Friday, September 16, 2011

Back From Italy with Writer's Block

Okay, maybe not writer's block, but I have been staring at Cake Wrecks and other blogs I follow for about 30 minutes with my blank posting box, staring me in the face, over in the next tab.



Ahem, well...



Right. So Italy. Everyone wants to hear about it, so let's have a dialog. Or a monologue. Whatever. I am going to surprise quite a few people by saying that the food was pretty disappointing. I don't know if that is because of where we ate or what my expectations about what Italian food was, but I was still disappointed nonetheless.

Let's start with what my expectations were. In my mind, I was expecting dishes with rich, herby tomato sauces, akin to the kind that you imagine old ladies simmering for three days in a giant pot. Truth is, marinara-like sauces are used pretty sparingly. More like just enough to keep noodles from drying out in the cooking process. Most dishes were fairly simple and straight-forward. One dish we had was spaghetti limone. (Spaghetti with Lemon Sauce). Which was basically spaghetti noodles with lemon juice mixed together with a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese.


That is not a sauce. That's noodles tossed in lemon juice, and I got charged 6-7 euros for that. Let's call that about $9 American. Pity.

Most of the dishes were very heavy handed with olive oil and cheese. At times, Jon and I would put an extra, folded up napkin or slice of crusty bread under one side of our plates to help drain off some of oil. As far as the cheese goes, don't get me wrong. As you know, I love cheese. But even I got burned out on the amount of cheese, and that is saying a lot. I put on about 5-6 lbs on this trip, and I am blaming it all on cheese. We walked a good 5-10 miles every day, so that should tell you how many calories of cheese was consumed.

Now let's talk about some positive food experiences. I got to try a few new varieties of pasta that I have only seen on Iron Chef or not at all. The first was called gnocchi (pronounced "No-Key"), which is made from mashed potatoes, egg yolks, and flour. It is very dense and filling. It was the first pasta meal I ordered when I arrived, and it looks like this:

Gnocchi tossed in oil and Parmesan cheese. Not bad, will certainly make you feel stuffed.
The other type of pasta that I got to try was known as Strozzapreti, which is very frightfully translated as "priest choker" pasta.


I'm not making this up.

According to the all knowing Wikipedia, there are several legends about how this pasta got its name:

"One is that gluttonous priests were so enthralled by the savory pasta that they ate too quickly and choked themselves, sometimes to death. Another explanation involves the "azdora" ("housewife" in the Romagna's dialect), who "chokes" the dough strips to make the strozzapreti: "... in that particular moment you would presume that the azdora would express such a rage (perhaps triggered by the misery and difficulties of her life) to be able to strangle a priest!" Another legend goes that wives would customarily make the pasta for churchmen as partial payment for land rents (In Romagna, the Catholic Church had extensive land properties rented to farmers), and their husbands would be angered enough by the venal priests eating their wives' food to wish the priests would choke as they stuffed their mouth with it. The name surely reflects the diffuse anticlericalism of the people of Romagna and Tuscany."

Anyway, our priest choker pasta was made into a carbonara with small chunks of panchetta. If you have never had carbonara, it may seem like a sort of Alfredo sauce, but it actually made with cream and a ton of eggs. Panchetta is basically unsmoked bacon. It was very good and homemade. I needed a nap after eating it. I certainly hope food experts are still on the "eggs are good for you" swing, because I have seen this recipe with as many as 8 eggs in it.

Pasta with which one chokes priests.
Another thing that I learned it Italy is the true meaning of "al dente". I mean, I know it literally means "on the tooth", but what does THAT mean? I've been reading pasta boxes for years with directions to cook noodles "al dente", and I have come to the conclusion that some things you just can't understand until you have eaten them in their natural environment. If that makes any sense. Basically, what I have discovered is that I have been over-boiling my noodles until they are too soft. Noodles are not supposed to be crunchy, but they are supposed to be so soft the great-granny can gum them without her dentures in. They should have a little spring; a bit of chew to them.

I think my favorite food experience, other than cheap wine (which was sadly, under consumed), was gelato.

He had a nut flavor and I had lemon.

Gelato is eaten almost daily as a late-afternoon snack. Italians don't really eat breakfast-only coffee and small yogurt, lunch is eaten between about 1 p.m. and 2 p.m., followed by coffee or gelato around 4 p.m., with dinner not starting into well after 8 p.m. I think the only way they can make it that late without eating is because the coffee is so strong that it suppresses the appetite until much later in the night. The coffee was so strong, I think I grew chest hair. Scotch seemed smoother by comparison. Consequently, I consumed a lot of gelato. Mostly lemon which was F-ing fantastic by the way. But also a creme and bitter cherry, mixed berry, chocolate, and an egg custard variety called zambioni. Jon was way more adventurous and had a different flavor everyday. Of course, he couldn't get away with not eating something Nutella, which he absolutely loves. Me not so much.

I'm just getting back on American time, and I promise I will try to post some more food pictures this weekend. Sorry to let you down in that respect. I have a cake to make tonight, so look for them a little later this weekend. Thanks a million, and also, hello to my two new followers. Ciao!

1 comment:

  1. Great post! It's interesting to read about how people actually eat and live in other countries. And I'm sorry that you didn't get enough wine. :-(
    But gelato! Mmmm ...


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