September 15, 2012

Afternoon Apertivo at Cibreo.

At Cibreo Caffe, alcohol is served in varying degrees of strength throughout the day, but never without food, and rarely does a Florentine order more than one drink.

There are morning aperitivi before lunch and evening aperitivi before dinner. The Italians are modest when it comes to drinking, as if there are unspoken cultural rules. There’s only one thing worse than wine for the liver…and that’s the wind.
‘Il vento fa male il fegato!’ A mother yells to her children to button up, "The wind is bad for the liver!" 

 But the Aperitivo? Io adoro! It is my early evening meditation.  A crisp divine white wine, poured into a tall crystalline glass. It comes to the table, not with pattatine (Italian potato chips cooked in olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt), which I love, but with pizzette, tiny pizzas only big enough for a bit of sauce and a few capers. They come on a long plate with shiny black olives, and thin fried crisps of chick pea crackers laced with garlic. Bright yellow pepper pickles show up occasionally in a small white bowl, looking like a present from someone’s affectionate aunt.

Fabio, the owner of Cibreo, loves the advanci. He never throws anything away. Whatever is left over is used brilliantly, or at least pickled.

During the summer I acquiesce to gin and tonic or to the negroni, a strong alcolico forte! ma buonissimo. "Candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker." Allegria to the rescue, forcing any sense of negative emotion way beyond the front lines. Two would be deadly and most unladylike, though to me, nothing is more civilized than a proper aperitivo. It 'opens' the appetite and stimulates digestion. The monks invented strong liquors as medicine, to be taken before and after meals. I to bow to the Italian brethren for making this ritual one of the best ingredients for la dolce vita.

Florentines flow in and out of the bar. They greet each other casually, one looking more fine than the next. People-watching here is like flipping through a fashion magazine, but better. It’s alive.

Florentine style is understated, chic. This is not Hollywood. There is no bling. But there’s balance. It’s what you call "taste"—an eye for quality and detail. It also doesn’t hurt to be drop dead gorgeous with olive skin refined as Michelangelo’s sculpted marble. Though not all Florentine's are or have been good looking. One look at Dante or the Medici and you understand the gene pool, yet, it's safe to say they were intelligente da morire. The character and the way Florentines carry themselves- so confident, intelligent and interesting, comes from centuries of sophistication.

I for one, do not come from such a background, unless I was here "once before." But I do feel at home here, un Fiorentina finta, a pretend Florentine. Especially inside my "uscio e bottega."

September 8, 2012

pasta with oil-cured tuna, capers, red onions, tomatoes and basil

Feeding large parties that also include a gang of hungry Italian musicians is challenging. With one small kitchen, a few large pots and a lot of volanta..(willingness), I cook pasta for the masses with as much 'gusto' as possible. Gusto also means 'taste'. Italians are tough critics, so one can't mess around when feeding them their favorite food. I have to invent, but stay within reason.

One of the most Italianissima summer pasta dishes is pasta con tonno e capperi (tuna and capers). It's lovely to add thinly sliced red onions and cherry tomatoes as well. It's an instant one dish meal, with plenty of protein and flavor. As you can see, the sauce is uncooked and therefore, perfect for transferring from the kitchen to your table 'al fresco'.

With the overfishing of tuna, I have a moral decision to make when thinking of this dish. I choose a very good quality, specially selected tuna preserved in oil (in a large red tin) from Spain. I know the story of the Sicilian matanza. I am aware of present-day practice and over fishing that keeps certain fishes from being sustainable all over the world. Tuna was king of fishes. Smart. Plentiful and meaty. Catching and preserving it in oil has kept many island people alive for centuries. Now it's not allowed. There are quotas. It has also been a staple for Americans. That's more tuna than certain schools can generate. I don't buy tuna in America, nor do I choose it in a sushi bar against my will. Especially fresh.. I adore it in many ways..mostly raw. Here is a good article with more info on just how the Spanish are approaching the situation.  Sustainable Tuna debated on Spanish TV.

I do choose to use tuna once in a 'blue moon'; of which there was one this August. I took the liberty to make a beloved Italian favorite and the crowds jumped for joy. It's not the Italians fault that we are losing our resources. There has historically been respect and ritual in these Mediterranean waters. They took only what they needed. Tuna is nutritious and one fish can feed a family for days. The fact that it's a fish that can be preserved is another bonus.

Here is the recipe I made up in the countryside of Montifiridolfi, a tiny Tuscan town not far from San Casciano, a half hour south of Florence in the heart of Chianti. It fed 45 people amply in 95 degree weather. They took a 2 hour hike in the heat afterwards, but they weren't hungry.

On a hot day, there is nothing more satisfying that a plate of this pasta room temp with a glass of cool rose'.

Penne Ragate con Tonno, Capperi, Pomodorini, Olive, cipolla rosa e Parmigiano Reggiano

2- 8 oz   cans of good quality sustainable (Dolphin safe!) tuna preserved in oil.
1            fresh red onion, sliced in half as thin as possible
2            cups of pomodorini (cherry tomatoes) sliced in half
1/2         cup of rinsed capers in salt
1 c         of oil-cured black olives, pitted and roughly chopped (optional)
1 bunch of basil and Italian parsley, chopped fine and set aside.
1/2 c       of Parmigiano Reggiano, freshly grated

1 box    (500 grams) of Penne Ragate of your choice

Chop all ingredients separately and put in an ample bowl. Open the cans and break up the tuna and add to the bowl. Add a generous drizzle of olive oil. 

Heat a generous pot of water, add a palmful of good quality course salt. Bring to a rolling boil.
Add the pasta and cook until al dente, (where only a hairline of white can be seen).

Drain the pasta, preserving a cup of the pasta cooking water. Set aside. 

Toss all ingredients with the freshly cooked pasta in a large serving bowl. If it seems dry or a bit sticky, add a bit of the pasta cooking water, it loosens the pasta nicely. Add most of the parsley
and parmigiano. Distribute all chopped bits evenly. Finish by drizzling a generous amount of extra-virgin olive oil and dash the remaining parsley and parmigiano to please the eyes. 

 On a hot day, there is nothing more satisfying that a plate of this pasta room temp with a glass of cool rose'.

 It's the end of summer, but I think this dish will be a hit at least until the end of September here in 
Italia..! Buon appetito!