Florentine tripe, Florentine peas, gelato alla crema fiorentina, Florentine salt cod… these recipes have nothing in common except their origin, Florence. The tripe is slowly cooked in a thick tomato sauce, and it differs from the Sienese recipe for the absence of ground beef in the sauce. Peas Florentine represent the delicacy of spring, with peas and fresh garlic, with the bold note of flavour left by some guanciale, the cured cheek of a pork, which is our bacon. The Florentine gelato is milky and old fashioned with some crumbles amaretto. Florentine salt cod is one of my most cherished family recipes, because it reminds me of my granddad Remigio and his chipped red enamel pan, where the flavours of salt cod and tomato were absorbed by some potatoes, my favourite bite.
We use Florentine just to underline the geographical origin of a dish. It is very different when the tag passes the Alps and is adopted by our French cousins. For them cooking something à la Florentine means serving a dish – especially eggs, fish or chicken – on a bed of spinach, draped with Mornay sauce. From here the distance is short: the Mornay sauce is often left out, leaving as unique feature of a dish à la florentine the presence of spinach.
The responsible of this definition is, once again, Caterina de’ Medici.
In 1533 the fourteen year old Caterina de’ Medici left Florence to marry the Dauphin of France, Henri d’Orleans. She brought with her a large following of courtiers, doctors, magicians, maids, her favourite cooks and pastry chefs, the influence of her wealthy family of bankers and also a closer attention to the table etiquette, something that was missing at the French court. She brought also spinach seeds. In between legend and reality, national pride and actual influences, it seems that the French culinary tradition owes to Caterina de’ Medici the introduction of gelato, sorbets, zabaione, crêpes, canard à l’orange, onion soup, forks and even panties. She loved riding astride, and this required that the ladies that imitated her would start wearing bloomers.
Caterina loved spinach so much that she insisted to have them in every meal. This is how the arrival of a young Florentine, who later became one of the most influential queens of France, went to imprint in the memory of the French people the association between Florence and spinach.
So today we define à la florentine or simply Florentine dishes that have spinach inside, but nothing to do with Florence. In the book of the great Escoffier we find a consommé florentine with chicken and spinach puree. Another example are the New Yorker Eggs Florentine, a variant of the more common Eggs Benedicts, the star of every American brunch.
This is one of the dishes that you can typically find in an American brunch, and one of the classic ways to cook an egg. Juggle these tree preparations and you’ll have memorable Egg Florentine. Begin with a hollandaise sauce which, despite its name, is a mother sauce of French cuisine and is made with egg yolks, lemon juice and melted butter (an outrageous quantity of butter) . Add poached eggs, with a delightful runny yolk, then add the spinach, cooked quickly in milk or cream, scented with nutmeg.
For the hollandaise sauce
- 230 g of butter
- 3 egg yolks
- 1 tablespoon of lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon of water
- 200 g of butter
For the poached eggs
- 4 eggs
- 1 tablespoon of vinegar
- 4 slices of toasted bread
For the spinach
- 400 g of fresh spinach, cleaned and washed
- 200 ml of whole fresh milk
- Begin with the hollandaise sauce.
- Melt 200 grams of butter in a double boiler, then set aside.
- In another saucepan, beat the egg yolks with a tablespoon of lemon juice, a tablespoon of cold water and a pinch of salt for a few seconds, then cook in a double boiler with 15 grams of cold butter. The water should just simmer. Whisk the egg yolks for a few minutes until they begin to thicken. When the yolks have thickened enough to see the bottom of the pan when whisking, remove from the heat and add the last 15 grams of cold butter. Whisk the egg yolks to melt the butter, then add the melted butter drop by drop, whisking constantly, until the yolks do not become a thick sauce. Now add the remaining butter, stirring constantly. Season with salt, pepper and more lemon juice if necessary.
- Keep the hollandaise sauce aside and prepared the spinach. Rinse them well, collect them in a pan with milk, a pinch of salt and grated nutmeg, cook them on medium-low heat for about 10 minutes, until softened.
- Now poach the eggs. Heat a pot of water and when it takes a gentle simmer, add the vinegar. The water will be warm and quivering slightly, it won't be in a rolling boil. Break the eggs into four coffee cups, stir the water with a spoon to create a vortex, and pour inside the vortex an egg. The egg white will the egg yolk. Poach for about 2 minutes, then lift it with a slotted spoon and put the poached egg onto some kitchen paper. Repeat with the other eggs.
- In each dish place a slice of toasted bread cover with the milky spinach, add the poached egg and drape with hollandaise sauce.
- Read more about the fascinating story of Caterina de’ Medici here.
- Curious about Eggs Benedict. I found this article on the New York times: Was he the Eggman?
- Learn more about the five mother sauces of French cucine here.
- My favourite reading of the weekend: Anna Del Conte, the Doyenne of Italian Cooking in Conversation with Mina Holland
Food Styling and Photo Workshop in Tuscany with Hélène Dujardin | September 27th – October 1st
People, mark your calendar! I’m organizing a food styling & photography workshop with Helene Dujardin here in Tuscany in September. I’ve been following Hélène since I started my blog, her book is my constant reference for food photography and now I am proud and excited beyond words to present the workshop we’ve been organizing for a while here in Tuscany, in the amazing Villa Bichi Borghesi with wine tastings, a visit to my favourite cheese farm, market trips and cooking class, a pizza dinner at the studio plus the best chance to learn from an incredible professional photographer.
To register, head over —> HERE
- 3 days of hands on practice photo workshop
- 4 nights in a cottage at Tenuta Bichi Borghese
- All meals, snacks and refreshments
- Transportation to workshop activities (cheese farm, Juls’ Kitchen, Market, etc…)
- Airport shuttle pick up (specific time tbd) from Florence and/or Pisa airport.
Workshop is limited to 8 people.