La Cucina del Garga is a fascinating restaurant a short walk from the very centre of Florence. Their food is classy yet substantial and served with little fuss in a very relaxed environment where the decor is so completely art focused that you feel like you’re in the house of an artist with an impressively wide taste in creative style.
The first thing we noticed when we arrived at our table was that there were marker pens laid out with as much care as the cutlery had been.
“Feel free to create something on the tablecloth,” said Andrea, our waiter, “the best designed table cloths win a dinner for two.” Table clothes of previous diners were draped over the wall lamps. They were impressive. We knew we’d never match their skill, but we were going to have fun trying!
The second thing we noticed there was this Focaccia Tuscan Flat Bread with Spicy Tomato Sauce; we couldn't believe how good it was. Please enjoy making it!
1 packet (1/4 ounce) active dry yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
3/4 cup warm water (110 degrees)
2 ¼ to 2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon table salt
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Extra flour for dusting work surface
Unsalted vegan butter for greasing baking dish
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place the yeast in a small bowl, add sugar, and slowly mix in half (3/8 of a cup) of the warm water. Let rest for 15 minutes, or until foam covers the top of the yeast mixture. Stir well.
Place flour in a large bowl, and sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon table salt. Push the flour to the sides of the bowl to form a crater. Into this crater, pour the yeast mixture, 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, and the remaining warm water. Stir slowly with a wooden spoon, starting from the middle to incorporate all the flour. An uneven ball of dough will be formed.
Place the dough on a flat work surface that has been dusted with flour. Sprinkle flour on top of the dough, and knead for 5 minutes. The dough should now be soft and elastic, but not sticky. Knead for another 5 minutes.
Place the dough in a clean bowl, and cover it with a dish towel until it’s doubled in size; this will take at least an hour.
Place the dough on a greased baking sheet, and, using the tips of your fingers, spread it out into a 1/2-inch-thick circle (or rectangle, if you prefer). Still using your fingers, dimple the surface, and brush with remaining olive oil. Sprinkle with the rosemary and salt. Cover again and let rise for 30 minutes. Bake for 15-20 minutes and top with the Salsa Vigliacca.
120 ml (1/4 c.) extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, minced finely
600 grams (1 ½ lb) ripe tomatoes diced
2-3 chilli peppers
2 tablespoons of minced parsley
In a large sauté pan cook the garlic in the olive oil until golden.
Remove pan from the heat and add the tomatoes by squeezing with your hands. Add the chilli peppers by crushing between your fingers (Attention: wash your hands after touching the chilli pepper). Salt and put back on the heat and cook, covered for 2 minutes.
Mash the tomatoes with a fork and cook uncovered for another 3 minutes. Add the minced parsley and basil leaves.
We asked Sharon a few questions with the aim of getting to understand more about food in Italy, and her own views on certain subjects that are important to us all nowadays. Here's what transpired.
What was your favourite food when you were growing up?
First, a little personal history. I arrived in Florence in 1970 to study painting, met Giuliano Gargani and in 1979 we started our adventure in gastronomy by opening “Garga”. My book “Once Upon a Tuscan Table” Sharon Oddson Gargani was published in 2006 by Camino Books Philadelphia, in the book is the recount of what made a young Canadian girl and her Florentine husband decide to open a restaurant. It also contains a recipe section with 120 recipes.
I grew up mainly in Winnipeg and when we (my twin sister and I) were little we lived with my maternal grandparents who were Danish. It was mostly my grandmother who did the cooking. I can’t say that she was an inspired cook but she made the most delicious meatballs and wonderful pastries and desserts and I absolutely adored her rice pudding. Our food was mostly Scandinavian, my grandparents made their own sausages, rye bread etc. and every Sunday we had Danish smorbrod for lunch. The fresh vegetable situation in the winter was almost tragic but in the summer we had a vegetable garden on the river bank where our house was situated. They grew, green beans, peas, tomatoes, asparagus and lettuces.
What inspired you to become the chef that you have become?
The inspiration for cooking in Florence is outstanding. The quality of the produce, meat, fish, dairy products is amazing and agriculture has strict rules. We are so fortunate to have a mild climate and in this small country of Italy the growing seasons move up and down the peninsula all year round and nothing is further than one day by truck for delivery. We eat rigorously seasonally here which is very easy considering the variety of seasonal produce.
What advice do you have for people who want to eat healthier. Should they eat organic? Or is eating locally produced food better?
Personally I think the secret to eating healthily is seasonal local food, lots of fruit and veggies. In the area around Florence I don’t worry too much about products being labeled “organic”, I tend to buy in the markets and not the supermarkets.
And finally, if you had to limit your diet to include only 25 individual types of food, what would you choose (kale, apples, spirulina, spinach, chia, sweet potato, goji, etc) for maximum active and general lifestyle benefit?
Being an omnivore it is hard to select only a few products, if I absolutely was forced to do so I would include lemons, apples, Tuscan kale and cannellini beans. I think I would have to include some bittersweet chocolate as well (we serve an amazing vegan tortino di cioccolato fondente at the restaurant!).