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A small A to Z guide to food curiosities you can find in Florence - their history and description.

Negroni

The famous “Negroni” drink comes from a variation on the classic “Americano” (originally prepared in Caffè Casoni, very famous in the 1919’s, using red vermouth, Campari and Cinzano) which the barman had created for count Negroni. One day, the Count, had asked his barman to create something new, and Fausto Scarselli, the barman, then added some gin to the “Americano” and the cocktail for the Count was ready and perfect. Its name? Well, more and more people asked for the “Count Negroni's drink”, and the name stuck.

Cibreo

Cibreo” is a typical second main course dish of the Florentine cuisine; it was created under Catherine of Medici. She tried to introduce it into the French cuisine as successfully as the “papero al melarancio”, the famous “canard à l’orange”, or as the “zuppa di cipolle”, the equally famous “soupe d’oignons”; however this particular dish wasn’t as successful. Even though it was certainly one of Catherine’s favourites and she ate large quantities of it, it is actually a very simple dish: it’s chicken crests, wattles, livers and hearts enriched with meat broth, onions, sage, all bound together by an egg.

Bellini

The “Bellini” cocktail was born in the Summer of 1948 at Harry’s Bar in Venice. Its creator, Mr. Cipriani, decided one day to make a fresh and sparkling cocktail for those hot days, and gave it the name “Bellini” in honour of the famous painter, whose works were being exhibited that summer in Venice.

The original “Bellini” is made up of two parts of Prosecco, one part of fresh white peach juice and a few drops of fresh raspberry juice.

Harry’s Bar

Harry’s Bar takes its name from the American Harry Pickering, a man whom Giuseppe Cipriani had financially helped a few years before the opening of the Bar. The American wished to thank the restaurateur by helping him, this time opening what would become one of the most famous, elegant and classic bars in the world. It happened in 1931.

Companatico

Companatico means food thatgoes with bread, like a... side dish for bread.

Coquinarius

Coquinarius – means “of the kitchen”.

Trippai

The “trippai” are literally trippa (tripe) sellers, and for many centuries they have been served beef entrails from their carts (“carretti”) on the streets of Florence. They are fortunately spread in the most characteristic areas of ancient Florence, keeping the ancient custom of street food alive.

Fagioli all’uccelletto

“Fagioli all’uccelletto”. This dish, very well known, is called ‘all’uccelletto’, which literally means “the small bird way”, because sage, the herb used to give it its special flavour, used to be eaten by birds, or was used for cooking these birds in fact.

Etruscan dishes

Condiments in Etruscan dishes were of animal source.

Olive Oil

Olive Oil was originally (from the VII century B.C.) used for making ointments, creams and perfumes. Later on it began to be used as a dressing and cooking ingredient.

Wine

Wine was imported from the Greeks in the VIII century B.C. It was so strong that it had to be drunk with plenty of water.

Cakes

Cakes during the Medieval ages and Renaissance were not soft. They were luxury items, and so they had to resist long periods of transportations from one region to another until arriving well to its destination. Breads were, on the contrary, very soft, they could be considered the cakes for the common people, and many types of bread were created.

Arista

Arista comes almost certainly from the ancient Greek word “aristos”, which meaning “superb”.

Legend has it that the Byzantine patriarch came to Florence during the Ecumenical Council of 1439 and while eating a roasted pork loin exclaimed “aristos!”. The Florentine guests believed that that was the name of the loin for the patriarch and liked it. The name arista remained and is the name attributed to a roasted loin of pork.

However, some ancient documents point out that that name had existed since the 1200’s, so:

  1. either the name came from the Greek perfume merchants who had been living in Florence since the 1200’s, or
  2. the name came from the Latin “arìsta”, perhaps meaning “what stays at the top”, as the loin is located at the top...

Bistecca alla fiorentina

The original name for the bistecca alla fiorentina(Florentine steak), or more simply “bistecca”, was “carbonata” (lit. “charbroiled” meat).

The name “bistecca” comes from the English “beef-steak”; according to a legend, a beef was being roasted on a spit in Piazza San Lorenzo in 1565 to be fed to the people; some English visitors were there and started screaming “beef-steak!”, which was immediately adopted by the creative Florentines as “bistecca”.

Alchermes

The Alchermes is original ancient Florentine liquor, which has a very unique name and colour, an intense scarlet. The name… comes from its colour. And the colour… comes from the name of the cochineal insect, which produces that colour.

In Spanish, this insect was called “alquermes”, from the Arab “qirmiz”, meaning ‘scarlet’.

The regular and abundant use of spices and herbs during the Renaissance was not exactly an artistic inspiration, but instead came out of a necessity to… disguise the taste and odours of meats that easily went off.

Béchamel

The “béchamel” is known as a refined white cream / sauce… from France? No. Perhaps its origin is not Florentine but it certainly isn’t French. It took that name later in history, from the marquis de Béchamel in the 1700’s, and for a certain period in Italy it was called “balsamella”, a mix of the French word and the Italian “balsamo” (balsam).

But this “savore” (lit. “flavor”, as sauces were called in the Renaissance) already existed during the Renaissance, and it is likely that Catherine de Medici introduced the original recipe of that kind of “glue” to the French court...

... and, by the way, the first glue in ancient Florence was made of water and flour...

Poison ivy

Feudal serfs were so poor that they had to eat soups of… poison ivy and acorn and “pasticci” (“pies”) of mice and lizards…

…but poison ivy (“ortica”) is still eaten today in some Tuscan, not many Florentine, dishes, and it is very good in home-made “tortelli di ortica”.

Cenci

The famous and tasty “cenci” literally mean “rags”; they are fried pieces of batter cut like rags. The ancient name of the cenci was “guanti”, or “gloves”, if they were in the shape of a hand, or “crespelli”, literally “frizzies”, something similar to our modern ruffles...

Lampreys

Lampreys were rare even in Renaissance times, they were expensive and much appreciated.

During Maria de’ Medici’s wedding, a lamprey was served cold and filled with ...sweet cream...

Beignets

The origin of the French “bignés” (the correct word is “beignets”) is Florentine. They were the ancient “pasta soffiata”, literally “blown batter”, which arrived at the French court thanks again to Caterina de’ Medici’s chefs. The French called them “pàtes à chaud”, which then became “choux”, a synonym of the word “beignets”.

Anatra all’arancia

Anatra all’arancia is Florentine. In the 1300’s, among different recipes dedicated to the duck, the “paparo”, there was the “paparo alla melarancia”. In the Renaissance, the Medicis ate “cappone con savore aranciato” (“capon in orange sauce”), and then again Caterina de’ Medici, who loved food, brought the recipe to the French court, where it became the famous “canard à l’orange”...

...and the original “crèpes suzette” perhaps... was the “ritortelli”.

Schiacciata alla fiorentina

The schiacciata alla fiorentina (lit. “flat bread the Florentine way”) was in very ancient times known as the “stiacciata unta” (lit. “greasy flat bread”), because lard was used, but it wasn’t flat at all. It was called that way, at the time, perhaps because of the generous quantity of “beaten” eggs, or “schiacciati”, which used to make it.

Arnione

The arnione is the kidney; the word comes from the Latin “renione”. Florentines commonly call it “rognone” or “pietra” (“stone”).

Zuppa di cipolle

The “zuppa di cipolle” (onion soup) was originally named “carabazada”, said to come from “karabos”, the Greek word for a boat shaped like a shell; the word was adopted by the Florentines and perhaps referred to the shape of the soup container. From “carabazada” comes the name carabaccia . This soup is not exactly your regular onion soup… it is richer and very tasty.

Cheese

Where does the word “cheese” come from?… the Latin “caseus”. The Romans diffused the preparation, use and appreciation of cheese throughout the different regions of their empire; therefore this word can be recognized in several languages:

  • “cacio” - Tuscan
  • “kase” – German
  • “kaas” - Dutch
  • “queso” – Spanish

The other italian word,“formaggio”, comes from the ancient greek “formos”, the container of the milk during coagulation, used to give it its shape. After the Greek came the Latin “forma”, from which the French “fromage” derives, and finally came the modern versions of the words.

Cacciucco

Cacciucco is one of the typical dishes from Livorno and is originally made of fish in pieces. The origin of the name is Turkish, “kuciuk”, meaning “very small, minute”. The poor ate everything edible, so, this soup was originally made of the small fish which inevitably fell in with the big fish in the fishing nets.

Finocchiona

The popular “salume” finocchiona takes its name from “finocchio”, fennel, which was used to give the special aroma and taste that characterizes this cold meat: in the Middle Ages fennel was far more common than pepper and therefore cheaper... And, again, why use this seed that was so strong in taste? Well, for the same reasons for using so many other strong flavours... to cover the bad taste and smell of a... not so fresh meat...

Vino

The word “vino” (wine) is said to derive from:

  1. 1. “venas”, the Sanskrit for “pleasing”, or “vi”, the Sanskrit for “twining” (like the plant does), or
  2. “iin”, in ancient Hebrew, from which comes the ancient Greek word “oinos”.

Etruscans used to drink fruit wine, which was made from the light fermentation of fruits like pears, apples and certain berries, and also adding honey. This wine is the precursor of cider. They were also very good lovers, and so during special banquets they would add some strong drugs to the wine, so that it became an aphrodisiac…

Tuscany in its gastronomy also has a “saint wine”, the vin santo. But why is this passito called in this way? Maybe because:

  • At the beginning of Christianity this particularly pure wine was considered apt for Mass...
  • During the Renaissance a representative of the Eastern Church exclaimed that this wine was from the Greek isle of Xantos, and having a very similar taste, and it was immediately translated into “santus”...
  • During the middle Ages it gave a sense of relief to the victims of the plague, who then called it “vinsanto”...
  • Its production coincided with religious celebrations on the calendar (Easter, Christmas or All Saints)...


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