Italy


So, I set out for a lake adventure on this sunny Spring day in Italy – getting an “open ticket” on the ferry, allowing me to stop in one of six towns on Lake Como, including Bellagio. 

I realize once I am on the boat that wherever I start – I would have about a two-hour wait until the next ferry departure because it was lunchtime. That’s okay – I am going to need something to eat anyway. 

I make my first visit at Lenno – walk along the waterfront. See a few tourist places – and head up the hill to find the center (il centro) of the tiny little town. And a restaurant not for tourists – which, of course, I don’t regard myself as — but a place to eat for the townsfolk. 

I stop at a post office and buy some stamps (francobolli) for my postcards (cartoline). I ask the dude behind the counter – in Italian (of course: hey, I’m no stinkin’ tourist!!!) (which is ridiculous because I am. But I digress). 

Where can I find a restaurant, I inquire. Oh, we have hundreds of restaurants, tanti (many). 10 kilometri. 

I know enough to know I am not walking 10 kilometers to find a non-tourist restaurant. Pizza would be fine. At this point. Tic toc – lunchtime is almost over. My ferry departure is closer. AND I needed a toilette!

I return to the restaurant I’d  rejected. Order a nice salad and a glass of vino bianco and ask the waitress. Scusi. Dov’è il centro?  Oh madame, she answers: here! This is il centro!!

Ha! Serves me right. 

Lunch was perfect, by the way. 

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It comes to the table – steam, redolent of garlic, warmly wafting from the plate. 

A mosaic of buckwheat pasta, melted cheese and green vegetables.  Where to start?  With a bite of potato? Or some kind of perfectly cooked green vegetable: the leaf of a romanesco cauliflower, a slice of – I don’t know – perhaps fennel. Subtle little greens – maybe broccoli – maybe spring vegetables. 

And that pasta! Humor me as I wax poetic over this pasto di pasta. A thick, not wide, noodle – with that hearty bite of buckwheat, delicately covered with sauce. 

It may triumph over Cacio e Pepe.

Maybe.  I haven’t spent any real time in Roma, yet. 

My very first pizzocchere. Accent on the second syllable: pea-ZOCK-uhree. 

Oh – did I mention dessert: la meringa con fragole?
Soft and crunchy. Meringue. With strawberry sauce and a kinda squishy, gelato-like layer. 

Burp!

Janet Eats, indeed. Better head out for una passeggiata up and down those steep and narrow hilly streets called contrada.

Italy awaits and I am venturing out of la bella città di Roma for the Lake District. A little village described as “if you want to do nothing, go there.”

Oh boy!

I am very excited to try this dish called pizzocchere – though it kinda sounds pizza-like – it is not. It is buckwheat pasta with melted cheese, potatoes and greens.

Yum!

I will be sure to report in.  More foods to explore, paths to walk, people to meet. More anon! 

 

 

This little apple faces extinction in Bagnacavallo – the small Italian town not far from Bologna. It is called a Florina. It tastes like the essence of appleness: crisp when bitten, juicy but not slurpy, the perfect combination of sweet/tart. Like an apple, only better. 

I met Florina while visiting the home of Anna Tazzari – the creator of Signora Maria. Her husband Massimo explained to me that you could not buy this apple in a store – you could only pick it off a tree or buy it at a farm stand. 

Sad, this little Florina – I hope she makes it in the world of Honeycrisps. 

October, 2015: my annual voyage to Italy.

I visited my cugini in Bologna. I really love to spend time with cugina (Italo-Americano) Paul, his beautiful Italian wife Laura, and one of their daughters: the adorable Michelle. The other daughter, Alessandra, is in California right now – attending high school in the Bay Area.

Bologna is, as I mentioned in a prior post, in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy. Pretty much when you think of Italian food, you are really thinking of food from this region: prosciutto, lasagna, tortellini, ragu, etc.

Food in Italy — as in many countries, even the USA — is regional. On this trip, I discovered many foods that, for the most part, haven’t “travelled” to American tables. Like:

Tigella – you can read about these little discs of breadliness in my post – Tigella Paradiso

Garganelli – a quill-shaped egg pasta served in brodo or with ragu. Maybe I have seen this pasta shape before, but I don’t remember. It is the pasta being held in the left hand of my new “friend” from Bagnocavallo:  Signora Maria.

You can read all about my adventures with Sig. Maria on my sister blog, rulingwoman.com. In short, I learned to make this pasta and fully intend to do so when I return to America. 

Giuggiole (JEW-joh-lay) is this fruit that grows on trees around Bologna.  

It looks like a nut. When you bite into it, it has a crunch and taste like an apple, with a pit.  Beautiful. I’d like a sweater in the colors of the giuggiole.  And, finally

Passatelli in brodo. Very VERY regional. My cugini and I went to a restaurant on my last night in Bologna. When the waitress spieled off the dishes for the night, she mentioned Passatelli. My cugina, Laura, was delighted when she heard that, and immediately ordered it. “What is it,” I entreated.  It is a “pasta” made out of Parmesan, breadcrumbs, eggs, lemon and nutmeg that is pushed through a press with holes (extruded almost like spaetzle though not quite). Passare –  passed through. Dropped into a rich, steaming-hot broth. The waitress ladled this brothy, cheesy, doughy bit of wonderfulness into our bowls. Yep, I slurped it right up, I’m sure of it! Luckily, I didn’t have my phone with me, so nothing could stop me from diving right into this sensuous repast. 

In the midst of a vacation filled with (albeit delicious) street and restaurant meals, it is a delight here in Italia to have a good ol’ home-cooked dinner. 

Dinner with the the cugini in Bologna. With typical Emilia-Romagna foods. 

At the bottom – un “panino” of prosciutto and mortadella on a handmade tigella. The tigella (seen in the basket) is yeasty dough placed in a tigelliera — a cooking vessel with two plates of six circles each.  You heat like a grill.  Put a circle of dough in each circle – and press together. Cook, then flip.  Then toss into a basket. Kind of pita meets crumpet. 

Split then fill. Funny, isn’t it, how every ethnic group has some kind of filled bread food. Pita. Taco. Dumpling. 

On the table: carciofi, prosciutto cotto, squacquerone, funghi rustici, salumi culatello, rucola. 

Squisito!

 

20130929-173537.jpgEvery night I walk through Saint Mark’s Square in Venice — because it is my landmark compass to get myself to my hotel. And, it’s the same thing.

The piazza is filled with Bangladeshi vendors: selling dying roses, those squishy gel animals, and these contraptions that soar up high, dotting the sky with ghastly neon green light.

I wonder to myself if centuries ago there were immigrants in the Piazza San Marco selling stupid trinkets.

Were there Renaissance versions of drunken American students singing college beer ditties?

Did fellow travellers think to themselves “stupid tourists!”?

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