Gnudi and other news

We’ve set off a sort of Spring molotov cocktail at the cart: ebulliently slinging a number of dishes to lighten the winter-encumbered spirit as well as the carb-weary waistline (well, kinda).

Naked ravioli

Gnudi (gnudo meaning nude) are little balls** of ravioli filling that are unashamed to be unadorned; they’re a naturalist primo rebelling against the chafe of fresh pasta, refusing to be swathed in anything but a light veil of sauce, a modest sprinkle of parmigiano. Ours are made as they typically are in Tuscany: with fresh spinach and ricotta, and we offer them with either a tangy tomato sauce or–for purists–a simple dressing of butter and sage. (In Tuscan trattorias, you’ll also often find them topped with meat ragù). Either way you go, our gnudi are vegetarian and you’ll find them as a daily special this season.

Oh, and because around here we geek out on food facts, here’s an interesting one for you: gnudi go back centuries; they actually pre-date pasta. As is typical of the origins of many Italian recipes, it’s a humble, poor-man’s dish born out of the contadino tradition: whatever seasonal, inexpensive vegetables were at hand got shaped into small rounds along with a bit of cheese or egg, and were topped sparingly with whatever sauce could be mustered out of the family larder.

Sformato: a taste of ancient Greece and Rome

Many folks approach the cart, read “sformato” on the menu and are stumped: “How sweet is it?” “Is it a dessert?”

Actually, the sformato has various linguistic guises: it’s called flan in France and Spain (this word is often used, perhaps confusingly, in Italy too, and thus it appears in our menu description), and pudding in English. Note that a sweet pudding is a budino in Italian. Technically, all of these can be classified as “pudding” in terms of their basic ingredients (see below), however the sformatoin reality, is pudding’s oldest form–and it is always savory (salato–i.e. NOT sweet).

It was the savory version (as a vehicle for life-giving eggs) that was deemed most salubrious by the health-conscious ancient Greeks and the predominant way they consumed their “pudding”. The ancient Romans, however, in their penchant for wanton excess, preferred to make theirs sweet, using eggs, cream, milk and honey in abundance–thus giving birth to the concept of dessert pudding (as well as, inadvertently, to Weight Watchers). All of these old versions of pudding have two common elements: eggs, and a cream of some sort to bind it up nicely. As the pudding plodded on down through antiquity, different countries gave it their own imprimatur, be it savory or sweet.

The word sformato in Italian means literally “un-molded”, and refers to the cooking preparation wherein small molds are filled with a mixture of seasonal vegetables, egg, béchamel and cheese, baked in a bagnomaria, and then turned out, or unmolded, onto a plate. The sformato is sometimes likened to a soufflée, but this is misleading as it is somewhat heavier and denser, while still remaining delicate and refined.

In winter we offered a lovely sformato of cauliflower, Italian kale, béchamel and parmigiano. Currently, in keeping with the season, we’re serving up a delicious artichoke version.

Quintessentially Spring

Paolo’s father has a gigantic orto (vegetable garden), and one of the things he grows–to the great satisfaction of the entire family–is bacelli (fava beans). When he was very young, our son would simply toddle out and eat them right off the vine, shucking them deftly and scattering the gaping pods about him till he had a small green mountain at his feet. In Tuscany, fava beans are traditionally eaten this time of year raw (because they’re so tender), along with a young, fresh pecorino cheese. For a simple family meal at home the washed pods are piled up in the center of the table along with a platter of cheese and a big basket of bread, and everyone shucks their own till the table–in the end–is a great chaos of thick green husks, bread crumbs, spilled red wine and crumpled napkins.

Alternatively, you can shell the beans, cube the pecorino, and toss them in olive oil and vinegar as a wonderful salad–fresh, vibrant, singing with flavor. This is how we’ve been serving pecorino e fave lately at the cart as a special.

Pecorino toscano & fava beans - photo Nico Galoppo

Pecorino toscano & fava beans – photo Wolf & Bear’s

 

Inzimino lovers, take heart!

We’ve been running the squidalicious inzimino as a (practically every) Friday special, so if you’ve a hankering just check us out on the Twitters or Facebook for updates.

As always, thank you for your support and appetites!

** We understand that the proximity of the words “nude” and “balls” is somewhat disconcerting. It couldn’t be helped.

Backstory: inzimino

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The origin of the word zimino (in + zimino signifying “in ‘zimino’ sauce”), as with that of so many foods, lies somewhere far back in the dusty recesses of history. Under murky layers that evoke the not-so-far-away Arab world, the exotic scent of cumin (cimino in outmoded parlance), or even the unleavened (azzimo) bread of the Jews–the word’s etymology has been the subject of some debate. The most general consensus is that the word is of Arabic origin: samin or zamin, which means fat, fleshy and seems linked to the concept of a fatty or rich condiment or sauce. Moreover, the traditional liberal use of spinach in this dish would also seem to point east, to Persia: wherein lies the august ancestry of this inky-green vegetable.

Though the precise etymology may evade our grasp, we know that the recipe is very old, traces of which go back at least as far as 1300. It was a classic piatto povero, or poor-man’s dish, making up for its lack of silk-purse ingredients by beefing up with vegetables and bread. Originally, the dish was strewn with bits of salted, dried fish such as baccalà (Florence being land-locked, after all)–a cheap ingredient that packed a flavor punch and stretched to help fill many bellies at a time. It is believed that the strong flavor of the fish demanded an equally muscular, spicy sauce in order to achieve the proper balance–clearly something even the most impoverished medieval Florentine was unwilling to forego. And so, with characteristic Italian ingenuity, a rich, zesty sauce was born–for which the Arab word zamin was most likely adopted and italianized over time.

Other versions in other regions have since evolved: in Liguria, Sardinia and even Corsica, some with chick peas instead of calamari (or totani or seppie), or swiss chard instead of spinach, and they are all worthy of our praise. But the classic, über-Florentine recipe remains that of squid simmered at length in a rich stew (or umido) of spinach, tomato and red wine, to be accompanied by garlic-rubbed toasted bread and–hopefully, ideally–shared in good company. It’s a bold, inky dish–as wine-dark as Homer’s Aegean–lusty and redolent of both earth and sea. It’s exactly the kind of thing a famished, humble laborer in the age of Petrarch would tuck into, and feel a richer man for having eaten it.

–by Elizabeth Petrosian

Come and try our version of this Florentine classic–ti aspettiamo!

Inzimino

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Molto, molto fiorentino… this dish is dear to the hearts of many a denizen of the city on the Arno. A poor man’s dish, like so many of the honest-to-goodness stars of Italian cuisine, its base is vegetables–in this case mainly spinach–simmered with tender morsels of squid in a sauce of tomato, red wine and herbs. In Tuscany, vegetable-based dishes have always been an economical way to feed hungry bellies. (Just think of the classics like ribollita or pappa al pomodoro). But in Italy, one need never sacrifice feasting to the God of frugality.

So come feast on inzimino with us!