Friday, June 22, 2007

The Markets of Florence

I’ve made no secret of my adoration for markets – particularly open air ones. This blog is, after all, primarily concerned with my interaction with the food markets in Manhattan, and so it will come as no surprise that the spectacular markets of Florence were foremost on my list to revisit this trip.

Shopping for food is as close to hunting and gathering as most of us get on a daily basis, and, in all its tactile sniffing and tasting, the act of choosing and purchasing food forms a subliminal channel to our need to maintain health and sustain life itself. As our friend Piero Camporesi has noted, in old Italian, food was spoken of as munizioni di bocca or munitions of the mouth. And so we are reminded of the relentless battle humans have faced through the ages to find or grow food and feed their own.

Open-air markets are vigorous centers of gathering and exchange, and it’s wondrous to stop and realize what an ancient institution this is that survives in modern countries today. Florence has a wealth of markets, some of which have operated on the same sites for centuries.

The Mercato Sant’Ambrogio is located in the Piazza Lorenzo Ghiberti. The stalls outside feature a vast array of seasonal fruits and vegetables, as well as flowers and flea market items.

Indoors, a stunning selection of meats, whole chickens, cheeses, salumi, oils, wine, spice blends, fresh and dried pastas, steel bins of soaking baccala bagnato, and fresh seafood await.

Friends took me to their favorite Bertagni stall inside where we bought pungent bresaola (air-dried beef), sweet prosciutto, creamy ricotta, and buffalo mozzarella so tender and fresh that it released great pools of milk when we sliced it at home.

Next I went to see the Mercato Cascine, primarily a vast flea market, but also stocked with beautiful produce and lunch stalls. Great cans of sardines and anchovies preserved in salt or oil are stacked alongside dry baccala. There are crates of beautiful baby lettuces and the eggs “fresche da bere (fresh enough to drink) that I’ve written about before.

For lunch there’s polenta fritta, porchetta sandwiches sliced off of great fennel-infused pork roasts whose heads, still attached, smile across the counter at you, and the ominous panini con lampredotto. Lampredotto is the lining of a cow’s 4th and final stomach – far ruddier than the comparatively pristine trippa and centopelle or the 1st and 2nd or 3rd stomach linings.

The magnificent Marco of Tripperia M & L at the Mercato Centrale, Florence’s largest food market, will teach you all about lampredotto as well as any other innards you can imagine (and some you can’t).

I watch him cube diaframma manzo or cow diaphragm (“good for barbeque,” he remarks) for a customer before he turns to deliver an anatomy lesson to me.

Suddenly the diaframma seems tame. Here’s nervetti cotti, boiled, transluscent white beef nerves Marco says are “nice for salad.” There’s buddelina maiale or pork intestines (“wash very well”), and over there’s musetto crudo or cow’s face (“slice very thin’). When I ask about the poppa mucca he smiles and tells me “I don’t have, but you have 2.” It takes me a moment before realizing I’m looking at udders. He sends me off a wiser woman with a booklet of recipes for delicacies including poppa crostini and risotto col lampredotto.

But it’s not all blood and guts at the Mercato Centrale. Candied carrots, kiwis, melon, and tomatoes sparkle like jewels.

Fresh pasta is cut to order when your timing’s right, and stunning fish stalls line the far corner. Upstairs lie the beautiful fruits and vegetables. On my way out, I stop at Marco Salumi e Formaggi on Marco’s recommendation to buy some pecorino dolce (fresh, creamy sheep’s milk cheese), some wild boar prosciutto, and a hunk of my beloved finocchiona (Tuscan pork salami with fennel), which this 2nd Marco (pictured at the top) kindly vacuum packs for me.

I stuff the great hunks of meat and cheese into my bag feeling more than adequately “munitioned” for the long months ahead back in Manhattan.

Mercato Sant’Ambrogio
Via dei Macci, Piazza Lorenzo Ghiberti
Open Monday – Saturday, 7:30am – 1:30pm

Mercato Cascine
Viale Lincoln, Parco delle Cascine
Open Tuesdays, 8am – 2pm
Open Sundays before Easter and Christmas Day, 8am – 2pm

Mercato Centrale
Piazza del Mercato Centrale
Open Monday – Saturday, 9am – 2pm

Tripperia Marco e Lorella
Mercato Centrale, Stand 266-267
(Tel: 055211270)


JennDZ - The Leftover Queen said...

This is my favorite Florence post so far! I am an avid fan of open air markets as well and this looks wonderful. Like heaven! Enjoy!

foodette said...

Wow, I would not have the "stomach" for many of those items, but it's so fascinating. I would love to eat the many types of veggies, fruits, cheeses, salamis, and of course, fresh pastas, though. Thanks for all the great pics!

foodette said...

Also, I wanted to let you know that I tagged you on a fun meme. Check it out when you have some time. Hope you don't mind.

sognatrice said...

I love open air markets're tempting me to take a trip to Florence just for this!

Betty C. said...

Lovely photos -- I always enjoy going to a market in a big city.

Cynthia said...

Heaven - that's where you are in these markets.

Figs Olives Wine said...

Jenn, it was truly wonderful! There's nothing like a gorgeous food market, is there?

Foodette,I'm not brave enough either, which is a very poor show for a chef indeed! I'll check out the meme when I have more regular access to internet again. Right now it's quite catch as catch can!

Sognatrice, the summer markets in Firenze are magnificent, as long as you can face all the tourists after the unsullied bliss I imagine you living in down in Calabria!!

Hi Betty, I totally agree! Such a great way to get a feel for the city!

Cynthia, I know! I'm feeling very spoiled. You must have some cool markets where you are too, though, no?

Anonymous said...

Amanda, this writing and these photos are exquisite! I love your site!

Figs Olives Wine said...

Thanks for your kind words, anonymous. Please stay in touch!

Sandi @ the WhistleStop Cafe said...

I can't believe I stumbled into your blog-world. I am so glad you took me on a tour of the market...I have missed the sounds and the smells.
I won't be back myself again until next spring~ you will help me get through!
In the mean time I will sit back with a prosecco...of course with basil.

Figs Olives Wine said...

Thank you Sandi, and thanks for stopping by! Are you going to Florence in the spring? How fabulous! Enjoy the prosecco, and do stay in touch!

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