Curious Appetite

wine

Italian food and wine myths from America that belong in the trash

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.

Delissio Rising Crust - Pepperoni
DONT eat this in Italy.

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)

DO eat this in Italy.

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)

Pinot Grigio and Speck- what’s not to like?
pretty good pick from my trusty neighborhood wine shop!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

In opinionated humurous arrogance,

Curious Appetite

Unique flavors for any palate to discover in Florence

My life revolves around 3 things: Italy, food and hooch. Food being my first love, Italy second and Hooch the last but not least! I knew one day I would move to Italy but I didn’t have any clue I would have been this lucky. In a country as paradoxical as Italy, I somehow managed to make a way for myself without knowing anyone. In exactly what I wanted to be doing. Believe me, I took odd jobs, had my patience tested and I did whatever I needed to do to. So now that I’ve bored you all to tears with my Dr. Phil Opera book club ego stroke fest, I will tell you that I do plan on writing a book about this experience, it will include of course the token romantic scandal. Stay tuned!

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Vacation on Elba Island, Tuscany

I love that in Italy, August is the national month of vacation. Towards the end of July, people go around saying “I’ll see you in September!” and this appreciation for leisure is partly why the Italian life is so hard to give up.

I went to Elba for a week. I’m not going to bore you with cultural facts and history (boring!).

My idea of a vacation is eating, working out (on getting a wicked sweet tan aka lying on the beach), drinking and lounging. And not feeling guilty for having brioche everyday at breakfast overlooking the sea. Fresh fruit and sweet island baby tomatoes. Crisp minerally wine. FISH. Oh man, I learned how to make octopus! I’ll make that adventure in a new post.

Elba island is off the Tuscan coast and can be reached easily by ferry from Piombino. It is one of the most authentic vacation spots with thriving fishing villages. Their wine and agriculture sector is exploding and bursting with deliciousness. The weather is perfect for ripe wine grapes and catches the perfect amount of breeze from the sea. The summer fruit like peaches and susine are simply incredible and juicy. However, this is not historic. In the sense that, Elba was originally a mining center and agriculture is just now starting to take root. If you are an Italophile like me, I highly recommend a stay in Portoferraiofor a real taste of Italian island life off the typical tourist path. If you do, do not miss a visit to one of the most beautiful wine bars I have ever been to in my life: Enoteca della Fortezza. They showcase Slow Food Italy wines from Elba and it is so not expensive! And you can get small platters and purchase bottles of wine on-site. Of course, you can sit outside with a view of the sea…che bellezza!

Enjoy the slide show!

Island cherry sweet tomatoes! Like candy!
Fishing man at the beach!
Gnocchi with clams and porcini
Fish antipasto platter- this Island got me hooked on octopus (literally!)
Pistachio semifreddo! It’s like a creamy pistachio ice-cream cake!
olive tree?…probably not. Still pretty, though!
Elba Rosso, Elba White and Rosato- at Slow Food Italy Enoteca Fortezza dei Medici. Best Cantina of the Year! (in my book;)
Bubbly and oysters- made me think of home:) These slippery umami pearls of gold were pretty damn good!
Rocky beaches! Off the beaten path!
Beautiful views from the shore! Not for the faint of vertigo!
Seriously one of the coolest vespas I have ever seen…

Rare and protected foods in Italy- not alfredo.

Every stage of my Italian life dives deeper into the underbelly of what makes this culture tick, a new breakthrough is made every month or so, a new language barrier has been breached. And this applies also to my understanding of Italian food.

The basic level is understanding a real pizza (no tomato sauce base or thick deep pan crust here), a real plate of pasta (made fresh and with minimal ingredients like cherry tomatoes, garlic and olive oil- no Alfredo sauce ever) and that Italians actually drink beer with their pizza, not Chianti.

Then when you are here for a bit, and if you are a wanna-be food anthropologist, you’ll see that pizza and pasta really isn’t truly Italian. You’ll learn about food from the Renaissance  (wild boar cooked in a cacao spiced sauce), cakes and breads made from wild chestnut flour, foraged porcini and truffles, heirloom beans, salami made from cooked blood and pig hearts and cheese made from rare species of bovine and mountain sheep in obscure villages. This is what makes my heart flutter. This is what proves to me that Italy is a gift to the world. And the best place to live.

There are consortia, funded partly by the chamber of commerce, local governments and agricultural ministries, that PROTECT these ancient foods, and provide a means for these precious commodities made since centuries past; to survive and be cultivated for generations to come. This is what blows my mind about Italy. That here the government takes an active role to protect biodiversity in agriculture and food culture. And the aggressive stance against allowing GMO’s to be grown in the region and demanding labeling of incoming food products from abroad. How can a country like Italy be so deep in recession and so backwards in certain ways- yet is more advanced in food democracy than a supposedly free and democratic country like America where none of these protocols exist? Hey America, just label it already!

In the Fall, cities across the boot celebrate the harvest of countless foods and hand-made products like cheese, preserves, dessert breads, etc. They are put out on display at events and sagre (local fair) in piazzas and open-air markets, with live traditional folk music and dances, with wine (variety is according to the region, or the district even) that was just pressed and fermented weeks ago. And here is a little collection of what I have discovered so far:

Heirloom beans from Lucca (Tuscany)
Truffles
Aged Pecorino Toscano at a farmer’s market, so nutty and full of umami.
Biroldo (salami made from the scraps we would normally throw out like blood, heart, other organs and random face parts)- centuries old Tuscan delicacy
Panetone (big sweet bread made during the holiday season) but this one was made with Marrone del Mugello- an ancient breed of sweet chestnut that only grows in the Mugello district of Tuscany. Italians are now brewing beer with this nutty thing!

Il Cariton! This is a dessert typical to Piedmont- the slow food capital of the WORLD! This is made with some unique grape varieties that are like a cross between a cherry, strawberry and raspberry! Believe it or not, this dessert is being safeguarded as a sort of endangered cultural food. Italians do not let old traditions die.
You know its Fall and you’re in Tuscany when you see this dessert on display and at wine festivals. Its a bread (la schiacciata, which literally means smashed or squashed) with the new ripe and ready sangiovese grapes from the region! I consider the presence of la schiacciata col’uva an interlude to new wines about to be released.

Want a taste of a secret Italian dish? Try out this recipe for la schiacciata con l’uva (taken from Epicurious.com):

  • 1 package active dry yeast (2 1/2 teaspoons)
  • 3 tablespoons Chianti or other dry red wine
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 3/4 cup warm water (110–115°F)
  • 2 1/2 to 3 cups Italian “00” flour or half all-purpose flour and half cake flour (not self-rising)
  • 1/4 cup fine-quality extra-virgin olive oil (preferably Tuscan)
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 3 1/2 cups Concord or wine grapes (1 1/2 pounds)
  • 1/2 cup sugar

For instructions: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Focaccia-with-Grapes-Schiacciata-con-Luva-104514#ixzz2CVT6nUXN

BUON APPETITO!

Guten appetite- in Germany!

In route to Italy, I first landed in Munich and Berlin- both new cities for miss curious! Germany was shocking in so many ways in terms of efficiency, accessibility and style of living (in comparison to Italy). I know not one lick of German, and there was little time to learn key phrases before I left. Life before leaving was like trying to escape bowels of fire while trying to keep my body in one piece. It seems that many Germans speak English and I felt I’ve done my duty as a traveler by learning at least one, albeit somewhat useless, European language. I was also visiting friends who speak German so I felt like I could get a bit lazy. I will say, on one day that a friend was at work and there was a desperate jet-lag inspired need to find a coffee shop which I expected to be on every corner like in Italy, why I expected that I don’t know. Rather, you should expect to find a Bierstube on every corner. Anyways, so like a complete child walking around streets, which I can’t read or pronounce, looking for a coffee shop. So what did I do? I stumbled into an Italian resto and asked the guy, in Italian, where one could find a coffee. He put me in the right direction but also very confused I imagine, that some random foreigner with an American accent is asking him directions. So I guess Italian is not all that useless outside of Italy:)

In Germany, I got to enjoy some dirt cheap beer that you can walk in the streets freely with, fantastic hendel (roast chicken), fresh warm PRETZEL, Bavarian yogurt, falafel + doner and my then obsession: WIENER ART! Okay, so I am pretty childish. I was obsessed with the word “fahrt” and “wiener” which are on signs everywhere in Germany because “Fahrt” means journey, way, via, pathway, etc. And Wiener…I don’t know all I know is that it’s a type of Schnitzel. And it’s not a hot dog- but rather like a veal cutlet. So I tried to take shots of any signs I caught with those words so I could create a “bloggage.” A food I did not enjoy was beef phở bò at a Vietnamese resto. It was not as cheap as in the states (considering the currency) and it was salty, void and empty of ingredients. Jagged thin short slices of chewy beef and cilantro that was just thrown in with some spaghetti noodles. My pals got some sort of coconut milk based curry noodle dish that seemed worthy, but I felt duped and naive to have expected consistency in beef phở in Germany coming from Seattle where phở’ is pretty damn good. Something to note about eating in Europe is that you have to ask for tap water explicitly to avoid getting charged for bottle water. So here I asked for tap water and they brought out water practically in shot glasses. When we asked for more, like 2 seconds later, they said the policy was one per customer. Jerks. I totally am trying to overcome the whole American customer service/entitlement thing since that doesn’t exist anywhere else, but I find it truly rude when people get cheap and stingy providing basic human necessities like water and using the bathroom- especially if you are a paying guest! Arg! Anyway, another thing I noticed in Germany is that they love Italian food. I was boycotting Italian food as long as I could since I knew I was moving there and in Italy the restos mostly serve – you guessed it: Italian. So it was actually pretty hard to avoid Italian food in Germany, but I still managed to get some German/Italian fusion pizza at a sweet place in Berlin. Also worth noting, Germany is famous for it’s white wines- especially Riesling. And I was lucky to find a wine on tap shop that not only had several German whites but also of course Italian reds for like 3 euros a liter! This shop,called Vom Fass, also had several barrels of whiskey on tap straight from the ageing barrel as well as dozens of flavored liquors! Oh man, I wish they had something like this in Italy! (or the U.S. for that matter!)

Enjoy the sights from Monaco and Berliner- baby!

Okay, enough with the wiener shots- here’s some food porn 🙂

schnitzel wiener art + frites and a Hefe!

Halben hendel (half roasted chicken) and fresh pretzel +more beer in one of Munich’s many beer gardens (cost? like 6 euros each!)

A night of Mexican food- actually more descent that I expected!

and more beer of course- Dunkel, danke!

Whiskey and wine on tap!

Pizza- German style with sausage, herbs and mushroom cream

Oh, food trucks you say, America? Well check this out! A fresh fish stand!

11 euro smorgasbord brunch BUFFET!! SCORE, Berlin!

CHEESE!

CREPE! (chocolate pudding in the backdrop!)

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