Mugello Marvels: Ristorante Gli Artisti

Gli Artisti restaurant is a Borgo San Lorenzo institution

Gli Artisti restaurant is a Borgo San Lorenzo institution

Mugello Marvels explores the flavors and traditions of the Mugello region of northeast Tuscany, with an emphasis on local chefs, restaurants, food fairs, and events.

This second instalment of Mugello Marvels looks at another wonderful establishment in Borgo San Lorenzo. Ristorante Gli Artisti, which celebrated its official 100th anniversary last year yet in fact dates to the late 19th century, has long been associated with Mugello area artists—hence its name. Frequented over the years by the likes of Rutilio Muti (1904-1995) and Ezio Cecchini (1926-1984), both from Vicchio, it is located in a tiny piazza named for Angiolino Romagnoli (1834-1896), a painter from Borgo San Lorenzo of the Macchiaioli movement. Perhaps the most illustrious of Gli Artisti’s patrons was Pietro Annigoni (1910-1988), whose encaustic painting of horses on one of Gli Artisti’s walls has unfortunately been plastered over. Just down the street from the historic Teatro Giotto, the restaurant was a favorite meeting place of theatrical companies, known to gather here to dine and discuss the evening’s performance. A true Borgo San Lorenzo institution, Gli Artisti also happens to be the oldest still-active eating establishment in the Mugello.

Last year, two young Italians, brothers Luigi and Nicola Tranchina, stepped into this heady mix of local history and tradition to take the helm at Gli Artisti. Thirty-year-old Luigi, gracious and highly knowledgeable, brings significant restaurant experience with him as Gli Artisti’s new head.  He is also an expert sommelier.  Chef Nicola has since left the restaurant to pursue other activities. In his place is Rocco Lamorte, a gifted young chef whose skills and accomplishments—at a mere twenty years of age—are astounding. Graduate of the B. Buontalenti Institute with top marks, protégé of noted critic Leonardo Romanelli, student of chefs Italo Bassi and Riccardo Monco of Enoteca Pinchiorri—need I say more about this young man?

I recently had the fortune to sit down with Luigi to discuss his vision for Gli Artisti and the work he and his staff are doing. We covered many topics, from the fundamental importance of quality products and following a seasonal calendar to how the Italian sagra impacts diner expectations (I’ve written before about sagras, but always from the perspective of an outsider observing the social customs associated with this peculiar Italian tradition; hearing a serious restaurateur’s views on them was enlightening indeed). Mostly we discussed their guiding philosophy of ‘tradition and innovation’ and how they approach the challenge of creating innovative dishes that simultaneously reflect and transcend the boundaries of traditional Tuscan cuisine.

A tall order, even more so here in the Mugello, where the notion of ‘Tuscan’ narrows to a few definitive items—crostini, tortelli, bistecca—yet these young men give the impression they would never be content to rest on their laurels. The dishes at Gli Artisti speak for themselves, revealing a perfect proficiency in the classic Tuscan repertoire together with the daring and aplomb that comes with experience. By exalting the traditional and classic through clever twists and touches, inventive flavor pairing, and only the very best ingredients, the team at Gli Artisti has achieved something extraordinary. Have a look at a selection from their menu:

To begin, the classic crostini toscani get a makeover, transformed into a terrine-like pâté  served with a loquat mostarda and a crispy pane carasau wafer:

2015-08-28 13.08.12

Next is the Fiori di Cipolla, a slow cooked, tender onion served with a D.O.P. Taleggio with hints of hay on a multi-grain puff pastry toast, drizzled with a 30-year-aged balsamic vinegar. Thus, Tuscan staples of bread-and-vegetable become the base for this delicate ‘flower’ of harmonious flavors:

2015-08-28 13.26.33

The Intrigo Mugellano is a fusion of two types of fresh pasta, tortelli and pappardelle. A long, potato-stuffed pappardella is twirled on the plate (a symbolic and playful twist on the classic tortelli shape) in a creamed garlic sauce garnished with threads of chilli pepper and dusted with sweet chilli powder, recalling the ubiquitous aglio e pepperoncino. Same ingredients, made over with distinction and flair:


Perhaps no dish reflects the idea of sperimentare senza mai dimenticare la tradizione or ‘experimenting while never forgetting tradition’ as perfectly as Come se fosse un Cantuccio, an ingenious variation on the uber-Tuscan dessert of cantucci cookies and vin santo: a vin santo sorbet served on a cantucci pratesi crumble ‘bed’ topped with a vin santo air—sometimes called foam in molecular gastronomy—that delivers flavor without substance, prepping the palate for flavors to come.  Those fond of texture contrasts will love this. By the way, Rocco and Luigi will present this masterful dessert at Expo 2015 next month:

2015-08-28 14.03.28

If you go: Take some time to study and appreciate the menu, which changes in accordance with the seasons and typically requires a month to create, plan, and test. Note the ® symbol next to certain items; this indicates a dish of their own unique design. Consider the very well-priced tasting menu to appreciate a broader sampling of the menu. There are several vegetarian options, and vegan dining is possible with advance notice.

Don’t hesitate to ask questions. Remember that Luigi is a trained sommelier so with regard to wine choice you’re in excellent hands. Moreover, he truly enjoys giving suggestions and seeing his clients happy—a great source of satisfaction, as he describes it, for people so passionate about the work they do. The dream? A Michelin star, someday. It’s early days yet, but I’d wager it will happen.

2015-08-28 14.18.30

Rocco Lamorte (left) and Luigi Tranchina

Ristorante Gli Artisti
Piazza Angelo Romagnoli, 1
Borgo San Lorenzo
055 845 7707

Mugello Marvels: Vino in Tavola

Andrea Guidotti in front of his fabulous bottega, Vino in Tavola

Andrea Guidotti in front of his fabulous bottega, Vino in Tavola

Mugello Marvels explores the flavors and traditions of the Mugello region of northeast Tuscany, with an emphasis on local chefs, restaurants, food fairs, and events.

I’m happy to launch this new category, Mugello Marvels, with a post dedicated to what is arguably my favorite spot in all the Mugello. Vino in Tavola is a convivial Italian bottega-style shop and deli located in the heart of Borgo San Lorenzo, a place locals frequent come the lunch hour to enjoy a panino and a glass of wine at the cozy counter. It’s also popular at the aperitivo hour.

crostini e vino, a perfect snack

crostini e vino, a perfect snack

Others come here to fill up hefty vessels with choice vino sfuso (think wine on tap), carefully selected by shop owner and connoisseur of tasty stuff, Andrea Guidotti, or to browse the selection of gourmet products, many of which are rarely if ever found in Italian markets. Which leads me to a digression…

I’ve written elsewhere about the lack of culinary diversity in Italy. Now, before you Italophiles start hollering about regional differences, note that I’m not talking about the various distinct traditions from region to region within Italy. I mean, rather, international cuisine and the foodways of others, about which Italians can be mighty suspicious and even disdainful. You folks reading this from America or the UK might not realize just how much you take for granted when shopping for, say, a specific type of cheese, since your favorite market no doubt offers not only a good selection of French and Italian cheeses but also those made in your own and other countries. Finding a good French chevrè or English cheddar in Italy is akin to a treasure hunt. Seriously, to judge by the paltry selection at large Italian supermarket chains, you’d think Brie was the only cheese France had to offer—a generic, underwhelming Brie at that.

I come from a country where even the most unexceptional of food stores will have an entire aisle dedicated to products from around the world.  Where I now live, those items, few and second-rate, are found tucked away in a sad, meter-wide section labeled ‘ethnic’ foods: a jar of Pace brand salsa, some rice noodles, perhaps Worcestershire sauce, a can of Uncle Ben’s beans. In some larger Italian cities, so-called ethnic foods stores do offer more in the way of variety, but at exorbitant prices and erratic availability. Sure, I can get cilantro or lemongrass, if I’m willing to travel two hours to visit one of these negozi etnici. Maybe I’ll pick up a rock-hard avocado that’s travelled from South Africa or Israel, if I don’t mind spending about 3 euros (the avocado is completely misunderstood in Italy). Closer to home, I could get lucky at our local grocery store, if I’m able to persuade the gal stocking shelves that a powder made from dried garlic is not a figment of my foreign imagination. An anecdote: once a French woman on holiday  stopped me at the supermarket: ‘Where is the salted butter?’ she asked. When I answered that it was very hard to come by—both of us eyeing the thirty-some brands of unremarkable Italian-made unsalted butter—she thought surely we’d not understood each other. C’est bizarre! A nearby Italian woman chimed in, suggesting a shop that might have salted butter—in another town.


Plaisir au Chablis from Burgundy and Le Brebiou from the French Pyrenees

Living in this land of culinary insularity has meant mastering, or at least getting comfortable with, the art of the work-around—growing cilantro and other ‘exotic’ herbs and making buttermilk and drying and grinding garlic for powder—which might seem resourceful but is really a time-sucking drag. Sometimes you need an ingredient that doesn’t require weeks of advance planning, you know? This brings me back to Vino in Tavola.

I wouldn’t call Vino in Tavola an ethnic store. Yet the selection of rare and international items Andrea stocks makes it truly unique among shops. He cultivates relationships with trusted wine-makers and producers well beyond Tuscany, and the results of his research and efforts can be seen in every square inch of his meticulously-kept, quaint, friendly place of business. Browsing the shelves and chatting with Andrea about newly arrived items is always a pleasure.  Especially the cheeses.


gruyère, raw goat’s milk robiola, and English cheddar – heaven!

Vino in Tavola is also great for gifts. You can put together a lovely holiday basket here, choosing from among the excellent Italian and French wines, artisanal beers, and liquors.


Italian and French wines and champagnes

And here’s a sampling of other items you’ll find at Vino in Tavola:


Escargots in Borgo San Lorenzo? Wonder of wonders!

colatura di Cetara

colatura di Cetara, the dreamy, anchovy-based sauce recalling garum of ancient Roman cuisine



a few 'ethnic' items

‘ethnic’ rice varieties

uncommon snack foods

uncommon snack foods

'nduja from Spilinga - aka the real deal

‘nduja from Spilinga – aka the real deal

I always feel a bit of a thrill when I walk through the doors at Vino in Tavola, wondering what new, tasty item will have arrived on Andrea’s shelves since my last visit. Sometimes I leave the shop with ideas for the blog, such as this post on the ‘purgatory beans’ of Gradoli, which I learned about thanks to a little bag of these storied white beans I spotted at Vino in Tavola. And I always leave with a bottle of wine or two, some butter—French and salted—and a smile.

Vino in Tavola
Piazza Dante, 22
Borgo San Lorenzo (FI)
tel: 055 845 5212

Figliata, or Egg Panzanella

egg panzanella, for your expanding 'litter'

egg panzanella, for your expanding ‘litter’

Towards the end of Julia Moskin’s recent article in The New York Times on Ischian cooking traditions, Enoteca la Stadera owner Ivo Iacono’s mention of an old family recipe caught my notice:

One of his childhood favorites was a dish called figliata — a word meaning “litter,” as in puppies — made of eggs, basil, cheese and stale bread. “When you had another child,” he said, “you could just add another egg.”

Up until that moment, reading this article had me in a familiar emotional state, one best described as a mixture of interest, appreciation, and a Schadenfreude-esque delight at any minor suggestion of dilettantism. To be clear, the article is very good: aptly descriptive, engaging, informative. Why wouldn’t it be? Moskin is a pro food reporter and accomplished cookbook writer/editor. She highlights Iacono’s activities as a restaurateur and outlines Ischia’s intriguing history while staying astutely focused on the real star of the story—Ischia’s food, specifically the long-practiced tradition of cooking foods in the island’s natural heat sources (hot springs, sand). In truth, I felt only a wee bit superior when reading her explanations for the unversed—such as ‘Ischia (pronounced ISS-kee-ah)…’ or ‘a popular lunch dish called caponata,’ and the like. The truly gratifying moment, though, I’m not ashamed to admit (perhaps I should be) came when I realized Moskin had all but overlooked what for me is the most intriguing part of the story: the family recipe Iacono calls figliata (from figlio/figlia = son/daughter).

I could find no information on this dish. There’s no mention of figliata in any of my cookbooks (while searching the web I did discover something called pizza figliata, a sweet pastry reminiscent of strudel that’s popular in Campania). I asked around, resisting a temptation to contact Iacono directly for a quote. Niente. So, based on Iacono’s description, I reasoned that figliata must basically amount to a kind of panzanella with boiled eggs. This is what I came up with:

Ingredients for 4 servings circa

500 grams of stale Tuscan bread (a stale ciabatta would work)
4 eggs
1 handful of fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped
fresh chopped chives (optional)
3-4 Tbls olive oil
2 Tbls white vinegar
salt & pepper


Soak the bread in cold water for about 20 minutes. Strain and squeeze out all the excess water, then crumble the now-soft bread into a large bowl. Boil or steam the eggs for about 7 minutes, cool in icy water, peel and roughly chop. Add the eggs and basil to the bread and combine. Now add the oil and vinegar, salt and pepper to taste, and blend well. Garnish with more fresh basil and some chopped chive (my addition, optional).

Add one egg for each additional child, per Signor Ivo Iacono.

Mixed Berry Ice Cream Cake

on the plate

ice cream cake (of course!)

What to do with a leftover tub of homemade red currant ice cream? Make ice cream cake, of course! When completely cooled, slice a round sponge cake / pan di spagna into two disks. Wedge the first disk into the bakery paper-lined cake pan and spread a layer of softened ice cream on top. Proceed with the next layer of cake and ice cream (for my top layer I used whipped cream with mixed berries), and place back in the freezer for at least an hour. Remove and let sit at room temp for minimum 15 minutes before serving.

Grilled Eggplant Rolls With Caper-Basil Cream

involtini di melanzane

involtini di melanzane

To make these grilled eggplant rolls, brush the eggplant slices with olive oil and grill until soft, not crisp. You could also fry them in olive oil if preferred. Transfer them to a paper-towel-covered plate and lightly dust with grated pecorino romano or ricotta salata. Soften a container of cream cheese and blend it well with a handful of roughly chopped salted capers (rinsed) and a small handful of chopped fresh basil. I used two varieties, purple and Greek. When the eggplant has cooled, spread a scoop of the cream on each round and roll them up. Serve with herbs and a bit more grated cheese if you like. These are very good at room temp or even chilled.

St John’s Eve: Remedies & Rituals You Should Have Performed Last Night

John William Waterhouse

Waterhouse, John William. Gather Ye Rosebuds While Ye May. 1909.

The days surrounding the summer solstice abound with rituals, legends, and divinations utilizing water and plants. Throughout mostly rural areas of Europe, the night between June 23 and June 24, the feast day of St John the Baptist (his nativity) is marked by festivals and bonfires, flaming wheels rolling down mountainsides, ritualistic smoke purification of livestock, the burning of aromatic herbs to ward off evil and promote physical health, and more. Perhaps no day on the calendar juxtaposes ancient pagan rites with Catholic tradition as beguilingly as June 24, as both a Church feast day and the day on which Midsummer is observed. Here in Italy, at the center of this heady concoction of symbolism and ritual, witches and goblins, nature spirits and Christian saints, herbal remedies, purifying ablutions, potions and even the malocchio, is the curious secular tradition of gathering still-green walnuts to make the liquor known as nocino.

On the eve of St John, herbs are believed to possess especially strong healing powers (many aromatics are, in fact, harvested this time of year, having just flowered, and their aromas being at their most intense—surely no coincidence). Herbs and aromatics to gather on St John’s eve include St John’s wort (obviously), wormwood, verbena/vervain, elderberry, lavender, mint, rosemary, garlic and onion. Even fruits such as redcurrant and hawthorn berries are believed to protect against evil, if gathered on this day.

Some of these plants, when used in the preparation of a special brew known as l’acqua di San Giovanni, or St John’s water, are thought to bring not only physical benefits but also spiritual salvation and protection bestowed from the saint himself—but only if you follow a peculiar and precise ritual: the water is made by placing lavender leaves and flowers, St John’s wort, calamint/nepeta, rue/ruta, and rosemary in a wash basin full of water, which is then left to brew overnight, outside the house. The following morning, women who wash with this water will improve their looks and ward off disease (who knew!?). Variations result in different apotropaic qualities; the addition of wormword, for instance, will protect against the evil eye.

One similar custom involves gathering dew directly from trees and plants on this night, with the resulting distillation purported to foster hair growth, improve fertility, cure skin afflictions, and keep illness at bay; while another version, perhaps devised for the lazier among us, calls for leaving a cloth out overnight, the moisture from which is then wrung out in the morning. Even more practical (this is the method I’d use) is simply placing a glass in a hole in the ground and letting the precious St John’s dew drizzle in.

Some St John-related rituals center on mating, nuptials, and marital harmony. In one version, a young, yet-to-wed woman places three fava beans—one intact, one peeled, and one broken—under her pillow before going to sleep on June 23. During the night she selects one without looking and learns her fate: the intact bean signifies riches, a good match; the half bean portends a mediocre destiny; and the peeled bean, a bad omen altogether. In another, the eating of snails, specifically their tentacles, on St John’s day grants men protection from misfortune and in particular from being made a cuckold: the snail tentacle, which resembles a horn, corna or cornuto, represents a kind of edible amulet against what’s known in Italian as mettere la corna—being cheated on by one’s wife.

Of all today’s quirky traditions, the gathering of walnuts to make nocino, also considered therapeutic, is likely the most familiar (and observed) in Italy. But it’s not without its own offbeat backstory. A centuries-old legend maintains that witches would gather on this night around ancient walnut trees, walnuts having long been linked to both medicinal and magical practices going back to the Druids (the night of June 23-24 is also commonly referred to as La Notte delle Streghe, or Night of the Witches). The unripe fruits, thus imbued with healing powers, must be picked—you guessed it—on this and only this night. Interested? Check out Judy Witts Francini’s recipe for nocino.

Red Currant Ice Cream

perfect, gorgeous, homemade ice cream

Every year around this time our red currant plant starts yielding absurd quantities of fruit—or at least too much for two people to keep up with. In the past week I’ve given away a couple bags full and have frozen about a kilo. I’m not really into marmalade (both the process of making it and the texture annoy me), which leaves few options for how to make use of the copious amounts of berries currently all about the place. It turns out the hens don’t really like them, by the by.

Last year I made a refreshing (if a bit sour) and gorgeous-to-behold red currant sorbet. I’d started making my own sorbet a couple years back, after having purchased and been disappointed by one too many sickeningly sweet store-brought varieties, invariably full of glucose syrup—fine, technically it’s just sugar, I realize—plus the ubiquitous corn syrup, thickeners, stabilizers, colorings, and so on. With homemade sorbet you can pretty much achieve a ‘natural’ dessert and you control the sweetness level, something I find appealing. It’s much more economical. It’s easy. And there’s really no limit to the kinds you can make. So while contemplating a large bowl of currants, I thought about going with that recipe again. Then I remembered I had a carton of cream in the fridge! And minutes later I was busy making this ice cream. I hate to brag (really I do), but at times it’s just unavoidable—this ice cream is knock-your-socks-off good.


1 & 1/2 cups (about 250-270 grams) of fresh red currants
1 cup (225 grams) sugar
1/3 cup (about 80 mls) water
2 cups heavy cream (I used a 500-ml carton)


Rinse the berries and remove all the little stems. Process the fruit until you have a thick, fairly uniform liquid, then strain once in a small-hole colander and then again in a mesh one. You won’t keep every tiny seed out; it’s okay, nothing to go all OCD about. The seeds are sort of cute (and besides, this is homemade ice cream). Set the juice aside. In a small saucepan over low heat, dissolve the sugar in the water, stirring constantly until you have a thick syrup. You don’t have to bring it to a boil. Let cool and then add the syrup to the fruit blend and combine well in a bowl. At this point, definitely test the sweetness. Currants are sour. I liked the sweetness achieved with this amount of sugar, but you could sweeten further if you wish. Place the bowl in the freezer for a few minutes while you whip the cream until very thick and pillowy. Gently fold the cream into the fruit mixture, then transfer to a sealable container and freeze. After about two hours the consistency is like a soft-serve ice cream. Freeze for another two hours if you want a more traditional ice cream consistency. Since this ice cream contains no fake-texture-preserving junk, it will freeze completely solid, so on successive days be sure to take it out of the freezer about 15-20 minutes before serving and stir it up a bit.

Ribes rubrum

Ribes rubrum

Grilled Eggplant & Swordfish Towers

on the plate

on the plate

Slice the eggplant into rounds and place them in a shallow baking dish or on a large platter. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and dried rosemary and thyme (or herbes de Provence) and let rest for about 15 minutes while you prep the fish. I cut the swordfish steaks into rounds to roughly match the eggplant rounds in size. Coat the fish with olive oil and dust with black pepper. Grilled the veg and the fish, salt to taste when cooked, then assemble the towers, layering with chopped tomato and fresh basil. I served these with a creamy, tangy caper sauce made from capers, mayo and lemon juice.

Melon Sorbet

so cool

so cool

To make this sorbet, I used the better part of two ripe cantaloupes. Place a large ceramic or tin bowl or pot in the freezer while you prep the sorbet. Roughly cube the flesh and place it in a food processor or blender. You can also use a hand-held wand mixer, in which case place the fruit in a large bowl. Process until you have a thickish liquid. Add about 1/2 cup of syrup (bring 1 cup of water and 1/2 cup sugar to a boil, stirring periodically; remove from heat and let cool before using) and 3 large spoonfuls of mascarpone (optional). The mascarpone doesn’t alter the flavor but does make for a nice pastel color and creamy consistency. Blend well, transfer to the chilled container, and cover with a lid or plastic wrap. Freeze for 4 or 5 hours, forking it every now and then. Remember to remove frozen solid sorbet from the freezer and let rest at room temp for about 30 minutes before serving. Fork it up and then use an ice cream scoop to serve. If you like, garnish with red fruits like the currants pictured above or fresh mint leaves.

It’s Prugnolo Day!

viva il prugnolo!

viva il prugnolo!

Prugnolo mushrooms are everywhere right now, dominating the local sagra scene but not only: Tomorrow night the folks at Pizzeria Valeri in Luco di Mugello are hosting a dinner event based on this cute little fungo. Check out (and like!) Valeri’s Facebook page for more info, and in the meantime have a peek at the menu:

Crostini al Prugnolo
Ravioli and Tortelli with Prugnoli
Pizze miste with Prugnoli
Prugnolo Gelato
cost: €28 per person, drinks included

Bar Pizzeria Valeri
Via Giovanni Traversi, 95
Luco di Mugello
Borgo San Lorenzo (FI)
tel: 055 840 1776