Monday, May 10, 2010

Happiness in a Cone

I’ve lived here for 3 months. You might think I’m sick of Tuscany and it’s rolling hills and vineyards and awe-inspiring landscapes…all that beauty must get overwhelming and old, right?

Nope. Loved every single second. And I’ll love all the seconds that are yet to come.

You might recall our first pilgrimage to San Gimignano, a medieval hill town in the Siena province. We went for one reason, and one reason only: gelato. And not just any gelato. Oh no. We’re talking the World Champion gelateria. Oh yes.

Our first trip in February was a huge disappointment when we, with tastebuds fully prepared for some cold, creamy amazingness, were met with a closed door and a sign that read: Closed until March 7th. ‘Let down’ doesn’t even begin to describe what we felt. [It certainly didn’t stop us from having a great time anyway!]

Now obviously, having developed into full-blown gelato connoisseurs during our semester here, this was not something Alaina and I were missing out on. Armed with a restaurant recommendation for lunch and 3 euro umbrellas, we ventured off…and got on the wrong train. Whoops! That’s the first time this has happened, which is pretty darn good for 3 months, right? [Humor us.] We did not miss a beat, hopped off at the next stop, and got cappuccinos while awaiting the right train to come along. One [correct] train + bus ride later, we were back in San Gimignano:

We found the restaurant relatively quickly, which our stomachs were greatly appreciative of ;) It was a little fancy-schmancier than we expected - the guide book that recommended said it was a "local favorite" and it seemed more like a hotel restaurant with nice tablecloths and multiple forks and all that high class business, but hey, we were up for anything.
I ordered bruschette miste, mixed bruschettas (toasted Tuscan bread with different toppings):
From left to right: Prosciutto (a darker kind than usual?) and melted cheese -- I'm 90% sure it was pecorino, roasted pepper/zucchini on melted mozzarella, and the classic tomatoes with olive oil, garlic and basil. The prosciutto-pecorino one was my fave (I know, you're shocked). I really just love bruschette - it's like pizza but more fun :)

I also got a side dish of roasted veggies - I was feeling like some fiber, I guess ;)
A tad heavy on the oil, but it's Italy, so at least it's really good olive oil they're bathing in. Roasted eggplant is one of my favorite foods. If you haven't  tried it, you must! It's perfect in the summer - just throw some on the grill, drizzle with a little balsamic, S + P, and you're good to go. I especially like the burned pieces, which is BAD because (as I learned in my cooking class) burnt foods contain free radicals that can cause really icky stuff in your body. So, if you're like me, up your antioxidant intake - they pretty much kick free radicals' cancer-causing butts!

After a lovely lunch, it was time. You know what for.
On our first attempt, the gelateria looked like this:

Ah, the fruits of tourist season.

After we elbowed and kneed our way into the teeny tiny store, we tried our best to scope out all the flavors - and there were a lot! Typical ones, like nocciola (hazelnut) and fondente (dark chocolate), but fun creative ones too, like raspberry with rosemary and pink grapefruit-champagne! After much rushed internal debate, I made my selection. I was not disappointed.
Dark chocolate, mint, and zabaione al vin santo 
That last one was an egg nog flavor spiked with Vin Santo, the sweet Tuscan dessert wine traditionally served with little biscotti. I had a Vin Santo gelato before and really liked it, and when I saw the eggnog flavor added, my choice was made. Mint and chocolate for me are no-brainers; when I was little my hardest decision at the candy store was between Junior Mints and York Peppermint Patties. Definitely one of the most wonderful flavor combos ever.
Now, as for the gelato? It was good. Even great. One of the best I've had in my almost-4-months here. The cone itself was wonderful - made with almond extract that went perfectly with the eggnog flavor. Come to think of it, they make pumpkin egg nog - I think almond egg nog would be to die for! Culinary innovations aside, this was good, but I must say my gelato-lovin heart still belongs to Perche No. Vestri has by far the best dark chocolate - the rich flavor and creamy texture is exactly what gelato should be; but Perche No has more flavors, uses all-natural ingredients that you can taste, and have the best soy gelato ever. But, this vin santo-egg nog was definitely one of the best flavors I've tasted. We were happy, happy ragazze

We did some shopping - San Gimignano has some great pottery places that are perfect for gifts! We made it back a liiiittle later than planned due to finicky train schedules, but we're pretty used to that.
We made reservations at Trattoria 4 Leoni, a restaurant recommended to my mom by one of her real estate clients as their "favorite restaurant in Florence." (Clearly they have not been to Sergio's.) Because my parents were held hostage in America in April because of that evil Icelandic volcano, they took my roommates and I out to dinner from across the Atlantic! Being the good college kids we are and always up for free food, we were pretty excited.

The restaurant is on the other side of the Arno River (Oltrarno), where I almost wish I lived just because the minute you get to that side it becomes so much quieter. Fewer tourist attractions. 
4 Leoni was in a little piazza off a main road. The decor was very cute - teal stucco with uncovered bricks artistically placed. Very upscale, too. So far, so good!
We started with an antipasto plate of - what else? - mixed pecorino!
Pecorini misti
There were 3 different types of pecorino with a little bowl of honey for drizzling and pear slices. Pear and pecorino is another stellar flavor combo - and honey just puts it over the edge! The fruitiness works with the softness of the cheese and the honey accents the strong taste that I can only describe is cheesy - it's Finals week, give me a break :) All I have to say is, I better be able to find pecorino at home. I might cry...or just move back here.

And then, dinner was served...
Insalata 4 Leoni
This salad, served in a huge cabbage leaf, was arugula, emmenthal cheese (a kind of mild swiss), avocado, and pine nuts drizzled with arugula pesto. Yes, you read that right - pesto made with arugula instead of basil! I saw that and had to try it. I think I have mentioned my arugula obsession - I never tire of it. It just makes such a flavorful salad! It's got a very strong, peppery flavor that's perfect with balsamic vinegar. The pesto was good, but a little too salty - I wish they had offered a pasta dish with it, I think the fact that the salad itself was arugula-based made the pesto's flavor get a little lost. But really, I adored this - the pine nuts were a great addition, and the mild emmenthal matched the strong arugula really nicely. Might have to recreate this at home.
Since we had already had gelato, we went a different direction for dessert...
Tiramisu. Can't go wrong with a classic.
I think the best I've had was the one we made waaaaay back during our orientation week here (pre-blog - say what??), but really, tiramisu is hard to screw up. It's just such a good combo - coffee, cocoa, marscapone; creamy, cakey...mmm. Tiramisu is one of my favorite desserts in general; it's hard to for me to speak badly of it, ever.

All in all, a very culinarily-satisfying day. Aren't those the best?

Thanks Mom & Dad!!!

1 comment:

  1. You are welcome, BG and all your roomies! Glad you had a good time. It sounds delightful so definitely on the list when we return to replace The Trip That Never Was (Icelandic volcanoes--grrrrr). The San Gm. photos are GREAT.

    Can't wait to see you. Feels much more momentous you returning from Italy than from South Carolina! But we will be happy to have you home for a while no matter from where!

    Love you!