Gluten Free in Florence, Italy – Day 2

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After a full day of walking the Boboli Gardens at the Medici Palace (Villa Medici), and Accademia Gallery which houses the statue of Michelangelo’s David, exploring the boutiques in the side streets, we found ourselves back in a piazza near my daughter’s apartment looking for gluten free dinner options. We were initially headed for a little place she had been wanting to try when we passed this Ristorante, and I mentioned to the girls how good the mussels looked on someones plate, as we had passed through earlier that day. We stopped to check the menu, and a kind gentlemen came over to ask if we were hungry. We let him know his menu looked good but we had gluten intolerance (senza glutine) issues. Well, well, well…comes to pass they had new ownership and had incorporated ‘senza glutine’ as part of their menu, which is why my daughter had not noticed it prior.

It was still fairly temperate from the warm day (in march, it can be quite cool, but we lucked out on beautiful weather) so chose to sit outside, since the Piazza della Signoria is beautiful with statues everywhere and a giant fountain that is lit at night.

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We had a wonderful meal and all our dishes were delicious. My daughters ordered a gluten free pizza that was absolutely killer to die for. The crust, unlike american GF, was soft, tender and flavorful. (American GF tends to be like a cracker or at the very least, chewy or crispy). Italian pizzas are not like american, where quantity seems to be preferred over quality. This pizza had high quality toppings which shined in its simplicity. I will take a pizza like this any day over the cheese laden gut bombs in good ole USA. I’m not knocking American pizza, its just that it is very different and if you travel expecting it to be the same, you will be disappointed. But then, if you travel expecting it to be like ‘home’, you are missing the point of traveling.

Pancetta & Mushroom (Fungi) GF Pizza:

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I asked the waiter if he had a antipasti he recommended, and he brought me this beautiful platter with fresh greens, juicy sweet little tomatoes, prosciutto, salami and two little crostini, one with a savory mushroom topping, the other a traditional bruschetta. The quality was excellent, and the meats could be shared with the girls :

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For our Secondi, the girls went for pasta, and I got the wild boar. I tasted theirs, they tasted mine. All were amazing, the pasta was perfectly cooked, the sauces were simple but complex in flavor. I know a good sauce, and these were made from scratch, well balanced and flavors fully developed. Bolognese sauce can be amazing or gross, depending upon the skill and time put in to making the sauce. This was amazing. (3 amazings…yes, it really was that delicious! Sorry for the half eaten plate, the girls were diving in to it before I could grab my camera!) Notice how it’s not sauce heavy? That is the way it should be served.

GF Pasta Bolognese:

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My Wild Boar:

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Doesn’t that look so yummy you want to eat the screen??? I know, and trust me, it was! Please be adventurous! Wild boar is a local favorite, and it’s hard to go wrong ordering what the locals eat.

I don’t have a dessert to recommend, other than panna cotta here. But with so many gelato stores nearby, it’s not a hardship. I would highly recommend a grappa to go with your espresso! They have a lovely selection here by the glass. I had the waiter recommend one for me, based on my after dinner drink tastes.

While I was searching the internet for appropriate links, I saw some negative reviews by american tourists of this place. I will reiterate that this Ristorante is under new ownership, and they are very proud of the new menu and quality of food they serve. I found the waiter and staff to be helpful, charming and well versed on their menu. An important point to make is that this place is unlike other eateries we visited throughout our trip. This one did NOT have the service included, so they DID run on tips. Some might be put off by the waiter informing them of this, but please, do not be offended. They are merely letting you know that the tip is not automatically included in the price, as it is in most establishments. Therefore, it is up to you to tip. In the rest of the places we ate they had “Service Compris” which means they automatically add in 15%. Many travel guides warn tourists to not tip because you end up double tipping. I am a fan of tipping over service charge added, because if service is excellent (or terrible), I can compensate accordingly. We had excellent service, so I tipped generously. Besides, my daughter lives around the corner, and she would be back for pizza!

If you are passing through Piazza della Signoria, I highly recommend stopping in.

Ristorante Cavallino

Piazza della Signoria
Florence 50122
Italy  Tel: 39 055 215818


Gluten Free Grilled Pizza

Since the girls were itty bitty, I’ve been making homemade pizza. In fact, it’s one of my fondest memories, our weekly ritual of ‘make your own’ pizzas on Friday nights. Sometimes it would be just us, but many times it would be with friends of all ages, followed by movie night. I would throw the ingredients in the bread maker, turn it on and set to prepping the fixings. When the dough dinger chimed, everyone received a wad to form for themselves, and top how they wished, choosing from the variety of toppings I put out. For us, it was the perfect way to wrap up a week, everyone elbow to elbow, creating their own personal masterpiece, watching it bake and then enjoyment of eating it. It is just a communal meal that invites conversation and relaxation. One day, I read in a cooking magazine, someone grilling their pizza and thought that was a FABULOUS idea! From then on, if the weather was cooperative, I grilled our pizza.

Then, my daughter was diagnosed gluten intolerant and that tradition came to a screeching halt.

For those unfamiliar with the challenges of GF baking, you might take for granted the marvelous qualities gluten gives to flour. It allows you to stretch and form the dough while staying intact. Depending upon the technique and recipe, it has a lovely ‘chew’, it’s texture varying from soft to crunchy. Gluten free flours have to rely upon gums like Guar and Xanthan to keep the baked goods together, and none really seem to mimic properly real gluten. I just don’t think they’ll ever have a ‘hand tossed’ Gluten Free pizza unless a genius invents an allergen free gluten.  I’ve tried many different recipes and varying brands of pre-mixes, not one was a keeper.  Most of these have you pat the wet dough out in a pan and pre-bake, adding the toppings after its cooked through. That isn’t a pizza in my book, and not only were some attempts like trying to chew cardboard, some had spongy texture that was unappetizing. Many couldn’t hold up to the toppings, and would get a mealy sort of soggy during the bake. It was all very discouraging, and I’d considered throwing in the towel and resigning ourselves to Dominos delivery for our pizza fix. (Note: I say considered, I would really never give up!) Then recently, a friend brought over a current issue of newer cooking magazine called “Simply Gluten Free“. I was extremely grateful for the thoughtfulness because for one, its a beautiful magazine; and secondly, it sported a cover photo of grilled pizza! I flipped to the recipe and decided to give it another try. I mean, it’s pizza, and it’s grilled, and they have a photo of the finished product, so it must have been successful. Right? That is a big ole affirmative! This was SO successful that it deserves to be shared, so here is my modified version of the recipe posted by Carol Kicinski in the July-August edition, along with photos to document our success!

Grilled Pizza Dough

(makes 8 personal sized Pizzas)

2 Cups Pamelas Bread Flour

2 tsp Xanthan Gum

1 Tbsp Active Dry Yeast

3/4 tsp sea salt

1-2 Tbsp King Arthur Flours Pizza Seasoning (Optional. This has salt in it, you can reduce the salt in the recipe if you wish, or you can add fresh or dried herbs like oregano and basil, or just leave plain) [2015 note: there are many no-salt seasonings out there now, so if salt is an issue for you, try one of those. Or, just add dried basil and oregano)

1/2 tsp pure cane sugar

2 tablespoons really high quality Extra Virgin Olive oil (plus extra to brush the cooked pizzas with)

1/2-3/4 Cup Hot Water, temperature should be right about 110 degrees

Put the dry ingredients in your stand mixer with the whisk attachment. (I know it sounds odd, but since this is not wheat flour, it works better than a dough hook or the paddle attachment)  Add the olive oil and whisk in. Then, add about 1/2 cup of the hot water and mix, adding more until the dough has come together and starts to form a ball around the whisk. Its better to be able to add more water if you need (be careful, it can splash!) than to have it too wet. I found that the dough starts off crumbly, then comes together quite nicely with about 2/3 of a cup water. It will feel slightly tacky, but not dry, and not wet.

Remove and turn the ball out on a floured surface. (I used Pamelas Artisan All-Purpose flour to dust my counter) Give the dough a few good kneads to smooth it out until it’s no longer sticky. Cut the ball in to quarters, and then cut the quarters in to halves, creating 8 balls of dough. I kept mine covered with a clean tea towel while I worked, so they would not dry out.

Using a rolling pin, roll the balls out in to discs that should be about 7-8 inches wide. These will be fairly thin, but if you have worked the dough correctly, they will hold together. Stack on a pan, separating the disks with parchment or wax paper. Heat your grill, and lightly oil the cooking surface.

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Grill the dough, flipping at about 2 minutes.

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You are partially cooking them, not fully cooking. Many of mine puffed like a pita bread, no worries, it will deflate off the grill. After they are finished on the grill, very LIGHTLY brush both sides with olive oil. Be sparing with the oil, you don’t want them to be soggy.

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While waiting for the family to gather, you can pre-grilled these, set aside to cool, then loosely cover with a tea towel. In the meantime, I mis en place the toppings.

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When everyone was ready, I took everything outside by the grill to let the magic happen! We created the following pizzas, which we then cut in to 4ths, allowing all of us to sample each one. Cook these over medium heat with the lid down so the bottoms won’t burn while the toppings heat up and the cheese melts. Check frequently.

Margherita: Fresh Mozzarella, Basil and GF artisan pizza sauce, before

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And after:

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Garlicky Bacon-Chicken Artichoke with Smoked Gouda and roasted bell peppers:

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And after:

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Traditional Hawaiian:

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And Greek (Kalamata Olive Tapenade, Feta and Tomatoes from my garden):

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And lastly, Grilled Potato, Bacon, Tomato, Smoked Gouda and Roasted Garlic:

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Notice that these are not the traditional uber-loaded American style pizza? Do not over load these, they are study enough to grill, but they will get soggy and break if the toppings applied with a heavy hand. We rather liked this thin crust ‘flat-bread’ style of pizza, and we most certainly loved the fun of creating, cooking and eating these outdoors, al fresco style. Can anything be better than communal cooking outside in beautiful weather, then the satisfaction of sitting back with friends and family to enjoy the fruits of your efforts?

PS) I provided links to some of the products I use. These are not paid advertisements, I just really like the product and like to share  products and brands I enjoy and what I think works well.

PSS) I really recommend Pamela’s bread flour for this recipe. It has a bit of sugar in the flour, which helps the dough ‘caramelize’ like wheat flour would. I also realize the flour has xanthan gum in it already, but add the additional 2 tsp as stated in the recipe.