Thursday, July 5, 2018

Gluten Free in Tuscany - Florence, Siena, San Gimignano, and Pisa

During our trip to Italy in June, we stayed in Rome, Florence, and Venice. Our Airbnb in Florence was located in the heart of the city, and had this amazing view of the Duomo from its rooftop terrace.

After dropping off our bags, we headed to Starbene Gold Gluten Free, which was about a 10 minute walk from our Airbnb.  Starbene has almost 20 locations in Italy, which you can view on their website.

Starbene Gold offers pastries, savory options, and a small selection of gluten free groceries.

There were so many beautiful pastries to choose from, it was hard to decide what to purchase.

Starbene does offer dairy free sweet and savory options if you cannot eat dairy.

Before leaving the shop, my daughters and I shared this beautiful pastry, which contained cream and chocolate.

I asked for recommendations for pastries that would keep overnight, because we had an early day trip to Pisa the next morning.  The chocolate and apricot pastries below tasted incredible the next day, and were probably my favorite pastries from Starbene. I stored them at room temperature in the bag they came in, and they were still incredibly flaky and fresh-tasting the next morning.

My daughters loved the donuts with pink frosting from Starbene, which had a slight strawberry flavor. They could have eaten whatever pastries they wanted, because my twins do not have to eat gluten free, but they requested these donuts three out of the five days we had breakfast at our Airbnb.

Our last morning in Florence, we shared this plate of pastries and some donuts. Starbene is one of the best gluten free bakeries I have encountered in my travels, and I am looking forward to stopping at their bakery in Lucca next summer on our Mediterranean cruise.

We did not eat gelato at Grom in Rome, because we were too busy inhaling gelato from Fatamorgana and Fiocco di Neve, but it was the best option in Florence, because it is 100% gluten free gelateria, and we found a Grom just two blocks away from our Airbnb.

Grom is certified by the AIC (Italian Celiac Association), and if you are dairy free, you will find plenty of options to choose from, including their chocolate sorbetto, which my aunt and uncle ordered on every visit.

My favorite was Crema di Grom, which is pastry cream gelato with chocolate chips and pieces of corn biscotti.

I also enjoyed their pastiera napoletana - traditional cake from South of Italy with custard, candied fruits, and Grom biscotti.

I also tried their taste of the month, crema pasticcera al mango e biscotti di Grom - mango with Grom biscotti.

My daughters loved Grom's chocolate gelato, ordering it on every visit.

If you love chocolate, buy a few bags of Grom's amazing chocolate biscotti, which they make in their own bakery. They had several other flavors of biscotti to choose from, including pistachio, corn, hazelnut, and almond & chocolate. I will definitely be buying more chocolate biscotti over Christmas Break when we take our next trip to New York City. Sadly, the Grom in NYC has gluten-filled cones, so be sure to tell them to change their gloves, and scoop your gelato from a fresh container.

In addition to gelato, sorbetto, and granite, you can also buy sorbet on a stick at Grom.

Our first night in Florence, we ate at Trattoria da Garibardi, an AIC certified restaurant with a large gluten free menu. I will be posting all menu pictures in my Facebook group Gluten Free Italy.

Da Garibardi's gluten free bread was pretty good, and according to their website, it is made in house.

I loved their fried pizza dough with prosciutto, but I was not crazy about the stracchino cheese it was served with. I would have rather had a bowl of olive oil and Parmesan or Romano cheese to dip it in. It would have also been amazing with some sugar as a dessert.

I shared an order of mixed fried fish, calamari, and shrimp with my husband. It was good, but I would have preferred the shrimp without their shells.

Our goal was to try local dishes in all the cities and towns we visited, so we ordered Bistecca alla Fiorentina, T-bone steak, Florence style. I am pretty fussy about steak, and this one did not meet my expectations, mainly because it seemed to be completely unseasoned, and it was too rare for my taste. My husband and uncle seemed to enjoy it though. I ordered steak several times in Tuscany and Venice, and this one was probably my least favorite. If we ever have the chance to dine at Trattoria da Garibardi again, I would probably try their house made pasta and pizza.

My aunt ordered the roasted pork sirloin with potatoes from the gluten free menu, which she really enjoyed.

The highlight of our meal at Da Garibardi was the desserts. Their hot chocolate souffle with white chocolate sauce was incredible.

My husband and I also shared their ricotta pudding, Florence style, with ricotta, chocolate mousse, chocolate drops, and candied cherry, which was just as good as their chocolate souffle.

While we were in Florence, we had lunch and dinner at Ristorante Ciro & Sons, which is known for their world champion gluten free pizza.

Ciro & Sons is AIC certified, and has a separate kitchen for gluten free food prep.

Both meals started off with their amazing crostini and black olives, which might be the best olives I have ever eaten.

My aunt, who is lactose intolerant, ordered the gluten free marinara pizza with tomato sauce, oregano, and garlic, which she loved. I chose the four cheese pizza with mozzarella, provolone, Swiss, and Parmesan, and asked for some pesto to be added to my pizza. I love that Ciro & Sons makes Neapolitan pizza, and their crust is so good, you would never know it is gluten free. I came home with two bags of their pizza crust mix, which you can purchase here. I highly recommend the four cheese pizza, which had just the right amount of cheese, and it was perfect with the added pesto.

I am not sure what I was thinking when I ordered gnocchi with tomato sauce, buffalo mozzarella, Parmesan, and basil on our first visit to Ciro & Sons. I rarely like red sauces unless they are sweet, and this one was too acidic for me. The rest of my family, who all like tomato sauce, enjoyed the gnocchi, which were nice and light.  My gluten-eating husband ordered ravioli with Pecorino cheese and William's Pears, one of his favorite meals in Italy. I was told they can be made gluten free.

When we stopped in for dinner, I ordered the same four cheese pizza with pesto, and split a spaghetti carbonara with my daughter Emma. It was good, but I did not enjoy it as much as the carbonara I make at home, which was the case at every restaurant I tried it at in Italy. My husband and daughters chose burrata with prosciutto as an antipasti, and it was served with crostini as well. It looked so good, I wish we had ordered a gluten free version.

For dessert on our first visit, I had a crepe with Nutella. I forgot to ask them to go light on the Nutella, which I regretted, because there was just way too much of it. I did enjoy my crepe though, after I scraped off most of the Nutella.

On our second visit, I ordered the gluten free version of Mamma's tiramisu. I was really glad I asked if the tiramisu delivered to our table was gluten free, because it turns out, it was not, so I was brought a second one, which was gluten free. I am so thankful that I dodged that bullet. I have never been accidentally glutened in a major way, so I have no clue how my body would react to that much gluten.

My whole family agreed that the only meal we did not enjoy in Italy was at Ristorante Quinoa, a 100% gluten free restaurant in Florence.

Their gluten free bread though, was some of the best I had on our trip.

I was excited to try their watermelon and feta salad with orange and olives, but it arrived without oranges, and a large quantity of either onion or fennel on top. I did not try it, because I do not like raw onion or fennel, but it added an odd taste to the dish.

My fried chicken was overcooked, but the potatoes it came with were pretty good.

My aunt did not enjoy the meat sauce that was served with her gnocchi, and my uncle did not like his roast pork loin, though he did say the roasted potatoes it was served with were good.

My daughters ordered Pad Thai, which I forgot to take a picture of. They said it was ok, but not good enough to order again.

Quinoa had some interesting looking desserts, but I knew we were going back to Ciro & Sons for dinner later that day, so I did not order anything.

From Florence, we took two day trips. The first was to Siena and San Gimignano with Chianti Drivers, who I highly recommend. I have already booked our day trip to Lucca with them next summer.

In Siena, we had lunch at Il Ghibellino Osteria, which is certified by the Italian Celiac Association.

While my gluten-eating family ate bread, I was given a plate of gluten free crackers, which I took with me in case I needed a safe snack later in the trip.

I ordered steak with rocket (arugula) and Parmesan cheese. This was my favorite steak dish of the trip. The meat was tender and seasoned well, and I enjoyed eating each bite with the cheese and arugula. My uncle ordered the steak with oil and rosemary, which is another gluten free option. I wish I had taken a picture of it, because it looked really good, and he said it was delicious.

My husband and I shared an order of the spinach and ricotta malfatti with truffle. Malfatti are gnocchi-like dumplings that are lighter and larger than gnocchi. They reminded me of the gnudi I had in London last summer. The malfatti at Il Ghibellino Osteria were so delicious, and ended up being one of my favorite dishes in Italy. They were incredibly light, and I loved the cheese and truffle on top.

Other safe gluten free options in Siena include Grom and Starbene.

We only spent an hour walking around San Gimignano, but while we were there, we stopped at the famous Gelateria Dondoli.

I was a little nervous, because Gelateria Dondoli is not certified by the AIC, and they are not 100% gluten free, but when I mentioned I had celiac disease, the server who helped me pulled out an individually wrapped gluten free cone, and offered to scoop my ice cream from the back. If Gelateria Dondoli had not been so crowded, with a line out the door, I would have probably tried several flavors, but I saw the ricotta berry gelato up front, and couldn't pass it up, because I love desserts with ricotta. It was definitely a good choice, and a flavor I would order again. According to Gelateria Dondoli's website, all flavors of their fruit sorbetto are gluten and dairy free. If we had been in San Gimignano in the evening, we would have had dinner at Le Vecchie Mura, which is AIC certified. On our way back to Florence, we stopped at Fattoria Montecchio for a wine and olive oil tasting. I did not partake in the wine, but their extra virgin olive oil was incredible on the rice cakes they gave me.

We also took a day trip to Pisa with lunch in Vinci that we booked through The Roman Guy. I would have preferred to dine in Pisa, but there seemed to be a lot of inflexibility on the part of the driver they contracted with for our private tour. I was not that impressed with Vinci, and would have preferred to spend more time in Pisa. The restaurant we were taken to in Vinci said they could accomodate me, but it was not AIC certified, so I opted not to dine there, and ate a piece of potato pizza and a donut I brought with me from Starbene. I would have stopped at Mai Grano Delizie Artigianali Gluten Free in Pisa, but it is closed on Mondays, the day we had our tour. Alessandro, our amazing driver on our Siena tour, recommends doing Pisa and Lucca in one day, which I wish we had done instead of Pisa and Vinci.

Five nights in Florence was probably not enough with the day trips we did. On reflection, I wish we had stayed seven or eight nights, and had taken day trips to Cinque Terra and Lucca. My entire family agreed that Florence was our favorite city in Italy, and that we want to go back again soon.

What are your favorite restaurants for gluten free dining in Tuscany?


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