There's something both peaceful and invigorating about fresh produce and artisans at work in local markets. Strolling through them is how we savour sights on both our Sweet Trip to Paris, as well as our Tuscan Culinary Adventure - both taking place next October.
In Florence, the recently renovated Mercato Centrale is ripe for sumptuous experiences. The 10 000 square foot indoor market underwent a revitalization in 2014, now boasting beautiful modern aesthetics while still offering the quality and nostalgia of the historic market. Locals and visitors of San Lorenzo enjoy the gourmet fare, locally grown and imported produce, a cooking school and artisan shoppes. All visitors share a common passion for food appreciation. Here are a few highlights.
Consider these like showcases of Italian specialties. Favorites include mozzarella di bufala, Southern-Italian style pizza, a Chianti wine tasting corner, gelato & chocolate stand, veggie stand where you can get freshly squeezed juice or soup puree, fresh seafood, handmade pasta, straight-out-the-wood-oven bread, craft beers and other street foods. Though "street foods," these items are epicurean to say the least, as preserving the integrity of purist Italian cooking is what many purveyors of the market are all about. Items like coccoli (fried bread) are served perfectly hot and crisp, while a large-batch asparagus risotto boasts farm-fresh simplicity. "
Il Tartufo offers an excellent array of truffles (sort of like the ones we'll be hunting on our Tuscan Culinary Adventure!). The Savini Family ups the ante of pastas, salads and spreads with their seasonally cultivated truffles. They've even been known to elevate beers with their uniquely aromatic produce as well.
Another place to find exceptionally fresh, quality food is at La Pasta Fresca. Everything from the eggs to the extra virgin olive oil used in chef Raimondo Mendolia's creations are locally sourced and organic. Not only does the "Doctor Chef" prepare traditional dishes like tagliatelle, tortellini and raviloli, he also gets creative with savoury and sweet pastries. Mendolia is also known for his charismatic cooking shows in the market's event spaces.
World-class (and Baking World Cup awarded - yes that's a thing!) pastries from David Bedu are other must-grab items to pick up as your stroll through the Mercatto. The PANK bakery uses classic techniques and natural ingredients to create amazing sweets, as well as traditional bread varieties including Pane di San Lorenzo and Pan a la Reyne.
Family-Run Restaurant Stalls
At Nerbone Cafeteria, made to order sandwiches have been called some of the best by Florence locals, and it's evident when you see the hordes of people lined up at lunchtime. This cafeteria-style spot is renown for its cucina povera (poor people’s food) and other Tuscan dishes. Their specialty sandwich, the panino con bollito, consists of boiled beef between two pieces of bread that have been dipped in the cooking broth, then topped with salsa verde and salsa piccante (yes - calling it "hot" is an understatement!). Nerbone is located the southern end of the market and for five to eight Euros, you can continue northbound guilt-free!
Of course, one can't visit Italy without a classic pizzeria stop, and Sud it just that and then some. The casual open-kitchen counter produces the same exceptional pies as their sister spot Caffè Italiano, known locally as one of the best pizzerias in Florence. Using the freshest ingredients and honing both Neapolitan and Italian traditions is something that professionally recognized chef Romualdo Pizzuti emphasizes in all his creations. Even their cheesecake is apparently out of this world!
You could easily spend an entire afternoon at Mercatto Centrale. And we can't wait to explore it and other beautiful areas of Florence on our Tuscan Culinary Adventure next fall!