Ciao from Italia!
I’ve been back in Italy for about a week now, and I’ve been indulging in some of my favorite dishes and trying some new ones that I’d love to share with you! I hope you’ll get some inspiration for things to try if you visit Italy (especially the Veneto region where I’m located now), and if you have any suggestions of must-try foods in Italy, please let me know in the comments below!
Verace Pizza Napoletana
Alberto and I have a tradition that whenever I arrive and right before I depart we go to our favorite pizzeria. Pizza is my favorite food on earth, and you seriously can’t go wrong with any type of pizza in Italy. Even though I have yet to eat a pizza Napoletana from its birthplace in Naples (serious bucket list item!) this pizza is a vera (real) pizza Napoletana.
That’s right, there actually is an association that has set forth rules for the preparation and ingredients of a real Neapolitan pizza! So instead of ordering a Margherita, you’ll want to order simply a verace (what they call a true pizza Napoletana with tomato sauce and fresh mozzarella. A striking contrast between a naturally greasy standard American pizza and a verace is that they actually ADD a drizzle of olive oil to the top! What’s the most strikingly different about a pizza Napoletana, in my opinion, is the crust. Rather than being crispy and thin, the crust is soft and fluffy and feels like eating a cloud.
I usually indulge a little and get the pizza with lardo di colonnata (pictured above). Americans tend to be afraid of lard & fat, so naturally I was hesitant to eat lardo. However, they have a tasting menu at this pizzeria where you get to sample some of their specialties and I got hooked on lardo di colonnata because it’s so unique and it’s something special I only get at this pizzeria. It’s surprisingly delicate and melts in your mouth.
Sorbetto al limone
After pizza I always get a sorbetto al limone (lemon sorbet) as a digestivo. I don’t know if it’s all in my head or if it’s really true, but I really do feel like finishing off a meal with a digestivo helps me digerire (digest) better, or at the very least feel refreshed. My sorbetto pictured below is analcolico, (non-alcoholic, or what is more commonly referred to as virgin), but if you add alcohol it’s called a sgroppino, which literally means to untie a knot (like the one in your stomach after a heavy meal).
Colomba di Pasqua
Even though I arrived a few days after Easter, Alberto was so sweet to get me my very own artisanal Colomba from a local bakery.
Colomba means dove (it’s supposed to be shaped like a dove, can you tell?!) Since Alberto doesn’t like anything sweet (HOW is that possible???) I was left to eat the ENTIRE thing myself over the course of a week for breakfast (not that I minded). It’s very similar to panettone, and has a moist and tender crumb.
Pranzo al Agriturismo
One of my favorite things to do in Italy is have a leisurely meal at an agriturismo, which is a local farm where they serve traditional family style meals (and oftentimes stay there too, though it’s more typical for agriturismi to just be restaurants in Veneto).
Primi Piatti (First Course)
This agriuturismo happened to be à la carte (usually you are served a full course meal of the daily special), so we each decided to get a primo piatto and then share a Fiorentina (T-bone steak cooked rare). Since my brother is a hunter, I had to try the tagliolini al ragù di cervo (venison ragu), with rucola (arugula), pomodorini (cherry tomatoes), and ricotta salata affumicata (smoked ricotta salata). I have to admit that the swamp green color of my pasta wasn’t the most appealing looking, but that smoky flavor from the cheese paired perfectly with the wild game. It was really good and different than anything I had ever tried before, which is what I was going for. Alberto had the gnocchi al ragù d’agnello (lamb ragu). In Veneto ragù with lamb, duck, or wild boar is made without tomato sauce.
Secondo Piatto (Second Course)
This fiorentina was HUGE and perfect to split amongst all 4 of us. I never used to like my steak al sangue (rare) before living in Europe, and now I think it is hands dow the most tender and flavorful way to honor a good quality and cut of meat.
Contorni (Side Dishes)
Fagioli all’uccelletto, aka BEANS. I can’t say that I’ve ever gone nuts over beans before. But I kept shoveling these babies onto my plate. Only Italians can do THAT to beans – make them irresistible. I think it was the sage in the tomato sauce. Sage has to be one of my favorite herbs, and I need to eat it more. I love it. (And how ironic that I’m from Nevada, which is covered in the wrong kind of sage that is the bane of my existence! Hello allergies!).
Pizza da asporto
Typically Alberto and I enjoy cooking all of our meals from scratch. However, every once in awhile you need pizza delivered, right?! Especially when the evil colpo di freddo (gust of cold air) that gave us the sniffles and a mal di gola (sore throat). So naturally, not feeling like cooking, we had a pizza delivered.
As you can see, this take out pizza is much different from the pizza Napoletana above (yet still better than any American pizza) because you fold the slices in half like a sandwich and eat the entire thing without feeling too stuffed because the crust is so thin!
I am a huge fan of Pecorino Romano and sheep milk cheeses in general, but this was the first time that I had tried Pecorino Toscano. I have to say that at first it was not my favorite, probably because I was expecting that same enthralling saltiness of Pecorino Romano. This tasted like, well, pecora (sheep). I think a lot of American dairy products, perhaps because of they way they are processed, don’t have a taste reminiscent of its animal source at all. For example, when I tried Asiago in Asiago, I could literally taste the grass that the cows has eaten (in a majorly good way, even though it sounds off-putting). And another Italian cheese that my cousin tried tasted like cow, she said, and was disgusted by it. So I think it can be shocking for an American who is desensitized to these natural tastes. However, one interesting thing about Italian cheese is that the taste ripens after it is opened, just like wine. After a few days the sheep taste of this Pecorino Toscano was a lot less intense and it was more palatable. Let me know, am I the only one who thinks Pecorino Toscano tastes like sheep?!?!
Alberto got straight to cooking up a big batch of ragù that we freeze for quick weeknight meals. We have started eating whole wheat pasta, and I have to say I think I prefer its hearty flavor, especially with ragù. We are going to share our recipe and how we cook and freeze it soon! I loved pairing it with an equally robust Aglianico del Vulture.
What food or drink was the highlight of your week?! Share with me in the comments so I can drool!1