Monday 3 December 2007
A Good Day.....and a Sad One.....
To Florence for the day. Sarah was visiting, and was keen to see Michelangelo's Pietà, in the Museo dell Opera del Duomo, and I wanted to go to San Marco, having been inspired by Lauro Martinez's excellent book on Savonarola to see where it had all taken place.....(last time I was there was in 1981, when the book hadn't even been thought of, and my memory of the place was a little hazy). The City was in full Christmas swing, with stalactite illuminations the length of the street between the Duomo and the Palazzo Vecchio, and the crowd on the train from Pisa suggested Christmas shopping expeditions were firmly in progress. The Pietà was beautiful - as were the original panels from Ghiberti's Gates of Paradise, also on display in the museum courtyard - and San Marco was like the Ideal Home version of what a monastery should be: all polished perfection, with Michelozzo's spaces and Fra Angelico's frescoes jostling exuberantly for attention....
En route to San Marco, we made a slight detour through the Mercato Centrale, which is a food-shopper's paradise. On the ground floor, poultry, and haunches of meat, and tripe, and pasta, and oils and wine, and up on the first floor, vegetables, and dried fruit, and fresh fruit, and more oils and vinegars, and strings of peppers and mountains of pumpkins, and on and on.......Freezing cold, and jolly, and noisy and bustling. Had we not got a full day's itinerary ahead of us, I'd have loaded up more generously, but as it was contented myself with bottles of Sage Oil and Rosemary Oil - for adding to salads - and some dried strawberries and dried cherries (excellent, amongst other things, re-constituted in alcohol and mixed in with vanilla ice cream....).
Inevitably, we ended up in Cammillo for lunch. I had the most delicious chicken I can practically ever remember - boned, and chopped up, and then deep-fried - whilst the Technical Department had fried brains, which he proclaimed excellent, and Sarah had a dish of Tripe, ditto. She and I then had Crême Caramel, the texture of which was thicker than I would make it, but with the delicious and unexpected addition of flecks of orange peel in the mixture, and the TD had a tart with Crême Patissière and Wild Strawberries. Two carafes of house red to windward - to keep out the cold, you understand - and we were all set to declare victory and make our way back to the station, window-shopping the length of Via Tornabuoni as we did so.
And the Sad Day? Much lamentation......but Claudia has announced that she'll be closing down soon, for good, and the best pasta bar none that any of us have ever eaten will be no more. Her father and brother make it in their laboratorio in Via Tavoleria, and Papa is too old to carry on, and the brother has had enough of starting work at four o'clock in the morning for six days out of seven....And I suppose he can't be alone in that, since they seem to have given up hope of selling at as a going concern, and are merely going to shut down instead. The pasta they produce is of a quality almost unimaginable.......a texture which is soft and buttery, and in comparison with which all other pasta (even that painstakingly made at home, a mano) is frankly rather ordinary. I don't know whether it's the combination of flours that he uses, or a particular technique in the process, or - more probably - a combination of the two.
So......no more Casarecci, no more black ravioli stuffed with Branzino, no more melt-in-the-mouth Papardelle or Fettucine. It's good news for the waistline, but most definitely a ratchet downwards in the quality of life!
Onion Risotto, made with a rich Duck stock.
Bistecchie di Maiale, coated in minced Fennel and fried; Chard cooked with Chick-peas.
Apple Strudel (with a handful of dried Strawberries mixed in with the Apple...)