The trattoria

The trattoria

By
Emiko Davies
Contains
13 recipes
Published by
Hardie Grant Books
ISBN
9781743790038
Photographer
Lauren Bamford

The trattoria is the keeper of culinary traditions, the equivalent of nonna’s cooking when it comes to eating out. It offers classics, reliable old favourites that a following of loyal customers depend upon for a weekday meal, a place for nearby workers to grab their lunch. Indeed, the best time of day to experience a Florentine trattoria is a weekday lunch hour when it’s all bustle and you’re likely to share your table with strangers – some of the most traditional trattorie are still like this and don’t even open on the weekends or evenings.

In my mind, the lunchtime trattoria is the place to eat a primo – a starter or first course that generally consists of either a plate of pasta or a hearty soup – tossed in large aluminium pans by well-versed hands. Quick and filling enough on its own, but often boosted with a preceding antipasto or followed by a secondo (main), the primo plays a central role in any trattoria.

The list of primi in a Florentine trattoria will almost always include ribollita (vegetable and bean soup) or pappa al pomodoro (tomato and bread soup) along with favourites like a simple pasta al pomodoro (pasta with tomato sauce), pasta al sugo or ragu (pasta with meat sauce) or its variant, penne strascicate (penne pasta with meat sauce). These are essential. There will also likely be a filled pasta such as ravioli, its ‘nude’ counterpart gnudi (spinach and ricotta dumplings) and perhaps even crespelle, which are crêpes filled with ravioli-like filling and baked with bechamel and tomato sauce. The seasons have a significant impact on people’s appetites and trattoria menus alike. In the cooler weather, for example, a simple, homely bean or chickpea soup may be offered, as well as something gamey like a hearty duck pappardelle – comforting, warming dishes.

Along with these classics, this chapter includes dishes inspired by some of my favourite trattorie, such as topini (little potato gnocchi) or ravioli filled with pear and ricotta. Others are age-old recipes that are sadly disappearing off menus, such as carabaccia (slowly cooked onion soup) or farinata con cavolo nero (a soft polenta with Tuscan kale). Although inspired by trattorias, many of these dishes are also the primi commonly found at home. After all, the trattoria’s best hits are also the things that mamma or nonna would make – it’s home-style cooking, but not at home.

No two alike

There is no standard recipe for pappa al pomodoro (tomato and bread soup). The dish morphs as it pans over the different landscapes of Tuscany and, of course, changes from kitchen to kitchen. Some like to use finely chopped leek, others add a few whole cloves or a touch of chilli for added heat, and others use fresh tomatoes instead of tinned. There are also very different techniques used for making this dish, which Tuscans could (and do) argue about for days. The biggest question seems to be whether or not to cook the bread.

The bread is a very sensitive issue when it comes to pappa al pomodoro, as it is the base of the dish. It is what gives it its characteristic texture, its volume and, most importantly, it’s what makes it a pappa, which is the word used to describe a porridge or baby food or anything else that’s soft and mushy.

The bread must be Tuscan, of course, for its great ability to be revived in liquids without turning soggy, and to be a day or more stale rather than toasted. Some simply rub raw garlic sparingly on the stale bread for a delicate, warm garlic flavour instead of adding it directly to the soup. But the most important step of the pappa al pomodoro is how and when you add the bread.

I favour the pappe made by first cooking a tomato base diluted with water or stock and then, off the heat, resting the stale bread in the tomato mixture to soak up the liquid, only heating it for a couple of minutes at the most to amalgamate it or warm it just before serving. There are also many recipes that involve cooking the soaked bread together with the liquid for 40 minutes or so and the result is a somewhat gluey texture with a thick ‘skin’ that develops along the sides and top of the soup – some will argue this is the best part.

Featured Recipes in this Chapter

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