Several years ago I was in Florence with a small group of chefs, restaurateurs and food writers. We were exploring the city’s historic trattorias, visiting the Central Market, sampling tripe and enjoying what the region’s classic cooking had to offer. It was around this time that the idea for my new London restaurant Trattoria Brutto came to me: a simple place serving Florentine dishes with uncompromising authenticity and honesty. My notebooks got fuller, more detailed and more annotated as the trip went on. It was a joyful voyage of discovery in the most famous Tuscan town and I was collecting as many ideas and recipes as I could.
One morning at the hotel in the Oltrarno district of Florence, directly south of the River Arno, I bumped into the veteran food writer Bill Knott in the breakfast room. He seemed particularly excited about the scheduled trip to the market but even more animated when he started to tell me about his favourite wine bar in the world, Casa del Vino, just in front of the market. Did I want to join him? He didn’t need to ask me twice.
We made short work of the 20 minute walk across the historic centre, barely pausing to take in the beauty of Ponte Vecchio and the Duomo, and Bill’s pace quickened as we approached the tiny, ancient bar, all wood-panelling and Carrara marble. The proprietor welcomed us with a glass of natural prosecco ‘col fondo’ — left on the lees, cloudy and more foamy than fizzy. After a chat about local wines he lined up a few glasses for us to try and then started to prepare some snacks at the counter. He cut a couple of slices from a sourdough loaf, toasted them, allowed them to cool, and then opened a huge tin of Sicilian anchovies. He removed some butter from the fridge and used a potato peeler to shave thick, cold slivers, and lay them onto the sourdough. Then he placed several anchovies onto the butter.
As I bit into the plump, oily anchovies and through the cold butter onto the toast, I started to laugh. How could anything so simple be so good? It was a perfect flavour combination; a marriage made in culinary heaven. I think Bill and I stopped talking for a good few minutes while we savoured the sensation and taste of those peerless little crostini.
We came across them several times over the coming days in different iterations, once at Alla Vecchia Bettola with curls of butter, and again at Trattoria Sabatino. I knew they had to go onto the menu at Brutto, and I’m pleased to say we serve many, many dozens of plates of them every day.
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