The things I miss

Sometimes (though I should point out definitely not always) I really miss Florence. I miss lots of things about it, but it should go without saying that hands down, I miss the food the most. But I live in New York, after all, where there are precisely 30 million italian restaurants, markets, wine bars and gourmet shops, so most things, whether it be bomboloni, pici al limone or a good piece of  schiacciata aren’t all that hard to find.

HOWEVER, and this is about to be a big however (hence the all caps), I have yet to find crostoni that come close to the perfection of those at  Fuori Porta, just outside the old city walls, and that gives me the worst pangs of longing for Florence. They’re just that good.

During my recent visit to Italy, I put lunch at Fuori Porta on my list of things that had to get done while I was there. The beau and I went one afternoon, and just like I had remembered, the crostoni were amazing. So good I could cry… if I wasn’t busy stuffing my face.

Walnut, honey and brie crostone, I missed you SO much!

Crostoni are basically just large slices of bread, topped with cheese (which at Fuori Porta, can be either mozzarella, Brie, pecorino, or gorgonzola) and other topping combinations including meats, veggies, or nuts. They’re popped in the oven so that the cheese melts and everything gets warm, and you as the eater, basically have your mind blown. My favorite combo, and the one I got most recently when I was there, was Brie with walnuts and honey.  Each bite is simultaenously gooey and cheesey, crunchy, sweet and savory. I think I could eat one every day for the rest of my life and never not love it.

Prosciutto and mushrooms under a blanket of melted pecorino. SO. FREAKIN.’ GOOD.

Flaneur on the other hand went with a more savory combination of pecorino, prosciutto cotto  and mushrooms. While I preferred mine, his was pretty damn good too. Really, most things covered in thick, melted cheese are bound to be good, but this crostone, with its earthy, sweet mushrooms and salty-sweet prosciutto (the sweeter cooked kind, not the cured variety) was really phenomenal.

Yea I miss crossing the Ponte Vecchio at night, the view of the Duomo from Piazzale Michelangiolo, and being able to visit The Birth of Venus at the Uffizi, but let’s get real, I really, really miss those crostoni.

Gelato, that’s amore!

I just came back from Italy, where I spent a week in and around Florence with my boyfriend, visiting his family and friends, taking daytrips, carboloading and through it all… SWEATING, cause dear sweet Madonna and Child, it was HOT. Like, really hot. Like, totally socially acceptable to eat gelato every day, sometimes twice, kind of hot.

Below, the highlights reel of my love fest with gelato, which I thank for saving me from heat stroke:

Il Sorriso

Outside of Florence’s tourist-clogged center was Il Sorriso, where the BF and I stopped one day on our way to lunch at his sister’s house. Because we really were on our way to eat lunch, he suggested we split a cup instead of each getting our own. I relented, though I’m not usually into this kind of thing. We got stracciatella, probably the best I ever had, with thick, chunky pieces of chocolate throughout it,  and cremino alla Nutella, which was a creamy, chocolate, Nutella swirled bunch of awesomeness.

Badiani

On a different day we went to one of Flaneur’s old favorites, also outside of the center, called Badiani. Though it’s a gelateria/ pasticceria combo with some pretty amazing looking baked treats, their main draw is the gelato, especially the Buontalenti flavor which they hold a registered trademark for. On the left is my cup of Millefoglie gelato (named after the Italian pastries made with dozens of layers of delicate, crispy thin layers of dough and thick, custardy pastry cream) and more cremino (this time without Nutella, but still chocolatey and rich). On the right is the BF’s cup of pistachio (a nutty, creamy blend) and the house star, Buontalenti, a buttery, rich mixture of cream, custard, and all that is good in this world.

Gelateria dei Neri

While strolling around downtown in Florence’s historic center one day (and by strolling you should know that I mean wondering at what point the skin on my body was going to start bubbling and blistering from the unbearable heat) we stopped at Gelateria dei Neri (no website, because that kind of technological nonsense just hasn’t fully caught on yet in Italy).  They had a big selection, with lots of really refreshing looking fruit choices, but I’m always a cream/chocolate girl, so I went with cassata siciliana (a traditional Sicilian dessert cake made with candied fruits and nuts, and a mix of sweet ricotta and the heaven they stuff cannoli with) and a ricotta and figs blend, which was velvety and sweet, with jammy chunks of figs swirled in. The beau got an always delicious combination of rich, bittersweet dark chocolate  and bright, creamy coconut.

I could almost not hate the suffocating heat of summer if I had all this gelato to keep me going. Say what you will about Italians, but man, do they know what they’re doing with this stuff.

Hey there, sweet stuff

Say what you will about Valentine’s Day, but I for one, am a fan. I mean, how could I not be when there are so many sweet things to be had? Yes, kisses, cuddles and hanky panky are fun but I’m talking the real sweet stuff: SUGAR.

Valentine's Day can't be anything BUT happy when it involves this.

Last year, my darling boyfriend got me doughnuts (from my favorite place to get them in the whole wide universe, Doughnut Plant) so this year I decided to take his idea and put an Italian spin on it. I schlepped it uptown to Bomboloni, an Upper West Side bakery specializing in— you guessed it— bomboloni, which for those of you who might not know, are the Italian cousin of the traditional filled doughnut, and came home with a box of six. Bomboloni are more round than American doughnuts, almost perfectly spherical, and back on the Boot, they’re covered in a sparkly dusting of sugar, with usually either cream or chocolate filling.

At Bombolini in the UWS (there’s also one in Rome), the bombolini come in a whole assortment of flavors and only one, which was actually called a bomba and was much bigger than the rest, had the traditional sugar coating. The others varied between caramelized sugar, chocolate glaze, confectioners sugar, crushed nuts and other toppings. In the picture above, the middle one is crème brulee, then starting with the red one and going clockwise: raspberry, banana, chocolate cherry, vanilla cream, and toasted marshmallow cream. We both agreed that our favorite bombolone, with its  bright, thick jammy filling, was the raspberry (even though in Italy I’m a cream girl through and through).

My Italian beau likes to complain that while he can get almost any food in the world here in New York, the Italian pastries, like bomboloni, are not as easy to come by. My box from Bomboloni was a nice way to prove him wrong and get a sugary treat all in one present. Made Valentine’s Day all the sweeter.

Granita for one, please

Gelato's great but I'll have a granita di mandorle, thanks

I’m now approaching week 2 of having an ocean between my boyfriend and I, and let me tell you, it sucks. No way around it. Beyond all the obvious reasons, I hate that he’s gone because of all the awesome food I know he’s eating in Italy without me.

I was in a particular funk the other day on my way home from work when I decided to make a pit stop to cheer myself up. When I lived in Florence, one of my favorite places for an afternoon snack was Grom, a gelato shop I didn’t realize was international until I moved to New York and saw it in Greenwich village. I was originally really excited about until I saw their outrageous prices, but on this particular day, I said to hell with it.

Now yes, their gelato is pretty damn good, but my favorite thing to get (the only one I ever get, really) is something else: the granita siciliana, a creamy, frosty treat (originally from Sicily, hence the name) similar to a slushy but infinitely better. It has a thicker, more coarse texture, and none of the wateriness. You get a spoon, not a straw, and with it, nothing but sweet, refreshing deliciousness.

It’s available in different flavors, but I’m not even sure what they are because I always get the same one: mandorle, or almonds. It’s sweet in a milky, nutty way that feels natural and not sugary. And because it’s subtly grainy but still icy cool, it’s really one of the best things to cool down with.

The beau might have Florence, but I at least still have my granita di mandorle. And that’ll just have to be enough to hold me over.

Panettone alla Shake Shack

In the non-existent contest of which country got the better candied fruit flecked holiday cake, Italy has America beat. Fruit cake as we know it on this side of the pond, is an awful thing. Dense, brick-like, and speckled with unnatural-looking, jewel-toned bits of fruit that more closely resemble stale gummy bears, I can’t think of a single person who actually looks forward to receiving one of these or would ever willingly bring one home.

But Italians, well they have panettone. So they win, because panettone, which is soft, airy, fruity in a non-cloying way, and even comes in fun packaging, is, well, awesome.

But as great as I think panettone is, I don’t really like to eat it plain. For me, the perfect panettone eating experience includes something creamy like a scoop of vanilla ice cream or a fat dollop of whipped cream or mascarpone.

Panettone frozen custard at Shake Shack

So you can imagine my excitement when I found out that Shake Shack not only had panettone frozen custard for the month of December, but it was only available on Wednesdays, which is exactly what day it was when I stumbled upon the December frozen custard calendar. (Side note: the awesome holiday-themed calendar also included other fun, seasonal classics like egg nog, spiced apple cider, and figgy pudding) Not only was it Wednesday though, it was the last Wednesday of 2010. During my lunch break, I bundled up, put my rain boots on, and power-walked through mounds of snow, lake-like puddles of dirty slush and icy water to go to the Shake Shack in Madison Square Park.

Shake Shack rarely disappoints and this time was no different.  The frozen custard was thick and creamy  with the subtle fruity flavor and sweetness of panettone. And instead of gummy pieces of fruit , this milky, cool treat had fat hunks of actual panettone tossed in it, as if someone had torn them off the domed loaf and into the custard.

It was panettone exactly how I love to eat it, and being the last time this year that I could possibly enjoy it, what better way was there to say arrivederci? See you in 2011.

Ripe for the picking


A fig practically shouting to be eaten

I’m obsessed with figs. Usually, I only see them in little plastic crates at the supermarket, but during my recent trip to Italy, I saw them fat and ripe, hanging from a tree in my boyfriend’s yard. In the case of the one pictured above, it was so ripe and ready to be eaten, that it simply couldn’t take it anymore and literally burst open, showing off its ruby colored pulp to the world. This wouldn’t of happened if it was my fig tree. That’s all I’m saying.

I do

Three tiers of beautiful merengue deliciousness at a recent wedding in Italy.

I love weddings. No, really. I loooove weddings. I don’t go to nearly as many as I should for knowing as many people as I do that are getting married, but still. I love ’em.

Yes, the vows to have and to hold, love and to cherish, and all that other lovey dovey stuff are nice, but really, I’m there for the food and the party, and of course, the cake.

Some girls dream about trying on white dresses and choosing the first song they dance to with their betrothed. I dream about cake sampling and getting the first slice of the chosen cake.

Sigh. One day.