Wednesday, November 11, 2009
Eating My Way Through Italy
So I have rehashed the European Adventure for my family mostly, hopefully others enjoyed it as well. But the highlight for a foodie like me was the food, (duh). Europeans have it all figured out, I would move to Parma in a heartbeat if I could, what a way of life! For obvious reasons I am skipping the Croatian and Bosnian food. It was good, don't get me wrong, but, it wasn't Italian! Every time we sat down to a meal, the waiter would bring our plates and I would say "Wait! I have to shoot a picture!" We also took along a stack of my sister Patti's wine labels from her vineyard. We slapped one on every bottle of wine we drank so it was sort of like she came along with us. This blog will be a little longer than usual, but it is necessary to get the food all in one!
First a word about breakfast. I love Italian hotel breakfasts. Prosciutto, salami, fresh baked bread, Nutella, sometimes eggs, that fabulous coffee, and even a few Italian pastries. I could eat salami for breakfast every day!
We begin in Venice where my parents and I met my sister Lori. Venice makes you think of Harry's Bar, Cipriani, gondolas...or Crazy Pizzeria, that's where we ate. We avoided the big cities, this was about Italy, not the touristy stuff, although we did partake in places. It was late when we got to our hotel outside Venice, a small Autostrada problem, navigation problem, call it what you want, we were lost. Crazy Pizzeria was rather large for an Italian restaurant, probably because we really weren't in a high tourist area and many locals were there, always a good sign. The menu was extensive with pizza and pasta. We ordered red wine, salad, pizza and pasta.
The pasta was delicious. It was simple spaghetti tossed in olive oil, red pepper, and parsley. It was the perfect amount of heat. The pizza was the Crazy Pizza. Classic thin crust, sliced Italian sausage, hot banana peppers and black olives. It was the perfect first meal of the trip.
When we left Venice the next day, we headed North to Lake Como, or Lago di Como. What a spectacular place. The playground for George Clooney, Madonna and Richard Branson. Honestly, it'd be a bit more fun to go there with their bank accounts. The outstanding meals were first in Cernobbio at the Hotel Miralago. It was a chilly fall afternoon when we arrived in Cernobbio and nothing but the bars were open, so naturally we drank. We walked around the small village, went to Villa d'Este, gorgeous but eerily empty, and killed a little time in our own hotel bar until 7:30 dinner. Leonardo our waiter at the bar was quick to offer us a little tray of olives, capers (huge capers from Sicily) and sun dried tomatoes. It was perfect to keep us satiated until dinner.
Dinner was the perfect autumnal meal. The wine was delicious and the staff got a kick out of us putting our label on their bottle. For my entree I ordered chestnut pasta with bacon and pumpkin. Just thinking about it makes me swoon. It wasn't colorful, but it was earthy and delicious. The pasta was a dingy brown, but nutty and flavorful. Bacon of course is a bonus in any dish and the pumpkin was bright and fresh in a small dice. Lori had the pumpkin soup which was velvety smooth and delicious. We had to have the chestnut cake for dessert because it just seemed appropriate. Dessert in Italy is always a bit of a disappointment. Unnecessary if you will. The cake was great, but I would like it at 3 in the afternoon with a cappuccino!
The next day we took the water taxi to Bellagio and shopped the narrow cobble stoned streets. We had a small lunch, pizza and salad, and a little wine at a small cafe called Carillon. The pizza was thin and delicious and the owner was all too happy to take me to the kitchen and meet the pizza guy throwing it to the ceiling and slowly stretching the round of dough. Of course a wood burning oven is why the crust cooked perfectly! We went back later for coffee and dessert and the owner took a wine label and posted it on his shelf with other memorabilia.
Our last meal in Cernobbio was at Harry's Bar. Because it was off-season, the restaurants seemed to rotate their nights. Harry's was a disappointment, expensive, crowded and they did their very best to ignore us. The gnocchi I had wad light and delicious, but that was the highlight of the night.
When we left the lovely lake area, we headed southeast toward Parma. Lori had a friend of a friend who had moved there to go to culinary school and sort of start over. We really had no idea if we would spend the day with her or grab lunch or what. It turned out to be one of my highlights of the trip. Parma is a smaller town and home to a University so there is a young population. It is also the home of Verdi and he is everywhere! We poked our head into a salumeria and were astounded by the wheels of Parmigiano-Reggiano and the many cuts of prosciutto and salami hanging. The next shop we poked around in was Pasticceria Torino. I felt transported to a wonderland of pastry. It was spectacular. The wood, the glass, the assortment of pastries. I bought a box of candied violets, and the flavor of them is impossible to describe. I bought them to put on truffles, but I don't think I could part with them, one little taste transports me back to that spectacular store.
These little devils were a small shortbread disc with a cone of bittersweet chocolate mousse and a sprinkle of bittersweet chocolate. They were deathly rich and I was not inclined to share, sorry Lori. We also bought some shortbread type of cookies that we saved for a later date. They were good, but they weren't the chocolate bombs! We walked into Parma past the Duomo (easily the most spectacular church I have seen in Italy) and the city center.
We ended up on a charming cobble stone street and ate al fresco with the large heaters cranked and taking off the fall chill. Antipasti of culatello (my hands-down favorite), stroghino, salami and coppa with fresh bread and local olive oil. Next, ravioli, 3 kinds, pumpkin, sweet herb and ricotta, and porcini. The pumpkin was my favorite! Next course was veal cheek with basalmic vinegar, (guanciale di vitello), with cippoline onions with tomato sauce, kind of sweet, and finally roast potatoes with rosemary. It was all delicious.
We said no to dolce and walked around this charming town that was off at siesta, or whatever it is they do from 1:30 to 3p.m. every day. We stopped at a cafe for a quick shot of espresso and then to to Chocolat Milano, wow. The gelato was dark and rich and wonderful. We also bought chocolate bars because we weren't getting near enough oxidants from the red wine we consumed every day. And then sadly we left Parma. We decided Pesaro on the Adriatic was our stopping point that night but we had a quick detour into Maranello to order a Ferrari before we headed East. Just kidding, we watched 2 shiny red ones come off the line and although we tried to really take in the cars, we were taken with the very handsome Italian race car drivers who left Ferrari at 100mph. Vroom, you bet!
We noshed in Pesaro because we were still digesting our Parma lunch. The next day we headed South into Puglia, we decided lunch would be with the locals at the Autogrill which I describe in the European Driving Adventure. No chicken fingers or burgers here. We arrive that evening in Faeto, the hometown of both paternal grandparents. Nestled in heart of Puglia, it is a small town clinging to a hillside. Our small hotel prepared a birthday dinner for my dad's 80th and the food was simple and rustic. It was the experience in Faeto that we will never forget.
My favorite meal of the trip was the last full day in Italy, it deserves its own blog as I plan on recreating the experience for a few lucky friends. And I also have to devote a blog to the Cernobbio grocery that miraculously appeared one day on the plaza and disappeared with in hours. Hang on until then! Buon Appetito!