C. DE MELO
The invigorating nip in the air combined with the comfort- ing scents of chimney smoke and roasting chestnuts means that autumn is officially here. Fash- ion-conscious Florentines break out their sleek leather boots, wool coats, and cashmere wraps to hit the streets in style. In my opinion, this is the best time to visit Flor- ence. Not only is the tourist season is winding down (allowing you to have the Renaissance city all to yourself), but there are so many culinary delights this time of year. Here are seven autumnal treats to tickle your taste buds:
1. Tartufi Toscani (Tuscan truffles): Their aroma is enough to make your mouth water. These fancy fungi grow beneath the soil and are sniffed out by specially trained dogs. Pigs were used in the past, but they also like to eat the truffles and it was always a race to get to them first. There are two types of truffle that come from Tuscany. Tartufo Bianco (white truffle), which sells for 2000,00 – 4000,00 euro per kilo depending on the time of year. Tartufo Nero (black truffle), which sells for less than 800,00 euros per kilo. Keep in mind that truffles weigh next to nothing, so a small piece may run about 50,00 euro. What can you eat truffles with? Nowadays, just about everything. It tastes amazing sliced (paper thin) over a fine piece of meat or grated on pasta or eggs. Some people sprinkle black truffle on pizza or mix it with butter to create an elegant crostini.
2. Funghi Porcini (porcini mushrooms): Earthy, aromatic, and silky in consistency, porcini mush- rooms are divine. Porcini can be diced or sliced, sautéed and eaten in risotto, pasta, or over meats. It can also be thinly sliced and eaten raw, seasoned with some olive oil and a bit of balsamic vinegar. NOTE: Never wash mushrooms! To clean them, use a cloth and carefully remove dirt.
3. Cavolo Nero (black kale): Super healthy, full of antioxidants, and flavorful, this “winter veggie” is mostly used in soups, like ribollita. Cut the stalks short since they tend to be a bit tough, wash them and then boil or steam them until tender. Drain and toss in a hot skillet with some salt, pepper, and olive oil. Serve as a side dish or on toast (as a crostini).
4. Fichi (figs): You have to catch these darlings in the early au- tumn. I’ve always considered figs to be the luxurious divas of all fruits. There are two kinds of figs: decadent black and elegant white and both are delicious. They taste wonderful by themselves or as a side to gorgonzola, honey and walnuts. Fig and ricotta cheese is also a classic combination, so look for those two flavors in gelaterias and combine them on your cone or in your cup.
5. Castagne (chestnuts): There is nothing like the warm scent of roasting chestnuts on a chilly eve- ning. Street vendors all over Eu- rope sell them in paper cones and people walk around, munching as they window shop. Ahhhh… Here in Tuscany, they also make chest- nut flour that is used in making desserts.
6. Melograno (pomegranate): Every time I eat one of these, I am re- minded Hades and how he tricked Persephone. These fruits are beautiful and taste great, but they’re also good for you. This Thanksgiving, why not decorate the turkey
7. Schiacciata all’Uva (schiacciata with grapes)” This traditional flat bread is usually topped with rock salt or vegetables with savory spices. After the grapes are harvested in the fall, however, just about every forno (bakery) or pasticceria (pastry shop) in town makes this very special version of schiacciata. Normally, black grapes are used but- if you’re lucky, you may find a pasticceria that uses white grapes.