On a day trip to Florence, The Skinny Chef was eager to go to the Mercato Centrale and while there we enjoyed a simple lunch at Nerbone. Known for their paninis, we ordered a Panino Con Lampredotto (lining of the cow stomach) and Panino Con Bollito (boiled beef). The Panino Con Lampredotto had a slight bite to it and the lampredotto inside was cooked to perfection. It was soft, but not chewy and was served with salsa piccante (hot sauce) and salsa verde (a mix of green herbs) upon our request, which added a nice kick and tang.
The Panino Con Bollito was stuffed with soft beef boiled in its own juices to give it incredible texture and flavor. When biting into each sandwich our taste buds were overwhelmed by the salty, spicy, and savory flavors making it an umami experience! I wish we could have found room to continue eating as their other dishes, including salads, pastas, and meats looked fresh, well sauced, and for lack of a better word, tasty.
On our first night in Naples, the birthplace of pizza, what else would two New Yorkers crave? Pizza! So, we took a seat at Pizzeria Attanasio and felt our mouths begin to water as our eyes carefully scanned the menu. With so many choices, it was unfortunate we could only select two...scratch that...one because we agreed the first pizza we ordered in Napoli would be a traditional Margherita pie. It was a solid agreement too because the Margherita pizza had a beautiful, golden-brown and delicately puffy crust surrounding it's perfectly cooked center that stayed intact when we picked up our slices to take a bite. Topped with bright, flavorful tomato sauce and a conservative amount of rich, creamy, gooey, melted mozzarella cheese; each slice embodied the perfect balance of textures and tastes.
For our second selection, we ordered a pizza with several toppings and expected to get a pie with each topping scattered about. However, I am happy to say that was not the case. Instead, our next pizza was artfully molded into a five-pointed star and was appropriately called Stella. Each pleasantly plump point was filled with a different topping from pepperoni, to eggplant, to salami, to ham and soft cheese, all of which indulged and delighted us. With a "traditional" center of tomato sauce and melted mozzarella, taking a bite of this creation was all about combining the sweet, cheesy center with a bit of the savory, salty goodness encapsulated by each tip of this "stellar" take on pizza. Paired with two Peronis, this was a great start to our culinary travels in Napoli!
Sitting outdoors on a beautiful day in Tuscany was an amazing and humbling experience, but being treated to a phenomenal meal while sitting outdoors on a beautiful day in Tuscany was even better. Trattoria Gosto e Mea, a pizzeria and restaurant, is located just outside the walls of Lucca and is masterfully decorated both inside and out.
Munching on crisp triangles of flatbread baked in an authentic brick oven, we had trouble deciding what to order because everything sounded so good.
We started with the Sformatino di Gamberi e Melanzane con Salsa al Pomodoro. Aside from being beautifully plated with a round bed of shiny pomodoro sauce with the sformatino delicately placed in the center and topped with a plump cherry tomato; this "pie" constructed with shrimp and eggplant had a slightly firm exterior, but was set perfectly so it was still soft in the center. It was exquisite, warm throughout, smooth, well-balanced, and creamy in texture with pops of plump shrimp here and there to give it bite.
The Tagliatelle al Ragu' di Seppie, Calamari, e Gamberi consisted of bright, yellow housemade noodles cooked just right and a ragu that tricked your senses. Why? Because the cuttlefish, calamari, and shrimp were harmoniously ground together to create an original and quite tasty sea creature that was crumbled over the pasta as opposed to the slices of seafood I had expected. It was surprisingly light for a pasta dish, especially a ragu, and embodied the fresh flavors of the ocean without being too salty. It was expertly seasoned and although we ordered it to share, neither one of us wanted to.
Without a doubt the best piece of cooked pork we have ever eaten was served with the Spalla di Maialino da Latte Spadellata con Spinaci Saltati. Cooked impeccably well, it was tender and so soft that our butter knife literally slid right through it. Clearly rested for exactly the right amount of time before arriving at our table, it sat poised on the plate in a thin layer of its own juices. As we began to slice through the crispy skin and layer of gelatinous, salty, sweet fat, the warm savory goodness continued to flow saturating each piece of meat. Accompanied by spinach that was rich in both color and flavor, this was a truly outstanding dish.
What could be better than a crisp, round focaccia carefully sliced down the middle, filled with creamy white mascarpone, chocolaty Nutella, and dusted with sweet powdered sugar?
The answer...nothing! Enjoying every last bite of the Focaccia mascarpone e Nutella Piccola was a great way to end this fabulous meal!
Borgo La Torre is nestled between the breathtaking, rolling hills of the Tuscan wine country. It was like a scene from a movie...we pulled up in our red and white Vespa facing a smooth stucco facade whose color was reminiscent of the flesh of a perfectly ripe summer peach. Every window was flanked with wooden shudders that matched the color of the leaves on each tall, full olive tree. The last piece to complete the puzzle of this gorgeous structure was the terra cotta roof. Like the scales running down the body of a fish, the burnt red tiles were carefully placed one on top of the other.
On the back patio sitting under the warm rays of the bright Tuscan sun high in the crystal-clear blue sky, our eyes were met with the beauty of lush green grass, tall bright flowers boasting every color of the light spectrum, and hectares upon hectares of expertly planted rows of vines. Dangling from the delicate stems of each vine were plump, crisp, deep purple and soft green grapes that were eager to be picked, crushed, fermented, and aged as they prepared to move into their new homes, bottles of Fattoria La Torre wine.
Our lunch began with Tortino Caldo Di Zucchine e Fiori Di Zucca Con Salsa Alla Panna Acida. Baked in a golden-brown crust, this warm pie was filled with thin slices of fresh zucchini, zucchini flowers, and a rich, tangy sour cream sauce. When biting into it, the crust was crisp and salty and the filling, which was soft in the center, was both savory and satisfying.
After enjoying our first course, we ordered Spaghetti Alla Beppe and Tagliolini Alla Mediterranea. The Spaghetti Alla Beppe was cooked al dente, served in a carefully spun portion and coated in a thick, garlicky tomato sauce whose acidity and sweetness were well balanced. Generously finished with flakes of parmigiano reggiano, it was almost creamy and the kick that hit my palate just seconds after swallowing confirmed the dish was thoughtfully spiced.
Each strand of the Tagliolini Alla Mediterranea was spiraled by hand onto an oversized, clear bubble glass bowl with brushstrokes of fire engine red; this vessel was a piece of art in its own right. The long, narrow pasta was expertly cooked and united with briny, muted green cappers and tangy, glossy red pachino tomatoes. Tossed in at the last minute in order to retain their firmness, each tomato burst in my mouth and showered my taste buds with their juices.
For dessert, The Skinny Chef ordered the Gelato Al Limone Con Limoncello e Menta which was light, refreshing, and sweet; the perfect choice for a hot summer day. Excited to sample a sweet treat myself, I ordered the Semifreddo Al Croccante Con Salsa Al Caramello. This dessert consisted of rich, velvety, semi-soft vanilla ice cream with sweet, crunchy almond brittles and it was cool and delicious. The carefully crafted cuisine we enjoyed during this meal was the perfect compliment to the astounding and picturesque atmosphere.
Walking up a slightly inclined Panzano street overlooking the lush, rolling hills, we saw a large, red and white striped building with a sign that read, "Antica Macelleria Cecchini."
Sitting at communal tables where we met people from all around the world, we enjoyed each meal in the company of others who had the same level of respect for Dario and his food as we did. Sipping on glass after glass of Chianti, savoring expertly prepared meat, talking, laughing, smiling, and ending with a toast to good food and good company with grappa made on the premises; we didn’t want any of the meals to come to an end. Just one person we had the good fortune to meet was Anna Morelli editor in chief of Cook_inc. magazine; a publication that should be in the home of every foodie. While each meal offered something different, what remained constant was the incredible freshness, perfect texture, and rich flavor profiles present in each and every piece of meat.
I never knew meat could taste as good as it did when prepared by Dario Cecchini. There are countless reasons why this man is deserving of his title as the number one butcher in the world. As the saying goes, “Behind every great man, there’s a great woman,” and that woman is Dario’s wonderful wife Kim who is smart, beautiful, and kind. Together, they make the perfect team and The Skinny Chef and I would like to express our gratitude to Kim for her hospitality. As I reflect on this experience, I am at a loss for words to adequately thank Dario for the work that he does, the respect he has brought to his craft, and the way he shows others to be passionate about what they do and make a positive impact on others as they carry out their dreams.
The Skinny Chef and I visited Tenuta Del Buonamico for a tour of the winery, tasting, and light lunch; all of which were perfection! Upon arrival, we were greeted by Rebecca Narducci who was as knowledgable about wine as she was sweet and welcoming. The tour of the winery was informative and enhanced our appreciation for what we were about to taste. Once again Rebecca conducted the tasting and made us feel comfortable. I hate it when the staff at wineries are pretentious as it can spoil the entire experience, but I can't say it enough that this wasn't the case at Buonamico.
Our tasting began with Spumante Particolare Brut (a medium textured, Sparkling Tuscan with yellow and green hues, a perfect balance between the acidity and sugar content, and scents of white fruit and light floral) and Spumante Particolare Brut Rose (a medium textured, soft pink Sparkling Tuscan with complex, but well balanced taste, and a fragrant, fruity scent). Then we moved on to whites and sampled the Montecarlo DOC Bianco (a combination of Pinot Bianco, Trebbiano Toscano, Sauvignon, and Semillon e Roussanne varietals; this medium textured wine had notes of cherry and a fruity and vivacious taste), Vermentino Montecarlo DOC (made from 100% Vermentino and crisp in flavor with medium texture and intense floral scent), and the Vasario IGT Toscana (made from 100% Pinot Bianco, well-structured, balanced, and smooth with notes of flowers, fruits, and spices).
We also tried the Rosato IGT Toscana (a combination of Sangiovese, Canaiolo, and Syrah; this medium textured wine had a crisp taste and cherry scent) and several reds including the Montecarlo DOC Rosso (a blend of Sangiovese, Canaiolo, Syrah, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon; this medium textured red was smooth with notes of fresh fruits including black cherry), Montecarlo DOC Rosso Etichetta Blu (this medium textured wine was crafted from Sangiovese, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Canaiolo varietals with a slightly tanic, but incredibly smooth taste and perfume of flowers, dark fruits, spices, vanilla, and cocoa), Cercatoja IGT Toscana (with Sangiovese, Syrah, and Cabernet Sauvignon varietals; this medium textured red was well-balanced, smooth and boasted scents of floral, fruits, cocoa, vanilla, and spices), and Il Fortino IGT Toscana (this 100% Syrah was full-bodied with fruity notes, a medium texture, and great structure with a long end).
We ultimately purchased a bottle of the Montecarlo DOC Rosso Etichetta Blu, Il Fortino IGT Toscana, 50 (a special collectors red), and a bottle of Oro di Re extra virgin olive oil. Stored in a heavy glass bottle with gold leaf and a thick wax seal, i was tempted to let our bottle of Buonamico 50 age for quite some time before opening it. However, after thoroughly enjoying the other two bottles we purchased, we decided to open the bottle of 50 to celebrate a special evening together and I am so glad that we did. Crafted from pure Sangiovese grapes with a meticulous vinification and aging process, Buonamico's 50 is one of the most outstanding wines I have ever tasted! With a deep yet vibrant ruby red color and notes of cocoa, flowers, tobacco, ripe red fruits, and spices; 50 attracts and intoxicates you before you have even tasted it. But when you do have the privilege of tasting it, your palate is enveloped with an elegant, well-defined, tannic, and silky taste, which happily lingers in its persistent ending. 50 is a very special anniversary wine produced by a winery whose commitment to excellence is second to none. Visiting Tenuta Del Buonamico was a highlight of our visit to Lucca and an experience to be savored! I highly recommend this winery when visiting the Tuscan countryside and if you are in the states, I equally recommend purchasing any of their wines and/or olive oil via buaonamico's website, www.buonamico.it/en/
Let me start by saying that the meal I am about to describe was, hands down, the most incredible meal we've had in Lucca! I want to thank "True Tuscan" Chef Cesare Casella for his outstanding recommendation! St. Bartholomeo Rue Prudente Deli and Diner is a modern, yet rustic, beautifully decorated, romantic restaurant located just outside the Piazza Anfiteatro within the walls of Lucca. While the words "deli" and "diner" are in this restaurants name, don't expect the type of fare you may typically associate with these terms because the dining experience, and it was an experience, at St. Bartholomeo Rua Prudente was, in my eyes, worthy of being my last supper. As we walked through the outdoor seating area into the candlelit dining room we met Luca who is not only the owner of St. Bartholomeo, but a gracious host, attentive server, and overall charming, modest, and warm gentleman. Before showing us to our table, he mixed a delicious aperitif and spent some time talking about Tuscan life, wine, and cuisine with The Skinny Chef and I. We knew we were in for a real treat when he offered to select plates from the menu for us and like children waiting to open our presents on Christmas morning, we couldn't wait to see, smell, and taste each dish.
stark white burrata, to the polpo with hues of pink and deep purple, to the razor thin slices of orange zest; I was in a trance. I couldn't wait to slice into the burrata and watch the creamy, milky inside gently ooze out. The polpo was seasoned and cooked with an expert hand, as the texture was just right. Building the perfect bite with a slice of tomato, burrata, polpo, and orange peel was easily done and once it hit my lips it was pure heaven.
It was as though Luca knew me for years because with each plate came another one of my favorite foods and the next course was no exception...Moules Frites - Cozze alla Belga (con patatine fritte). This dish may very well be the best thing I have ever eaten! The mussels were perfectly cooked and ajar just enough for me to see the succulent meat inside, but wait...I'm not done...the mussels were soaking in a bath of rich, savory sauce made with butter, sautéed garlic and scallions, and smooth, tangy sour cream that was good enough to drink. As if smothering each mussel in this delectable sauce wasn't enough to satisfy you, they were accompanied by a side of thin-cut french fries that were the perfect, salty, crispy companion. I thought I was in heaven with the last dish, but this course truly took me to the pearly gates. As we continued on what I will call our ascension, two servings of Cotoletta alla Milanese con Rucola, Fragole e Pure were placed before us. The veal Milanese was thinly pounded, breaded, and fried to perfection. Slicing into the meat was like running a hot knife through butter and it was so fresh I could taste the milk the calves fed on before sacrificing their lives for our pleasure. Accompanied by a peppery rocket salad with bright red strawberries and aged balsamic vinegar as well as a potato puree, this dish was well balanced and extremely satisfying.
For our last course, Luca served the Tartara di Manzo con Pinzimonio or beef tartare with Pinzimonio. Playfully plated like an open-faced sandwich, the tartare was gently placed on a bed of crisp carrots, celery, and potato chips made in house with a slice of toasted bread on the side. The deep red, beautifully marbled and sliced meat was so tender it seemed as though it was lightly seared, but it wasn't. Each bite melted in my mouth as the flavor of the incredibly fresh meat mixed with the salty, briny capers, crisp potato chip, carrot, celery, and extra virgin olive oil came together in perfect harmony.
Just when I thought there couldn't possibly be more, we were given our dessert options and it was so difficult to choose, but we decided on tiramisu and torta di mele or an apple tart. The tiramisu was presented in a wide-mouth cocktail glass in a deconstructed manner with thin, freshly baked ladyfingers moist with espresso lining the circumference, a sweet cream filling in the center, and slivers of rich chocolate on top; it was delicious from start to finish. The torta di mele was absolutely beautiful with a flaky, golden-brown puff pastry base topped with thin slices of caramelized apples, and a sweet, whip cream like custard; it was the perfect way to end a remarkable meal. St. Bartholomeo Rua Prudente Deli and Diner is a restaurant that truly has it all from the atmosphere and decor to the outstanding service to the unforgettable food that I will crave until I return. Now that I know what heaven is, I can't wait to go back!