Where Food Spy ate: Osteria I Buongustai, Via dei Cerchi, 15, Florence. This tiny, teeming-with-locals eatery in downtown Florence is arguably the best lunch-time deal in town. Run by sisters Laura and Lucia, I Buongustai’s daily menu usually consists of four or five choices of primo: a few pasta dishes, a risotto, ribollita or pappa al pomodoro. Some of the sisters’ solid secondi include carpaccio di pesce spada (swordfish carpaccio salad) and cinghiale in umido (wild boar stew); while specialties like their plate of sliced prosciutto crudo with coccoli (dollops of fried batter, fluffy and lightly salted), or a panino al lampredotto (boiled and seasoned tripe-meat sandwich, a Florentine favorite), keep locals coming back. From the simple side dishes like Tuscan white beans and spinach sautéed in olive oil and garlic, to the home-made torta della nonna on display tempting you all through your meal, every dish here is a made-to-order delight.
The seating is cramped, the service brusque verging on chaotic, but no one seems to mind. Not the shopping-bag-laden tourists, certainly not the lunch-hour locals. A meal at I Buongustai lingers pleasantly in your memory and taste buds, despite that fellow’s elbow in your side, his jacket sleeve dusting your wine glass as he was leaving. Here, the food is all. And it’s plenty.
What Food Spy ordered: Pasta with radicchio and speck (€6.50) and a glass of house white wine (€2). Cooked up quickly, costing from €5.50 to €7, a plate of pasta at I Buongustai is not only a fast and sure lunch option for working folks; it’s also a more adventurous choice than what’s on offer at other like establishments in town. The sister chefs at I Buongustai flex a bit of creative muscle in their noisy and narrow kitchen (visible to customers, Food Spy is happy to note), adding a dash of boldness to traditional Tuscan recipes. So while the daily menu consists partly of sure things—a pasta al pomodoro for the unsure of stomach; a classic lasagna for the conformist—an off-beat, even quirky pasta recipe almost always makes an appearance on the paper menu posted outside the osteria door. This time it was pasta con radicchio rosso e speck.
Presentation notes: A generous portion of penne (circa 100 grams) cooked al dente and tossed with radicchio leaves, chunks of speck, slivers of Parmigiano-Reggiano, and olive oil. A colorful dish, given the reddish ingredients; served slightly warm to room temperature.
Question marks: The radicchio. The color suggested it was raw, as it was not the deep, purply-brown of cooked radicchio. Yet it lacked the crispy bitterness of raw radicchio. Had it been blanched or steamed prior? A little experimenting at home and Food Spy hit on the answer: the still-steaming pasta tossed over the radicchio accounts for these semi-cooked, perfectly textured leaves.
350 grams (approximately 4 cups dry) of penne, fusilli, or other short rod/spiral pasta
100 grams speck (about 1/2 cup cubed or 3.5 ounces sliced; Food Spy used deli-style slices)
half of a radicchio di Chioggia (the round type that resembles a cabbage)
4 Tablespoons olive oil (a really good one)
200 grams (about 3/4 cup) Parmigiano-Reggiano slivers
While your salted pasta water heats to a boil, prepare the other ingredients: Slice or tear the raw radicchio, rinse and drain well. Slice the speck width-wise into half-inch strips. Prepare the Parmigiano slivers using a cheese grate or sharp knife. Place the ingredients, in this order – speck, cheese, radicchio – in a large bowl, making sure the radicchio covers the other ingredients. Cook the pasta al dente, drain and pour the hot pasta immediately into the bowl. Let the pasta rest on the radicchio for about one minute. Toss thoroughly. Add the olive oil and toss again very well. Salt to taste, keeping in mind the cheese and meat are savory. Serve slightly warm or room temp.
Whose was better?
The constant excellence of I Buongustai’s dishes notwithstanding, Food Spy concludes that the at-home version exceeded the establishment’s, for two reasons: Food Spy used a delicious new olive oil, and more of it than I Buongustai did; and substituting the speck chunks with the slices resulted in a more delicate texture and a more aesthetically coherent presentation, given the pasta shape used.