Convinced that their fellow Tuscans living by the sea were being denied their birthright of traditional meat and offal dishes, Silvia Daddi and Mattia Maracci made it their mission to give the fish eaters of Follonica some proper Florentine food choices every day and with that inspiration, the Mollica’s food truck was born.
I have to add here that they did in fact put their finger on one of the problems with the regional Italian food traditions that dominate restaurant menus. Away from the sea it’s difficult to find seafood and near the sea it’s difficult to find anything but seafood. With the exception of baccalà, which to a fresh-cod-eating-north-sea-European is an anachronism that refrigeration should have consigned to history long ago, there is no tradition in Italy of eating seafood even a few miles from the sea and in Florence and other parts of interior Tuscany it’s not part of the regular diet for most people. Even in Lucca, a mere 16 miles from Viareggio, there are very few fish restaurants, even fewer fishmongers and no traditional Lucchese dishes featuring fish.
There’s much less excuse for the fact that along the coast just about every restaurant serves only seafood but that’s just the way it is. For the Mollica’s couple however it's not just about any kind of meat. They are evangelical fanatics of their native cuisine of Florence and they came to the seaside to proselytize people. The ancient food traditions of Florence have nothing to do with bistecca fiorentina so put that right out of your mind.
We are talking here about our old friend lampredotto as well as that other stomach lining dish, tripe, and of course the famous Peposo dell’Impruneta for which the tough muscular meat from the cow's shoulder is often used. This cut is fancifully called cappello del prete in parts of northern Italy as well as Tuscany, literally translated as 'the priest's hat', because the triangular shape of the cut is similar to the traditional hat that priests used to wear.
Probably as a concession to the hot summer weather when we visited Mollica’s, their seasonal menu included other lighter and more digestible sandwiches served on traditional Tuscan schiacciata, a type of focaccia. Notice also on the menu that another of our old friends makes an appearance, lardo di colonnata, though here for a play on words they call the sandwich Colonello, as in the army rank. A little lower down on the right hand menu the other sandwich containing lardo is called Cavatore which is the name for a quarryman so another reference to Colonnata and its marble quarries. Clever menu items aside, I felt obliged to put their peposo to the test.
Silvia and Mattia however are not just a young married couple who are doing this for a lark. They are both trained catering professionals who in fact opened a bricks and mortar restaurant on the seafront in Follonica in 2010 serving only traditional Florentine dishes. Because the seaside in Italy shuts down hard in the winter and customers become scarce they spent one winter in Australia showcasing their Tuscan cooking skills in a Sydney restaurant, returning to Follonica for the summer season.
In 2016 Silvia was approached to manage the kitchen at a high end restaurant just up the road in San Vincenzo so they sold the restaurant. It was probably most catering professionals’ idea of a dream job but Silvia is clearly the sort of person who needs to be her own boss so out of the blue she came up with the food truck idea and quit, initially to Mattia’s complete horror he told us. She took a trip to Turin, still the undisputed center of all car and truck manufacturing in Italy, and had the truck built to her specifications. It was finished in 3 months and though quite small, it’s well designed and engineered and clearly fit for purpose.
Deciding on a location then became the challenge and they regaled us with stories of being chased around the center of Follonica by the police. They were continually being moved on and fined until they finally came up with the sensible and actually quite brilliant idea of basing themselves on the Follonica industrial estate, well away from the downtown area.
This had two advantages, the first being that the police and permitting authorities were no longer interested in them and second, they found a ready market of hungry workers that had no staff eating facilities and nothing else available within walking distance.
And all these people arrive at the lunch hour with a proper working man’s hunger and have come to love Mollica’s traditional hearty Tuscan food that they can’t otherwise find locally. So even though the Mollica’s food truck has actually become very famous it’s not really a tourist food truck at all. And after a few years in the same place the locals now refer to the street as Curvone Mollica’s instead of using the real name.
The reason it has become so famous is because for the last 4 years they have had several books published and star in their own cooking show on the Italian food network channel Gambero Rosso. They are a telegenic couple with a good double act that consists mostly of her bullying him, which is obviously the only acceptable way round these days.
But this is Italy so you don’t get to host a cooking show on television if you don’t know what you’re talking about and know how to cook well. There are none of the slapdash performances here by cooks who aren't actual chefs that you see all the time on British and American television. Silvia and Mattia are very knowledgeable about real Tuscan food, including the sometimes complicated way they are traditionally prepared and a big part of their appeal is their natural ability to speak in the Florentine dialect using words and expressions that often aren’t used or even understood elsewhere in Tuscany, let alone the rest of Italy.
I have a mother-in-law from the rural Casentino valley just east of Florence where the mighty Arno rises and she has always spoken in the Florentine dialect rather than Italian so when I don’t have Elena around to translate I sometimes have to resort to just nodding and smiling.
Elena was quite happy chatting to them in dialect because she doesn't get the chance very often living in Lucca and another Florentine exile soon joined in the very merry conversation while I just munched on my peposo, which though excellent was not exactly summer fare.
Slow cooked with lots of red wine (Chianti of course), garlic and pepper this would however make a great winter lunch for a workman and at least it wasn't from an internal organ.
And beware of fake peposo recipes that include tomatoes because this traditional Tuscan dish was hoisted up to the workmen building Brunelleschi's dome in the mid 15th century before the discovery of America and the arrival of tomatoes from the New World. The Mollica's couple will happily give you a Tuscan history lesson as you eat their food and not many food truck operators can do that.
Gambero Rosso recently announced the next series with this couple and instead of being in a studio in the usual format the camera will follow them around in the Mollica’s food truck where they will cook street food versions of classic Tuscan dishes while liberally peppering their dialogue with Florentine phrases as well as issuing recipes written entirely in dialect. Their next cucina povera recipes are likely to be more tongue and cheek than tongue in cheek.
The following is their lampredotto recipe from the first new episode to be aired soon, written in Florentine dialect. So to all of you Italian students out there, see how you get on with this:
Il decalogo del lampredotto perfetto
1- Salsa Verde e/o i’ pizzico. Altre salse e salsine vu l’avete a mettere in quei troiai di hoddogghe. 2- I’Lampredotto l’è scuro e con la spannocchia chiara, con le frange a Farweste, no rinsecchito. 3- I’ Pane ci vuole di quello bono, Rosetta o Semellina. Quella roba surgelata l’è da principiante improvvisato, vienvia. 4- La mollica l’è per i piccioni, la va levata. 5- Per prepararlo un ci vole i’ tempo di un “salva cena”, 10 minuti e rizzati. Ci vole i’ tempo che ci vole. 6- L’è brutto a vedersi? Bellino te! 7- Per mangiarlo bisogna sbrodolarsi, un si po’ pretendere d’essere pronti per la cena di gala. T’hai a andare a cambiarti, bischero. 8- I’ gotto di vino rosso l’è praticamente d’obbligo. Gli astemi si astenghino. 9- I’ pane l’è da bagnare nì brodino suo, se ti garba godere, sennò t’hai a provare i’ riso in bianco. 10- Dopo i’ primo..e ce ne vole un altro.