“You may have the universe if I may have Italy”
~ Giuseppe Verdi, Italian opera composer
A good siesta after our long lunch at the world’s best restaurant for 2016, Mysaucepan and I find renewed energy and excitement as we head off from Modena towards the capital of Tuscany.
“All’alba vincerò! … Vinceròòòòòòò! Viiiiinceeeeeròòòòòòòò!” I imitate Pavarotti belting out the last two verses of Nessun dorma from Puccini’s Turandot as we cruise at 140 kilometres per hour on the freeway from Modena towards the capital of Tuscany.
“Drive carefully!!!” Mysaucepan shrieks, momentarily interrupting my singing.
I have read about the romance of Tuscany and our excitement builds each time a Firenze signage appears on the road.
Florence, the capital of Tuscany
Considered the birthplace of the renaissance, Florence puts on a glorious winter day as we head out for a walk.
Atop Piazzale Michelangelo where a statue of David stands proudly over the the city, we soak in panoramic views with the Ponte Vecchio bridge across the Arno river.
Il Mercato Centrale, Firenze
After a few hours of sightseeing, we take a stroll through the Central Market of Florence with its mouth-watering array of fresh fruits, vegetables and meats.
“I’m hungry” I say to Mysaucepan as we gaze at glorious cold meats, antipasto and chefs tossing pasta over hot stoves.
I have been saving my appetite for a good steak Fiorentine for more than a week since we first arrived in Venice.
Although this cut of T-bone is extremely tempting with its fat and sinew trimmed off the sides, I am saving my first for a restaurant renowned for its bistecca Fiorentina from Chianina beef.
We are travelling in the thick of the European winter and the sight of these veal cheeks are conjuring a hearty slow stew with rich red wine jus.
How about roast chicken with Italian sun-dried tomatoes and a parsnip mash washed down with an aged chardonnay?
Compared to Australian lamb cutlets, this rack of lamb is a steal especially when trimmed French style too.
It has been about two weeks away from home and I am beginning to feel a craving a roast rack of lamb.
These ducks look absolutely enticing for a Sunday roast but what is the Italian equivalent for a good pinot noir to match with it?
Rabbit is sold with kidneys in and these look glorious for a slow stew in the pot.
I love beef tendon in a hearty bowl of Vietnamse pho but I have not seen cooked beef tendons in any food market in Sydney.
Antipasto platters are found everywhere in this market surrounded by bottles of chianti in their straw baskets.
This straw basket is known as a fiasco (plural fiaschi), perhaps to aptly describe the situation when a group of Italian men are having a bottle of chianti each.
The essence of Tuscany ~ this charcuterie platter of salami, prosciutto, salsiccia, soppressata, green olives, pecorino, artichokes, sundried tomato and eggplant looks absolutely divine.
Paper-thin shavings of prosciutto are popular as a delicious takeaway snack while browsing for more food.
Sundried tomatoes are deep red and take on an intense flavour that is perfect for soups and stews.
The aroma of these porcini mushrooms are wonderfully earthy and intoxicating. How good would these be in a mushroom soup or risotto al funghi!
Citrus fruits are in season and we have been having glorious blood oranges and breakfast every morning.
These clementines are sweet and juicy with intense citrus flavours.
Antipasto platters are made up of different combinations of cheese, cold meats, salads and bread.
After wondering around the market for an hour, we have worked up a healthy appetite for lunch.
This central market has two levels. On the ground level, there are fresh meat, vegetables, fruits and light meals such as charcuterie platters. Head up a flight of stairs and you will find an array of food outlets some of which offer bar dining and a large seating area in the middle.
It is lunchtime and this place is packed to the brim. It is no easy task finding seats though most diners are happy to share tables.
Hence, our food dilemma begins with so much on offer.
Mysaucepan and I are eyeing what appears to be one of the most popular dishes.
A creamy plate of tagliatelle with generous shavings of black truffle seems to be the order of the day.
Tartufo nero pergiato meaning fine black truffle or otherwise known as “black gold”.
Il Tartufo is selling all kinds of food products infused with black truffle from pasta sauces, creams to olive oils.
Chefs are busy churning out dishes at a furious pace and I wonder if the food might be better during off-peak times.
Limiting the intake of calories is extremely difficult with so much food so we start with just one plate of tagliolini al tartufo.
The fresh tagliolini is boldly al dente as it should be though I would have liked the cream sauce a little richer. Still, the generous shavings of black truffle immediately elevate flavours with its intense earthy aromas.
Prices here are a little more expensive and I suspect it is because this place is popular with tourists.
There are so many enticing menus but a hotdog or hamburger is not what I have in mind for lunch.
The sight of these rib-eye and T-bone steaks is truly a meat-lover’s paradise.
Finally, an item on a menu caught my eye as I am eager to see if a bolognese in Florence can match the incredible tagliatelle al ragu I had in Bologna.
A 2014 Villa La Palagina Chianti Riserva is predominantly made with sangiovese with a small amount of cabernet sauvignon and merlot.
Easy drinking with a hint of oak, this wine would pair beautifully with a charred beef steak or a red sauce pasta which is what I ordered.
My tagliatelle con bolognese di Chianina al coltello nicely al dente.
Unlike the tagliatelle al ragu in Bologna, the bolognese sauce has more intense tomato flavours with visible bits of carrot.
Chunks of Chianina beef make this a hearty lunch though Bologna still rightly retains its reputation as the bolognese capital of the world.
So dear readers, what is your favourite Italian dish?
Il Mercato Centrale
50123 Firenze, Italia
Opening hours: Daily from 8am to 12am
Tel: +39 055 239 9798