First Night in Florence Spaghetti....

By • August 17, 2011 • 161 Comments

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Author Notes: It was the first of many evenings without George Clooney. We flew over the gorgeous hills north of Florence on the flight from Paris. I think we passed over Lake Como. Being under strict orders from my friend, Marci, to Find. George., I took as mental a note as I was capable of. On the flight to Paris, I’d been trapped in a window seat on the wrong side of the restrooms since approximately Newfoundland by a nice nurse of the missionary persuasion. She’d been traveling between family in the U.S. and the Ivory Coast for 40 years. She knew how to sleep on a plane. I can be quite polite. So I was a little ragged when I flopped into Florence at 3:00 in the afternoon, 18 hours after I had first taken off (though it was a couple of days before I was capable of doing the math).

Leaving the airport was like walking into a pizza oven. Hot. Seriously hot. I took a taxi to the daughter’s apartment, where the kind concierge was expecting me and let me in. I forced myself to stay awake until the daughter arrived a couple of hours later, but don’t ask me how. I was determined to start living on Italian time from the start so as not to miss one precious moment of the whole experience. I suspect a shower was involved, and probably a change of clothes. Lordy, it was hot. How few clothes could I get away with? I was never going to see most of these people again, right?

When the daughter and her roommates arrived home, the first thing she did was take me for a walk along the Arno and around her neighborhood: the favorite café, the nearest market, and most important, the best gelato place. With free wifi. Have I mentioned it was hot? I didn’t exactly hang on the daughter’s arm, beg abjectly and weep, but I did suggest that perhaps we for just the first night we could have dinner Americanly early rather than Europeanly late. The daughter, who was getting by on the 10,000 calorie a day extreme dancer’s diet, was up for it.

She took me to their favorite student-priced restaurant. Its name? Friends, I could barely remember my own. I felt myself disintegrating, practically hallucinating. I wasn’t sure I could make myself understood in English, let alone Italian. I was easy pickings. I don’t recall what the daughter ordered (pizza would be a safe guess). But I will never, ever forget this pasta. I took the first bite. My mouth dropped open. I gasped. I gently set my fork down in my plate and folded my hands in my lap. I very slowly said, “This. Is. The best thing. I have ever tasted. In my entire. Life.” The daughter, who’d been eating like that for a month, sort of shrugged – oh, that old thing – and tucked into whatever she had ordered. If this re-creation – I believe one says “avatar” these days – comes even slightly close to the one I tasted that night, you may get to experience some of what I did. And I really don’t believe it was the fatigue talking. Make it with and for people you love. Buon apetito.
boulangere

Serves 2 with leftovers; easily doubles or triples

  • 1/2 package spaghetti or bucatini
  • Sea or kosher salt
  • Good olive oil, and lots of it
  • 1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes of whatever colors are to hand, halved
  • 2 or 3 good sized cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 can tuna packed in olive oil, not drained, opened, homage to Pierino who appreciates the value of very good canned tuna
  • A couple of generous handfuls of spinach leaves, stems pulled off
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon, Meyer if possible
  • Sea or kosher salt and pepper to taste
  • A good Parmesan or Romano cheese
  1. A note about the tuna: Italian tuna packed in olive oil is heavenly. There are many brands available. Ortiz is heavenly; Roland offers a decent one. That said, I live in Montana. When I want pasta, I don't want it when Amazon or anyone else can get tuna to me. I'm happy to to stop into World Market and buy Tonnino yellowfin for $2.95 a can. And a note about the cheese. No, it is not traditional to serve fishy pastas with cheese. But if you have to have Parm with your pasta, by all means go ahead. Just use it sparingly.
  2. Start heating a large pot of generously salted water (it should taste like the ocean). This comes together fast. Good for evenings when you need dinner to almost make itself.
  3. I had this over a spaghetti that was more like what we consider bucatini, so if you can find bucatini, grab it. No delicate, frail pasta allowed. The pasta has a front and center seat here. It’s not a mere conveyor of other flavors, it’s right out there with its arms around them all. Pull out about 1/2 of it from the package. Check the cook time. Set a timer for 3 minutes less than the recommended cook time. Drop the pasta into the water and begin making the sauce. Multi-tasking necessary here: keep a set of tongs to hand to gently move the pasta around so that it doesn’t sink and stick, and also to move the sauce ingredients about.
  4. Set a skillet over medium-high heat. It should be large enough to hold the sauce and pasta at the end. Force yourself to add 2 or 3 times as much good olive oil as you usually would.; we’re not “filming” any pans here. This is all about the bold flavors of delicate ingredients. Use a good 5 ounces.
  5. When the oil is hot (it’ll shimmer, or ribbon), add the halved tomatoes. They’ll cook along quickly, releasing those precious juices to concentrate in all that lovely olive oil. If the skillet is too spattery, turn the heat down a bit. As the tomatoes begin to soften, add the garlic. When it’s very fragrant, add the tuna and its oil. Break up any large chunks with a wooden spoon. Turn down the heat to a good simmer.
  6. When the timer goes off for the pasta, use tongs to lift it out of the boiling water and drop it directly into the skillet. Please trust me, it wants to be way more dente than al. It’s going to cook some more in the skillet. Dip out a couple of good ladles of pasta water and add to the skillet. Move everything around and together with your tongs. Toss in the spinach and add the lemon juice. Move everything around until spinach is just wilted. Taste the sauce before you season to taste with salt and pepper. Use your tongs to lift pasta out onto plates. Divide any remaining sauce between them. Grate some good cheese over the top. Serve with slices of focaccia or baguette so that not one drop of sauce is left behind. You’ll be a happier person for it.
  7. As noted, this all comes together very quickly, so be on your toes. Thank God I didn’t have to make anything my first night in Florence, and thank heaven the daughter took me to it. It was worth the price of the entire trip to have tasted it. With my daughter. I was in heaven. George was on his own.
Jump to Comments (161)

Tags: Florence, Italy, pasta, spaghetti, tomatoes

Comments (161) Questions (1)

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Cakes

over 1 year ago Bevi

I made this tonight for my friends. They said they would be talking about this meal for months.

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over 1 year ago healthierkitchen

I actually just made this again for my husband and me while my daughter (completely vegetarian now) was out. It is delicious, and so easy, and you don't want to waste a bit of the sauce.

Dscn2212

over 1 year ago boulangere

Cynthia is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

No, not a drop! I'm glad you've enjoyed it so; thank you.

3-bizcard

over 1 year ago sdebrango

Suzanne is a trusted source on General Cooking.

I have made this so many times I couldn't begin to count and each time it seems more delicious than the last. I love this recipe!

Dscn2212

over 1 year ago boulangere

Cynthia is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

I love you, sdb! I made it just last night, and it took me, as usual, right back to that incredible first night with the daughter.

Cakes

over 1 year ago Bevi

This has been served to an appreciative crowd many times. And my kids make it regularly - it's perfect for their budgets. And their pasta cravings.

Dscn2212

over 1 year ago boulangere

Cynthia is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

All of the above apply to me and mine, too; I'm so glad to hear you all enjoy it! Thank you, Bevi.

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over 2 years ago Mlouise

Maybe the tuna I used was too good....not very fishy. If I did again, I would probably add a tiny bit of anchovy paste or Unami. A perfect "pantry" dish as you usually have spinach or some green. Thanks!

Dscn2212

over 2 years ago boulangere

Cynthia is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

A touch of anchovy sounds lovely. I, too, think of it as a pantry dinner.

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over 2 years ago soupandsong

My husband and I made something similar on one of our first nights in Tuscany on our honeymoon last fall, with good tuna in olive oil and the brightest red cherry tomatoes we'd bought at the local market. It was what we had on hand, and we had no idea that it was going to be as amazing as it was. It was seriously heavenly! The good italian tuna in olive oil is just plain dreamy compared to the stuff in cans. This brings back the sweetest memories, and I will definitely try your recipe, which looks delicious!

Dscn2212

over 2 years ago boulangere

Cynthia is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

What a sweet peek into a lovely time for you. Thank you for sharing it.

Life_as_art-_japanese_print_3

over 2 years ago sel et poivre

I've always been skeptical over the idea of pairing tuna and pasta. The combinations I've had in the past never seemed to knock my tastebud. However, having a couple of good quality tinned tuna laying around in the pantry that needed some loving, I decided to give this a try for a quick dinner last night. But because I didn't have any spinach on hand, I steamed some yellow zucchini, pencil asparagus and white button mushrooms and added those in. The result? It was heavenly! I couldn't stop "tasting" the pasta out of the pot before finally setting them on the dinner table. My husband who usually prefers a more asian-type dish, kept on asking for seconds. This recipe is a winner and a sure keeper!

Dscn2212

over 2 years ago boulangere

Cynthia is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

I know just how you feel. And I love your combination! Thanks for sharing it. I hope you enjoy it as much and as often as we do.

Massimo's_deck_reflection_10_27_13

over 2 years ago lapadia

Winner! :) ! :)

Dscn2212

over 2 years ago boulangere

Cynthia is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

Can't tell you how often we all make this. It has the happiest of associations. Not to mention an almost instant dinner ;0))

Sausage2

over 2 years ago fiveandspice

Emily is a trusted source on Scandinavian Cuisine.

Second the motion! :)

Cakes

over 2 years ago Bevi

YES!!!

Dscn2212

over 2 years ago boulangere

Cynthia is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

You are all so kind! I'm very glad you enjoy it.

Massimo's_deck_reflection_10_27_13

over 1 year ago lapadia

Oh! This lovely recipe is back...ditto to my prior comment! :)

Dscn2212

over 1 year ago boulangere

Cynthia is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

Thank you, my dear!

Susan

over 2 years ago Spoonandshutter

There have been so many wonderful comments, I'm sure I won't be able to say anything original or new. But I just started getting more "involved" with Food52 and loved reading your delightful story about arriving in Florence and discovering this delicious dish for the first time. I can almost taste it now, and if I hadn't already planned grilled skirt steak with chimmichuri for dinner I would be boiling the pasta water (well salted - yes!) this minute. Can't wait to make it tomorrow night!

Dscn2212

over 2 years ago boulangere

Cynthia is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

Your dinner tonight sounds absolutely wonderful! I hope you enjoy every bite of the spaghetti as much as we have. Welcome to food52. It's a great place to hang out.

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over 2 years ago ibbeachnana

No need to enter, as this is the best and most fabulous recipe, having it tomorrow for a friend who swore she heard my voice in Florence. Thanks again...

Dscn2212

over 2 years ago boulangere

Cynthia is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

Oh, come on now! So good you've taken on the job of being the Florence Whisperer and thank you for your kind thoughts.

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over 2 years ago healthierkitchen

Glad to see you entered this! Making this again tonight!

Dscn2212

over 2 years ago boulangere

Cynthia is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

On the menu in my kitchen Friday night! Thank you!

Dscn2212

almost 3 years ago boulangere

Cynthia is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

I made this for the son and the daughter, both of whom I was so fortunate to have home for Christmas, a couple of nights ago. They totally got why it made (and still makes) me swoon. For Christmas my daughter even gave me photo of me eating it that first night in Florence.

Dscn3274

almost 3 years ago inpatskitchen

I must tell you...I've made this 3 or 4 times since you have shared it with us and I just LOVE it...I used perciatelli instead of bucatani, but otherwise did exactly what you tell us to do. With your permission, I'd love to put a link to it on my little blog. Thanks again for a great recipe!!

Dscn2212

almost 3 years ago boulangere

Cynthia is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

Oh, Pat, I would be so honored to be linked via your blog, which I did not know you have, so I'm going to be looking at it herewith. I make it all the time, too, and have used multiple pastas for it, so invent as you wish!

Dscn3274

almost 3 years ago inpatskitchen

Thanks so much! The blog is nothing special, just something I started a little over a year ago with encouragement from my daughters (I think they just want to have all my recipes before I'm gone LOL)

Dscn2212

almost 3 years ago boulangere

Cynthia is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

Actually, your blog is quite lovely.

Sit2

about 3 years ago Sam1148

Sam is a trusted home cook.

Update: I simmered fresh tuna in oil and garlic and thyme for amanda's bean salad. In hopes of saving the oil to use for this. The tuna was under seasoned and kind of bland and needed some salt, lemon juice/acid element and resting.

Unfortunately the oil didn't get used for the pasta as after some paprika and lemon juice it was all sopped up with bread.

Dscn2212

almost 3 years ago boulangere

Cynthia is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

Oh, that poor oil that was all sopped up with bread.

Dscn2212

about 3 years ago boulangere

Cynthia is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

For some reason the Reply arrow isn't working at the moment. Sam1148, it sounds like you've invented a brand new condiment with your infused oil. Thank you, drbabs - great article, and spot on.

Dscn2212

about 3 years ago boulangere

Cynthia is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

I tell students all the time that the recipe is not the voice of God. It's fluid, it's flexible. So your points of departure are perfect. I love the shrimp idea, and yes, no cheese there. Same with the chunks of ahi - I like that much more than the idea of searing it first. Thank you so much for posting your ideas. Keep 'em coming.

Sit2

about 3 years ago Sam1148

Sam is a trusted home cook.

I'm thinking of making Amanda's http://www.food52.com/recipes...
which calls for poaching the tuna in lots of olive oil and adding herbs and saving the left over oil.
That way, I should have some good tuna/herb/infused oil to use as a starting point for this pasta and next time I'll most likely be simmering fresh tuna in the reserved flavored oil instead of using canned tuna (which I still can't find economical good imported canned tuna here).

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about 3 years ago drbabs

Barbara is a trusted source on General Cooking.

Thought y'all would enjoy this article:
http://www.nytimes.com...

Dscn2212

about 3 years ago boulangere

Cynthia is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

Yes, the tomatoes almost confit in the olive oil. You found me out on the olive oil. I routinely buy the Kirkland Organic Extra Virgin. When I was still in California, I fell in love with the California Olive Ranch oils. I can find them, believe it or not, at WalMart now in Montana. I'd been ordering it by the case from the source. Cost Plus World Market has some very good olive oils also at very good prices. Thanks very much for your comments, Sam1148.

Sit2

about 3 years ago Sam1148

Sam is a trusted home cook.

I hate to keep posting departure points for this recipe. But I think it's part of the discussion and how much I like it, your 'confit' comment made think of yet another application. The classic Spanish Ajillo tapas dish, in which raw shrimp and spices are covered with oil and broil or simmered.

Adding raw peeled shrimp at the final step to the oil/tomato/garlic sauce with some red pepper flakes and a touch of smoky paprika. (not sure about the cheese element with that one tho).
I would bet the raw tuna could be cubed and used in similar manner, simmered in the oil with the tomatoes. (one less pan to clean).
What a wonderful brainstorming recipe boulangere. It's defiantly in my arsenal of base recipes now.

Dscn2212

about 3 years ago boulangere

Cynthia is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

Thank you, Sam1148 for such a thoughtful and thorough review. I picked up some ahi today to try with it this weekend. I've even left the tuna out and just made it vegetarian, and it's good. I get an Italian tuna packed in olive oil at Cost Plus World Market that is perfectly good in my book. I've tried the Costco canned salmon, nicely free of those annoying eyeballs, and I just didn't like it. It doesn't taste like salmon, which is a problem, and the texture was kind of like shredded newspaper. I love the idea of smoked trout, especially with the horseradish mayo. You're right - it's a good point of departure in many directions. Very glad you're enjoying it. Thank you.

Sit2

about 3 years ago Sam1148

Sam is a trusted home cook.

The technique of using the cherry tomatoes in lots of olive oil to meld them down for the sauce is the keeper technique here. You're very right in using lots olive oil. I was a bit shy about it. I probably need to get a spatter screen for the pan. For lurkers. I find the CostCo Kirkland brand extra virgin olive oil an excellent price/flavor deal.
The whole food 365 EV olive oil is also a 'best buy' in my book.

Sit2

about 3 years ago Sam1148

Sam is a trusted home cook.

I made this this weekend. Excellent recipe and technique.
Next time I'm uping the quantity of spinach..and using a milder cheese.
I couldn't find really imported canned tuna and use a mid-line centro brand. Which was 'okay'.
But I think searing a ahi tuna would be a perfect solution for those that can't find excellent canned tuna.
However the 'centro' brand was just fine.
Costco/Kirkland brand canned salmon might work well, as it's rather chunky and free of bones, eyeballs, and spines.

I love the base recipe and it's a keeper for me. I might even use some smoked vacpack trout with this. With a touch of horseradish mayo/cream instead of cheese element. That's why I love this dish---you can take off in many ways from the base recipe.

Dscn2212

about 3 years ago boulangere

Cynthia is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

I'm so glad to hear you liked it. I break out the really good olive oil for it, too. I've been thinking of trying it with some seared ahi. I'll bet your brown rice pasta was outstanding with it! Thank you so much.