Ivka's Streamlined Italian Kitchen

Kitchen Tour

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Who cooks and eats here: Ivka, her husband Angelo, and Totti the dog
Where: Florence, Italy
Rent or Own? Rent

Ivka's Florence kitchen reflects her cooking philosophy: simple, clean, and no superfluous clutter or junk. Despite being a humble rental space, Ivka frequently and enthusiastically cooks up Italian classics for a crowd! When I visited her we shared a cup of her grandmother's herbal tea (grown in her very own garden in Croatia!) and got to talking about food, culture, tradition and home cooking...

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Ivka, a graphic designer and graphic arts instructor, and her husband have lived in this apartment in the Oltrarno neighborhood of Florence for about a year. The kitchen is a standard rental affair in Italy, with built-in cabinets and shelving, a stove lining one wall, and a small space for a table. The ceilings are tall and the single window gives off a beautiful stream of painterly light. The drawers are well-organized with the stacks of dishes, regular pans, pretty glasses and serving dishes. There are no tricks or extra flourishes, just the basics.

To an American the space seems conspicuously bare, but Ivka shops for necessities daily. This attention to quality ingredients and time allotted for food preparation is not unusual in Italy, and Ivka takes full advantage of the bounty in her adopted homeland, purchasing assorted vegetables, pasta, cheeses and fish from local vendors at the bottom of her street.

When I asked Ivka about her tea/coffee routine, she showed me two Moka coffee pots. As we brewed tea, she explained:

"I use two espresso makers at home: a single shot espresso little one (it looks more like a toy) and a large one. Both are more used by our guests. I don't take coffee on regular basis, but I like it for pleasure of having it after a dinner in a restaurant. I keep a large variety of teas of which every one has an assigned effect. This ritual is something I got both from my grandmothers and my mom."

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10 Questions for Ivka (and Her Kitchen)

1. What inspires your kitchen and your cooking?
"
My cooking is a mix of previous international living experiences. Basic rule I sort of have is fresh and organic ingredients, such as the ones I was brought up on when I was a little girl. (Also because I have this myriad of reactions/allergies to preservatives and processed foods. No junk food, barely ever fried food, little meat.) I have learned a little from my grandmas, more from my mom, little on my own and quite a bit here in Florence, from friends and family. I try to mix the best of all worlds."

2. What is your favorite kitchen tool or element?
"
My favorite tool would have to be the simple handheld blender. In winter time I make a lot of stews and soups where it comes very handy. In summer with cold soups or smoothies. I should say it is the only non-replaceable tool in my kitchen. I am not greatly fond of kitchen tools in either case, so whatever can be multi-use is my type of tool, just like the simple hand held blender."

3. What's the most memorable meal you've ever cooked in this kitchen?
"
Last Christmas I had my family over from Croatia. They have never had a real parmigiana, which is so Italian traditional. There were six of us at home, but I cooked for 10 knowing my brothers could handle A LOT. There was a lot of parmigiana and it turned out real good. I was pretty content when they were fighting over last pieces. I was very house-wifey proud of myself."

4. The biggest challenge in your kitchen:
"
Well, it belongs to my apartment which is rented, and my landlord is not keen on getting me a dishwasher. (I of course am not getting one from him.) The challenge, thus, would clearly be washing the dishes."

5. Is there anything you wish you had done differently?
"
I would take a wall down, paint the kitchen, add a dishwasher, bar table and chairs, wine fridge, shelves and a new regular fridge. Maybe I would open it to the garden as well. All of the ceramics would go out, both floor and sides."

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6. Biggest indulgence or splurge in the kitchen:
"My kitchen is so simple and my fridge always half or completely empty as I buy stuff on an everyday basis. I don't really enjoy kitchen tools and appliances, and I could easily live using a simple pan, pot and a couple of plates. And wine glasses. Having said that, my biggest indulgence is wine. I mean, this is Italy!"

7. Is there anything you hope to add or improve in your kitchen?
"I was actually thinking a personal chef would make just about a great add on! I enjoy slow cooking, but a figure like that would just about do it when I am running all over the place during the day. Is that a bit over the top?"

8. How would you describe your cooking style?
"Fish, garlic, veggies, grill, homemade bread and juices. Slow cooking."

9. Best cooking advice or tip you ever received:
"It is easy to hide bad cooking when using a lot of ingredients. Making a very simple dish taste good is the thing."

10. What are you cooking this week?
"Today I made lentils which I boiled with a little bit of dried peperoncino. In the oven I baked little cherry tomatoes and garlic which later I blended into a paste. This paste was then added to lentils, stirred. Some Pugliese bread grilled and some olive oil sprinkled on it and then that's about it. Oh, there was a Rosso Di Montepulciano there as well.

Tomorrow, I will probably pass by the couple who sells fresh veggies in Porta Romana first, and then decide based on what they have. I cannot imagine myself planning a whole week of cooking!"

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Resources of Note

  • Pots and pans: "I got a couple from my mom, purchased one from IKEA and then that is about it. One other little one which I boil tea water in, but it is almost a cup size."
  • Dishes and cups: "Between IKEA, one euro store and a gift from my mom's friend. As long it is white and simple looking, and I actually do need it."
  • Glasses: "Big crystal red wine glasses, white wine glasses, liquor glasses, champaign glasses — I am not sure where I got them from, but they do make an important part of my kitchen attire."
  • Stove/oven: "Candy. I love it and love it. Bakes bread well, bakes everything well."
  • Where you buy your ingredients: "There is a supermarket we go to where we get the basics, but my food ingredients are mostly obtained from little shops down my house. There is a couple who opens a truck in the morning for fresh eggs, veggies and fruits. There is another family which sells bread and dairy. And there is a butcher for all meat and cold cuts. When I am looking for anything particular I will go to a big supermarket, but I cannot imagine a worse place to enter, so it really happens rarely."
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(Image credits: Leela Cyd)

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