When I first arrived as a wee undergrad to study in Florence, I was full of dreamy expectations about Italy and la dolce vita. I had clearly spent too many hours watching a certain movie of the same name, but, as I soon learned, so had every other foreigner that infiltrated this small, historic city. I couldn't get away from them. The siege that tourists were waging on the city was worse than when the Pope joined the Spaniards to crush the rebellious state in 1529.
In about two days I came to my senses and realized that yes, real Italians live in Florence, and yes, it's pretty easy to find out where they're eating. What I noticed was that they were eating the same dishes I had seen laid out at touristy cafes and pictured in photographs on plastic menus. But that's what's so great about Italians: They really love their own cuisine. Dishes like Bistecca alla Fiorentina or polenta with sauce aren't only tourist-fare; they're tried and true Italian favorites.
Polenta with Sugo Finto
Sugo finto roughly translates to "fake sauce." It is a meatless ragu that, like many other Italian sauces, starts with a battuto. Carrots, celery, onion and parsley are cooked down until the vegetables are soft and fragrant. Add a little red wine and some fresh, chopped tomatoes and after an hour or so, you have a flavorful, vegetable heavy sauce that's perfect ladled over warm polenta and finished with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.
Bistecca alla Fiorentina
Florentines take their beef seriously, and I'm sure there are many out there who would claim that this recipe is "fake" simply because I made it with a Midwestern, not Chianinia, cow. Still, the heart of the dish is there—a perfectly grilled T-bone steak. In Florence you typically order your steak by weight, and more than one person will eat off the same cut. This is similarly served family style, alongside a platter of broccoli rabe.
Grilled Broccoli Rabe
In this version of broccoli rabe, I've skipped the saute pan in favor of the grill. With a quick turn on high heat, the stems stay crunchy while the leaves get a smoky char. Before serving, the grilled stalks are tossed with red pepper flakes, olive oil, and lemon juice. It's the perfect smoky, bitter accompaniment to the rich pieces of T-Bone steak.