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A Taste of Jewish Florence

tomato bread soup

The renaissance is still very much alive in Florence.  A medieval city preserving its unique place between the Uffizi and the iPhone.   From the Ponte Vecchio to the doors of Ghiberti, the awe inspiring David and the Duomo Santa Maria Del Fiore, I walk through the cobblestone streets and wonder if life would have turned out differently if I paid a little more attention during arts and crafts in kindergarten.

Beginning in the 15th century, the nascent Florentine Jewish community began to assert itself in banking and lending at the invitation of Lorenzo the Magnificent.  Conditions worsened during the following century and Jews were confined to a ghetto and restricted from most trades.  In 1848, the walls of the ghetto were opened and Jews were free to live wherever they pleased.

Photo courtesy: Flickr - mangro_kr's

florence synagogue

Today, the Jewish community in Florence numbers nearly 800.  The main synagogue is a source of great pride for the community.  Opened in 1882, after the emancipation of Italian Jewry, the synagogue is a spectacular expression of Moorish and Byzantine elements.  From the outside, a towering dome rests on a façade of marble and pink limestone.  Inside, intricate woodworking mark the seating area and Ark, silver candlesticks and a descending chandelier light up the center of this imposing structure, mosaics and marble tile adorn the floor and geometric painting decorate the walls from floor to ceiling.

Visitors are encouraged to spend some time wandering around the Jewish Museum upstairs, where the history of Jewish Florence is described in further detail and various articles of Judaica are displayed.

Florence also boasts a kindergarten, an afterschool program, youth groups and a home for seniors.  Visitors and residents enjoy a mikveh, a small kosher marketplace, and Ruth’s a friendly kosher vegetarian restaurant, located next to the main synagogue and museum, specializing in Israeli food.

Outside Florence is the majestic Tuscan countryside -- an inspiration for generations of cooks, wine lovers, and food writers.  The changing produce of the season sets the menu.  The emphasis is on hearty, rustic food.  I visited Florence during November and carrots, potatoes, onions, beans, kale, zucchini, pumpkin, chicory and tomatoes dominated the menus.  I could not wait to return home and try and create some of the delicious foods of the region for my foodie friends.  As a working mom, I love foods that do most of the cooking for me.  In the chill of December, soups that can be enjoyed as a complete meal are especially appreciated after a busy day.  If you’ve been putting off your trip to the hills of Florence and Siena, these two terrific Tuscany-inspired soups will take you there.

Ribolita - Tuscan Bread Soup

Tuscan Tomato Bread Soup