Chow Town

Slow Food Kansas City takes a ‘slow’ journey through Italy

Special to The Star

Editor’s note: This is the first of three parts regarding Chef Jasper Mirabile Jr.’s journey through Italy with the Slow Food Kansas City convivium.

My recent adventures to Italy this past month took me off the “tourist trail” with my local Slow Food Kansas City convivium. This excursion would begin in Florence, Italy, and end in the Marche region with a four-day layover at a villa in Chianti.

My nephew and I arrived in Florence early Monday afternoon and immediately dropped our luggage off at our hotel across from the Church of Santa Maria Novello. After 18 hours of airports and flying over the ocean, our appetite was evident and I knew just the restaurant to fulfill it.

We walked just a few blocks to The Mercato San Lorenzo and to Trattoria Mario, the classic Florentine “diner” where about 20 people start outside waiting to get in the 60 seat restaurant. After just a short wait we were seated at a large community farm house table and our waitress immediately brought a carafe of local Chianti.

I had my mind set on four specific dishes, really the only dishes I have ever eaten at the 60-year-old establishment since I’ve been going with my father back in 1972. The classic Ribolita, a Tuscan recooked soup with bread, was as usual the best I have ever experienced and then a plate of Tortelli with Tuscan Pork Ragu and another of Paccheri with a simple tomato sauce were presented within 15 minutes of sitting down.

I told our server I wanted my nephew, Jasper III, to experience the Bistecca Fiorentina and she asked me to come to the counter and show the butcher/chef how thick I wanted it. I don’t have to tell you how thick it was, I will leave that to your imagination. I did love the chef hat he was wearing with a handwritten note “No Coke with steak!!!” All I can say is when we left, it was another memorable experience and one of the finest T-Bone steaks I’ve had outside of Kansas City.

That evening, we met our group of 18 fellow travelers in the lobby of our hotel for cocktails and small bites. We went over our itinerary and discussed some of the highlights of the trip and places we would visit. I really don’t think some of the travelers had any idea we would be having five-hour lunches or visits to local pasta factories and farms as well as cooking classes. We also would be participating in the olive harvest firsthand and visiting 12th century abbeys. Of course there would be wine tastings throughout Chianti, visits to the most famous butcher in Tuscany and the chance to watch an artisan anisette producer carry on his family tradition.

Our only evening in Florence would be spent at one of the most famous seafood restaurants, Pescheria San Pietro, where we sampled platters of Shrimp Carpaccio, Avocado XV Olio & sea salt, Sardine Bruschetta, Tuna, Salmon & Sea Bass Tartar with sweet anchovy butter along with a pasta course of Tagliatelle con Botarga. Even though I was craving some sugar, I knew the next 10 days would be an experience of some of the finest desserts Italian chefs could showcase to our group so I passed and just enjoyed an espresso and after dinner Amaro digestivo.

The next morning, our group gathered early for a tour with Judy Francini, the Divina Cucina and our tour guide the next five days in the Chianti region. Francini took us to the San Lorenzo Market where she has many friends who are fishmongers, butchers, chefs, artisan cheese producers …

The newly remodeled market is absolutely beautiful with the second floor of individual kiosks ranging from fresh cooked tripe to some of the most beautiful produce available including porcini mushrooms in Italy. A two-hour tour throughout both floors of the market ended with a luncheon in the second-floor restaurant right next to the Medici Cooking School.

Not just an ordinary luncheon, this afternoon would be a light, two-hour lunch of some of the markets favorite dishes such as Pizza Margherita, pork sausage on flat muffin bread, fresh ricotta and mozzarella, cut pasta in a no a slow simmered pork ragu and a modern take on the famous Tiramisu for a sweet ending.

It was nice to take a walk back to the hotel and gather our luggage because we would have a little rest on the two-hour bus excursion to the Chianti region. A quick stop at The Auto Grill on A1 (Autostrada del Sole) consisted of a few shots of espresso before we arrived at Villa Palagina in Chianti.

With just enough time to bring our luggage to our villa rooms and a 30 minute nap, it was time for our first dinner in Chianti by one of the most respected and famous chefs. Stay tuned for next week’s Chow Town my friends, our foodie adventure in Chianti has just begun!

Chef Jasper J. Mirabile Jr. of Jasper’s runs his family’s 59-year-old restaurant, consistently rated one of Kansas City’s best Italian restaurants. In addition to running the restaurant with his brother, Mirabile is a culinary instructor, founding member of Slow Food Kansas City and a national board member of the American Institute of Wine and Food. He is host to many famous chefs on his weekly radio show “Live! From Jasper’s Kitchen” on KCMO 710 AM and 103.7 FM. He also sells dressings and sauces.