Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Sausage and bread, Tuscan style!

Yes, it's time for a long overdue international update. This time from the Tuscany region of Italy. First port of call: The city of Florence.

Tuscan cuisine is known for being hearty and homely. Sausage does play a part but mainly in the form of smoked or cured varieties that are served cold such as salami and bologna. Hot, cooked sausage is surprisingly uncommon. Bread, too, is not a Tuscan passion. According to my guidebook, Tuscan bread is traditionally made bland and unappealing so that nothing detracts from the flavours of the food being served with it.

However, the prevalence of the simple salami sandwich in the cafes of Florence shows that the appeal of the basic sausage and bread combination is alive and well in this part of the world.

I wanted something more like a 'proper' sausage sandwich though, and for that I had to visit the city's main food market, the Mercato Centrale:

I like visiting markets when I'm abroad as they can give you an insight into the country beyond the mocked-up, tourist view although, to be fair, the Mercato Centrale is something of a tourist attraction in itself.

The most well-known place to eat in the market is a little cafe called Nerbone but as far as I could tell they don't sell a simple sausage sandwich (I could be wrong about that). Instead I had to venture to a quieter side to the market, to a neon-lit cafe called Pork's.

Where I ordered a panino con salsiccia - a bread roll with Italian sausage and - in this case - grilled aubergine and a drizzle of olive oil:

As you can see, the sausage (quite salty and hard textured when cooked) was squashed flat before serving (I'm guessing to speed up cooking), which I wasn't expecting. This could have been okay but unfortunately the sausage was severely undercooked - totally raw in some places. It had potential but I'm afraid I had to leave this one half uneaten. I'm afraid I can't recommend Pork's and would advise you try Nerbone.

Next stop... the walled town of San Gimignano, near Siena.

San Gimignano is known for the stone towers that give the town it's unique medieval skyline. I planned by trip there to coincide with the local market day in the hope that I would be able to score some authentic, local food. And that's exactly what I found at this stall:

Much as I was tempted by the whole roasted chickens, racks of ribs, beef joints and the foot-wide (yes, wide, as in diameter) bologna sausage that were being sold, there was only one thing I was interested in... another panino con salsiccia.

Oh, and some potato croquettes to go with it.

This was more like it. The sausage was thoroughly cooked this time and tasted great. It also wasn't squashed flat. Roughly textured, the sausage had a lot of bite to it (or should that be 'bits in it'). In fact, in taste and texture it was highly reminiscent of the filling of a pork pie which would suggest a coarse pork and bacon mix. In any case it was very nice and flavoursome and quite satisfying. The guidebook was right about the bread, though - it was a little bland.

In conclusion, for a sausage and bread fix in Tuscany, a salami sandwich is the most common option but a panino con salsiccia is worth seeking out. Just don't expect too much of the bread.

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