As expected, the most striking thing about Italy, along with the incredible ancient architecture, is the food. I don't know if it is something in the water, the soil or the air, but everything, and I mean EVERYTHING, tastes so much better. It's honestly on a different level than anything I could ever imagine cooking myself or ordering in a fancy restaurant on this side of the Atlantic. From the indescribable bread, the creamy and pungent cheeses, to the cured meats (which I actually did try this time), everything is better. The pasta is perfect, usually freshly made and perfectly al dente, the wine tastes like magic, and if you have never tried Italian canned tuna in extra virgin olive oil you have never lived (in my humble opinion). Even their ice cream (gelato) is beyond comparison and having been in Sorrento, my love affair with lemons (and Lemoncello) was thoroughly satisfied.
Luckily for my husband and I we did a tremendous amount of walking during our eight day visit so we kept working up an appetite for another meal, and I was able to try a lot more foods than I have ever before. I ate mussels for the first time (not bad), a whole fish (which was thankfully "cleaned" for me shortly after it was served), enjoyed numerous desserts, more bread than I usually eat in a year, and only one not so great experience when I ordered "pesce fritto" and literally was served a plate of about 20 small, whole, fried fish, which my husband and I aptly named "the plate of death." It was hard to look at, but my husband lovingly took my plate, put it out of view and worked through it well enough to provide me with a decent meal. Now if that isn't love, I don't know what is.
To be sure, we had a few extravagant meals, most notably for our anniversary night dinner, where the plates where small and artistically decorated with such offerings as grilled octopus, gluten free arugula (which they comically translate to "rocket") risotto, roasted quail (another first!), and more desserts and Prosecco than my husband and I could even finish. But the most memorable meals, to be honest, were the simplest. Dishes I have made myself, and love, but something about being in Italy made them so much better. A few of these almost brought tears to my eyes after the first bite. It was literally like tasting a bit of heaven. Here are a sampling of my favorites:
|Cacio e Pepe (a traditional Roman dish)|
simply "cheese and pepper", made with fresh pasta, a little pasta
cooking water, extra virgin olive oil, Parmesan cheese and freshly ground
black pepper... often served in a bowl made of Parmesan cheese
|Vegetable and Cheese plates, with bread|
a "light snack" while touring Rome
Pizza with Vegetables
in Sorrento Italy, one hour from Naples
(where I guess the pizza is even better!)
* I have to thank one person in particular for this meal, and for a very personal, informative, amazing tour to Mt. Vesuvius and Pompeii while I was visiting Sorrento.... he runs a private tour company that is worth every penny. If you are ever in the Naples/Sorrento/Amalfi region you need to book at least one day with Rosato tours.