Of all the events held at this year's Italy 2015, none was more anticipated than the showdown between the top-rated sandwich shoppe in Florence and Nancy Silverton's prototype panini board.
Firenze's finest, All'Antico Vinalo, had amassed stats like Barry Bonds on jungle juice. An unheard of 6,433 five-star reviews on Trip Advisor. (Yeah, I know. Trip Advisor and all that, but sometimes it hits the mark.) So Nancy and I , more encouraged by our friend Phil "I'll Have What Phil's Having" Rosenthal, went there. And we were not disappointed. Damn, they were some outstanding sandwiches. Sorry, I mean some molto buono panini.
"Make us your two favorites," Nancy told the colorful counterman as she helped herself to a serve yourself cup of Chianti, A few minutes late a porchetta panino the size of one of those emergency tires in your trunk was dropped on our narrow counter. The thing almost tipped over. Then a soppressata number that had won some "Street Food" award, or so bragged the counterman. We ate. We relished. Nancy studied. I wolfed.
To top this would be a challenge. But, that's the essence of Nancy Silverton as a chef. That is how she gets her inspiration. By truly enjoying and admiring a dish and then, somehow, making it better.
Automotively speaking, she's the Carroll Shelby of the kitchen. Like the late Texas legend, Silverton takes a regular Ford Mustang and soups it up into a fire-spitting Mustang Shelby GT 500.
So two, maybe three days after the Firenze lunch, back on home turf, Nancy laid out a lunchtime buffet of open face panini for three esteemed Italian tastemakers: Eiizabeth Minchili, who writes 'about the good stuff in Italy"; Rolando Beramendl, founder of Manicaretti, the outstanding Italian food importer, and superb Umbrian chef Salvatore Denaro.
Earlier that morning, Nancy went to work in the kitchen. When I got up, she had prepared the fixings of what would go on the sandwiches. Then we took our normal five-kilometer walk, but this time we stopped to pick -without clippers - wild flowers. Seven cuts later, we had amassed enough agriculture to fill a Fiat's trunk. At home though, the pile yielded two small vases. But, seriously, those were some pretty vases.
By the time Elizabeth, Rolando and Salvatore arrived, the old wood front room table that greets guests looked like Panini Paradiso.
1. Marinated radicchio, bagna cauda, hard-cooked egg and anchovy
2. Ricotta with mint, sauteed eggplant, fresh marjoram
3. Prosciutto cotto, tomato, melted young pecorino, grated Parmigiano, fresh thyme
4. Finicchiona, peppers marinated in balsamic, basil, capers, anchovy
All were as you would expect a Nancy Silverton panini to be;. Straight out delicious.
Elizabeth called it 'The day I learned how to throw a panino party.'
Rolando has this to say. "In 19xx, Nancy came to Florence and we ate crostini galore at Enoteca Fuori. I felt we had made a full circle when we had that sandwich meal at her house in Panicale which reminded me so much of that moment yet it was 20 years into the future. Nancy is full of inspiration and as always takes all our memories and things we have learned over the year to the next level.That is why I have such an enormous admiration for her."
Those sandwiches in Florence were excellent. Anyone going there, we would encourage them to go. Here's those raves from Trip Advisor - http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g187895-d1102253-r142089446-All_Antico_Vinaio-Florence_Tuscany.html
But, this stuff Nancy made was in a different classification.
You know me well, you know I love the landmark Steve McQueen car chase in Bullitt. The bad guys have a 1968 Charger 440 Magnum and Det Frank Bullitt has a '68 Mustang 390 GT fastback and they race and chase and soar through the streets of San Francisco then out of the city until the Charger crashes in flames in Brisbane, San Mateo County.
What does all that have to do with the sandwich/panino wars? Not much. But, I guess what I'm getting at is if McQueen had been in one of those Silverton Shelby Mustangs. the chase woulda ended way before they got out of San Francisco.
A standard model car - or sandwich - can be superb, But, once the likes of a Carroll Shelby or Nancy Silverton get a hold of it, Watch out. That baby is gonna soar.