the off season, in a town that gets mostly daytime tourists).  Read more about il Gambe di Gatto at Slow Travel.

Honorable mention:  It’s not exactly a Tuscan specialty, but we also very much enjoyed the white chocolate souffle in a coffee sauce from Il Santo Bevitore in Florence.

1 Comment

  1. Ken Wenrich said,

    Sounds like some great food and some awesome fun. Thanks for sharing.

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