Four weeks of vacation bliss and some of the most spectacular scenery and amazing food I've had the pleasure of enjoying have definitely made a lasting impression on me. Sono contento is what I would say in Italian: I am happy.
With so many incredible experiences and culinary adventures, it's hard to know where to start. I guess an overview of where I went would be appropriate. My Italian exploration began in Bologna (where my brother is currently attending university), then took me to Taormina in Sicily, the Amalfi Coast, Roma, and drew to a close in beautiful Venice. The Bologna, Taormina and Amalfi Coast portions included my mom and brother. I spent the week in Roma with my mother. My final lovely week in Venice was my own adventure.
A sample of meals enjoyed in Italia: pasta bolognese in Bologna, fruitti di mare in Taormina, pasta con vegetale made in our own kitchens in Taormina and Ravello, artichoke, olive, mushroom and prosciutto pizza in Venice. I learned the best cannoli are in Sicily, where they originated, and are even better when they include pistachios. I tried my first limoncello in Amalfi and promptly bought a bottle to take home. One somewhat random food that made an impression: uova (eggs). In addition to being subject of one of my favorite Italian phrases (sono pieno come un uovo! - literal translation: I'm full like an egg!), the eggs of Italy had the most intensely orange yolk I've ever seen. They were first encountered in hard-boiled form at the hotel breakfast in Bologna and later enjoyed in our apartments in Taormina and Ravello, scrambled with potatoes and whatever other veggies we had on hand (ciopolle, pomodori, funghi). And did I mention the gelato??? I won't now, either, because it was so special it deserves its own post. It was tremendous.
All was enjoyed while taking in some of the most beautiful views I have seen. In Taormina and Ravello: vast amounts of azure acqua, steep craggy hills stretching from the water to the sky, precariously placed structures clinging totheir sides. And sole (Italian sun - not fish!) that helped bring the blue hues of the sea and sky, the greens and browns of the terrain, and the earthy tones of the houses to their fullest. In Roma, history everywhere you look. In Venezia, charming bridges over the canals with the backdrop of homes rising straight from the water decorated with shutters and flower boxes create good photo opps in every direction.
There are too many adventures to recount here, so I will highlight a few food related ones.
We ventured out of our Taormina apartment one quiet Sunday afternoon and happened upon a staircase that took us up, up, up the hillside. Wildflowers in shades of orange, yellow, and purple abounded. Wild fennel bigger than I would have thought possible framed the photos we took of the town far, far below. My brother climbed part of an orange tree to procure a couple of oranges, one of which I sticked my hands with immediately as I enjoyed the tart vitamin C.
Another afternoon, while soaking in the sun and surroundings of Ravello on our terrace, my mother caught sight of what appeared to be a produce vendor with his truck. Mio fratello (my brother, Mickey) and I clambered down the steep steps from the apartment we were renting to the road to find a moveable farmers' market. I ogled the beautiful bounty while the vendor attended to an elderly couple purchasing what appeared to be their week's worth of fruits and veggies (likely to supplement the citrus and olives that grow on nearly every property in the area). When it came to our turn, the vendor talked us into more than we thought we wanted - un kilo of mandarins turned into tre (which, if you can't picture it, is a lot of citrus!), two pears turned into three, four tomatoes turned into six, and so on. We came away with two large bags filled with eggplant, zucchini, tomatoes, lettuce, strawberries, pears, and of course mandarins. We were pretty sure we got charged the American-tourist premium, but didn't care at all; we were ecstatic for beautiful, fresh food for 13 euros.
One evening, after braving the narrow winding roads of the Amalfi Coast for visits to Postino and Amalfi, my mother, brother and I found ourselves back in Ravello in search of a tasty, local dinner. We decided on La Vecchia Cantina, an unassuming establishment in the shadow of the duomo (cathedral). We were seated on the terrace, which had a view across the valley to the neighboring town of Scala, also perched high in the hills. We began to peruse our menus when the owner came over to tell us there wasno need for that - if we would trust him, he would bring us his specialties, which we would of course enjoy, but in the odd case that we didn't, we wouldn't have to pay. We took him up on this offer. The meal started with a cured seafood plate that included calamari, anchovies, swordfish, and salmon (the salmon is caught fresh, then deboned and sliced thinly immediately and placed to "cook" in vinegar for 3 days - no more no less - and then served; it was fantastic). The main dish was spaghetti with clams, capers, olives, and tomatoes "warmed with the sun". It was lovely, enjoyed with bruschetta and wine made from local Ravello grapes. Delizioso! I am sure no one who has taken the owner up on his offer has ever walked away without paying.
As I've mentioned, there are a few things (like gelato) that were so special they will require their own post. Eventually, I'll cook something in my own kitchen again. In the meantime, stay tuned for a few more forthcoming special segments of cole's kitch focused on Italy:
- l'avventura in Italia: gelato
- l'avventura in Italia: cooking class (including the amazing Rialto fish market in Venice!)
- l'avventura in Italia: gourmet dining
Interested in seeing more pics? Check out my public album.
Oh, the magic of Italy!