Friday, July 22, 2011

"Viva Italia!" - Falling In Love With Italian Food

"Un buon vino, un buon pasto, e una bella donna, la dolce vita!" (A good wine, a good meal, and a pretty woman, the sweet life!") - Italian proverb

I could write about piazzas and cathedrals, of fountains and ancient ruins, and Sunday morning strolls in Rome, but if you really want to know something I fell in love with in Italy (besides my gorgeous wife all over again! - the picture is of us sitting at the Cafe Perseo in downtown Florence), it would be the food and wine we had there.  "Mamma mia!" - Oh, my, was it heavenly!  So this entry is a celebration of all the pizzas and panini, croissants and ciabatta, tiramisu and tagliatelle, gelato and granita, vino bianco e vino russo, that we enjoyed on our trip.  I don't know how Italians stay so slim eating all these delights!

The Foods, Meals We'll Never Forget

  • Pizza in Italy:  Nothing like any pizza I've eaten in the U.S. (though I haven't been to New York).  Crisp, light crusts...not too much sauce or cheese...just one size (no "mini", no "large").  We ate pizzas in every Italian city we visited - always ordered our favorite ("The Margherita" - tomato, mozzarella, and basil - see above).  The most memorable piece?  The slice served us as an appetizer one night at dinner in Rome.  Swoon-worthy!

  • Risotto:  We ate this creamy, arborio rice dish in fancy restaurants and were even served it in a cafeteria in a highway rest stop! (I actually watched the cook prepare it right in front of me!).  Loved, loved, loved it!  Best risotto?  The dish we had for lunch in sunny Sorrento at "Il Leone Russo" (The Red Lion) restaurant.  Risotto al funghi (with mushrooms)... See above!

  • Gelato:  This is the true national treasure of Italy!  My biggest regret is not eating this 3 times a day, every day I was in Italy - just so I could've sampled MORE of the fabulous flavors of this icy, sweet, incredibly light treat!  Just looking at the case in a gelateri was a feast - I felt like a little kid, overwhelmed by all the choices - when asked "What flavor?", wanting to simply say "Yes!".  Deborah and I will always remember the "Death by Chocolate" gelato scoop we had at Moretti's Bar in the Piazza Navona in Rome.  Frozen yogurt in the U.S. will never taste the same!  So our hunt for gelato in the U.S. has begun (and we've actually found a place in Medford!  Can't wait to try it!)

  • Pasta:  Of course, we ate lots of pasta.  The biggest and best surprise about this was the fact that Deborah (who's gluten sensitive) enjoyed it all!  We knew we could easily get gluten-free meals in Italy (we learned Italians are experts on dealing with this food malady), but we never had to.  So we ate penne and farfalle, tagliatelle and tortellini, lasagna and ravioli to our heart's content.  But never did have just spaghetti and meatballs - or Deby's favorite pasta dish, Pasta a Aglio e Olio (angel hair pasta, tomatos, cheese, and a simple oil and garlic dressing).  Don't know how we missed that - but we loved being able to eat pasta to our heart's content - and no tummy ache!
So, we clearly enjoyed the food and the wine we had each night.  But we also had to adjust to some interesting "oddities" while eating in Italy.  Such as:
  • Water brought to the table was always in a bottle.  And we'd be asked, "Still or gas?" (flat or mineral)
  • No ice with the water either.  We sometimes wondered why asking for ice was treated by Italians as such a "luxury".
  • Salad dressing was only olive oil and vinegar (which I grew to like, plus it made ordering from a waiter much easier - no long recitals like in the U.S., "We have ranch, honey mustard, 1000 Island, French, raspberry poppy seed, creamy Italian, blue cheese, etc.")
  • Wine for breakfast?  Why not!
  • "Beef or fish"?  That was the choice we had at every dinner when it came time for the "secondo platti" (second course).  Deborah wasn't a big fan of either - I ate some tasty sea bass - but nothing memorable.
  • Ever seen a lemon the size of a softball?  We did in Sorrento! (And loved our 1st taste of limoncello, the powerful, but sweet liqueur made from such lemons)... Want proof?  See below!

OK.  I've had a lot of fun writing this, but it's time to call it "finito".  I could rave about Italian food for a long, long time!  Don't want to "linger too long" over the memories, or I might feel like the guy in this classic TV commercial - see if you remember it :-) (Click on the link below)

Buon appetito!  Ciao!

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