First pick your Florentine – New Year 2008
2007 was apparently a bumper spinach harvest for Britain. Let’s hope we Brits appreciated it, for this is a challenging bit of green stuff, especially where wine is concerned. Grenache is a well-documented grape which grapples manfully with the green, metallic edge of Popeye’s favourite leaf. However, any red with the right concentration can do the job and some white wines can also be surprisingly competent. Portugal, rich in food-friendly indigenous varieties, is a good source of such wines. The home-grown spinach season is over, but the frozen variety is a useful standby for the classic Tuscan sole alla fiorentina.
For four, firstly, wilt 1kg fresh spinach or 500g frozen (thaw before use) in a pan with the merest dribble of water. Drain well and toss with melted butter and a little nutmeg and season to taste. Briefly poach 8 fillets of lemon sole – no need to splurge on Dovers for this one – in white wine, with a knob of butter and a torn bay-leaf. It should be just opaque. Make a béchamel sauce with 50g each butter and flour and the fish poaching juices made up to 500ml withmilk. Lay the spinach in a greased gratin dish, top with the fillets and pour the white sauce over. Top with grated Parmesan cheese and bakes at 200degC/Gas 6 for about half an hour until well browned.
Bistecca alla fiorentina is another matter entirely. No spinach is involved here (though a raw spinach salad would be good), just a big slab of beef, equivalent to our T-bone steak, but the spicy tang of a good sangiovese work perfectly with any home-reared, well-matured beef. For authenticity, season the steak and brush with Tuscan olive oil, infused with finely chopped rosemary or sage, leaving it to marinate for an hour or two. Then cook it for 5-7 minutes a side on a hot griddle pan. Season with whole sea salt and black pepper, cover and rest for 10 minutes, then take it off the bone and carve into thick, angular slices.
Yet another Florentine incarnation - crisp pastries coated with dark chocolate and candied peel – would round things off nicely, with a bracing espresso. Buon appetito!