Monday, October 4, 2010

What I Learned About Food in Italy

Sweet readers! I ain’t got no recipe for you today, and I apologize. I’ve barely had time to go to the bathroom since arriving home, so cooking has been moved to the backburner. (Not literally speaking, because that would imply that I’ve cooked something. You see, here at CHG we try to use “literally” correctly, or we risk being severely pummeled by our mother.)
Anyway, our Italian honeymoon! It was great. Lots of art. And traffic circles. And domes. Boy, do they like domes over there.

The food, of course, was out of this world. Between myself and That Guy That I Married, we scarfed a silo’s worth of pasta, along with every known salami, prosciutto, capicola, and sopressata on the planet. This is to say nothing of the wine, which was plentiful and universally excellent.

Also? We ate horse. More on that in a minute.

First, a few observations, should you embark on your own journey:

1) Meats (cured and cooked), cheeses, pastas, wines, fruits, veggies, desserts, pastries, and sauces are absolutely, completely everything they’re cracked up to be. I gained almost six pounds, 90% of it in Pasta Carbonara.

2) These are three of the best pasta dishes I’ve ever had the pleasure of shoving down my gaping maw:

Rigatoni Carbonara at Dino & Tony's in Rome
Pappardelle with Wild Boar Ragu in Montepulciano
Macaroni, Marscapone Cheese, and Some Kind of Mystery Meat at Al Duomo in Verona
3) At home, we eat 90% vegetarian. Abroad we ate: octopus, boar, horse, donkey, chicken, pork, beef, sardines, anchovies, swordfish, rabbit, shrimp, and all kinds of fish. Regarding the horse and donkey, they’re both traditional meats of the Veneto region. (No, really.) We were a little hesitant at first, but figured it had already been cooked, so what the heck? With apologies to Secretariat, the results were surprisingly delicious.

4) Italian breakfasts are five-minute affairs consisting of espresso, some kind of sweet bread (meaning “chocolate croissant,” not “turkey pancreas”), and the worst fruit juice you’ve ever had in your life. I don’t understand how the same country that created Valpolicella wine could not master a halfway decent OJ. Get on it, Berlusconi!

5) Lunches are 30-to-60-minute affairs consisting of a sandwich, pizza, or some combination of meat, cheese, and bread. Not a bad way to live.

6) Dinners are two-hour affairs consisting of several courses: antipasti (usually cured meat and cheese), primi (some kind of amazing pasta), secondi (some kind of amazing meat), verdure (side veggies), dolci (dessert), and espresso and/or an aperitif to top it all off. At home, we’re pretty good at taking our time during meals. Even so, it took a few days to get used to the long, leisurely Italian suppers.

7) Speaking of those aperitifs, meals are generally ended by one of two beverages: limoncello (pictured) or grappa. We did not partake of the former, but did attempt the latter, which contained enough pure alcohol to strip a car.

8) More on the alcohol: While Italians offer a plethora of excellent regional wines, ordering a beer means you’re getting Peroni, or the occasional Moretti. While both are pretty good, we were craving good ol’ stouts and hefeweizens by Week 3. (In related news, we should be punched.)

9) This is Florence’s Central Market, a.k.a. Kris’ Personal EuroDisney. Picture this stall, multiply it by 100, and fill each with a different kind of food – cheese, tripe, fruit, vegetables, spices, chickens, rabbits, pig skulls, etc. I would have happily stayed there instead of our B&B, even though the owners offered free Nutella.

What heaven looks like in my head
10) Did you know walnuts are found in the middle of squishy tree fruits? Me neither! We discovered this when we locked ourselves out of our mountaintop B&B for 8-1/2 hours and were forced to forage for dinner.

11) During those same 8-1/2 hours, this magnificent chicken took a very real liking to me.

Mah Italian boyfriend
12) His girlfriends retaliated by pecking at our rental car.

Not pictured: a Mercedes Benz with hen dents
13) Italians do not use ice in their drinks. Ever. Hmph.

14) The greatest French fries/roasted potatoes in the world are located at a family-run Osteria in a miniscule town called Villa D’Aiano. It takes about 40 hours to reach, and no one speaks much English, but they must make their tubers with magic and unicorns. It’s the only way to explain them.

15) It is not a myth: Italian people are very fashionable, super tan, and extremely hot. Seriously, it’s like a whole country filled with Monica Belluccis. I have no idea how they are able to shove themselves into Armani pants when so much fresh pasta is available.

That’s all I can think of right now. Expect to see a few Italy-inspired recipes in the coming weeks, though. I promise, if I can find that Marscapone and Macaroni dish, it’ll go up a.s.a.p.

In the meantime, thanks for tolerating this, sweet readers! And if you have any memories of wonderful vacation food, please add ‘em in the comment section. It’s good to be back!

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Kalyn said...

When I went to Italy I also noticed how beautiful the people were, but especially the MEN! Even the workmen looked like movie stars.

Claire said...

I think your new title for the Husband-Elect should be the Husband-in-Residence. Or maybe Husband-in-Chief. Chief Executive Husband? Alternatively, my sister refers to hers as Husbeast. Hee.

Erin said...

It sounds like you have a fabulous time! And omg, the food! I need to eat and I need to travel, STAT! I can't wait to see what recipes you come up with based on your travels, very excited :D

wosnes said...

Going to Italy is on my bucket list.

I love Italian food. I have a number of Italian cookbooks written by people who have either lived in Italy or spent extended periods of time there. I've learned so much by just reading them.

Love Valpolicella wine, too, and Limoncello. I've not tried Grappa because I've heard about how strong it is.

Dee Seiffer said...

I concur! Italian food is amazing. My favorite was the wild boar sauce. I ate it every chance I got during the too few days we were there. Sigh. I need to lose 20 pounds before I go again so I won't feel so bad about the 10 I will gain while there.

Truly! How are Italians not obese?

wosnes said...

I've read that breakfast is the least important meal of the day in Italy and that Italians don't drink juice. If you see it on a menu, it's there for tourists, specifically Americans.

About the Husband. He was the Husband-Elect before the wedding. Maybe now he should be the Husband. Similar to how the President-Elect becomes the President after the inauguration.

Anonymous said...

That Guy I Married (TGIM). So that's his new title, huh? lol

Glad you had a good time!

amy said...

I thought blood orange juice was delicious.

Jessica said...

Welcome back! I also ate very well on my honeymoon - for the first time in 6 months I was not worried about squeezing into my dress! The best was this garlicky hummus spread that made all the breads in the restaurant taste like the best garlic bread I had ever eaten. Five years later and I have not been able to recreate it.

Autumn609 said...

Welcome Back!

I agree about the central market in Florence. The guy I married (btw I think you should try calling your version The Spouse) was like "its a really big grocery store now let's climb a mountain" and I was drooling and ready to rent an apartment just so I could cook with something. Couldn't do much with the mini-fridge and corkscrew we had in our hotel room.

We had this AMAZING chickpea and farro soup in Voltera that I have been working for a year to recreate. I know it was vegetarian but I just can't get it right without topping with some bacon crumbles to help. The endive and raddichio pesto and cream sauced ravioli (ricotta and walnut I think) was a close second. To say nothing of the fresh pastas with truffles. I"m gaining weight just thinking about them.

Anonymous said...

I was lucky enough to live in Italy for three years (on Mount Etna - and yes it erupted while I was there) My favorite pasta dish was made with cream and pistachio's. Giarrosto was also a specialty. (Roast chicken) The butcher would make sausage right in front of you. Yes, with pistachio added if you wanted. Best food ever. Also the people are very goodlooking (at least when they are young)

Anonymous said...

Having been to Italy several times (the male in residence is Italian), the problem with the fruit juice is just timing. Go to the south in winter, when the oranges are in season, and you'll have the best orange juice you've ever had.

I still have no idea why they don't use ice!

Cathie said...

I am supremely jealous. Italy is my fantasy vacation. Congratulations, and thanks for sharing!

savuryandsweet said...

i'm so glad i found your blog through seriouseats. i am actually leaving for italy a week from today. going to rome, florence, and venice. thanks so much for you post. any recommendations for dining in those cities?

brookstar said...

We recently went around central Europe and although most people told us the cuisine was fairly forgettable in this region, we took a real shine to Polish food. It's heavy, it's stodgy, it's real comfort food. But paired with all the different kinds of pickled vegetables, it still felt fresh! Potato pancakes with beef stew, sour cream and grated cheese on top is one of my new favourite meals!

On another note, the fresh food market in Vienna was absolutely amazing. So many stalls full of everything from all sorts of fresh seafood, delicately stuffed olives and artichokes, exotic spices, beautiful pastries, cheap kebabs, a rainbow variety of name it. We went on a Saturday so we were treated to a real, proper flea market as well full of those little treasures you always hope to find. Too bad we were only travelling with backpacks!

Adventures in Marriage said...

My husband and I are taking our first trip to Rome, Florence, and Venice in mid November. We would love any restaurant suggestions you have!!!

Kris said...

With all these responses, I want to go back on vacation.

@savury @Adventures: If you're going to the Vatican, Dino & Tony's is a great lunch - a little off the beaten track with food that just keeps coming. I'd go for Osteria de Benci in Florence, as well. The whole meal was great, but Husband's Bistecca (steak) was phenomenal. Have fun!

wosnes said...

@Autumn609 -- the chickpea and farro soup sounds wonderful, but it might not have been vegetarian. According to Kyle Phillps from Italian Food @, Italians often consider pancetta or prosciutto to be seasonings and not meat. So there could have been some in the soup that you weren't aware of -- and it could be why it doesn't taste right without bacon.