Virtually everyday a post pops up in Google Reader about how someone was craving pasta, and ate it with just some butter and garlic, and it was the best thing ever. Blog after blog raves about roasted vegetables, rocket and parmasan. The shelves of the cookery department in every bookshop groan under the weight of Italian cook books. Every other cookery magazine has an Italian special, and as we approach summer, the Sunday supplements are filled with Mediterranean-style food.
Sure, I'll eat Italian food. I'll even enjoy some pizza. I don't mind risotto. But if I have the choice, I'll almost never choose Italian food. My theory was that it is a cuisine that requires fresh, high quality produce, something we don't get too much of in UK supermarkets. Even good grocers and markets don't always have the right ingredients, as the climate of Britain is just not hot enough to produce a lot of Italian fruits and vegetables. I did also wonder if maybe I just wasn't getting it. Perhaps there was some secret that I wasn't privy to.
T surprised me with an end of uni holiday to Florence. Yay! As well as being excited about seeing some old paintings in the Uffizi, some Italian Gothic architecture, I was excited to try the food. Maybe Italian food in Italy would be different to what we get here? Maybe I would like it?
The first night we stopped for dinner at a restaurant near our hotel in the Santa Maria Novella district. La Spada is a traditional "spit roast" style restuarant, with all the main courses either grilled or roasted. I went for Gnocchi Bolognese followed by grilled veal chops. T had Penne al Sorrentina and then roast chicken. We also ordered some Tuscan beans, but they mysteriously disappeared (but did not reappear on the bill luckily).
The gnocchi bolognese was good, but I still didn't love it. The bolognese was meaty and unctious, and the gnocchi was tender and pillowy. The portion was small, but still very filling. However, it just didn't do it for me. I couldn't imagine ever craving this dish in the same way I do other foods.
Then came the veal chop. I was in two minds about ordering this, as part of me knew it was probably white veal, which is evil. On the other hand, it was already done and dead*, and I've been wanting to try veal for ages (especially since I found out rose veal is not evil). The potatoes that accompanied it were again technically good, but not very exciting. The veal chop was massive, and I wondered how Italians can manage a starter, pasta course, main course and pudding without feeling physically ill most of the time.
The chop was one of the most delicious things I have ever tasted. The outside was crispy and blackened from the chargrill, but inside was soft, tender, and slightly pink still. The beef flavour was subtler than steak, but still well defined and meaty. I ignored the potatoes and concentrated on eating the veal.
While I am still not converted to the delights of pasta, I am now hankering after another bite of that veal.
We skipped pudding, although I noticed a table opposite having some cantucci. If I can find some vin santo in Edinburgh I might give that a go at home.
*Of course, it was done and dead because they knew someone like me would come in and order it, but if we are getting down that path then it all gets a bit philosophical. Plus from a utilitarian viewpoint, veal is better than just putting male dairy calves down the moment they emerge from the womb. Got to love Ethics A-Level.