Olive Oil: where to taste it in the best restaurants in Florence and surroundings
Dishes that highlight extra virgin olive oil, and where to enjoy them
When autumn arrives, there is nothing I look forward to more than a good fettunta (fetta - slice, unta - oily). Dry bread, strictly unsalted – in spite of those who turn their noses up at it – grilled, rubbed with garlic and drizzled generously with new olive oil. Nice and cloudy, peppery, even a touch of bitterness from the leaves, which is no bad thing, with scents from the fields, of tomato vines and artichokes. Everyone’s dream, simple and wholesome, though maybe risky if you insist on going for the lowest price. This year, however, it won’t be quite so finger licking. It’s true, something good, and perhaps even excellent can be tasted here and there. Generally, though, what with extreme weather in spring, flies at the end of September and heavy rains at harvest time, with a few fortunate exceptions, you’ll have to hunt high and low for Tuscany’s green gold, the extra virgin oil that is the pride and joy of our cuisine.
However, it can be found. You may have to pay a bit more, but you can find it. The Maremma has produced a great deal, so saving the harvest in Tuscany, and if perhaps some have blended it with oil from Puglia, the damage is not so serious in the end. As long as it is mentioned on the label, and an oil made with Tunisian olives not passed off on the poor consumer as Tuscan oil. So, careful about what you buy, and if it costs a few euro more, too bad, we’ll get used to consuming less - and better. Because Tuscan and Florentine dishes absolutely cannot do without good olive oil. Especially when it is drizzled as a final touch to season and bring out the flavour of the ingredients. Just take the most classic example – a fettunta made as it should be. Sure, it can be made at home, but you can find it in many places. I like the way they make it at I Ricchi trattoria in Cercina – it could be the atmosphere, it could be that I look forward to a fritto to follow…. If you like your grilled slice enriched with Savoy cabbage, white bean puree and bacon, someone who makes it really special (and that’s not all he makes) is Salvatore Toscano of Mangiando Mangiando trattoria in the square in Greve in Chianti, newly awarded a Slow Food Snail of Approval. If the slice becomes Zuppa Lombarda, try that made at Orlando in Monteloro. Talking of soups, another well-deserved “Snail”, is that of Burde on the northern outskirts of Florence, with ribollita, country soup and Paolo Gori’s other must-try soups, all with the essential drizzle of premium olive oil, while Buca Mario, located downtown, serves “Frantoiana” soup. For a delicious pappa al pomodoro, on the other hand, you could go to Valdarno, which I call Florentine even if officially it’s Arezzo, to Paolo Tizzanini at Osteria dell’Acquolina between Terranuova and San Giustino.
Another connoisseur of excellent oil (he has his own large olive grove) and dishes to make for us is another Paolo, Paolo Pasquali of Villa Campestri on the Vicchio di Mugello side of Monte Giovi. Their “naked”, raw fillet dressed with olive oil, or fillet of salt cod cooked in olive oil have to be tried. Salt cod and everyday simplicity – here it is again, pan fried with Zolfini beans at Molo 73 in Empoli, while for good, fresh seafood enhanced by excellent olive oil there is Trattoria del Pesce in Bargino. Worthy of mention, the fagioli al fiasco (beans cooked in a flask) at the nearby Bule. The artichoke flan at Sostanza “il Troia” right in the centre of Florence is memorable, as is Fabio Picchi’s tripe salad at Cibreo, also in town. Do you have a hankering for good meat? You’re spoiled for choice between Dario Cecchini in Panzano, Tullio in Montebeni, the spectacular steaks served at Bibo in Traversa di Firenzuola, Mugello, and by Riccardo Tombarelli at Selva di Frena, also in that area. In town, Trattoria dall’Oste, behind the Duomo, Regina Bistecca, and in Scandicci, La Braceria.
Something to finish? Olive oil also in desserts, why not? Traditional castagnaccio at Trattoria Ruggero, back to Villa Campestri for olive oil and chocolate, or a nice ice-cream – with olive oil - as served at Gelati del Bondi in Via Nazionale. From start to finish, olive oil is always great company. As long as it is good.