San Lorenzo, Florence, Italy
Text & Photo © JE Nilsson, CM Cordeiro-Nilsson 2008
San Lorenzo in Florence has a charm of its own quite different from other cities of Italy that I’ve visited. A main marketing district, it’s historical buildings, its winding streets that interconnect that seem to make all things of interest within walking distance to each other really grounds your perspective as to how this place might have functioned hundreds of years ago.
The Church of San Lorenzo.
And, I love marketing.
It doesn’t matter which country I visit, it’s the sights, sounds and aromas of the local markets that draw me to their heart. Piazza del Mercato Centrale is no exception and I found myself walking end to end under the roof of the main market, curious at what they had to offer.
Something familiar – dried fruits.
The aroma of the dried porcini was heavenly!
I think I brought back enough sun-dried tomatoes to last quite a few dishes!
At a shop that sold prosciutto crudo.
More than the goods for sale at the market, I found the people genuinely interested in sharing their narrative with you – how they got there and why, how long the family has been in business – all happily conversed over a taste of prosciutto or when bagging some dried fruit.
It was also of a certain convenience that located just beyond the coveted wet market, in a cozy corner of the Piazza del Mercato Centrale and one block from the Duomo di Firenze, Zà-Zà offers a reasonably priced menu for its large serving portions and top-notch location. In my observations, I noted that the serving portions of some pasta dishes were large enough to feed several and with some antipasti, it was enough for lunch for four persons.
At Trattoria Zà-Zà.
The trattoria has both indoor and outdoor seating and while it is more exciting to sit outdoors under the Tuscan sun, be sure to explore some indoors too. The rustic red-bricked interior with brass cages, draping grapevines and marble sculptures immediately creates a warm atmosphere and a feeling of travelling back in time upon entering, a contrast to the outdoor seating where you are exposed to the hustle and bustle of Florentine city life.
Of all dishes that we ordered, my favourites were the Caprice Salad and the Spaghetti con Vongole.
The Caprice Salad as presented by Zà-Zà’s.
Although mozarella cheese and tomatoes are not typically Tuscan, this dish, spartanly prepared with the freshest of ingredients, exuded the heart and soul of Tuscan cooking.
The recipe is simple with sun-ripened tomatoes and mozzarella cheese both sliced equally thick and alternated on the serving dish, as you see in the picture above. Drizzle over this arrangement, extra virgin olive oil. Season with dried basil, a generous sprinkling of rough sea salt, crushed black peppar and a few sprigs of fresh basil. The result is pure heaven to the palate.
Spaghetti con Vongole
Spaghetti con Vongole, as presented by Zà-Zà’s.
This dish was a most wonderful surprise to my tastebuds as I savoured the clam sauce drenched pasta, with its hint of white wine, garlic and parsley. It has since then, been one of my favourite Italian dishes that I would like to be able to recreate in my own kitchen.
In keeping with the spirit of Tuscan cooking, this dish is also simple in the making, though the key to its success lies in the quality and freshness of its ingredients. Only this specific type of clam (as pictured above) is used for this dish, any other type of clam will lend a pleasant but different dish altogether.
For a portion that serves two, you’ll need a handful of spaghetti, 250g of clams, 2 cloves of chopped garlic, a handful of parsley, extra virgin olive oil, a quarter cup of white wine and salt and pepper to taste.
The method for this dish begins with cleaning the clams in cold running water. While the clams are getting cleaned, proceed to cook the spaghetti. While the spaghetti is on the boil, pour a generous amount of olive oil in a deep pan and sauté the chopped garlic till they’re fragrant. Then add a handful of parsley, the white wine and the cleaned clams. Add sea salt and ground black pepper and stir.
Cover the deep pan until the clams are cooked and opened. You can continue to reduce the clam sauce some more for a fuller taste. Once the pasta is perfectly al dente pour the sauce over the spaghetti and serve at once. The guests should wait for the pasta, never the other way around.
In the after-lunch stroll, one of my favourite architectural wonders of the world – Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore – comes into sight.
In general, our dining experiences in Florence were overwhelmingly gratifying. The people in Tuscany know their produce and they know how to cook them. Eating out is an experience in itself. Food is generally different between regions in Italy and the local specialties are usually most rewarding to try when you are there. If you haven’t been to Italy before, take the time to figure out the menus so you can order properly. A full meal is antipasti (starter), pasta (first course), main meal (often meat with at least two side dishes), desert and for coffee – espresso, after meals. A full Italian dinner can rival a Chinese wedding dinner banquet in complexity and amount of dishes.
Admittedly rather touristy, our dining at Trattoria Zà-Zà’s was still a pleasant event to remember because of its prime location and their menu that offers a variety of Italian and Tuscan dishes right next to the Florence San Lorenzo wet market place that sells Tuscan produce! If the waiters seem to take their time, it’s is probably due to that Italians in general never rush through their meals, but rather enjoy savouring every dish in the pleasant company of friends and some good wine, for hours on end.