As she settles into the humdrum of Florentine life, Charity Keita discovers that cafes are called bars in Italy, that she hasn’t exactly fallen in love with the local breakfast culture but that Italians knock up a mean matumbo sandwich.
Italians don’t believe in brunch. Breakfasts too are a fairly restricted affair. For some, a cappuccino and a cornetto (an Italian pastry similar but not to be confused with its far more delicious and buttery cousin the French croissant) down at the bar will suffice. Others gulp down an espresso and do not touch food until lunch. Some insist that a fetta biscottata (a dry and brittle piece of bread which feels like sandpaper in the mouth) is a healthy option. Butter is viewed with suspicion and the mere mention of eggs, sausage and bacon elicits disgusted faces followed by the sounds of dry retching.
The concept of sipping on Bloody Marys at midday is considered the preserve of only the most voracious of alcoholics. I have now had to adapt myself to a life of no brunches and afternoon Bloody Marys. I have, though, had the opportunity to try some amazing twists on my beloved Bloody Mary: there’s been freshly picked and grilled tomatoes, there’s been an exciting anchovy sauce called colatura di alici and there’s been the discovery of bacon infused vodka. Yes, you heard me right: a vodka infusion made by rendering the fattiest of guanciale (cheek) bacon, pouring it into a bottle of vodka, vigorously shaking it for no less that ten minutes and then placing it upright in the freezer overnight to allow the fat to separate and solidify. The results are pure decadent bacon glory. Do not, I repeat, do not, try this with Kenyan bacon.
Here in Florence, if I were to cook my ideal brunch, there is one ingredient that would absolutely have to be included: lampredotto. Lampredotto is a Florentine dish made from the fourth and final stomach of a cow. What, you thought Italians only feasted on sausage, steaks, cold cuts and cheese? Turns out that up and down the peninsula there are more matumbo (offal) recipes than you can shake a stick at.
From the Roman rigatoni con la pajata, a pasta dish made with the intestine of a suckling veal/lamb that has not been cleaned out and is filled with creamy milky goodness, to panino con la meuza, Sicilian kidney sandwiches, and the elusive poppa cotta, steamed cows’ breasts (which I have not yet had the courage to try), it turns out that Italians go mad for offal! It is all part of what they call the tradition of cucina povera (paupers’ cuisine) and it’s surprisingly good.
Eventually I will find someone willing to share a brunch of bacon infused Bloody Mary, cow stomach on toast and scrambled eggs with me. I just mustn’t give up the search!
When in Florence:
Try a lampredotto sandwich at one of the many food trucks dotted around the city. One in particular, in the Borgo San Frediano area, enjoys an eclectic array of customers: from families, to Japanese tourists and construction workers on their lunch break, it’s an ideal place to people watch while you munch.
Visit Ganzo, the student-run “culinary laboratory” associated to the Apicius International School of Hospitality. Enjoy tasting menus, themed dinners or creative light lunches for a fraction of a regular upmarket restaurant price, all served up by delightful English-speaking food and wine school students.