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Food & Travel Blog

Dippin' My Biscuit in Florence

Crostini with truffles, cheese (taleggio if I had to guess), and something sausageish at Volpi e L’Uva, a broom closet of a wine bar in Florence. This I washed down with an Italian Viognier, which I didn’t know existed. Viognier is at home in the Loire Valley, not Tuscany. Finding expat grape varietals is a joy, kind of like finding a pine tree in the high desert.

I should mention that I really wanted to go to a Tuscan wine bar but wasn’t sure I’d find the right company for it. My 21-year old hostel compatriots don’t like wine (does rail vodka kill that many tastebuds?). But Tinder, God bless it, delivered unto me a friendly British tour guide for the evening. He was a great conversationalist and a helpful menu translator.

Fat spaghetti by another name with an Italian fennel sausage and the house red at Trattoria 4 Leoni. I’m a pasta convert! I didn’t cook much of it in the past but now I can’t imagine going a week without it. Pasta is comforting, cheap, filling, and maybe not that bad for you if you cook it al dente. This particular dish was good but entirely replicable: I could have it at home if I crushed tomatoes and crumble store-brand Italian sausage over spaghetti.

Vin santo and cantucci, a kind of biscotti meant to be dipped into the vin santo. I’m convinced: Americans are less civilized for our abdication of dessert wine. It’s a honey-nut artifice for lengthening a good night out. It’s also the perfect sweet-and-sour dipping sauce for crunchy, crumbly, almond biscotti. The vin santo softens the cookie’s crumb — the trick is to make sure it dissolves in your mouth and not in the wine.

Fun fact: When Italian men brag to their friends about having sex, they claim they dipped their biscuit. Maybe that’s crude, but I’d be flattered to have my vagina compared to dessert wine. In case you’re wondering, no such comparisons were drawn that evening. The Brit left with a bone-dry biscuit.

No less than three simple carbohydrates, butter, jam, powdered orange juice, and instant coffee for my complimentary hostel breakfast. The three carbohydrates were (1) a slice of prepackaged chocolate swiss roll; (2) a plastic-wrapped croissant, sourced from an economy sized bag of plastic-wrapped croissants; and (3) two slices of mass manufactured white bread. I’ve had this breakfast for the past four mornings, so I’ve developed the habit of smearing half of the butter on my white bread and eating the rest of the butter straight out of the foil, like a street urchin in the dumpster of a Days Inn. The plastic-wrapped croissant I dip in coffee, to make the coffee taste better.

Six fried pizza dough dumplings with mozzarella and prosciutto, and a single fried pizza dough dumpling stuffed with ‘nduja. This was too much. I didn’t think I would get a plate of fried pizza dough dumplings with prosciutto and cheese: I thought I would get one fried pizza dough dumpling with a lacy slice of prosciutto and a nubbin of mozzarella tucked inside. Hence the decision to order the ‘nduja dumpling. Nonetheless, I ate the whole salty, greasy meal and left feeling uncomfortably full. It was a helpful overindulgence in that it put me off Florentine food on my last night here.

Paccheri pasta with olive pesto, spinach, and tuna. This I prepared on a hot plate in my hostel kitchen, in an attempt to be frugal. But I wasn’t frugal. When you divide up the cost of my ingredients, I paid five euro per meal. I can get a massive lampredotto sandwich — that’s cow’s stomach — for the same amount. I was complaining about this to my 21-year old hostel compatriots and they laughed. Paccheri? Tuna? Olive pesto? What was I, rich? Budget travelers are meant to make a meal out of a can of crushed tomatoes, a bulb of garlic, and the cheapest spaghetti on the shelf. You live, you learn, you have lampredotto sandwiches for dinner.

Jessica Guzik