Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Cibo (food!)

          This post is dedicated to one of the most cultural and important aspects of Italy: food!  While I’ve been in Italy, I decided to take an Italian cuisine class to get even closer to the food of the region. 
          Culturally, there are many differences between Italian cuisine, and the American perception of Italian.  First and foremost, bread is never served with olive oil here!  Bread is placed on the table, and then eaten with antipasti or appetizers.  If your meal is a pasta dish, then customarily bread is not served, (all though if you’re American, and you ask for bread, or a plate for olive oil you can still get it.)  Also, the Italian meal is four courses.  When at a restaurant, you order a primo and secondo dish, the first being a pasta dish usually, and the second a meat.  Wine is almost always served with the meal.  White wine can be served with the primo, but always red for the secondo, and for pizzas.  Pizza really is as popular over here as I expected it to be.  And luckily for me, the tomato sauce is just that – only tomatoes!  I happen to have an allergy to onions, and back in the United States, pizza sauce is made with onion, but not in Italy.  The sauce is purely tomato, and then it is up to customer to choose the topping.  Most of the time, pizza here is ordered and then you receive a personal sized one (about the size of an extra large dinner plate.)  Then, it is eaten with a fork and knife, not like back home where we use our hands.  However, I have seen a few Italians eat it with their hands, and cutting an entire personal pizza can be rather difficult depending on the knife you’re using, so I’ve used my hands once or twice.

One of the best pizzas I've had here.  Those are clams on top!

          In my Italian cuisine class, I have been fortunate enough to learn how to make several amazing dishes.  One of my favorite things I learned how to make was gnocchi.  Gnocchi is a dense pasta dough made from potatoes, and shaped like a tiny pillow.  To accompany the gnocchi, my class made a series of three different sauces: a tomato sauce, a cheese sauce, and a pesto sauce.  I was never the biggest fan of pesto at home, to me it always tasted a bit salty, and to be honest I never really even knew the ingredients, but from scratch, crushed basil, olive oil, and pine nuts are the basis of the whole sauce, and it’s delicious!!  The other two sauces were definitely overshadowed.  Also, pesto is typical of the Italian Riveria, a place I got to travel to first hand!  
          Being in Italy for over a month, it is impossible to eat out for all of my meals.  Luckily I live close by to two different grocery stores.  One is called Pam and the other is called Eataly.  I cook for my roommate and myself on most weeknights.

Here's a meal I made using fresh ravioli, tomato, and olive oil
This was my first ever homemade tomato sauce!
          The ingredients are all so fresh that even the most basic food is so unbelievably flavorful, that it's impossible to get sick of.  Almost five weeks later, I'm still eating all the same foods I was when I first arrived.

My first meal from Eataly!

          The grocery store Eataly is most closely compared to something like a whole foods.  However, the interior is divided by categories.  For example, the above picture is from the carne, or meat section.  There are also sections for fish, bread, cheese and salami, pasta, pizza, and an entire floor dedicated to wine.  In each section you can sit down and order food for a meal.  Everything is freshly prepared and delicious!
          The seafood here in Italy is also fantastic.  With all the bodies of water like lake Maggiore and Como, the Po River (that runs through Torino, where I’m staying,) and the Mediterranean Sea, the seafood couldn’t be fresher.  
My favorite seafood dish, from the Riviera.

          Of course, no meal is complete without dessert.  Gelato is the famous Italian ice cream, all though it is a little different.  It isn't as hard, so it isn't served in scoops.  Instead they place it on your cone, and while it maintains its form, the consistency is different than ice cream.  It's hard to explain, so you must try it for yourself!  Also, Italian gelato is different than gelato you can get back in the US.  The milk they use here is pasteurized differently, so unfortunately, when I return home, my almost daily gelato routine will be broken.  Yes, I eat gelato almost every day!  

One of my favorite flavors, only offered at one place called Silvano's: crema di riso (like a rice pudding)

A selection of gelato flavors. 

          Lastly, I have just one more edible item to talk about, and that is a drink native to Torino called Bicerin.  If you read any information about traveling in Torino, you will come across this famous drink.  It is a hot beverage, served in layers.  The bottom layer is a thick chocolate, above the chocolate is a layer of coffee, and then a homemade whipped cream sits on the top.  Traditionally, you are told to drink everything without mixing because the density of the chocolate makes its way into your mouth past the coffee and whipped cream allowing you to get all three amazing flavors at once.  You are also told that if you don't have a white foamy mustache while drinking your Bicerin, that you're doing it wrong!

Delicious Bicerin!

          The food here in Italy has been wonderful.  I eat the freshest, most delicious food available and it's very inspiring to cook with.  I can't wait to bring some of my new techniques back with me to the US!

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