Monday, October 20, 2014

Italian Foods

Since the influx of Italian immigrants in the early 1900's Americans have thought of Italian foods as spaghetti with meatballs, and pizza. Unfortunately, these foods in the US are really bastardizations of foods found in Italy.  Many people come to Italy looking for the traditional over-sauced pasta with softball-sized meatballs and garlic bread when in reality the Italians don't serve these things. They don't over-sauce the pasta, as a matter of fact they under-cook the pasta, and then toss it into a small amount of sauce in a skillet to further cook it and have the pasta absorb the sauce.

FYI this is a photo from the Food Network website---how awful is this?

 And pizza should not look like a stuffed calzone (above) it should look like the pizzas below--thin crust with a small amount of cheese, and toppings, not the monstrosity pictured above.

Italian foods are simple, but in the simplicity is the complex nature of the ingredients they are using. I have yet to see the extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar mixture that is put on every (supposedly) upscale restaurant in the US here in Italy.  Italians think that traditionally made balsamic vinegar from Modena is so special that it should only be used by itself in a special preparation, not drowned in olive oil and sopped with bread.
Prosciutto, Melon, that's it, no foam, no liquid nitrogen

Stuffed zucchini flowers with herbed ricotta

Pork loin braised in Sagrantino with Sagrantino grapes

Pasta with truffles, and a bit of olive oil
Veal, artichokes, and pecorino cheese

Veal Meatballs with roasted potatoes

Seafood risotto--seafood, rice, and seafood stock

Ravioli with porcini

Ricotta and pear ravioli with pork sauce
At Macceleria Dario Cecchini, the beef is lightly seasoned and then allowed to speak for itself

Simonetta's Olive oil cake: flour, sugar, eggs, oil, and oranges
Tuscan beans: beans, olive oil, and sage
 Part of the genius of Italian cooking is that their produce is spectacular: locally sourced, non-GMO and cooking is seasonal.  Most Italians shop daily for their groceries.


Where else could you get a beautifully prepared cappuccino and croissant for breakfast?  Just FYI Starbucks would never work here there is such a coffee culture, and you can't get it to go except at McDonalds.
So, if you come to Italy, expect seasonal and regional ingredients.  And, expect simplicity that delivers with flavors that explode in your mouth. This is the original 5 ingredients or less cuisine for the most part.  (OK, lasagna Bolognese requires a few extra ingredients, I'll grant you that)  
Don't expect the red sauce Italian that is the typical Italian American stereotype.  If you are looking for that you will be sorely disappointed.  Come to Italy and eat like the Italiani.  

Tuesday, October 14, 2014


Ravenna is a port city on the Adriatic, our GPS said it was a little over 2 hours away from Spello, so we thought we'd make a day trip to see the famous 4th century mosaics in the churches there.
Since the tourist season is winding down here, it seemed like a good time to take a ride.
We fired up our VW Tiguan and headed East.

The scenery on the way is spectacular; going through mountain passes, and valleys with green fields, orchards, and some grapes.
After a little bit of Clark Griswold European Vacation maneuvering we found a parking lot and headed to the Basilica di San Vitale.  This 1400 year old church is still standing, and the fact that these mosaics are as startling as they must have been in 450 AD, is astounding.  Mosaics and frescoes were used to tell the stories of Jesus to the believers.  Most couldn't read or write, so their only way to know the stories was to see them, in art, then have them explained by the priests or monks.

Over the main altar

Dr. C. reading the guide book
Even the floor is gorgeous

On the same property is the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, designed for the mother of Emperors.  The mosaics here are some of the oldest in Ravenna.  A small dark place, the mosaics are primarily blue and gold, with gold stars on the vaulted ceiling.

Walking a bit farther into town, we came to the Basilica of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo.  Started in 500 AD (OK, my mind can't get over the fact that artisans were doing spectacular things during that time) was the palace of King Theodoric of the Goths.  Emperor Justinian transformed the church into the Byzantine style.  The mosaics are the real stars here, the later Baroque altar and other art, are overshadowed by the spectacular mosaics.

Another walk and we were at the Duomo and the Baptistry.  The Baptistry dates from the year 400; in the center is a huge pool with a ceiling depicting John the Baptist baptizing Christ.  Dr. C. said he thought that the apostles all looked like they had dancing feet.  (too much football)

Another walk back to the car, and we were on our way back to Spello.  Ravenna is worth the trip, if you are on your way to Venice, or Bologna, it's a great place to stop and view some of the most beautiful mosaics in the West.  The others are in Istanbul at Hagia Sofia.

Also in Ravenna, there is a small Dante museum, Dante died of malaria in Ravenna, when he was exiled from Florence, and his remains are housed near the Monasterio of San Francesco.  Although the Florentines wanted him back after his death, his remains are in Ravenna.
Author's Note:  the tomb in the Church of Santa Croce in Florence dedicated to Dante does not contain his remains.
Buona Notte from Spello.