Florence. Firenze. Florencia. Florenz. Φλωρεντία. 佛罗伦萨. Anyway you say it, Florence sounds dreamy. I was lucky enough to spend a weekend there with my love, and it was indeed dreamy. But it was also hot. Real hot. Sweaty hot. Like must have a hotel with a rooftop pool type of hot (even if the pool was the size of a bathtub). It was necessary. Real quick, I must completely recommend the Kraft (not Bob) Hotel in Florence with its rooftop pool, beautiful views of the city, and a magical basil cocktail. Located just a short walk from the train station, but in a quiet part of the city, the room was elegant and clean. The bartender was adorable and came from Polignano a Mare, which he told me I must visit. I did. You should too. But I digress. Back to Florence.
Only an hour and a half from Rome by train, stands Florence. Stepping out of the train station I immediately knew I was going to love Florence. Please do not get me wrong, Rome is my eternal home away from home and it possesses my heart, but Florence… well I have very intense feelings for her. There. I admitted it. It’s not an affair though. Just a strongly developed mutual respect and longing. I kept these feelings somewhat hidden as my boyfriend had just arrived to visit me from Boston. I thought it the least I could do…
I had been away from my love (the boyfriend, not Rome) for two months when we met in Rome for a few days and then took off to Florence for the weekend. The vibe was mellow as we walked our way around the city in the midst of awe inspiring architecture and high heat. My man and I aren’t necessarily the “wait in line” type, especially when it is 90 degress out, so although there are amazing museums and churches to behold, we did not. We like to get lost. Walk, eat, drink, people watch, repeat. We did make it to the Piazzale Michelangelo. The view from this park was spectacular. We could even see our rooftop pool from there! Have I told you about our rooftop pool?
I must admit, I really had one thing on my mind, and one thing only, when we decided to visit Florence… meat. Red, rare, meat. Florentine steak to be more precise. Our one goal was to taste the steak of all steaks. The Queen. We are meat people. And I’m not afraid to scream it from the rooftop pool. If you are a vegetarian, the spinach was really good too. But a Florentine steak, a good one, could convert you. Keep an open mind.
So what exactly makes a Florentine Steak, a Florentine Steak? Well, we are in Italy, thus rules and regulations pertaining to food and wine are a plenty. And again, we are in Italy so there are many opinions regarding these rules. I could go on and on about using meat of the scottona from the Chianina cattle, an ancient breed dating back 2000 years: a female calf 15-16 months of age, who has never been impregnated. She must be pure. The desire builds. Or the sector who believes more in the size and proper aging which makes the steak, THE steak. In either case, it must be a porterhouse cut which incorporates both the sirloin and tenderloin. The meat should have a lot of marbling and must be served “al sangue,” rare. This does not mean it is dripping with blood but instead crusty on the outside with a juicy, red interior.
I could continue to write about the unique obstacles presented when cooking two cuts of steak at once. It is quite a challenge (understatement) which requires precision and patience. It is all bringing the meat to room temperature first, indirect heat from the burning wood embers, and standing the steak up so that the bone transmits heat to the meat which relaxes the fibers creating tender flesh. Depending upon the size of the steak, each side will typically do 5-7 minutes on the grill creating beautiful marking. The steak finishes by resting in a warm area off heat for 10-15 minutes so the juices redistribute. It is simply seasoned with salt, pepper, and olive oil and served on a wooden cutting board which helps to keep in the heat.
For the detail lovers out there, I may have answered the question of what makes the steak THE steak, but it is more than just size, weight, temperature and cut. It is the experience of enjoying every moment. From walking into the restaurant, inhaling the smells and seeing the steak for the first time, to using both hands to gnaw on the last morsel stuck to the bone. It is a sensual, full body experience. I was fortunate enough to experience the Florentine steak, la bistecca, at La Trattoria dei Quattro Leoni in the Oltrarno district of Florence. This is how it went down.
After asking my people in Rome for suggestions, I chose Quattro Leoni. To say we were excited is a vast understatement. Without a reservation, we walked in on a wing and a prayer. Got a table. All coming up us. Our waiter approached, we had our game plan ready. We ordered. He then brought out the rare piece of loveliness for our approval – oh hell yeah. HUGE. Yes, size matters. Then it disappeared into the Florentine kitchen to return as an angel of flavor. With the giddiness of children on Christmas morning, we watched as the waiter approached with our gift to behold. The grace with which he sliced this masterpiece brought a tear to my eye. And then, it was time. The salty, crispy, warm bite was nothing shy of euphoria. It was perfectly seasoned, a minimalist in the best sense possible, but intensely present at the same time.
The steak took control of my every sense. A work of art. The grill marks were purposefully placed upon the shiny, juicy canvas which glimmered in the light of the candles. It was swiftly, but purposefully, cut exposing a steady inviting stream of juices along with the wafting smell of wood fire. The best of both worlds, sirloin and tenderloin, texture and flavor at its finest. This is a feast that should not be consumed alone, but must be shared with someone who appreciates the experience as much as the flavor. The table of ten next to us had four or five steaks come out. It is about family, blood or not. Sharing. Experiencing. Loving.
I’m not sure I will ever attempt to cook my own Florentine steak. I’m not necessarily intimidated, well maybe a little, but more so I fear losing its authenticity. The respect I have for the history, qualifications, and procedure far outweighs my need to recreate. It would not be possible. However, I will, without a doubt, return to Florence to take part in this celebration time and time again. Simply stated, “All hail the Queen.”
Carolyn White was born into an Irish-English American family in Brewster, Massachusetts. After 18 years in education as a teacher and counselor, Carolyn made a life-altering decision to change careers and venture into the culinary world. During the summer of 2017 she staged at Coppa Enoteca in Boston where she focused on the art of pasta making. In December 2018, Carolyn was accepted to Alice Waters’ Rome Sustainable Food Project and moved to Rome in March 2018. There she studied Roman food and culture, sustainability practices, and cooked for the residents of the American Academy in Rome. Carolyn returned home to Boston in July of 2018 where she currently works as a private chef and caterer.