Wednesday, December 8, 2010

FOODIE YOODIE AND FOODEE KEE IN ITALY!









Ahhh, Italy. Brings sighs to many.  A country rich in history , full of traditions, family, love, stories, great wine and food. One word to describe this city? Romantic. Yes romantic in the ways of love, but also romantic in the way that things around are infused with time, heart and artistry.  This is the place where many creative minds come to find their inspiration and have their hearts stirred be it chefs, writers or all sorts of designers. Thank the Lord for such a great opportunity to experience a country like this for our first wedding anniversary.   My husband will be making a special guest appearance in this entry and share some of our experiences as well. :)

We went with a tour group and our visit included Venice, Pisa, Florence, Assisi, Rome and all the land between those cities as we traveled on bus and experienced Northern Italy down to Rome. For those who have been to the country, hopefully it'll bring back your own memories of your trip and for some, perhaps it'll spark your interest in the country.

May I say that a committed tour guide really makes the tour group love the country even more? Even if our tour guide experienced excruciating pain and got taken to the ER one afternoon, would you believe that he came back the same evening announcing that he was treated for kidney stones holding up a plastic bag full of meds and pain killer saying that “I’m back?"  My husband said kidney stones are like the equivalent of a man giving birth! Oh the Romans…bless their hearts. Nothing can stop their resolve to properly introduce foreigners to their beloved country. His name was Vanni (Vah-nee) and was an authentic Italian; perfectly spoken Italian, gesticulations and stories of his childhood romping the streets of Rome all present. Interestingly, he married a Thai woman! J

So here's where we traveled on the map. I dotted them in the Italian colors.



The Italian dining culture is one of the most interesting things about the country. Italian culture loves to eat and chat. Though they work, they are not centered around work, but Italians take time to enjoy the food and company as do the chefs take their time and care to prepare it. Do they chat to eat or eat to chat?  Many restaurants are owed by families and run by families. There’s a combination of Enotecas and Trattoria’s where you can grab full meals or come around the table for some wine and little snacks called chiccetti and a glass of wine. It is common for restaurants to serve only one meal a day and if they serve two a day they often have a break in the middle. As if you didn't already know...they drink wine like water.

So if people aren’t taking time out of they day to grab a short break with cicchetti, they are sitting to have a full meal which includes all this:

Appertivo- “a little something” before the meal which may consist of fine cold cuts, cheeses, breads etc

Primi- Usually a small portion of pasta. It may/may not have meat but if it does, it is a very small amount

Secundi- Meat dish in small portions

Dessert/ Coffee




VENICE- VENETO
The Floating City


Venice
is a city known for its waterways,  fine glass and seafood. There are gondolas, boats, water buses traveling on the water, but do you know they didnt' have ANY cars in the main parts of Venice? It’s all pedestrian walkways, differing in size and some so small it’s smaller than an arms length. If we had alleyways like these here in the US, they'd be filled with dangerous people with bad intentions, but in Venice, everyone takes them at day or night. It's full of good-intentioned people. :)


 Some roads look like little alleys with dead ends, but when you get to the end of the road, a new road appears. Using GPS proved to be successful for most of Italy, but in Venice, it was difficult since the walls around the roads were tall and connection was lost. One will learn quickly that asking people can be helpful, but at other times, infinitely more confusing. We were met with responses such as:

1.  “ Turn right, left, go straight  over the bridge and take a right…and when you get there, ask someone else.” The people don’t remember the road names and since each establishment, be it restaurants or shops, are each unique, landmarks aren’t the easiest things to remember and refer to.

2. “We are tourists too”

3. (Something completely in Italian)

We came across all of the above situations trying to get to our first restaurant in Venice and finally with the help of a gondolier we found Da fiore; a pleasantly Italian way to find our way to our destination. :)




Amuse Bouche
Crispy small shrimp on top of polenta.
(Venice is known for its polenta)




Primi
Lasagnette di radicchio con zucca, mazzancolle, maggiorana e formaggio tufin al tartufo.
Home-made radicchio pasta with imperial shrimps, pumpkin, majoram and truffle cheese



Primi
Gnocchi di zucca al tartufo bianco D’Alba 
Pumpkin Gnocchi with Truffles




Secundi
Coda di rospo arrotolata nel guanciale con flan di zucca e castagne e uovo di quaglia
Monkfish rolled with bacon fat with squash, chestnut flan and quail egg



Complimentary Dessert





Trattoria Besseta

 Appertivo- Prosciutto
Incredibly fresh all over Italy and tastes different than prosciutto we find in the US



Primi- Penne with basil, tomato, olive oil and parsley



Secundi- Chicken and mushrooms, polenta and a side of greens



Dessert- Panna Cotta with caramel syrup




Osteria alle Testiere

We got a great taste of seafood from Venice here

Apertivo
There was an assortment of fresh seafoods that were caught that day with minimal seasonings. What you see is what you get. Little octopus, mantis shrimp, sardines 2 ways, white fish, squid and fish on bread.
A monumentally delightful dish.





Spaghetti alle Baverasse




Filetti de sogliola al vino bianco, olive taggiasche e capperi di Pantelleria
Fillets of sole with white wine, olives and capers


Clip Clap Pizza

We walked in for a bite of pizza and the guy asks " How much do you want?" We were a bit puzzled until he explained that this pizza is sold by the Kg.



We did a food crawl instead of eating a whole dinner one night and had some cicchetti at a few different places. Post foodcrawl, we were off to the La Fenice Opera House . What is cicchetti?


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TUSCANY

The next leg of our journey was Florence the next morning and on our way to Florence, we had a stop at a Tuscan restaurant way nestled in Tuscan countryside. The Tuscan countryside had wide open spaces with grape vines, olive trees and bright colored houses that all looked different. When we got to our destination, we were met with a Tuscan lady who would show us around her family's land. Of course, there were the wine grapes and the olive oil which the family bottled into wine and olive oil as she showed us the olive oil press and some other information like how to pronounce Bruschetta the right way. For those who are curious, it's pronounced broo-sket-uh. If you pronounce it broo-shet-uh, she said it was the name of someone in the Mafia! yikes.

After the Tuscan lady warmed us up to the land, we were invited to have an authentic Tuscan meal with the homemade wine and olive oil from the trees that we had just seen.

So here's the wine that they bottle at this particular location. Reds, whites and at the right is Grappa, some seriously alcoholic drink that burns your nose when you smell it! I couldn't drink Grappa personally, but some people seemed to like it a lot bought a bottle as we bought some of the red and whites to bring back.  



Excellent olive oil, balsamic vinegar, olives, sundried tomatoes, mozzarella...all home made and incredibly fresh!



But the Paparadelle with Bolognese stole the show. I'm thinking this is one of the dishes in history that probably brought about the concept of  "seconds, please!"




So after our meal, we were on to Pisa. Apparently, the Italians are very proud of the region they are from and the lady who showed us the land here in Tuscany seemed to have a strong distaste for Pisa. Her region was Luca and referred to Pisa as,"dirty, nasty, stinky Pisa  *spit!* "  half joking and half true to what she was saying. So here is the real "dirty, nasty stinky Pisa *spit!*"




After our visit here, we hit the road again past some beautiful scenery and arrived in Florence.


FLORENCE


Florence is known for the best leather in Italy, museums and the simplicity of their food. It is situated on the River Arno with a series of bridges to connect the two sides. Florence used to be called something like Fiorenze, but after a few changes in history, it became Firenze. Holy prosciutto.. on the road I thought the "Firenze" exits were exits to France... our tour guide didn't tell us until we were in the city so I feel redeemed.  But here is Firenze, in all it's glowing elegance. 



The food here was amazing. In short, it's best described as simple and full of flavor.  I'll let my husband explain our dinner at Trattoria de Cambio since he specializes in meat.



Breakfast first.  My breakfast consisted of these meats every morning. Eggs, bacon, sausage links and freshly sliced deli meats and cheeses. I tried not to discriminate so I gave every meat an equal opportunity to represent itself onto my plate… the UN of meats if you will. 


Now please direct your attention to the cuts of mat that they have on display as you enter Trattoria de Cambio. I know women like to  window shop but I think this would be a man’s version of window shopping. The cuts of meat were calling out to me like we had gone to school together or served in ‘Nam... as if we were friends for life.




As you continue to walk through the restaurant you will see pig haunches hanging from the ceiling that they slice paper thin into prosciutto. I think heaven would have a few of these hanging from the pearly gates.


We finally place our order for the main event. The dish that is famous in the Florence area. I present to you the Bistecca Alla Fiorentina, that is, a big T-bone steak that is salted and just cooked to perfection. They didn’t even ask us how we wanted it cooked… it came out to us medium rare in all its tenderociousness. They told us to pour some of their olive oil on the meat and enjoy.  



The sides were very plain… boiled beans and sliced potatoes that were lightly seasoned with rosemary. Everything was so simple… but that is what made this meal so great because it was all about the freshness of the food and their natural flavors.

 

I think we made it pretty clear that it was a great meal and that it was a T-bone steak at one point.




Thanks Kee!

Then it was to another Tuscan Restaurant which we had to drive a ways to get to. It was called Ristorante Trepini and we had another Traditional Florentine meal here. They had about 18 different antipasto dishes to start with!


Greeted at the door with Strawberry champagne, then onto a bottomless well of wines. We've had Lambrusco before, but we found a particular liking for the one in Florence. Lambrusco is slightly sparkling red wine, a little sweet and medium bodied. This seemed like it would turn into a party considering some of the personalities in our tour group!



Primi- Penne pasta with a meat sauce





Primi-Ravioli with Cream Sauce




Secundi- a plate of Italian sausage, chicken, beef and pork.


Desserts- Tiramisu, chocolate something and w
hite cake with berries



and coffee. Italians seem to take their coffee with just sugar or black so I took it that way.



The Tuscan Chef



and afterwards on the way home the bus did indeed turn into a party scene. The busdriver flipped the lights on and off making it into a "disco" bus. He drove around 3 times in a turn around area to the Tennessee Choo Choo! It's not in this video but some people towards the back of the bus actually made a train down the center isle of the bus!...until they were quickly advised to sit for their safety. Good times :)   


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So that was our last night in Florence and we were on the road the next day to Rome and very tired since our tour group got in late the night before. Pretty much, the whole time we were here, we were lacking sleep, but to see all the sights and so all the things you want to, sleep is the first to go. (and you don't feel sorry about it at all)

Here is my morning interview with Kee:




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but on the way we stopped in Assisi to see the St Francis Cathedral. After driving up the hill overlooking the countryside, we arrived.






Post tour, Porchetta which is known in the area. I'll hand it over to Kee for this one.
 I think you might be noticing that there seems to be a lot of meat in my portion of the blog. As you know there is no “I” in “Team” but there is a “Meat” so it is important that I highlight some of the meat dishes from this trip. With that in mind, I present to you porchetta. Porchetta is a moist boneless pork roast of Italian culinary tradition. You slice up all that goodness and put it between two slices of bread and you have yourself a great sandwich.



Pair it with local beer and prosecco, and you've got yourself a meal.




Thank you for the details on the meat Foodee Kee.

And finally, back on the road again, we found that all roads do lead to Rome as we arrived in the ancient city. Rome is the largest city of all the places mentioned and his has a incredible amount of historic landmarks mixed with more current ones.


ROME

The food here was amazing to say the least. Again, here's Kee to describe what we think was the best food of our trip!

Cul De Sac is a restaurant in the Piazza Novana area of Rome. Their lasagna literally melts in your mouth and you are left asking yourself if you should order more after the first bite. If the word “epic” had a taste to it… I think it would taste something like this.


     

This is the oxtail from the same restaurant. I don’t know exactly what they put in it but I think they sprinkled some gold flakes on it because it was MONEY! I think they slow cooked it for years so that the meat fell off the bone… I thought about eating the bone too because the sauce got on it. 





Goodness, I'm glad you didn't eat the bone, Kee! Maybe we would have gotten stares like our annonymous person did at a restaurant this past year trying to eat the bone. :)
The pasta here was worth trying as well. I got the Spaghetti alla Amatriciana, which is the most basic type of tomato sauce pasta with guanciale, pecorino romano and tomato. The bucatini noodles were served in a small primi portion as al dente and the sauce had a sweetness and a bite to it. They also had an extensive wine collection here which we had a part of.




After perusing the day, we made reservations for Il Gabrielo, but we were a little early. Since we were in the scenic Spanish Steps area, we decided to grab a proseccon and beer on the sidewalk next to the shops. The drinks were a little pricey since the charge includes seating, but little did we know that our drinks would come with complementary snacks on the side.




IL GABRIELO

So when it came time, onto Il Gabrielo where we ordered in the "Claudios Extravaganza". It came with an  Antipasto, Primi, Secundi and Dessert way again here. We just had to pick fish or meat. Wanting to try more dishes, Kee of course, took the meat and I took the fish.  Most notable were the antipastos and the pasta dishes and the best of the night was the seafood antipasto dish and the ravioli.







and of course, we had to try Carbonara at another restaurant which is a mix of eggs, bacon, guanciale, black pepper and pecorino romano.


After reading through the menus, it seems that many of the pastas have quite different names, but in reality, there is little variations between the pastas whether one is made with guanciale vs pancetta, whether there's egg, black pepper, a different cheese, with tomato sauce, with spicy tomato sauce and so forth.  The menu becomes less intimidating when you realize what the foreign words are really saying. One surprising thing to learn was about fettucine alfredo. I ordered it at place and they said, "I'm sorry, we are not serving that right now". Curious, I proceeded to ask for details. Geepers, would you know that Fettuccine Alredo is a summer dish there? It seems more like a winter dish seeing that it's heavy and creamy, but with further knowledge fettucine alfredo is made with only butter and Pecorino Romano cheese in Italy. It makes sense that it would be a... summer pasta. :)

Another thing worthy of note is how simple their breads and salads were. Some breads were very bland and seemed to be made with little or no salt. Butter was rarely served with the loaf. Salads on the other hand were served very simply. Lettuce with a drizzle of olive oil. That's it! Dashing a little salt makes it fitting for my American palate, but it was very simple and surprisingly tastes good. Never any wilty ends on the greens.  


And Gelato...there is an endless amount of gelato here and people that have told me stories of their trip here and now including ours are filled with trips to the gelaterias. Cheap and delicious, it's a refreshing treat for ANY time of day. Some flavors tried were nocciola (hazelnut), gianduja (chocolate hazelnut) stracciatella (chocolate chip),  fragola (strawberry), rice, honey, bailey's and whisky, coffee, melon and basil. Of all of them, honey took the prize and in a close finish, coffee and melon.



Another dessert that would make you stop in your tracks is the Cannoli!  Kid you not, the freshest little treats you find at the local bakery.   Below is our cannoli being freshly made by the happy cannoli maker. I know of a couple who would love these cannolis! Sadly, we were not able to bring any back.


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And coffee...we went to St Eustachio for their famous coffee. They're known to have the creamiest coffee in Rome and it indeed was creamy. They didn't add milk but somehow they made a froth that kept it's shape and stuck to your lip pretty well. We drank this standing up and were surprised to find so many patrons at 10:30pm drinking coffee! Coffee is a normal thing there and the Italians drink it often. More than just a drink, it's also a great chance at socializing and also a personal break for the day.





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I'm sad to say,  but that brings the end to our Italy trip. We hope to be back there again one day as soon as life allows us, but for now, we are so happy with the trip and all that we were able to experience.  Thanks to those who gave us tips on good finds before we left. We try to hit as many as we could! We'd love to hear your about your own travels that you had in Italy and perhaps it'll bring us back to the time we were there. The sights, the sound, the food, the people....

 The next thing is to try to recreate the taste of Italy in our home.

Until then...

Bon Appettio!

Foodie Yoodie and Foodee Kee































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