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January 26, 2005

Running around like a chicken without its head cut off

I finally took a bunch of photos today. Figures, though, it would be in a market. The Mercato Centrale in Florence to be exact, which is not unlike a smaller, less hectic version of the Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia, an indoor market in a large building with multiple meat, fish, vegetable, and oil/vinegar vendors, some stands to get lunch, a few places selling things like wine or kitchen gadgets or dried pasta and dried mushrooms. Small, but a really nice market. It made me want to cook something.

My main observations, which I'll supplement with the illustrations I took today when I get back:

  • Chickens look different. For one thing, they have more color, which somehow also looks like they'll have more flavor. For another, they still have their heads attached. Yum. Chicken head.

  • Fish are apparently more appetizing to purchase when they are arranged artfully in geometric patterns. Especially small, pink fish. Shrimp prefer to be lined up.
  • Sicilian oranges are special enough that they get special, individual wrappings.
  • Pasta can be made in a wide array of horrifying electric colors.

I had a recommendation for a particular spot in the market to get lunch, so that was the first agenda item for the day. (I had a late start of it because I got caught up in the novel I was reading and stayed up till dawn reading it. If you're interested, it was Paul Watkins' "The Story of my Disappearance". It's the most compelling of his novels I've read so far.) The place is called Nerbone, and they serve hot food, a a la carte, over the counter. You can then sit in the freezing cold at one of the tables in the market and enjoy it. They had a variety of pasta, meat, and vegetable dishes. I opted for the trippa a la fiorentina and sauteed spinach.

First, the spinach, was the best I've had here. I've been ordering spinach with garlic everywhere they have it, because I love me some spinach, dontcha know, and this stuff was just outstanding. They dressed it upon plating with some very fruity extra virgin olive oil, which was seriously just the thing.

The tripe. I know some of you will just never get my love of offal, and that's fine. I'm happy to be thought of as a bit gruesome and strange if that's what it takes to be able to continue enjoying the special pleasures of organ meats. And I do. In fact, about the only offal I've tried that I thought was awful was scrambled pigs' brains. Tripe, however, is something that I just haven't had much exposure to, other than in Pho. So I was looking forward to trying some here, since I know from Mario Battali's tour of Italy show that Italians are particularly fond of the nasty parts of animals. And trippa a la fiorentina just sounds so good--meltingly tender strips of the stuff cooked in a tomatoey sauce, topped with parmagiano-reggiano.

And it was so, so good. What a lunch. Certainly beats a cheesesteak with onions at the Reading Market!

Having finished lunch, and with a belly full of, well, belly, I headed toward the Uffizi.

On my way, though, the pastries started their serenade as I passed bakery after bakery. Finally, I realized that I had no choice in the matter and stopped in one to purchase a baby sfogliatelle. If there is a cult of born-again pastry lovers, I'll be the first to sign up for their services. It was like no sfogliatelle I've had before. Actually, that's not true. It was just like the best sfogliatelle I've had, only better. The outer layer of thin sheets of crispy pastry forming the clamshell crumbled in dust upon biting into it, leaving a little pile of the stuff laced with powdered sugar for me to sneak a final lick at when I was finished. Just like they ought to. But it was the filling that blew me away. Not particularly sweet, and the ricotta was so light and not smooth so it had great texture. Again, the merest hint of some lemon zest in it. Oh it was heaven. If Eve had been tempted with one of these instead of an apple, I can assure you we'd all be burning in hell for her transgression, not just tossed from the garden.

And then the museum. Which is great. Impressive and full of Michaelangelos and Caravaggios and Botecellis and the like. Great masters. Roomsful of them.
I want to like art. I really do. I want to discuss paintings and their symbolism and revolutionary approaches to brushstrokes and the crisis of form and stuff like that. But really, I'm kind of still all "paintings shmaintings". Is that really bad? Maybe it's that I'm hoping to learn something from seeing these, and I'm not, other than picking up some context for cultural references (which I'm uncultured enough to say I can get from watching a lot of Simpsons episodes as well).

One thing I did get, though was what people mean when they say some woman reminds them of a Botticelli. Not that anyone's ever said that me, but, you know, in movies and such. Well, I saw a lot of Botticelli's today, and based on that experience, I'm guessing it means that she's blond, has a disproportionately long nose and either a wistful or pained expression on her face. I think it's a pick-up line that would need to be applied carefully, since I could see a few interpretations in which that wouldn't seem overly flattering. But that's me. What do I know? I'm impressed with the Italian art of fish arranging.

Posted by paulette at January 26, 2005 10:32 AM | TrackBack
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Don't feel bad, P... David and I were not overly fond of the Uffizi either. Bad organization, poor hanging, schizophrenic lighting, terrible conservation techniques, and quite honestly, too much stuff together with not enough of a narrative line.

David and I, however, obviously didn't eat enough pastries in Florence. We'll just have to go back!

Posted by: jay on January 26, 2005 03:37 PM
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