TO MARKET, TO MARKET… IN TUSCANY
“You cannot, I must repeat cannot, understand Tuscan food without going to the market,” says Libero Sarceni, the chef/owner of Tre Pini, a ristorante in the tiny village of Pozzlatico close to Florence.
“Before the eating, comes the cooking, before the cooking, comes the market. Every day if necessary if you are eating every day.”
Sarceni (above), who looks as if he has never gone hungry a day in his life, has taken on the task of initiating our eager group into the secrets of Tuscan cooking. We are travelling through Italy with Trafalgar and our Italian cooking class with Libero is a Be My Guest experience, a Trafalgar exclusive that gives insider access into locals’ homes, famous vineyards and, in this case, a bustling family restaurant.
But before we head for our cooking lesson we must practice what Libero preaches and do the market.
Libero’s market of choice in Florence is the bustling Mercat Sant Ambrogio on Piazza Ghiberti. Inside the cavernous 1860s building, he introduces us to his amicos, the shopkeepers, who meet his enthusiastic greeting with offers of the local produce.
“The best, the best,” they all insist, pointing out cheeses, mounds of fish, seafood, meats, sausages and olives, and pastas of every imaginable size and shape. Libero has an opinion on each, most of them favourable. Outside, the fruits and vegetables of the region are piled high. Everywhere, inside and out, there is bread.
“We love our bread in Tuscany. It is the base of so much of our cooking,” explains Libero, adding that Tuscan bread is not like any other. Of course.
His assertion is not merely the boast of a proud man. Only one Tuscan bread – schiacciata — is made using salt. As is so often the case in Italy, there is history attached, and Libero is just the man to tell it, bringing the story to life with flourishes and frowns.
Way back in the Middle Ages the powers-that-were decided to tax salt, so the bakers did what honest men the world over would do when confronted by such an indignity, they revolted by refusing to add salt to their bread.
“Because of that our breads are much more delicate, they have a beautiful texture, more beautiful than any other,” says Sarceni in case we get the idea that anything about Tuscany is less than perfect. (Having spent a couple of days with Trafalgar meandering through the golden Tuscan hills, exploring vineyards and olive groves and watching the sun set over Florence, no one in our group is about to quibble with his assessment.)
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