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Nerbone, Florence, Italy, tasted on March 20, 2004 Buried amid the seemingly endless stalls in the central market in Florence is a place everyone wishes was within a block from where they work. Because if you could eat lunch there every day, you would. It's Florence's answer to Katz' deli, and it's delicious. It's the panino con bollito that's bagnato served at Nerbone in the Mercato Centrale in Firenze.

Panino con bollito is a boiled beef sandwich that's bagnato - dipped in the beef's own juices just before serving. And it's delicious. The market has so many attractive stalls from produce to dried fruit to vinegars and oils and incredible butchers, that it would be easy to miss Nerbone. It's on the first floor and off to one side of the market. But luckily we knew not to rest until we found it. We could see the rest of the market after we got our sandwiches.

The stall is crowded. No surprise. Nobody knew we essentially flew half way around the world to eat this sandwich. And even if they did I'm not sure they would have let us through more easily. We had to buy a ticket paying for our sandwich and then fight our way to the counter to place an order. After the order was placed we sat back and wondered what a boiled beef sandwich dipped in it's own juices would taste like.

The bun was thick and hearty, a little baguette-like with flour on its surface. The beef was sliced coarsely to a medium thickness. It was placed on the big baguette. They didn't cover it until they topped the beef with a couple of dollops of a red and green sauce respectively. And just before the sandwich was completed the entire bottom was dipped in the juice from the boiled beef.

I was definitely worried that the sandwich would end up soggy. It wasn't. Not only wasn't it soggy but the entire thing defied expectations. The sandwich is extremely warm and filling, and just as you're enjoying this Florentine comfort food your tongue happens on some of the sauces and your mouth is filled with sparks. The red sauce is sharp and hot with the green (mashed garlic, basil, and onio) is unbelievably bright. The sandwich ends up being a warm, hearty, comforting, exciting, kickass bite of perfection. Yum, yum, and yum.











Tastingmenu is focused on superlative restaurant experiences from two perspectives: behind the plate and behind the stove. Tastingmenu is written by Hillel (professional eater) and Dana (up-and-coming professional chef) in Seattle, Washington.

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  Garlic has long been credited with providing and prolonging physical strength and was fed to Egyptian slaves building the giant pyramids. Throughout the centuries, its medicinal claims have included cures for toothaches, consumption, open wounds and evil demons. A member of the lily family, garlic is a cousin to leeks, chives, onions and shallots. The edible bulb or "head" grows beneath the ground. This bulb is made up of sections called cloves, each encased in its own parchmentlike membrane. Today's major garlic suppliers include the United States (mainly California, Texas and Louisiana), France, Spain, Italy and Mexico. There are three major types of garlic available in the United States: the white-skinned, strongly flavored American garlic; the Mexican and Italian garlic, both of which have mauve-colored skins and a somewhat milder flavor; and the Paul Bunyanesque, white-skinned elephant garlic (which is not a true garlic, but a relative of the leek), the most mildly flavored of the three. Depending on the variety, cloves of American, Mexican and Italian garlic can range from 1/2 to 1 1/2 inches in length. Elephant garlic (grown mainly in California) has bulbs the size of a small grapefruit, with huge cloves averaging 1 ounce each. It can be purchased through mail order and in some gourmet markets. Green garlic, available occasionally in specialty produce markets, is young garlic before it begins to form cloves. It resembles a baby leek, with a long green top and white bulb, sometimes tinged with pink. The flavor of a baby plant is much softer than that of mature garlic. Fresh garlic is available year-round. Purchase firm, plump bulbs with dry skins. Avoid heads with soft or shriveled cloves, and those stored in the refrigerated section of the produce department. Store fresh garlic in an open container (away from other foods) in a cool, dark place. Properly stored, unbroken bulbs can be kept up to 8 weeks, though they will begin to dry out toward the end of that time. Once broken from the bulb, individual cloves will keep from 3 to 10 days. Garlic is usually peeled before use in recipes. Among the exceptions are roasted garlic bulbs and the famous dish, "chicken with 40 cloves of garlic," in which unpeeled garlic cloves are baked with chicken in a broth until they become sweet and butter-soft. Crushing, chopping, pressing or pureeing garlic releases more of its essential oils and provides a sharper, more assertive flavor than slicing or leaving it whole. Garlic is readily available in forms other than fresh. Dehydrated garlic flakes (sometimes referred to as instant garlic) are slices or bits of garlic that must be reconstituted before using (unless added to a liquid-based dish, such as soup or stew). When dehydrated garlic flakes are ground, the result is garlic powder. Garlic salt is garlic powder blended with salt and a moisture-absorbing agent. Garlic extract and garlic juice are derived from pressed garlic cloves. Though all of these products are convenient, they're a poor flavor substitute for the less expensive, readily available and easy-to-store fresh garlic. One unfortunate side effect of garlic is that, because its essential oils permeate the lung tissue, it remains with the body long after it's been consumed, affecting breath and even skin odor. Chewing chlorophyll tablets or fresh parsley is helpful but, unfortunately, modern-day science has yet to find the perfect antidote for residual garlic odor.  

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