Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Brunsviger

I am back in my apartment, reacquainting myself with the space, and everything I forgot I had, belongings. I have less clutter and a new neighbor. Hidden behind shutters and facing my kitchen window, he is a faceless talking parrot. We have not been properly introduced and I do not know his name. His limited range of sounds varies between a ringing phone,a cheeky whistle and a meowing kitten. That’s it. Thats a lot.

Rolling the ring of a phone through his beak I imagine his desire to be talked to, and answered back. Meows of an abandoned kitten is the sound of loneliness and neglect, whilst the whistles of a construction worker are his call for the attention he so desperately seeks. Perhaps I'm reading too much into it.

I had yet to break the oven. As in ‘bake a yeast dough pastry’ that will fill the house with the aroma of home, so I spent this morning baking a Brunsviger, a sweet yeast pastry that is part of the Danish family of pastries.

Resembling a foccacia, it has a chewy thin yeast crust and a sugar- butter topping. The freshly baked crust has a bouncy, elastic tension, its a chewy and mildly sweet yeast bread that does a great job in balancing out the sugar- butter topping. The dark topping is where the goodness lies, all moisture and comfort. It is so simple to make, requiring little ingredients and a lot of butter. I have only started, as I clearly need to experiment with other, less traditional toppings.

Brunsviger

Adapted from a recipe by Trina Hahnemann

(8- 10 slices)

Ingredients

250 grams (1 ¾ cup) flour

1 Tbs Sugar

A pinch of salt

75 grams cold, good-quality butter

140 ml lukewarm milk

25 grams fresh yeast

Topping

50 grams butter

50 grams brown sugar


In a bowl, mix the flour, sugar and salt.

Cut the butter into small squares, add to the flour mixture and work it with your hands until the dough reaches the consistency of sawdust. Add the yeast into the lukewarm milk, stir it and pour into the dough.

Knead the dough well and add a little flour if it is too sticky to handle.

Cover the dough with a cloth and place in a warm place to proof for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 200°C and line a a brownie tray with a baking sheet.

Roll the dough out onto the tray and stretch it into place with your fingers. With your fingers dimple the dough, making holes for the sweet syrup.

Melt the butter and brown sugar in a saucepan. When the mixture is bubbling pour it over the dough and bake for 20-25 minutes. You will know its ready when the crust is golden and the house will smell amazing (You might want to line the bottom of the oven with a baking sheet to avoid a sticky mess situation).

Remove the Brunsviger from the tray and allow to cool before serving.

Slice and serve fresh with coffee (or you can keep it in an airtight container in the freezer).

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Six year Tchulnt

Last weekend we marked six years. Six years passed without my father around, in the physical sense. I say that because I feel his presence, support and influence and probably more then when he was alive. Now he is from within, constantly watching over.

Six years ago I knew how to defrost a pizza, make an egg and chop a salad. My favorite sandwich contained a bag of crisps and I thought that the ultra sweet and artificial tasting Chai tea latte was the greatest invention ever. I came a long way since then, unintentionally. Perhaps it was an inner understanding that I need to start taking care of myself and the realization that I needed to start caring. i never got to cook for him, though. Until this Friday.

My dad passed in December, and fittingly, it is a cold and raining season. It became a sort of tradition of making heavy Jewish comforting stews, specifically tchulnt, to commemorate him. T This year I was in charge.

There are two secrets to making a Tchulnt:

1. Its really quick and simple to make.

2. It cooks for so long, its practically impossible to ruin it as all the flavors have hours to build up and caramelize.

The Tchulnt originates in the European Diaspora, and as observant Jews did and do not cook on the Sabbath (Saturday), various techniques were developed to provide for a hot meal on Sabbath day. Tchulnt comes from the French 'chaud lent', literally meaning slow heat. It is a slow-cooked stew of meat, potatoes, beans and barley, with an endless variety of recipes. The ingredients are placed in a pot and put up to boil before lighting the candles on Friday night after which the pot is placed on a hotplate, or in an oven on a low heat, where it is left to simmer until the following day.

This is pure comfort food and a serious rib sticker, perfect for a cold winter day.

With the pot containing all the heavy and comforting elements of the meal,everything surrounding the Tchulnt should be light, fresh and tangy. I made a fresh salsa, and an orange & anchovies salad on the side. Vodka or anise type spirit work best, and a dry Lambrusco proved a successful lighter alternative.

Tchulnt

Serves about 10

(Make sure to use a large ovenproof saucepan)

Olive oil

1 Tbs sugar

6 Desiree potatoes, peeled

1 thin rib, de-boned

Smoked duck breast, fat removed.

1 cup wheat (can be substituted with barley, quinoa or other grains)

1 ½ cups two different types of beans, soaked overnight

Eggs, washed (count half an egg for every person).

Kishkes (intestines filled with a bread mixture that can be bought at a kosher butcher)

2 Tomatoes, squashed

Salt

Pepper

A couple of bay leafs

If you prefer serving each of the ingredients separately, the beans and wheat can be cooked in cheesecloth, so they soak the flavors but don’t mix with the rest. Otherwise, a hot mess is equally comforting. The ingredients are laid out in the pot in the following order:

Heat a little olive oil in the saucepan. Add the sugar, followed by the onions. Layout the potatoes and sprinkle with salt.

Carefully place the thin rib on top and the smoked duck breast. This gives a wonderful smoked flavor to the dish, that can be substituted with a smoked rib or sausage. Throw in the bay leafs and the tomatoes. Prick the kishkes with a fork and place it in the centre, surrounded with the eggs. This is also a good time to add the leftovers from the kugel.

Fill with water so that everything is just covered, add salt and pepper and bring to a boil.

Once boiled cover the saucepan with foil and the lid and reduce to a low heat. Turn the oven to 100 degrees, and transfer the saucepan overnight. Make sure that water is always covering the stew- and never dry.

The Tchultnt will be ready for lunch the next day and in the meanwhile the house will fill with the most wonderful smell of home.

To serve, place each of the elements on a serving plate, peal and half the eggs, slice the intestines, cut the potatoes, and mound the beans and grains.

These are basic guidelines only, and open for variations; you can add chicken, bread dumplings, meat balls- anything heavy and hearty that can stand a long and slow cooking.

To my Father.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Snickerdoodles



I discovered an underground Bakery the other day. Just outside the city centre and over the highway, in a quiet residential neighborhood obscured by trees, birds and strollers a small sign pointed to a narrow alley. A fragrant Rosemary bush signaled we were there. Through the gate and up the stairs, in an old and rundown tiny apartment that had been converted into a makeshift bakery, Nina welcomed me with a warm and kind smile. The sourdough starter lays heavy in the corner as a variety of loafs were proofing, baking and cooling. Everything here was made with love, attention, care and modesty.

She was busy making bread for Friday morning, but had stopped kneading and showed me around. She began a year ago from her kitchen oven and has now spread to the apartment next door. She was the right person at the right time realigning me; it’s all about a screaming passion and a raging need to create.

These are the kind of surprises I have grown used to from Tel Aviv; underground kitchens that emerge from a raging passion and a local thirst for a quality underground.

I did some baking myself this week. Snickerdoodles are old fashioned seasonal cookies that date back to the 18th century, probably of German or Dutch origins.

They are incredibly simple to make and are essentially a cake trapped in cookie’s body.

Snickerdoodles

Adapted from the Joy of Baking

(makes about 32 cookies)

Ingredients

2 3/4 cups all purpose flour

1/2 Tsp salt

2 Tsp baking powder

1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature

1 1/2 cups granulated white sugar

2 large eggs

1 Tsp pure vanilla extract

Coating:

1/3 cup granulated white sugar

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

In a large bowl whisk together the flour, salt, and baking powder.

In a bowl beat the butter and sugar until smooth, about 2 to 3 minutes.

Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.

Add the vanilla extract. Add the flour mixture and beat until you have a smooth dough.

If the dough is soft, cover and refrigerate until firm enough to roll into balls, about an hour.

Preheat oven to 190°C and place rack in the center of the oven.

Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Once the dough has chilled combine the sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl.

Using a small ice-cream scoop, form balls of the dough, and roll in cinnamon sugar.

Roll the balls of dough in the cinnamon sugar and place on the prepared pan, spacing about 5 cm apart.

Bake the cookies for about 8 - 10 minutes, or until they are light golden brown around the edges. Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool.

Can store in an airtight container, at room temperature, for about 10 - 14 days, but that wont be necessary.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Jerusalem style Kugel

I am still a nomad in residential limbo. My immediate belongings are in a suitcase and the rest is in boxes. My apartment is no mans land as it awaits a new coat of paint and some TLC.

The external chaos is reflective of the scattered nature of my current thoughts. I think its called confusion and I pretty much expected this to be the case after a yearlong absence from reality. The best place to realign my thoughts and balance is in the kitchen, and thankfully there are plenty opportunities to do so.

With time to spare and a pending dinner for 8 I headed to Jerusalem’s Mahne Yehuda market on Friday morning. Friday is the busiest day of the week packed with frantic shoppers racing against time to prepare the pending Shabbat dinner.

Slowly my bag began to weigh me down filled with herbs, baby eggplants, beetroots, shallots, figs and pears, sheep’s milk feta, Gorgonzola, nuts and seeds. There were freshly baked bagels I had to buy and wine, too. I spent the next two days preparing what are now quite a lot of leftovers in the fridge reflecting the confusion of my past, present and future. My Italian past seeped through the pasta fagioli soup, a nostalgic Jerusalem Kugel slowly caramelized for seven hours and a French Far Breton was served with cream. In between there were raw beetroots, feta and pears, shallots prunes and chestnuts, figs and gorgonzola, buttered almonds and fresh herbs, roasted eggplants, pomegranate and pine nuts, yogurt garlic and tahini. A confused collage of me, my adventures and culinary DNA.

Jerusalem style Kugel encapsulates what Friday afternoon is in Jerusalem; caramelized noodles spiced with black pepper and baked on a low heat overnight this is a sweet and spicy accompaniment to hearty winter stews. Traditionally served with pickled gherkins.

Jerusalem style Kugel

Based on a recipe by Sherry Ansky

(Serves 8-10)

Ingredients

½ cup vegetable oil

½ cup unrefined sugar

250g egg noodles, like vermicelli

2 large eggs

1 ½ tsp freshly ground black pepper

1 tsp salt

To serve:

Sliced pickled gherkins

1. In a pot, bring water and salt to a boil. Add noodles and cook for about 3 minutes. Strain the pasta.

2. Place sugar and oil in a heavy saucepan. Stir constantly over medium heat until caramelized, about 10 minutes.

3. Very carefully pour the caramel over the noodles and stir until blended. Some of the caramel may harden up but that’s ok.

4. In a separate bowl whisk the eggs. Mix in the salt and black pepper.

5. Stir in the egg mixture to the noodles.

6. Preheat the oven to 100 degrees Celsius.

7. Heat a little oil in a heavy duty skillet. Add the noodles.

8. Cut out circle of parchment paper and cover the noodles. Brush the top with a little oil. This prevents the top from drying out and burning. Wrap the pan tightly in foil.

9. Bake for 7-10 hours. Flip the Kugel to a plate, cut into wedges and serve warm or at room temperature with the gherkins.

Monday, 23 November 2009

Welcome home (Spicy persimmon salad)

Exactly one week ago I landed. Just like that I was back and the past year quickly condensed into a memory. Everything seems and feels the same, I am still the same, and yet something is different. Although I feel back in my element, I also feel separated from my school of fish. I am back in the real world and faced with a new food reality. I am probably not alone.

In addition, I am patiently waiting to move back to my apartment, so although at home I remain a nomad, and so not physically back home yet. It is sunny and ridiculously warm for this time of year, and the summer clothes I so carefully tucked at the bottom of the suitcase are getting an airing. I have a lot of catching up to do and so I find myself spending time in local cafes, topping up on my greens intake and rekindling my friendship with forgotten foods I have not seen much of this year like the sweet potato, aromatic dill, and crispy coriander.

On Friday I found myself standing in my mothers kitchen preparing my welcome home dinner to my extended family. This was no pretty site; pots were flying, pans were burning, stoves were in flames and my ankle was in a sprain. I am now sitting with my leg up high, forced to pause, rest, recharge and pace myself. Fair enough.

I am also aware at how my palette has changed and has been conditioned to demand nothing short of the best. Local industrial so-called Prosciutto and a scorching hot and watery espresso simply will not do.

Spicy persimmon salad

This is a sweet, sour, savory and spicy persimmon salad.

What with the mild summer fiasco outside comforting stews can wait.

This is great as a side dish or a light lunch for one.

ingredients

2 thinly sliced persimmons (or another seasonal fruit like pears or apples)

A handful of chopped coriander (or parsley)

½ red onion, chopped

1½ Tbs minced ginger

½ red chili, seeded and chopped (optional)

½ lime, squeezed

1 Tbs sweet chili sauce

2 Tbs soy sauce

½ Tbs pomegranate molasses

Ground black pepper, to taste

Mix all the ingredients in a bowl.

Let stand for about 10 minutes before serving, to allow all the flavors to build up.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Recap: putting a lid on Italy

This past year was a wonderful opportunity to indulge in my passions, meet new friends and travel like there is literally no tomorrow. Through a distant geographic perspective I now look back at all I have gone through. Here are some highlights and points I wish to remember:

Traveling

I made the decision to live in a small and isolated village, the city gal that I am. This was a year for self reflection, observation and, in some part, solitude. No external distractions or unnecessary noise. This was also the year of travel, exposure and exploration. With the sometimes painful help of the Italian rail system I covered as much ground as possible on.

I think its called having the best of both worlds.

Eating the bread of others

I was exposed to Italy and Europe through bread; every place I visited became a part of me through the local starch. There was Parma bread (see above), the lovechild of plasterboard and a basketball. Unsalted Tuscan bread and the Sicilian pane di Lentini also come to mind. The latter was served hot out of a wood burning oven, soaked in olive oil, oregano, crushed chili flakes and salt, capturing elation with through mastication.

Focaccia, schiacciata, farinata, Swedish rye bread, French baguette, Surinaam Roti, Ethiopian Injera, Dutch sourdough and Cretan rusk bread are only a smidgen of the carbohydrates I had the pleasure of eating.

Communal eating

Many meals were shared standing around a kitchen table, chopping, cooking, attempting and snacking. Being a part of a food community was education and inspiration, opening up possibilities for future collaborations.

Food to the point of extreme.

I have a feeling an adjustment period to the real world might be in place.

Canoli

I guess I am going to have to master the art of the Sicilian ricotta filled fried tubes if I am to experience a canolo in the near future. Who knows, this may end up being a new revolution. The world needs to know what its missing.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Ending with beginning

So this was it. What seemed like a gigantic leap last year has reached its end. A year of learning how to eat and drink, how to enjoy Italianism, discovering places I never thought I’d be, and realizing that being in a place does not mean going to a museum, because everything one can learn about a place is found on the streets. A year of talking food constantly, mostly ending up with “this would be so good with cheese”.

Digesting the past 12 months have given me most of the answers I was looking for, sprinkled with doubts and a dash of anxieties. Once again, I am stepping out to begin a new adventure, but this time it’s the oven door opened in time for freshly baked buns. You see, I know that food will be on my side.

So this is my big jump. My once in a life time.

I truly believe that by doing what it is I am passionate about, the rest should fall into place. I’ll do anything I can so that it does.

Now I need to convince the rest of the world.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Florence wrapped

Two months, 8 weeks, 59 days. My time in Florence.

On the last day of October I got a one-way ticket to Parma, bringing to a close my time in Florence, concluding the internship period and this bubble of a year.

For two months I cycled the uneven, cobbled roads of Florence, mastered the Florentine accent (“una hoha hola”), sampled local pastries (Budino di riso, scacciata con l'uva), and made new friends, including the Barrista that always remembered how I like my coffee (in vetro).

It was a pleasant surprise to find that Florence was more then an over -exposed, crowded, expensive, tourist trap minefield.

This is a rundown of my favorite Florence

Budino di riso- its rice pudding in shortcut pastry. Once it is baked, a caramelized crust forms on top. Only found locally.

Gelato- with a large variety of gelato mounds sculpted, decorated and generally violated, it is also possible to have fine gelato. The Peanut flavour will be remembered as a highlight.

Oven detox- not having an oven is not the end of the world (temporarily speaking). I haven’t baked in two months and counting. Must. Bake. Soon.

Mercato San Ambrogio- the market ritual of getting up in the morning, jumping on the bike and heading to the market. On the way passing by the tripe man, always busy making the breakfast Lampredotto panini for hungry Florentine men. Nothing like boiled stomach lining to kick start the day…

Café- the reason that coffee is good here is because it is made with love and respect for the bean. Having your own particular preference is met with a respectful nod, as if to say “ I see where you’re going with this”… On the days that coffee alone was not enough, a sticky brioche wrapped in a napkin would be handed to me, from hand to hand. A shared intimacy over pastry. Dipped in the coffee, one brioche perfectly absorbs a cup of macchiato. No more, no less.

My pet- I shared my room with a mosquito. At first there were lots, but then it cooled down, leaving one stubborn insect. Unable to take its life directly, I took a more passive approach, trying to starve it to death. I was bitten. It refused to perish.

Holes in walls- for 3.50 euros I would often buy a focaccia from various panini makers that occupy urban nooks and crannies, filled with anything and everything. In general, Florentines like small, cozy, ‘good old days’ type places. And prices. And veggies. And I for one, agree.

Monday, 26 October 2009

Green apple, Brussels sprouts & pistachios

This week I am busy writing up my final paper, topping up on local specialty products a.k.a Prodotti Tipici, packing, shipping, and generally stressing. The theme and atmosphere is one of concluding, rounding up, wrapping up and tying loose ends.

In the charming Florentine apartment that I call home is a non functional oven, which has meant no roasting or baking for the past few weeks, with the gas cooker as my only magic tool. To substitute for the baking I educate myself with pastries from the forno downstairs now and again. But for everything else, there's a gas cooker. The way I see it, as with everything else in life, for every door that closes another one opens, and I simply need to review and reconsider my choice in food and preparation methods.

I bought brussels sprouts earlier in the week and wanted to use them. I know brussles sprout in their unhappy state; colour somewhere between brown, grey and green, pudgy in texture and bitter in taste.

No more. I don’t know why these are boiled. It does'nt seem to do them any justice.

If you were thinking "I want a salad that is fresh, crisp and all shades of green" this is the one for you. Think a crunch, a tang, and a nutty sweetness. It has autumn written all over it.

Green apple, Brussels sprouts and pistachio salad

(makes 2 generous salad bowls)

a handful of unsalted pistachios

olive oil

a few leaves of sage and/ or rosemary

Brussels sprouts (about 20), thinly sliced

1 green apple

5 tbs olive oil

1 tbs mustard

½ squeezed lemon juice

salt

pepper

In a pan, heat the pistachios over a medium low heat until lightly roasted. Chop and set aside.

Using the same pan heat some olive oil. Add the sage and rosemary and fry for 2-3 minutes. Then add the sliced Brussels sprouts, and lightly fry for 3-4 minutes. Transfer the now aromatic sprouts into a bowl with.

In a small bowl mix the olive oil, mustard and lemon juice until combined. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Slice the apple thinly into matchsticks and add to the Brussels sprouts. Toss the dressing with the salad and sprinkle the roasted pistachios.

Variations: you can use other herbs, substitute the pistachios with other roasted nut and seeds, add a good aged cheese or fried bacon.

Monday, 19 October 2009

Gorgonzola and chestnut bowl

I blinked and it was over. Summer is gone and its freezing as if it were January. In a panic I crave comfort in winter food- soups, stews, porridge and ice cream. Chestnut festivals are taking place across Tuscany, as is the chocolate festival in Perugia.

It turns that it is possible to becomes accustomed to medieval city centres, picturesque piazzas and magnificent rural settings. On the busiest day of the year Perugia is, well, extremely crowded. It’s a chocolate mayhem, and people are stocking up- dark, milk & white chocolate, bonbons, puddings, crepes and waffles, chocolate ‘shawarma’ and kebabs, chocolate salamis, churros, pasta, and I could go on. Half a banana dipped in dark chocolate, rolled in hazelnut croquante and skewed on a stick later, and I was out.

After escaping the crowds we spent the time left before the train was due in a Chinese shop by the station. My loot from the day of chocolate: two sachets of udon noodles soup, a Chinese pear and a moon cake baked in a Prato Chinese bakery (So many things are wrong with that sentence…).

The pear tasted as if it were trying to pass itself as an apple, and the moon cake had what seemed like an egg yolk in the centre. Traditionally it should be there, but the only ingredient on the list that could be it was a reference to pumpkin, so I’m going with that. Especially since the expiration date is in a couple of months…

This little salad, I thought it a salad, but it didnt seem right, having no vegetables in it, so it changed to a starter, but it would also work as a dessert (substitute olive oil, salt & pepper with a drizzle of honey and a caramelized fig), so I settled on 'bowl'. make it your own.

Gorgonzola & chestnut bowl

(Serves 2 as a starter)

Ingredients

250g Chestnuts

40g Gorgonzola (sweet or piquant)

Olive oil

Salt & Pepper

Cut an X into one side of the chestnuts.


Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and boil gently for 15-20 minutes.

The longer the nuts cook, the mealier the kernels become and tend to crumble when removed from the shells.

Peel the shells and the skin from the nuts.

Drizzle the olive oil and season with salt and pepper.

Crumble the Gorgonzola and add to the bowl.

Note: A glass of wine is almost compulsory.

Monday, 12 October 2009

Fall over. A quick cinnamon plum compote

It is surprising to me how quickly I have adapted to Florence. It seems forever ago that I arrived, and feels longer then one month and a week. I eat out more then I have in Parma all year combined, and whilst it may seem that gelato is a key ingredient in my daily diet I am a regular at st. Ambrogio market several times a week for the latest fall collection of fruit & veg. In true Tuscan style.
I have picked out my favorite guys; the mushroom guy that gets angry when my camera is too close to his precious molds, my favorite herbs guy that doesn’t know how to price one stalk of sage, so he gives me a regalo, my favorite fresh beans guy, who, I don’t know why he’s in my list, I’m sure he’s somehow cheating me.
There’s the cheese guy that always gives me tastings of his best cheeses and doesn’t stop until I buy something. (What can I say, sheeps’ milk ricotta is my achiles heel).
Chestnuts and chestnut cake have begun to appear in the market, besides the eggplants, zucchinis, and fresh beans. Apples and plums are making some room for early clemantines.
Gelato may be the destination, but I have paved a road of Tuscan Caponata, a technicolour assembly of sautéed zucchinis, carrots and peppers, zucchini flowers stuffed with freshly picked mushrooms, fresh cannelloni beans cooked with sage, garlic and tomatoes, fresh ricotta with cinnamon plum compote. Terribly Tuscan.
I am addicted to the plums. Rather, to cooking them. i find that substantial part of their personality is hidden and only comes to light when plums meet cinnamon and heat, be it stove top or oven baked. Their crunchy tartness shies away, and a warm, silky sweetness arises. And you’d never think it by looking at them.
Like quince. Entirely different family of fruit. Same surprise nonetheless.

Quick cinnamon plum compote

a practically non-recipe

Ingredients

ripe plums

Cinnamon

Sweetener- honey, maple syrup, sugar, whatever is available

Optional: Vanilla pod, a dash of vermouth.

Cutting the plums into sizeable chunks.

Place in a pan with just a bit of water (gets the steaming going).

Add as much sweetness as you like, but not too much, you want to balance the tartness, but not to lose it.

Add cinnamon. I use plenty, but I swear by the stuff.

Cover and cook on a medium low heat for about 30 minutes.

A holiday season aroma fills the air shortly.

A spoonful on top of fresh sheep’s milk ricotta or a sliced apple, topped with a sprinkle of musli and crushed pistachios makes a stupid dessert and a dollop on my breakfast cereal gets me out of bed in the morning.

And I will always remember Florence for it.


* To know whats in season and at its best visit eat the seasons.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

In, out, upside down

Living as a student in a small village for the most part of the year meant mostly eating at home, with friends. Restaurants proved few, mediocre and pricy, while the pleasures of cooking with fellow food fanatics was pleasant, budget friendly and most importantly, educational. Now that I am in Florence I, along with leading buyers, all head down to the near by St Ambrogio market, where the latest autumn season has just arrived. Last season’s Italian prune plums, fresh beans and zucchini are exiting, making room for the first persimmons, pomegranates, and pumpkins. There is no escaping the end of summer, and counting the mosquito bites I am parading its not coming quick enough. Buying in the market is one thing, but Florence has more to offer. Kate’s weekend in Florence was, as is every weekend, dedicated to food., both cooking as well as researching the local offer of dining establishments.

There was an Oktoberfest alternative festival in one piazza selling beers, sausages, sauerkraut, knodels, pretzels, doughnuts and Sacher torte (not German, but there you go), porchetta sandwich in a hole in a wall, gelato, granita, wine bar and café, but two particular places made a lasting impression.

They had a system.

Allow me to explain.

It seems the food scene in Florence has distinctive characteristics that one can only assume are a direct response to its inhabitants’ customs, habits and preferences. The local favorite, Il Pizzaiuolo, looks from the outside like any other pizzeria. Apart for the patient hoverers outside, one would never guess it is absolutely crucial to make reservations here for any chance of a taste let alone a seat. I had learned this the hard way.

The pizza dough is worth it. We’re talking a mouthful of freshly baked yeasty dough around the edges with a thin centre that has a slightly charred bottom resembling a flat bread that is soft and soggy(as opposed to dry and crispy) from the spicy salami, mozzarella, black olives and basil juices that adorn it. This is enough to distract the most concentrated of minds, however, one look around reveals a crowded, noisy room that minutes ago was all but quiet and empty. Being one of the most popular local venues, a system had to be devised to ensure structure and order, Italian style; the place opens up at 19.30 taking 3 rounds of reservation only, at the time of opening, 21.00 and 22.30. There is no time for hanging around, so if you finished your pizza its dessert or the bill. Its pretty simple and the beauty of this system is that it is indigenous to this restaurant.

The system at Il Vegetariano proved to be the real challenge. Set in a residential street, this restaurant is a pre-planned destination as opposed to a place you stumble upon. Suppose you found the place, once you enter through the undistinguished threshold you will find yourself in a small room with 5 tables. And that’s it. No bar, no kitchen and no staff to be seen. Another door way across the room leads the way through a corridor to the back of the restaurant, which is in fact, the front of the restaurant. The entrance is the back. Hang tight, this is about to get even more complicated in an attempt to simplify things. The menu is up on the wall, and underneath it is a desk with a bearded man that takes the orders. The customers write down their orders on one of the several notepads laying, that are then chosen, in no particular order. The bearded man then copies the order to an order from, that is, if he can decipher the incoherent handwriting. The bill is added and the meal is paid for. It is now time to turn around, reach for a tray and stand in another line. The two pieces of paper- the notepad order and the copied are handed to a woman behind a counter, and she prepares the food.

Ok, so we’ve stood in line, ordered, paid and picked up the food. Now the only thing left is to find a place to sit. This is a fascinating system. In an attempt to eliminate the concept of waiting on tables, this venue pulled out all the stops. It is not a buffet or a self-service canteen, but a restaurant, and a popular one at that; a home made, nonna run veggie establishment packed floor to ceiling, with people waiting spilling to the street, and the majority of diners are men who choose not to have a Bistecca Fiorentina or a tripe stew on a Saturday night. This is what eating out is. Education.