There are some restaurants that I love more each time I visit them. You’d think they would be the fancy restaurants, that are always changing their menus with new, exciting and/or seasonal dishes. But no. The ones that pull at my heart strings are the ones where the menu never changes and you can count the offerings on two hands.
Sostanza, in Florence, is that kind of place. Seemingly frozen in time, the dining room and rustic kitchen in the back are two of my favorite places in the world.
There is never really a question of what I will order. I’m a butter chicken addict through and through.
But when I was up in Florence a few weeks ago, I went to lunch with my friend Pamela. Since she was ordering the pollo al burro (which contains not only enough chicken, but enough butter to ensure that both of our coronary arteries would be good and clogged for at least a month) I decided I would content myself with stealing some of hers, while I ordered the tortino di carciofi.
Like the pollo al burro, the tortino di carciofi is completely unique to Sostanza. So precious is their trade secret, that when I asked if I could make a little film of the chef at work, they said no. I could photograph it, but not film it.
So here are a series of photos showing how it’s done, with one very short video I sneaked.
The artichokes are trimmed, then cut into thick slices, coated in flour and egg and deep fried earlier in the day.
When the chef is ready to make the tortino, he pours oil into a small pan, which he places over burning hot coals. To make the fire even hotter, he aims a fan into the fire, to bring up the heat (see the photo below and let me know if you think this complies to any fire codes you’ve ever heard of).
Once the oil is heated, he lays down several of the artichoke slices.
While they start to sizzle, he then beats three eggs (and maybe a bit of grated parmigiano?) in a shallow dish, adding a bit of salt, and pours them gently, in a thin stream, into the pan. Grabbing the pan by its long handle, he tilts the pan up and uses a specially taped-together long fork to spin the already cooking eggs in a counter clockwise motion. It all happens so fast, that it’s hard to see what’s happening. Somehow the eggs rise up at the sides, forming a sort of border, while the artichokes and eggs remain tender and slightly soft in the center. Soft waves of egg form ribbons that turn the whole things into the tortino.
I’m not quite sure why Sostanza is so worried about someone stealing their recipe or technique. Because while the dish is delicious, the entire experience of it is about 20% taste, and 80% that kitchen, that fire, that pan, that place.
Via della Porcellana 25
Lunch and Dinner, closed Sunday.