11/18/2013 04:28 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Lunch With Nude Spinach and Friends

11/4/13 --

Yet another special treat in Florence....

Today Franca, one of my language partners, and Shirley, one of my friends (from New Mexico), and I had lunch at Ristorante i Toscano, owned by Franca's friends (Paola and her husband) and fellow bridge players. I am not exaggerating, I don't think, when I say it was a really, really unique, delicious, and fun meal. The restaurant uses local ingredients (from Tuscany) in all its dishes.

Franca is delightful. She is in her early 60's, has been married for a long time to a man who is in the furniture business with their son, loves to play bridge (and is, apparently, very skilled) and is (proudly) reading The Prince of Tides in English to improve her skills. Her English is really quite good, and we decided that we would spend 30 minutes talking only in Italian and then 30 minutes talking only in English, in order to help us best. I was really looking forward to today, the 2nd time Shirley and I met with Franca, and I was not disappointed.

We were treated royally by Paola, her husband (the chef) and her daughter (the waitress); her son is the other chef and we didn't meet him. Paola is in her early 70's, is youthful and energetic and beautiful, and she and her husband now work only mornings (they close the restaurant after lunch and open again for dinner, with their daughter and son in charge for the evening). The family has owned the restaurant for 24 years, and previously they had (or worked in) a store that sold rugs, I think (Franca explained this part in Italian, so I am not confident about the accuracy of these facts).

The first course was mixed meats, including prosciutto and sbraccia (a kind of delicious salami), with an order of frito (fried) 'cigarettes' made by Paola's husband, which were a rolled tube (like a cigarette) filled with something delicious that was probably yet another kind of processed meat.

Paola also gave us each a jar of her homemade 'marmalade pepperocino' and then served us some creamy (dolce) pecorino cheese with some of the marmalade on top -- my, my -- it was outstanding!

Then we had small servings of 3 different kinds of pasta -- 'nudo spinacci' (spinach and ricotta filling, without the usual pasta that wraps it up), a ravioli pasta and a cute bow-kind of pasta, each of the last two filled with something delicious... amazing.

Then we had lightly battered and lightly fried onion rings and zucchini flowers, just to add to the full experience.

And, of course, even though I think we said we didn't want any, we were served (small pieces, thankfully) warm, dense chocolate cake, with warm chocolate sauce drizzled over it, and coffee.

The best part of the whole meal and experience, for me, was the laughter and the conversations that we four women (Paola joined us) had during the meal, even if we didn't always understand each other. Laughter is pretty universal, of course, and we laughed. Franca and Paola are friends, and at one point they were arguing about the most beautiful/best part of Florence. It was pretty funny.

I rolled home, and am amazed that, given the incredible food everywhere, that my clothes still fit me -- hooray for the gym and for yoga and for walking for hours each day!