Curious Appetite

Italy

Eating man food in Florence

Whenever I have guests, I tell them that they must try lampredotto from a banco mobile (food cart) that puts the whole “street food”…”food truck” fru fru scene in America to shame. I recommend it because it is an authentic food experience besides “pizza and pasta.”  And it’s what the general blue collar work crowd can comfortably afford for lunch. I am about to explain. I will use this post to squash some ideas Americans and tourists have of Italians and Italian life. Okay, so we come here like it’s Disneyland, voyeuristic in taking snapshots of the old ladies buying fruit at the open-air markets, or as one of my friends told me- taking snapshots of him buying tomatoes in the store. Which if you think about it, is pretty creepy. How would you like some tourist taking your picture in Trader Joe’s? But the reason people shop at these “open-air markets” that tourists think is so glamorous, is because life in Italy for some is poor and that 10 cent difference between bananas at the market and at the store is worth something that most tourists could hardly fathom.

So my point is, unlike living in the states, life is modest here. I’m not complaining, but most people in Italy don’t exactly have the luxury to eat out expensive meals multiple times a week . I’m not writing this to incite sympathy or pity-  It makes me uncomfortable to talk about money in my sort of public blog but I think people should understand this. And nothing irritates me more than people who think Italians live this life of vespas, ferrari, gucci and cappuccino. The vespa part is kinda right, but because the gas is cheaper for scooters. Gas costs almost the equivalent of 10 dollars a gallon. Cappuccino is also kind of true, but it’s part of breakfast and there is a national “cap” on how much a bar can charge which is not the Stumptown fancy schmancy 4 dollar cup to-go but 1.20 at the counter.

Anyways…do you know what lampredotto is? It’s this:

lampredotto- a Florentine specialty made from the fourth and final stomach of the cow, the abomasum.

Florence and Tuscany in general should be known for la cucina povera which is a cuisine based on peasant food that most cultures have. Tripe, chitterlings, liver “crostini”, tomato bread soup, minestrone, etc- are all cheap and crucial to real Tuscan cuisine. It’s a no-waste philosophy that dates back to when Italy was limited on resources during post-war depression periods. Because Italians are sticklers for tradition- these foods are still as popular as ever. And sadly, Italy has in a sense returned to a depressed economic state. Meno male that la cucina povera never went out of style. :/

So today I had to do an interview with the Cordon Blu culinary school for an article I am writing and I asked the director if they taught lampredotto in the Tuscan cooking courses. She said no, because most tourists and Americans are scared of it and think that they don’t like it. It made me smile that she said they think because picky eaters drive me crazy- how can you not like something you’ve never tried?!

Then it made her smile when I asked her where her favorite lampredottaio “banco mobile” was. She said near the bronze porcellino near Piazza della Repubblica. I didn’t know what the porcellino was, which apparently is the lucky rub-for-luck tourist attraction bronze pig. So I decided for lunch today I was going. I realized I’ve been here for 4 months and haven’t had lampredotto yet AND I didn’t know what the lucky porcellino was. It was a sign.

Panino con lampredotto at Il Trippaio del Porcellino.

This sandwich with a glass of wine will cost under 5 euro. The meat is stewed in a simple broth and then made to order. These innards are then cut up and laid a top a crusty bread roll, doused with salt and pepper.

the meat getting pulled from the pot- made to order!

Then a half of the bread is dipped in the lampredotto stock and topped with a kind of herb paste made mostly of parsley. I chomped on this at the “banco” counter of the food truck, observing the guy make sandwiches and noticing that most of the clientele were men and I was seriously the only woman eating a cow guts sandwich. I felt oddly proud of my “bizarre food” Andrew Zimmern inspired moment.

It was okay. It had a weird fatty consistency and there was too much salt and parsley sauce to really be able to get an idea of what lampredotto tasted like. It was a nice, filling lunch that I think my stomach was confused about how to digest (which enzymes to I make for this thing this crazy lady just ate? lipase or protease?) You could for sure taste that the meat was stewing in a broth yet it was soft and flavorful. And I could see why this would be a pit-stop for the Florentine lunch crowd- especially because there is cheap wine that you should for sure have with it. Why not?

So if you are in Florence or in Tuscany- be adventurous, be curious!  Taste everything! Unless you are a vegetarian or celiac- you can’t knock it till you try it:)

Food and Wine Pairing- Chocolate + Marsala!

I just discovered something a little amazing: dark chocolate and dry Marsala:

 

I’m just about certified in Food & Wine pairing and one of the 1st things I ever learned was: Red Wine and Chocolate is not a good pair. GASP! I’m sorry ladies, it’s true. There is too much bitter clash and the sugar in the chocolate confuses the tannins in the wine. My instructor said it best: It’s like sex on the beach: in theory it sounds like a GREAT idea- but then you got the sand and the rocks…the reality is that it’s pretty uncomfortable.”  I mean, there are ways to pair red wine and chocolate if you really want to. Like with a bitter chocolate with low sugar content and a careful selection of red wine that has some bitterness and tannin to match. But the general rule of thumb is that chocolate pairs best with a fortified dessert wine like port or….MARSALA…

When I was just recently living in the states, the only marsala wine you found was for cooking. And unlike most wine, you don’t drink it as you cook with it. I don’t know, maybe its because how some wine is not imported well that I never believed in a marsala. So recently a friend came and made some veal marsala and left the bottle behind. I asked, what the hell am I going to do with all the leftover wine? I’m not making a tiramisu’ anytime soon. They said: drink it! 

I never would have thought of that, you know.

So I poured some in my snifter, swirled it about and went through the usual motions of analysis….butterscotch, toffee, caramel, vanilla and coconut…and then gulp! Heaven! The nose proved accurate on the palate. Pretty damn tasty.

Together with dark chocolate…the cacao echos…like a nutty hazelnut caramel toasted fairtrade chocolate s’more…

I don’t know if you can get this kinda stuff in the states- but try! The states is always improving the channels of fine imports.

Notes on the Marsala that was left so graciously behind:

Producer: Florio 1833, VECCHIOFLORIO Marsala Superiore Secco (DOC) ’08, aged for 30 months in oak (hence all the toasty toffee notes)

buon dessert! 🙂

La Pentola Dell’Oro- Renaissance fare in 2012

La Pentola Dell’Oro means “A potful of gold.” I live in Florence, the birthplace of the Renaissance (consider the museums like the Uffizi, The Accademia, THE DUOMO,  the Boboli Gardens, etc)  and of the Italian language (remember Dante Alighieri and L’Inferno? Dante was Florentine and Italian was born from his laments on hell and society.) I overheard about La Pentola from a group of locals cooing over their recent experience with renaissance inspired fare describing spices from the orient and other exotic posts that influenced Florentine society during the Rinascimento, Italy’s cultural “rebirth.”

Mostly what I’ve found eating out in Florence is either Tuscan “delicacies” of animal guts (such as la tripa and il lampredotto, good thing Italian is such a pretty language because these are all words for offal), pizza or pasta or some other variation concerning tasteless Tuscan bread, tomatoes, pork products and pecorino cheese. Delicious, yes. But not exactly intense culinary technique (excitement) compared to foods of the south.

ThisPot of Gold” was indeed a worthwhile venture. Consider the following:

Le Pappardelle sulla lepre (pappardelle fresh pasta w/ wild hare ragu’ made in the Etruscan “Artusi” fashion)
Le Lasagnole (lasagna-like cut noodles tossed with ginger, cane sugar, chestnut honey and walnut. Not sweet, but very savory!
Il Porco Cinghiale in dolce forte- Wild Boar in a chocolate, cedar & pine nut sauce. Looks like mound of mud but indeed very yum num. Ever had “mole’?” Well, imagine instead,, a melt in your mouth savage forest ranged pork that feasted on chestnuts and filberts in an aromatic olive oil pine nut chocolate spice marinade.

And wine? A Chianti Classico with notes of herbed violet and tobacco tannins to cut through the fat and protein pleasures of the boar in order to radiate this plethora of layered savor.

Good wine by the bottle for under €20 (at a restaurant)

After this imbibement, my belly was also feeling like a pot of gold. This is definitely off the beaten tourist path and thankfully undiscovered but frequented enough by locals (am I a local yet?) to stay churning slivers of rich, historic gastronomic bliss.

More info here: http://www.lapentoladelloro.it/

You might need a zing bing or go go google translate super powers if you can’t quite decipher the Italiano. BUON APPETITO 🙂

Gelatoholics anonymous- Florence!

I am pretty bummed that I haven’t been writing as frequently as I would like, I tend to have a good reason or another but ultimately- I’ve been too busy stuffing my face and keeping my glass full to bother typing away. 🙂

The first thing I must speak upon is my ungodly obsession with gelato. It’s pretty sick and twisted, at this point I should be considered a gelatochocohawlic. There is good reason, too! First off, I live in Florence where gelato was supposedly born. However, ask an Italian where anything was born and it will just so happen to be conveniently original from their hometown.  Secondly, I live right above one of the best gelaterias in the city. Is it the best in my opinion because I could practically crawl spiderman style  down these ancient walls to arrive at such delectable wonders? Who knows, and let’s be honest- no one cares. I live above a gelateria and it’s become a problem. Thirdly, to make matters worse than being haunted by a gelateria every 100 meters, apparently during renaissance times women were forbidden from eating ice cream. Well, it wasn’t like they got a fine but it was a huge social faux pas for a woman to be seen licking an ice cream. And even today in some silly male and dogma dominated culture it is still heavily discouraged. SOOOOO naturally I MUST make up for all these years of ice cream oppression!!!! I mean, it’s my duty as a free western WOMAN of the 21st century!!! And yes, you’re welcome! 🙂

My wine studies went really well at Apicius and I feel very confident about my command of knowledge concerning wines in Tuscany. Moreover, you can depend on me to ace any challenge on a food and wine pairing with a wine from this beautiful region. For studies sake, I had to really understand and study a pair with a chianti classico (which makes up a good chunk of the Tuscan sangiovese-based line-up) with a nice Tuscan aged prosciutto and a hard umami loaded pecorino cheese. I mean, it was rough work but I finally figured it out, for the sake of my grades.

Back to gelato. My go to flavors are generally anything chocolate and something nutty like pistachio, coconut or nocciola (hazelnut) but sometimes I get a little tutti frutti and venture with fresh watermelon, apricot or cantaloupe.  I’ve even ventured into the fusion realm with saffron rose and then walnut gorgonzola (gelato?! yes you can!)

I have yet to meet a gelato I didn’t like.  Today I had a realization that I may need to go on a diet if I continue at this drink wine at every meal that consists of cheese and cured meats pace/lifestyle, but how could I live without gelato?! Well, thankfully today I found a gelateria that has “skinny” yogurt gelato and apricot sorbet so that crisis seems to have been averted. Or wait, maybe I could go on a gelato diet! In fact, some Italians DO have ice cream for breakfast! I was having lunch with a Sicilian friend and I casually mentioned my gelato obsession and pondered the possibility of having it for breakfast and she said I could in theory as this is practiced in Sicily. (?!?!) Basically, since it gets rather warm down there in the summer, it’s not uncommon apparently to have a lemon granita (like a sort of slushie) with a piece of bread. Alright, so turns out it’s in my genes to want gelato for breakfast! I knew it!! 🙂

Macaroooooons! a perfect cookie for an ice cream sandy!

Oh! one more thing! So eating in Venice can be complete crap! I know you can find little hole in the walls and restos off the beaten path, but you know some people (tourists, you know those who are making a lot of commerce possible with their hard-earned money) should be able to sit near the canals, watch the gondolas pass by and have a bloody good meal too and not get ripped off just because they want to visit a new place. GRRR! That mentality really pisses me off about some resto owners to rip tourists off for the immediate financial boost but really, they are creating a crap reputation and then some people write home about it. 🙂 But nevertheless, Italy is the only place where you can eat complete crap but it still looks lovely on a plate (like these wretched fishy freezer burned gunky shrimp and razor sawed salad with sulfuric over boiled eggs:)

So moral of the story is: when in doubt, eat gelato!!! 🙂 🙂 CIAO!

Move over Seattle- Italy's calling!

In the last few months, I sort of dropped off from updating posts and such. I was definitely out and about tasting curiously around Seattle- but I also was preparing for the biggest move in my life. Long story short, I got up and moved to Italy. Or at least I will try to. I always dreamed of one day living in Italy for more than just a few months as I had done in the past and now I discovered an opportunity of a lifetime to help me get started on that desire. I have been taking food and wine pairing courses at South Seattle Community College (Northwest Wine Academy) and I applied to a summer program in Italy (that my school works with for “study abroad”) to do a course on Italian Wines which also includes a hands-on internship. So here I am, in Italy, about to study wine from the masters themselves and attempt to follow my dream to live here. It’s pretty lofty, but what’s the point of living if we don’t follow our desires?

I have been in Germany for the last week and finally arrived in Piedmont which is a sort of hub for all things ‘Slow Food’. And let me tell you, I feel like a kid in a candy store- but in addition to candy imagine 3 euro wine (Piedmont DOCG stars like Barbera, Dolcetto, Arneis, etc) by the liter, buttery burrata , delicious salumi by the kilo and for less than any deal you can try to groupon our way into.

Pictures and posts to come- stay tuned to Curious Abroad. Salute!

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