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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