With the love of food running through my veins, I went in search of mind-blowing meals in Florence last winter. After all, what could go wrong? Tuscany is famed for its rustic cuisine and good living – as Hollywood testifies in Eat, Pray, Love and Under the Tuscan Sun – so when a friend of mine recommended a family-run restaurant in central Florence, I’m up and ready to go.
Located in the eastern section of the city, I Ghibellini is run by the Bianchi-Ballerini family. They specialize in traditional Florentine and Tuscan cuisine, with many of their dishes created in-house. The menu reads like an ingredients list, and one of the best descriptions includes: A soup made vegetables in season as they did the grandmothers. One never forgets Nonna (grandmother). Ever.
With a jug of house wine at the table, onwards we go to the food!
We skipped the appetizers, preferring to go straight to the plat principal. At first glance, my pasta was not remarkable. There wasn’t any extraordinary garnishing and the ingredients were common items: pancetta, zucchini and radicchio lightly fried with olive oil and pepper. But one should never judge Tuscan food by looks alone – their bread is famed for not containing salt, but one taste and you’ll never forget it. The pasta was well balanced, with the zucchini and radicchio heading the lighter flavors and the pancetta bringing up the rear with its smoky, salty seasoning.
But alas, my gleefulness of having selected a great dish was quickly eclipsed by the arrival of the house pasta, chosen by my friends.
This, my friends, is heaven on a plate – and it’s vegetarian too! Homemade pasta (pici) with braised porcini mushrooms (a staple in Florentine cooking), parsley, garlic, olive oil and a good drizzling of truffle oil. The pasta was fresh, and softer than your store-bought boxed pasta. This is definitely for those of you who love nice robust flavors. The porcini and parsley balanced light and robust well, while the truffle gave it a good kick. The combination was both decadent and luxurious.
Nonetheless, this being the first time I had been to a Florentine restaurant, I would be remiss if I hadn’t tried their desserts!
Behold, the fabulous tiramisu. An excellent blend of mascarpone cheese, heavy cream, lady fingers (savoiardi), sugar and egg yolks topped with a dusting of cocoa powder and chocolate! More like pudding than a cake, the tiramisu was soft and light on the tongue but the Marsala wine and coffee added a good kick to every bite. By far the best tiramisu I’ve ever had, it was gone in a flash.
So, whether you’re on SLC’s Florence program or visiting the area, definitely drop by I Ghibellini. When visiting during the winter, you could do worse than wander about Piazza Santa Croce’s famed Christmas market before walking the three blocks to the restaurant.
I Ghibellini, Piazza San Pier Maggione, 8 – Firenze.
©Images by Jing Min Chia