Posts Tagged 'italy'

Where I’ve been this summer, and what I ate

Continue reading ‘Where I’ve been this summer, and what I ate’

Part iii, the heel: Sea change

More than a week straight of being land- and city-locked and stuffing ourselves with all manner of farm animal, and we were hankering for a view of the ocean.

As well as all of the tasty things to be found within it. Gallipoli sits on the inside of the heel in Puglia. It’s got to be a total mess in summer months, as the city was already packed around New Year’s — not considered optimal beach time there, which is why most Italians and Germans go. Nevertheless, we stayed the night, saw the views, and had a wonderful dinner at Le Puritate. All of the antipasti on this plate were delicious, even the gloppy, mayonnaise-covered stuff in the middle, but we were most excited about the crudi, like the shrimp and palamita (a kind of bonito that they’ve got all over the menu).

But the best dish by far — maybe better than Pompiere’s bucatini, maybe the best of the entire trip — were these shrimp cooked in salt, which I was instructed to clean off with olive oil. I don’t know how they did it, but these were all tender, sweet meatiness, the flesh barely set, not firm (as in overcooked), but on this side of toothsome. Plus, best shrimp heads EVER. We considered returning the next day just for those shrimp, but they were unfortunately closed for New Year’s Eve. So we drove instead down around the heel, stopping at Santa Maria di Leuca, the southeasternmost tip of the Boot, and then headed up through Lecce, back to Ostuni. Which is really beautiful, by the way:

But we actually spent most of our time in Ostuni at Il Frantoio. Besides the acres of gnarled olive trees, there’s a citrus grove, tastefully appointed rooms (difficult to find in a country that inexplicably veers between trashy and chintzily cheap), gardens everywhere, and, most importantly, aperitivo service. A few times a week, they make these seven-course dinners from all the stuff they produce themselves, including their olive oils, or get from neighboring farmers and cheesemakers. And true to la cucina pugliese, the food is heavy on vegetables, like orzotto con zucchine, cabbage involtini, served with a tangle of wild greens (borage, cicoria, etc.), and pasta with beans and mushrooms.

It was the perfect place to spend New Year’s Eve, but I’d go back any time.

And now, back to more domestic matters.

Part ii, Rome: There is such a thing as too much bucatini

Our arrival was inauspicious: the city was dead (it was late on Christmas Eve, after all, in the city surrounding the Holiest of Holies and with a people that, though they may drive like the spawn of Satan and have little use for marital fidelity, they will spend all Natale shut up in their homes with nonno, nonna, parents, cousins, neighbors, whoever); I had somehow booked us into a “bed and breakfast” (there were literally both available to us, but whether the place actually qualifies as a B&B proper is debatable) waaaaay outside the center, in the unfortunate district of Garbatella; and we woke up the next morning to rain. And pretty much everything was closed.

Our initial plan on Christmas morning was to hunt down the good pizza place in the Ghetto (we were smart enough to realize that not ALL Romans were observing the holiday), but when the locals and the local police failed to help us find the street it was on (we later found out we had actually walked through it at least three times), we gave up, made a reservation for dinner at Giggetto and then almost headed to another part of the city in my desperation and hunger to find a quick bite to eat. We wandered past and then into Dal Pompiere as the anxiety was growing in my head. I was put off by the English-translated menu posted outside (but then realized later that there’s probably no restaurant left in Rome that doesn’t do that) and the waiter that had wandered downstairs in a starchy uniform. And there wasn’t a Slow Food snail sticker on the door. But Steven, equally desperate and hungry, persuaded me to give it a shot.

And boy, am I glad he did. My anxiety ebbed away once I reached the top of the stairs and noticed all the families (Italian families!) that crowded — happily and noisily, as they do — around the tables in the spacious dining rooms (for there were a few). And Dal Pompiere turned out to make the best bucatini all’amatriciana and puntarelle we had during our entire stay in Rome. We sampled at least three other specimens of the pasta, and none were nearly as perfectly, toothsomely cooked, with just the right sweetness and acidity to the sauce. All the others (at Ne Arte Ne Parte, Da Bucatino, and somewhere else) either had that weird mustiness that tomato sauces can sometimes get and the guanciale or whatever they were using was cooked to mushy, flavorless stringiness. The puntarelle: young and tender, crisp and succulent, with an anchovy sauce that was roughed up just enough to retain a pleasing chunky consistency — unlike the sludge we received elsewhere — and funky enough to point up the citrus quality of the vegetable. We ate it all up.

And from there, Rome turned out to be okay. The sun came out. I started beating Steven at Boggle. We discovered that Garbatella had an excellent pub filled with students from whatever university is nearby and offered a surprisingly wide selection of whiskeys. Great wallpaper, too (it was like someone had lucked into an interior decorator’s fire sale and decided what the hell, let’s throw all these colorways together). The line for Da Baffetto pizza wasn’t that long (though the wait once we put the order in sure was). Da Baffetto pizza was GOOD. The Vino e Olio bar that Malcolm recommended was pretty near perfect. We only regretted not making it to dinner at Il Pagliaccio across the street. We ate coda alla vaccinara, coratella, and many, many fried artichokes (Pompiere’s were also the best in this category). Da Bucatino had an amazing antipasto spread for lunch. Giggetto wasn’t all that or a bag of chips. (I maybe would have preferred chips.) We got a little too excited at Volpetti and couldn’t stop from buying a few too many things to eat in the car on our way through Basilicata.

I don’t know if Steven likes Rome any more now than he did before (which wasn’t very much). Hell, I don’t know if I do either. But we sure left a few pounds heavier.

Away and home (which is which again?)

I actually flew back to Italy a week ago for some meetings and got to see my little town from a whole different point of view — that of someone who isn’t stuck there indefinitely. That’s unfair, I know. Especially when I think about the good times I had over the weekend:

Bra’s notte bianca for Carnevale. Who knew this many people lived in Piedmont?

At La Torre (my favorite osteria in the area) in Cherasco, Daniele shows us that we should cut him off of the drinking portion of the evening.

La Torre’s ethereally toothsome agnolotti.

Severine shows us just how good that torta di cioccolato is. The rest of our adventures can be found here.

And last night, I held the inaugural dinner party chez moi:

(Yeah, I don’t know why it took so long for me to come around to taking pictures of people AND food. But I actually forgot that I was doing that last night. So just the ribs, a bit fuzzy, behind asian-y salads that amy and cecily contributed and my mom’s pickles to go with her ribs.)

I know what I ate last summer

okay, summer’s not over yet, but the travelling is, more or less. this summer, i went to rome, paris, bern, chiavari, nice, sardinia, sarzana, york, edinburgh and corsica. whew. i don’t think i’m forgetting anything, but it wouldn’t be so surprising if i did. i did manage to take some photos while away.

sarzana, a charming town right on the border of liguria and tuscany (the next town over is marble-capital carrara): i went for some beach time and a party, and of course ate some pesto while there:

testaroli, a stack of thin crêpes, each layer spread with pesto. you’re supposed to roll up each layer and eat it separately. there’s a crazy sarzana-dialect name for this forerunner of pasta that i’ve since forgotten.

in york, we ate like kings:

dave’s mom made connie a birthday (carrot) cake. from a delia smith recipe. i am now officially a delia convert.

and when in york, one must stop at betty’s tea room

for a fat rascal — a monster anthropomorphosized scone.

and you’ve gotta have a proper sunday roast for dinner, with yorkshire pudding (in yorkshire!), natch.
and while you’re at it, you might as well drive out to tourist-choked yet quaintly lovely whitby (past beautiful rolling hills and picture postcard-perfect english countryside) for:

fish ‘n’ chips at magpie cafe. the wait in the takeout queue is really quite remarkable. you can forget about eating in the place itself if you’re impatient. FnC definitely require a generous dose of salt and malt vinegar, i’ve realized.

Paradise, found

we spent last weekend in sardinia, alternating between time at the beach:

and time at the table (these are all homemade, by the way):

utterly addictive crackly and sheet-thin pane carasau, made with a leavened dough that is rolled really, really flat and then baked twice. the first baking turns the dough into a giant bubble that must be skillfully cut in half to yield each disc. These are then baked again to get that crisp (amazingly humdity-resistant, i’m finding) texture. great to sop up juices from

lamb, roasted on a spit in the ol’ outdoor oven (what, you don’t do this at home?). the traditional sardinian lunch. particularly good when followed by a nap.

some spigola and muggine (and also orata, which was still being cooked and not pictured) that i stuffed with lemon , onions and rosemary and stuck on the grill. i also did some calamari with salt and pepper and let it just turn opaque. the sea offers up a truly incredible bounty of sweet flesh, it must be said. damn fine meal, this was (and separate from the lamb, in case you’re wondering if i had to be rolled on to the ferry back to the mainland).

no meal in sardinia is complete with cheese. and besides the pecorino and a local cow-and-sheep combo, there was also this pastry, sa sebada, made with savory dough and stuffed with cheese (provolone-style ones) and then usually covered with honey. but this one with sugar sprinkled on top gave the same kind of salt-fat-sugar rush that you get from, say, an elvis PB&J, and are reminiscent of that food-of-the-gods, funnel cake. but with cheese.

please smack me if i ever complain about living in italy again.


highlights:racing around town in a car trying to find the perfect game-viewing venue (and switching at half-time due to crappy reception)
watching the second half in a football field with 200 italians all masticating pork chops, drinking wine out of little plastic cups, bleating away on their pressurized horns and high-pitched whistles and zealously waving their ridiculously oversized flags about
watching italians everywhere near total breakdown just from the tension of it all
italians cheering for every juve player that gets put on the field (this is piemonte, after all)
italians cheering when zidane is red-carded
italians cheering upon each successful penalty kick past barthez
italians going totally apenuts when grosso makes the kick: screaming, hugging, laughing, jumping up and down, running around, waving ridiculously oversized flags about
racing around town (sometimes at a standstill) in a car, honking the horn, hanging out the window and screaming like a hooligan (yes, i did this — but only for a few seconds)
listening to everyone else in town race around town, honk their horns and hang out the windows and scream like hooligans until 2 a.m.

a sign, hoisted in the air:

(now we want the mona lisa)

Independence Day, in numbers.

july 4
6 americans
1 australian
16 ribs
4 burgers
4 kinds of baladin beer
0 televisions
12 minutes into overtime
20 second search for nearest television
100 people in piazza dei caduti
30 meters from screen projection
italy 2
germany 0
58,103,033 italians jumping up and down, kissing and hugging each other, running around screaming, throwing themselves on the ground and writhing, getting into their cars and driving around in circles and generally making a big ol’ ruckus
3 close-ups of german fans in the stands shown crying on italian television
2 hours of general ruckus-making, outside my window:

1 lovely pavlova, australian-made and completely consumed:

1 glass each, grappa and irish whiskey
6 hours of sleep.

Small but perfectly formed

and other oddities from the market today:

it is, perhaps, unfair to group these plums under “oddities”, as they’re not odd at all, just little, like me. and really lovely, no? what with their jewel-like translucence. what is odd actually, is that i don’t find so many of the conventional plums that are common to all american supermarkets (and here’s where i could launch into a diatribe on how those plums, while large and perfectly formed, have not the generously juicy, honeyed, almost sparklingly bright and balanced interior, the luscious, yielding flesh that these do, but instead scrooge you with a thoroughly unpleasant acidity and either a consistency to rival sand or to make your stomach turn because of its sloppy, undercellulosed insides — but there’s no need, right?). here, we get all kinds of different plums (and were those gages i saw at the stand on wednesday?), and just about everyone i know has a ramassin tree in their backyard.

they look just like cherry tomatoes.

and speaking of tomatoes:
i’m sorry to inflict the yearly close-up photo of cuore di bue tomatoes on you, dear reader, but ’tis the season (as we say all too frequently on this blog. we being me, i suppose), and nothing says summer like these ugly fatties:

(this would be the bum shot.) this particular tomato has very special qualities, with a classic tear drop shape (seems like the other usual morphology for these guys is an elongated, bulbous ellipsoid), but also with a mug you just gotta love:

(it was almost too tempting to deck him out, mr. potato head-style, but hunger won out and i ate him instead.)

pesca ≠ pesca. or, fishing and peaches: two sides of the same coin.

for the brief period in which i learned italian semi-formally in new york, i remember asking at some point what the deal is with accents. which way do they slant? why is it perché and not perchè? and why, if it is the former, do some italians write the latter sometimes? my teacher at the time either didn’t know the answer or didn’t want us to worry about something she (very probably) considered less important than being able to conjuage the conditional properly. even when i pressed further, asking whether it signified some difference in pronunciation (as in french, differentiating between a closed and open vowel), she pretty much demurred and said there was no real difference. as it turns out, it is a matter of pronunciation (acute for closed, grave for open, though, as always, there are exceptions). well, this is not really that closely related to the title of this post, except that the word pesca means two different things, depending on the way it is pronounced. pésca (accents employed here to indicate pronuncation, as they are never used in writing) means ‘fishing’, while pèsca means ‘peach’. and christ, if i didn’t have enough problems memorizing where the stress falls or knowing whether to close or open my vowels, check this and this out.

that whole preamble is probably not that important anyway, given that a) i’ve not been doing any fishing, and b) those aren’t peaches below. but it’s not too far off from the real point of this post, if i could claim that one exists. and plus, i just like that duality. let me explain:

hi, my name is winnie, and i have a sardine problem. i just can’t seem to stop eating them. i need to keep at least three tins in the pantry at all times to avoid feeling agitated or unprepared (for what, i don’t know). when i travel to foreign countries, i have to buy every kind of sardine available to see if there’s one particular brand that does them best. this is the result of my trips to bern and paris. from my arbitrary and only sort of extensive sampling i proclaim that the french in general seem to have the upper hand. that doesn’t stop me from being equal opportunity, however. my mother noted, when the parents came to visit, that i seem to have a remarkable affinity for canned goods these days. (why, i don’t know.)

right — as mentioned before, these above are not, in fact, peaches, but apricots rather. following christine ferber‘s instructions for bergeron apricot preserves (reducing the sugar by about half), i canned these guys from the market. i got two medium-size jars out of a kilo of fruit and a day and a half of maceration, simmering, straining, etc. i improvised a little and added some basil to one jar (not pictured here, as it’s already been given away as a birthday present) before screwing on the lid, which, as intended, shook up the italians a little (but should be pretty nice once it has time to infuse the syrup a little). i left the skin on, though she suggested divesting the fruit of them, because i just couldn’t figure out how, even if pre-simmered or blanched, they could come off without marring the flesh.

the point being — of the post, that is, not skin-removing — is that yes, i do like canned food.

bonus, for my italian-literate readers, a story (taken from an email i wrote today):

di solito fa fresca nella mia casa durante la giornata, ma di notte, relativamente alla temperature fuori, fa più caldo, quindi devo a meno aprire la finestra. ieri sera, è venuta in mente l’idea brillante di aprire non solo la finestra nella stanza, ma anche quella nella cucina, per favorire un po’ di ventilazione trasversale.

alle 4 della mattina, mi sono svegliata improvvisamente da qualcosa che ha saltato sul mio letto (!). ero spaventata. e quando mi sono alzata, ho visto che c’era un gatto strano sulla copera. l’ho cacciato fuori la finestra e sono tornata al letto (dopo aver chiuso la finestra). quando ho toccato la coperta, ho sentito qualcosa umida, ma densa. e perché sono molto intelligente, l’ho annusato — era il vomito di gatto! il che ho confermato quando ho acceso la luce. EEEEEUUUUUUGH. avevo -IO- voglia di vomitare. ho tolto tutto dal letto, cambiato tutto e ho lavato le mani (nell’ordine contrario). non potevo addormentarmi subito perch&eacute: faceva così schiffo che mi sentivo malata. mi sento malata ancora. e adesso odio tutti i gatti. quando ne vedo uno, il mio stomaco gira. non posso descrivere la dimensione totale della mia ripugnanza. SCHIIIIIIFO.

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