As I mentioned in a previous post, I traveled to Iran for vacation and did a couple jaunts to Rome for my tourist visa. I wanted to write about the food gems I found (especially for those who may have to travel to Rome for less than 24 hours) and general food for thought that arose. I realize you may be surprised to hear one would go to Iran for vacation and not be terrified by it. I’ll repeat: Iran is a wonderful country, with people I came to adore and I encourage anyone to challenge what they’ve heard. I hope to travel there again and again. Continue Reading →
I realize I take Italian food culture for granted living in Italy and all. Recently I was reminded of such when someone actually told me they were looking for a cooking class in Venice and wanted to learn how to make…not ciccheti. Not a wondrous Venetian fish dish. But pepperoni pizza. That obviously Venice is famous for and my whole pizza eating life has been a lie.
I wanted to cry, judge and barf all at the same time. But I realized, for the unassuming American tourist or from any culture where the disgusting pepperoni pizza exists, that this is what they actually think is an Italian food- and we can’t judge but just hope to debunk bad myths out there.
It is not. Pepperoni pizza, the pizza with some garbage dough (with 60 ingredients: dough conditioners, glycerides, preservatives, etc) and sliced “Slim Jim” over-nitrated mechanically separated donkey meat is something the industrial food revolution has fooled us into liking. It does not exist in Italy apart from dinky, smelly tourist traps and the frozen section of the supermarket (which are called American pizza funny enough). Ya ya, I’m sure a tasty pepperoni pizza pie exists- but it’s not like a traditional Italian food to learn how to make in Venice! By the way pepperoni pizza can mean pizza with bell peppers as peperoni means bell peppers.
So when you are in Italy- do not ask for pepperoni pizza. Unless you do want peppers- but that’s just boring.
If you must have spicy salami on your pizza, DO ask for pizza con salami piccante or ‘nduja (a very spicy salami that is soft and paste-like from Calabria)
The other myth that belongs in the garbage is in the wine department and that is….PINOT GRIGIO!
Yes, of course Pinot Grigio is an Italian product so that is not the myth part. However, most of the white Italian wine in the American mainstream arrives in the form of Pinot Grigio from some crap mass producer and it’s usually hangover-inducing tart lemon acid juice. Virtually every time I am in a wine bar in Florence where the management has the slightest suspicious that tourists will be part of their dining demographic, sad boring commercial Pinot Grigio is on the menu. NOOO!!! Just stop pandering to international tastes! Italy has countless indigenous wine varieties and it’s a shame for wine menus around town to be so homogenous and standard.
So Pinot Grigio is boring UNLESS it comes from a really good producer from the Alto Aldige, the Veneto or even Friuli regions. Or even from a wine region that is not particularly known for it like recently I came across a Pinot Grigio that came from biodynamic vineyards in Montalcino where Brunello grapes are cultivated. <— THAT is justification for trying an interesting pinot grigio. But mainly, seek out a good producer who isn’t mass producing millions of cases for the thirsty unassuming (and unknowing) wine world. Again, what’s the point of having Pinot Grigio everywhere when therein lies much more wine diversity?
So if you are in Italy, don’t let Pinot Grigio be your go-to: branch out! Personally, I prefer mineral-rich wines from Campania (Southern Italy) such as Fiano di Avellino and whites from the Amalfi Coast. You can rarely go wrong with whites from volcanic soiled Etna (Sicily). Perhaps a nutty Tuscan Vernaccia di San Gimignano from Montenidoli. I also love Franciacorta (a sparkling white wine from Lombardy made in the Champagne-style bottle fermentation) and high acidity, food friendly bubbles like Pignoletto and Durello. So you may not agree with me, but I repeat, Pinot Grigio is not all bad! Recently I even gave it a chance with a bottle from the Veneto that was slightly aromatic, pretty juicy with a bright yet dry finish. I paired it with some speck cotto crostini (a type of dried and smoked ham)
Want a pinot grigio? Fine- just make sure you’re at a good wine bar that procures quality producers and not industrial juice. My message is simple- Pinot Grigio is not the end all, be all of Italian white wines.
If I ever had a bad day in Seattle, the grey skies, weird overly awkward people, cold, splattery rain and stop and go traffic or a parking ticket would make a bad day even more excruciating. Italy, however, is a kinder friend to you on such an occasion. Over the past nearly 2 years, I have broadcasted my love hate relationship with living in Italy.
I imagine it like an “I Love Lucy” episode where Italy does something so despicable like make money disappear in a bad gambling bet with Ethel that I want to chase her around, shaking my fists while yelling “why I oughttaaaaaa!!!”
I also imagine us as 2 teenagers picking on each other, putting glue in my hair and me crying, swearing off this godforsaken place forever. But when push comes to shove, all jokes are put aside and she sits by me and takes care to soothe my woes and shows me all her practical jokes of lost in translation mind games, mean petty vandals and bureaucratic hoops are just done in jest and that deep down- she is really there for me to shower me with sunshine, flowers, beautiful art and above all- pizza and gelato.
Florence is especially a great place for a pizza pick-me-up because there is O’Vesuvio. It is basically a Neapolitan style pizza pie joint in the city center which was also the same pizza hut that The Jersey Shore worked at when they filmed their “Florence” season. It’s an instant reminder that life can’t be that bad- you are not one of the members of the Jersey shore and you aren’t one of the chumps that had to work with them. Life is good again. And the pizza is semi-edible.
Not only that, Italy will snuggle you with coccoli (fried, salty foccacia-like bread balls) spread with stracchino cheese for just a euro. Not to mention cheap, delicious wine. Artistic nooks laden with history and beauty (i.e. the Accademia gallery which hosts the David statue) And the nice, smiley plump jolly cheese monger who throws in some fava beans to go with that farmstead organic fresh, creamy pecorino (sheeps’ milk cheese) that cost less than the 2 euro gelato you had just 6 minutes prior.
Italy may test your nerves, try your patience, chew you up and spit you back out. But when you need it- she will be there. For 6 euros or less. Having the kind of bad day where you don’t even have chump change? She’ll take care of that with beautiful sunsets, warm afternoons and fragrant spring flowers to lift your spirits.
Just be aware, just as soon as you’re nursed back to strength after a few pizzas, countless gelatos, romantic walks, sunny bike rides with the wind caressing your hair (or bald head)- she’ll be back tormenting you with some random backdated overpriced gas bill, a law change that requires you to submit 12 thousand new applications that will take 16 years to register, the local crazy will throw a box at your head, the tax rate will increase by another 8 points and the pharmacist will prescribe you cat tranquilizers or butt plugs instead of enteric-coated ibuprofen. Until then, enjoy your rose and white chocolate gelato among the backdrop of the most wonderful, beautiful country that is: Italia.
Bar del Corso has been very much the talk of the Italian pizza town since it opened earlier this summer in Beacon Hill. It had been recommended to me by Italians even, so I thought: this must be good. Continue Reading →