Anyone that goes to Italy, or goes anywhere for that matter, comes home with a collection of impressions on the land, the people, and, for me in particular, the food. My wonderful birthday adventure left me with a sea of mental images that I can draw upon whenever I need to warm my spirit and amuse my thoughts. Though not my first trip there, nor most certainly my last, the mental notes I collected this time around were unique and special, and somehow curiously related to guys. O.K., perhaps they could apply to Italian gals too, but since my traveling companions and I were more interested in ragazzi; you will forgive me a certain slant. So here are impressioni di Italia, cooking in my heels style (with a little help from my pals):
- Italian men’s bodies seem to be modeled on Michelangelo’s David. Seriously, my friend said it best: "They throw out the ugly ones.” The clothing manufacturers in Italy are quite aware of this too because from what I could see, regardless of their attire, Michelangelo’s handiwork was illustrated quite nicely.
- In Venice, shirts are illegal on men if you are in the working class or on a boat. Granted, I happened to be there in late August during a heat wave, but I feel quite certain this is a year-round law.
- All Venetian water taxi drivers must be gorgeous, steering with one hand, and on a cell phone with the other. In fact, a cell phone up to one ear is mandatory in Venice and Rome. I’m guessing it’s a city ordinance.
- Gondoliers have special dispensation from the laws of physics and spatial geometry. Or gondolas are able to shrink and narrow when going around a corner on a dark narrow canal.
- An observation on Italian women in heels on cobblestones (oh look, something not related to men…): Speed seems to be the key here. Somehow if you walk fast enough and with determined purpose, gravity, crevices and uneven streets have no effect. Neither does the mandatory cell phone attached to ear.
- Eye color transplants are conducted at the borders, so that only crystal blue or emerald-green are attached to bronzed faces and god-like bodies. Having worked in biotechnology for 12 years, my money’s on a busy genetic lab somewhere.
- Italian escalators only travel up. Strange, but true. I thought it was an anomaly myself but after having personally observed it in Rome, Milan, Venice, and Rome again it became apparent….especially when you happily rideup with a suitcase the size of a Smart Car, and then realize (oh CRAP), you have to lug that sucker downthe stairs.
- Conversation between three locals in Rome: Everyone talks, at once, over each other, and somehow it works. I’m not clear if they get every word, or just the ones they want to hear.
- You will never, ever, be disappointed in eating the local specialties. Even if the thought of eating THAT (squid ink/baccala/deep-fried whole artichokes) seems like sooo not a good idea, trust that they are specialties for a reason. It’s because they are good!
- Always flirt back with the waiter. Your meal will be better, trust me.
So there you have it, my last page in the Italian Journal. For me, there wasn’t a minute I didn’t treasure, or an hour I didn’t feel blessed and so damn lucky to be there, and with people I love. I have a feeling the smile on my face and warmth in my tummy will linger for a long, long time, and I can’t wait for a chance to go back!
I mentioned before that my plan was to eat like a local everywhere I went in Italy. So in Milan that meant risotto, porcinis, polenta, and osso buco, in Venice isquid ink pasta, baccala mantecato, zaeti and ciccheti, and in Rome, carciofi alla Giudea and Cacio e Pepe.
Cacio e Pepe is a really simple pasta dish and a great example of creating a sauce from the pasta water, a little butter, cheese and pepper. Think of it as a peppery Italian mac & cheese. It’s pretty much as quick to make as the one in the “blue box”, and oh so much better. And it was the first dinner I cooked after I lugged that suitcase back home, instantly transporting this very tired and jet lagged gal back to the trattorias of Rome.
Cacio e Pepe
Makes 2 servings, or 1 with leftovers which make a great base for Sunday morning’s fritatta!
Since there are very few ingredients here, freshly grating the cheese and freshly grinding the pepper really does make a difference, both in quantity and flavor. Freshly grated cheese is fluffier, so volume is different from pre-grated.
6 ounces sturdy long pasta like linguine, bucatini or spaghetti rigate (spaghetti with ridges)
2 TBSP butter
½ cup freshly grated grana padano or parmigiana (about 1 ounce or so)
¼ cup freshly grated pecorino (about ½ ounce or so)
¾ tsp freshly grated pepper
¼ cup chopped parsley
1 tsp lemon zest
About 1/3 cup pasta water
Cook the pasta to al dente in well-salted boiling water. When the pasta is almost done, melt the butter and sauté the pepper in it for about a minute. Add in about 1/3 cup of the pasta water and the ½ cup of grana padano or parmigiana. Add the pasta and toss over medium low heat until the pasta is well coated and the sauce has thickened (there shouldn’t be a lot of liquid left when it is ready.) Turn off the heat, add the pecorino, lemon zest and parsley and toss well. Serve immediately and enjoy mac & cheese, ala Italiano! Calories: approximately 475 per serving.