What a pleasure it is to sit with Michele, chef and owner of Caffe Desiderio, an unpretentious yet inviting wine bar/restaurant in the center of Settignano outside of Florence. Caffe Desiderio indeed was a locale as far back as the end of the 18th century when artist Desiderio da Settignano opened it as a tea room and exhibit space for his paintings.
Today the art that is offered is of the culinary variety, attractive to look at, and most satisfying to consume. Seasonally fresh ingredients and innovative recipes make Michele's cuisine a special treat on this summer evening. And Michele shares a moment with us expressing his knowledge and passion for his Tuscan cuisine, inspired by his childhood in Florence and his travels to other parts of Italy.
Take for example, traditional prosciutto of Tuscany served with milky fresh stracciatella and fritters made with grano arso, or burnt grain, a tradition that has its modest beginnings in the southern region of Puglia. In the 18th century villagers would harvest the scorched grains that remained after the farmers had burnt the fields in preparation for the next planting. For the poor, nothing went to waste not even burnt grain, and Michele's efforts to introduce burnt grain to his customers are not wasted either. His liver paté, on the other hand, is as rich as fois gras, made so with lots of butter and an extra amount of vin santo, making a superbly rich spread for his fried polenta wedges.
The menu at Caffe Desiderio changes often, according to the season, and sometimes daily depending on what is offered at the market that day. We got to try fagottini (little egg pasta knapsacks) stuffed with lampredotto, or tripe. Lampredotto is a Florentine specialty that shows up as popular street food when stuffed into a crusty panino. Tonight's pasta dish is topped with delicately sweet red onions and a spritz of green sauce. I would not have known any of this, nor had the courage to try it, if it hadn't been for our chef introducing us to this unusual, yet totally delicious specialty. I love being introduced to the local cuisine in this way.
Our wine is local too, a Chianti Ruffina from the Frascole estates. Grazie, Michele and Francesca, for a delightful meal.