In my mind, Italian food is synonymous with Pasta, Pizza and Gelato. I don’t know if I am being perfectly fair, but let me say immediately that on Italy on this trip I ate the best pasta I have ever tasted; to the point of it being an art. I have been to Venice many times, but I don’t remember eating such great pasta.
In France, there are a few great but very common foods that I use to judge a restaurant; for example, Croque Monsieur and Crème Brulee….these are staples that appear everywhere, but can be made in infinite ways with variations in the bread, its thickness, the ham, how it is toasted, how it is sliced and how it is presented. Ditto for Crème Brulee. I often feel that if I order one of these two dishes, I will understand a restaurant or brasserie.
In Italy, I dared not attempt to taste every pizza in town; across France and Italy, it is all thin crust, fresh ingredients, and not too sloppy with sauce. R’s favorite Saturday lunch in Beaune is from the “Pizza au feu du bois” truck at the market; that is, if he is alone, because if I am there I will prepare something more elaborate from the market, like Coquilles Saint Jacques. We have a big late lunch and a light dinner.
There are several pasta dishes I will try over and over again in Italy and never tire of. One is Pasta Carbonara, which is spaghetti with a sauce of egg and pasta water and parmesan cheese (usually) though of course there are many variations. The killer ingredient is guanchiale, or the cheek of the pig, fried in olive oil. I have yet to investigate Guanciale in the US, but I can tell you that the USDA is VERY strict and you will never ever eat Guanciale or Iberian Ham like you get in Europe in the United States. Even the Pancetta I bought here is nothing compared to the Pancetta of Italy. Sniff sniff sob sob….
So, when in doubt, I ordered the same dish, and the result was very interpretative. Definitely, much less sauce and much less portion than we get in the States. Here is a sample~
And another; I love this one for Italian parsley and the fine sprinkle of some kind of spice for a finish~
Other key dishes are pasta alla’matriciana which someone told me is the “hungry persons food,” with rigatoni or other kinds of pasta. It is often slightly spicy, and was always delicious…..here in Florence~
In Florence my sister ordered spaghettini with fresh peas; they are less green here than truly fresh, but my Sis raved that this was one of the best plates she had while on this trip~
We ate (and later made) all kinds of pasta on this trip, including cappeletti, or little hats; totally delish with whatever they are filled with~
And ravioli; these were filled with butternut squash and dressed with sage, I have had variants of this in NYC and this dish is one my all-time favs for pasta, though in NYC you don’t see it presented as it is in Italy….lip smacking good~
We had a few dishes with seafood; here in Florence~
There was pasta on display everywhere, in the market in Florence~
and in Roman shops; this one caught my eye~
Somewhere along the trip I found this display of dried but perfectly pale pasta….tempting in a basket~
I have always wanted to make fresh pasta. I know it is easy to make, but hard to make well; so I scheduled two cooking classes, making sure they included pasta. First up, in Rome, we learned how to make the well of flour, “Typo 00”~
Add in a generous pinch of sea salt; the trick is in the proportion; we made pasta for 20 in this class, which was great as that’s my average dinner size for parties. Our instructor Chef Andrea says it is easier to make for 20 than it is for 4, I think that is true.
We added 10 fresh eggs into the well and began to whisk with a fork; sprinkling in a little flour at a time~
At the end, it was a big mass of dough, and it was kneaded by hand at that point~
How to do all of this is a longer post, but we put the strips through the hand crank machine multiple times, to refine the dough~
and eventually to cut it into the final shape, which we tossed in semolina flour to keep it from sticking together. Chef Andrea tells us this pasta is best made a few hours ahead of eating; otherwise it dries out; it takes him about 20 minutes to make enough pasta for the whole night of a busy restaurant; this is indeed a skill, and the Italians work the pasta quickly~
It hardly needed to cook, it was so fine and fresh~
I did not think about it before going to Italy, but the difference between the dried pasta and the fresh pasta is the addition of egg. Dried pasta like the kind we find in our grocery stores contains no egg.
But the fresh pasta as shown here is very yellow, from the egg yolks, which contain carotine from the chicken feed. In Italy, or rather in the European Union, the eggs all must be branded with a code, which tells you where this egg came from and which grower and when. For example, starting with
1- Free Range
UK - Origin
##### - end digits represent the registered flock number.
An example code is 1UK 12345
This gives a very clear food chain; here is the egg we used in Rome….
On top of the pasta, the cheese is rather specific. Pecorino Romano ONLY on pasta carbonara. I found so much beautiful cheese across Italy, I will not pretend to understand all the combinations, but the cheese is amazing….…..
Next I will show you our pasta class in Tuscany. …