Posts Tagged ‘wine’

Homemade Fresh Pasta

May 22, 2011

There are certain things I just won’t cut corners on. I won’t make cookies from a box, bag or anything that says “break and bake.” I won’t ever buy marinara sauce from a jar. And I certainly wouldn’t dream of buying a pre-made cake.

But, before you think I don’t have a full-time job, multiple hobbies and a life outside the kitchen, let me tell you what I DO cut corners on. I will, every once in a while, buy a pie crust (my grandmother would cringe). I have been known to buy jams from a jar, salsa from a jar and – gasp – dips from a jar. But the one shortcut I did every week, every Thursday, without batting an eyelash, was buy fresh pasta. That is, however, until I went to Italy.

When I experienced a cooking class outside of Varenna with the talented Moreno, I had a new outlook on Italian cooking. Much like the view I have on cooking, Italians enjoy making the food as much as eating it. And, the more steps of the process your hands touch, make or mold, the more love you can put into the dish you will serve your loved ones. Dear Moreno made pasta from scratch. No attachments to mixers. No crank machines. Just his hands, a rolling pin and a few simple ingredients.

I would be fooling myself (and overestimating the size of my kitchen) if I thought I could make pasta with a rolling pin. But it did inspire me to make pasta. After all, I call it a sin to not make your own gravy, so why would I buy fresh pasta?

Step one was a pasta maker, and I was lucky enough to get one from my parents for Christmas. I couldn’t wait to try it. I searched back for Moreno’s recipe which had semolina flour (and I couldn’t find it anywhere) so I looked up a few recipes online for all-purpose flour. I cleared a Sunday afternoon, got out my machine, and went to work.

I would be lying if I told you the first time it was perfect – in fact, it was far from. The dough just didn’t feel right in my hands (sign one) then the crank number the recipe called for made the pasta feel too thin (sign two). But, it gave me enough hope to try again.

Four times, and four recipe alterations later, I finally got it. The perfect pasta noodle. While I am still mastering tagliatelle, I think ravioli might be a natural progression. However, anything more complex, I am buying from the store!

A few tips when you make pasta:
1. Don’t cut short kneading the dough. If you don’t do it for at least 10 minutes, the dough won’t be right. You will be tired, and wonder why, but you feel it in your hands when the dough takes form.
2. Don’t forget to let it rest. It needs this time after being needed for so long. At least for 3o minutes.
3. Don’t be afraid to use flour once the noodles are made in order to separate them.
4. Go into the process knowing you will tweak your recipe many times before finding one that works.
5. Allow yourself at least an hour for the process (if not a little more).
6. It tastes better and is much more fun if you make it while sipping red Italian wine and listening to Italian music.

I would love to give credit to someone this recipe but I used one I found online and changed it so much, I don’t even recognize it anymore. So, I suppose I should credit myself (although there surely are many duplicates out there).

So in Italian fashion, when I make pasta, the whole meal tastes of the love I put into it. I recently revisited my pistachio cream pasta the time I finally nailed my noodle recipe. It was almost like a different dish – a dish entirely made from scratch. No shortcuts. But lots of love.

HOMEMADE FRESH PASTA
Serves 2-3

1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
2 eggs, plus one egg yolk
¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon olive oil
½ Tablespoon warm water

Put flour on a marble, wooden or smooth countertop and create a “volcano” and create a well in the center. In a bowl, mix the eggs, salt and olive oil. Pour the egg mixture into the well and slowly incorporate the flour into the eggs, pulling flour from the area around the well. You might have to add the yolk in multiple phases in order for it to fit in the well without spilling over.

As things begin to get incorporated, keep kneading (even if your well breaks) and add the water if necessary. This will be messy, but keep going! Once you have the mixture in a ball form, begin kneading the dough. Fold it in have and press against the counter. Start a timer and knead for no less than 10 minutes and you will see your dough begin to take shape.

Once your 10 minutes is up, cut your dough in half to form two little balls. Put them in a bowl (or two separate bowls) and cover with plastic wrap. Let them sit for at least 30 minutes to an hour.

If you are using a crank machine, take the first ball and press onto the counter to push into a flat pancake. Make sure your pasta maker is on the widest setting (mine is 7) and crank the dough through. Keep flour on the dough to keep it from getting sticky. Keep changing the setting every time until you get the thickness you want (for mine the perfect thickness is level 3). Then, crank it through the cutting side, keeping it floured and you have fresh pasta! This pasta can also be frozen, I am told, but I have yet to do it.

The flour with the well of egg mixture in the center.

My husband demonstrating how to knead the dough!

The balls of dough after they have been kneaded.

Passing the dough through the pasta press.

Cutting the pasta. The last step!

Dinner!

Spaghetti with Anchovy Carbonara

April 17, 2011

For those who have been reading this blog, there is no need to reiterate my love for carbonara. When you put pasta and bacon together, let’s face it, you just can’t go wrong.

It isn’t surprising that when we spent a few weeks in Italy last spring, this was the dish I was seeking out most. It is more common in the Umbria and Rome area (although you can find it many other places). So I knew when we arrived in that region, I wouldn’t need to look at menus very long.

We had spent a few days in our Villa by Spoleto and had decided to take a side trip to the religious mecca of Assisi (45 minutes away). It is a beautiful town, filled with amazing stone buildings, commanding views, and a spiritual aura. We had just visited Minerva and someone must have been scouring down on me because (I am convinced), because it was the one time on the whole trip that I didn’t cover my shoulders in the church. As we exited the building and went down the marble steps my clumsy feet just couldn’t get it together – and I slipped down the stairs. O Madon! No matter what country you are in – when you fall onto marble, it hurts like nobody’s business. So, after going to the pharmacia and showing the clerk, who got us appropriate bandages and some neosporin looking stuff (at least we think that is what it was), I needed a pick me up.

My husband joked that for me, carbonara, a glass of wine and a scoop of gelato will make anything better! (the truth is, he is right!) So we set out down some less traveled paths to find the perfect resting place. We saw a little restaurant, unassuming and filled with locals, and knew we had found the place.

The carbonara in Assisi, Italy

This was my first official carbonara of the trip and I barely needed to look at a menu to know what I would have. I took one bite and knew it was the best carbonara I had ever tasted in my whole life. The sauce wasn’t overly creamy, it had an amazing saltiness, and was filled with pancetta. There was something intangible in that dish – something that set it apart. Not sure if it was the state of shock I was in from my fall, the glass of wine I had to wash down lunch or the food itself.

So, when I started seeking out the perfect carbonara recipe upon my return, I did lots of research on the traditional way Italians make it. Much to my surprise, a common ingredient is anchovies – and I knew at that moment that it was the little fish that had made it into my dish that day.

Now, my husband claims to not like anchovies, yet I knew when you cook them in olive oil they actually disintegrate so you don’t bite into them, yet they infuse your sauce. So, I gave it a whirl.

Hands down it was the best carbonara I have had outside of Italy. I made my own tagliatelle (my new favorite past time) but you could surely use any spaghetti or fettuccine you would like. I also added a bit of pancetta – because let’s face it, everything is better with pancetta.

So nothing can quite compare to the throbbing pain in my knee, the refreshing wine out of a jug, the views of St Francis and the Italian language surrounding me. But, this dish at least transports me, just a little bit, to the land that invented carbonara.

Thanks to Food and Wine for this amazing rendition of an Italian classic. If you don’t like anchovies, still give it a whirl – just cut back on the amount a bit. They might just surprise you!

SPAGHETTI WITH ANCHOVY CARBONARA
Serves4

12 ounces spaghetti
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
One 2-ounce can flat anchovies, drained and chopped
Pinch of Aleppo pepper or crushed red pepper
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1 tablespoon chopped oregano
Pancetta (optional)
1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 large egg yolks
Salt and freshly ground pepper

In a large pot of salted boiling water, cook the spaghetti until al dente. Drain the pasta, reserving 1/2 cup of the cooking water.

In a large, deep skillet, heat the oil with the garlic and anchovies and cook over moderately high heat until the anchovies have dissolved, about 2 minutes. (If using pancetta, add and cook until cooked through.) Add the red pepper, zest, oregano and parsley, then add the pasta and toss to coat. Remove from the heat.

In a small bowl, whisk the yolks with the reserved cooking water and add to the pasta. Cook over low heat, tossing until the pasta is coated in a creamy sauce, about 1 minute. Season with salt and pepper and serve.

Chicken with Tarragon and Quick Roasted Garlic, and Southwest Rice and Corn Salad with Lemon Dressing

October 23, 2010

I don’t know about you, but there are times when I am just so sick of chicken. It is such an obvious choice – it is healthy, cheap and can be made in a variety of ways. But, the very characteristics that make it so wonderful, also entice the average home cook to put chicken in the meal rotation too many times a week. And that, my friends, results in food boredom.

So, I must admit that when I made this recipe I wasn’t overly excited. It was yet another sauteed chicken breast. But, I was so pleasantly surprised that we declared that this recipe might have resulted our favorite chicken dish in many poultry-filled months.

What makes this dish is surely the salad that goes with it – so I beg you not to omit it. I didn’t have all of the veggies, but it still turned out amazing. The rice combines so well with the acidity of the lemon juice, the richness of the avocado and the sweetness of the corn.

The chicken has such a rich flavor due to the roasted garlic and tarragon. It tastes like something that has been cooking and developing flavors all day long.

So, this recipe has invigorated my love for chicken, and will be my new go-to recipe with my poultry love is diminishing.

Thanks to Bon Appetit for this recipe!

CHICKEN WITH TARRAGON AND QUICK ROASTED GARLIC
4 Servings

3 large unpeeled garlic cloves
4 small skinless boneless chicken breast halves or cutlets
2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) butter
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup low-salt chicken broth
1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon
2 tablespoons heavy whipping cream

Heat small nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add garlic; cover and cook until browned in spots and tender when pierced, turning occasionally, 9 to 10 minutes. Transfer to work surface to cool.

Meanwhile, sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper. Melt butter in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken and cook until browned and cooked through, 3 to 4 minutes per side. Transfer chicken to plate (do not clean skillet).

Peel garlic. Add garlic and wine to same skillet; cook until reduced by about half, mashing garlic finely with fork, about 1 minute. Add broth and tarragon; simmer until liquid is reduced by about half, 1 to 2 minutes. Add cream and simmer to sauce consistency, about 1 minute. Return chicken to skillet with any accumulated juices. Simmer to heat through, turning occasionally, 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer chicken to plate; spoon sauce over.

SOUTHWEST RICE AND CORN SALAD WITH LEMON DRESSING
8 Servings

1 cup long-grain white rice
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 1/2 cups fresh corn kernels (cut from 2 ears) or frozen corn kernels, thawed
1 cup chopped fresh poblano chiles or green bell pepper
1 cup diced seeded yellow bell pepper
1 cup 1/2-inch cubes yellow zucchini
1 avocado, halved, peeled, diced
1/2 cup thinly sliced green onions
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Cook rice until just tender, 12 to 15 minutes. Drain and rinse in cold water. Drain again.

Meanwhile, whisk lemon juice and 3 tablespoons oil in small bowl. Season dressing to taste with salt and pepper.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add corn, poblanos, yellow bell pepper, and zucchini. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Sauté until vegetables are just tender, 6 to 7 minutes; scrape into large bowl. Add rice, avocado, green onions, cilantro, and dressing; toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper.

Gemelli with Sausage and Saffron

September 18, 2010

I have to be honest, I always have a bit of sticker shock when I buy saffron. Spices themselves are quite pricy, but saffron normally runs over $10 and there is just a little envelope in the jar with a few strands of it. I know a little goes a long way, but does it really have to cost so much?

So, I did a bit of research and – ok – I will admit, I think it should cost more than it does! The spice comes from the saffron crocus flower. A pound of dry saffron requires the styles and stigmas of 50,000-75,000 flowers – an equivalent of a football field’s area of cultivation! Forty hours of labor goes into 150,000 flowers (only 2 pounds of dry saffron). Ok, I get it. This stuff is tough and time-consuming to produce. I can see why the spice is $500+ per pound.

So, I have a bit more appreciation when a recipe calls for a small amount of saffron – giving it a honey, grassy almost hay-like flavor (not to mention an amazing color). When I saw this pasta recipe in La Cucina Italiana, I thought I would try it, since I had never used saffron in pasta.

I don’t know if it was the San Marzano tomatoes (essential!), the unique shape of pasta (it called for malloreddus but I couldn’t find it so used gemelli instead), the sausage, or the amazing taste of saffron, but this pasta became one of my favorites in just one bite. There is so much favor – a spiciness (I added a few red pepper flakes) with the fennel in the sausage, that flavorful saffron taste along with the sweetness of the San Marzanos. Not to mention a great flavor and sweetness from the onions.

So, next time you wonder why you are paying so much for saffron, remember the process to cultivate it, and make this pasta. One bite, and you just won’t care how much you spent to make it!

GEMELLI WITH SAUSAGE AND SAFFRON

One pound sweet Italian sausage
Heaping 1/8 teaspoon crushed saffron threads
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, roughly chopped
1 (28-ounce can) whole peeled tomatoes with juices, preferably San Marzano
1/2 cup dry white wine
Fine sea salt
500 grams (1.1 pounds)  fresh malloreddus or dried malloreddus (available at some supermarkets and specialty stores) or one pound of Gemelli pasta
1/2 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese plus more for serving

Remove sausage from casing; break meat apart a bit. Combine saffron and 1/4 cup water in a small bowl. In a large saucepan, heat oil over medium-high heat; add onion and cook, stirring frequently, until softened, 5 to 6 minutes. Add sausage, reduce heat to medium and cook, breaking meat apart with a wooden spoon, for 5 minutes. Add tomatoes with juices and wine; cook, breaking up tomatoes, for 5 minutes. Add saffron mixture and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Gently simmer sauce until thickened and flavorful, 45 to 50 minutes. Remove from heat and cover to keep warm.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook until al dente (about 6 minutes after water returns to a boil for fresh malloreddus). Meanwhile, gently warm sauce. When pasta is al dente, drain pasta, transfer to a large bowl, immediately add sauce and toss to combine. Add cheese and toss once more. Serve immediately, passing extra cheese at the table.

The Cullinary Trip of a Lifetime – Part 4 (Umbria & Rome)

July 10, 2010

View from our villa

As we left the wineries and cypress trees of Tuscany behind, we entered the rolling hills, and less traveled area of Umbria. You don’t hear of many people visiting this area, due to its more popular sibling – Tuscany – but I fear it is overlooked based purely on lack of publicity. Our time in Umbria felt more rustic than any place on our trip and we encountered more pure culture and non-English speakers than I ever could have imagined. We called it our “cultural immersion” part of the journey. No Rick Steves guidebooks here.

Although the cuisine is similar to Tuscany, there are a few regional specialties worth noting. Perugia is known for its chocolate, so the delicious sweet treat is easy to come by in these parts. Truffles are also popular and abundant. This area is also supposed to have the best salumi (which we later confirmed).

So our first stop (which we got to via our Fiat Cinquecento and first interesting driving experience) was Orvieto. This small hill town is known for its amazing duomo (the most beautiful I have ever seen) and its wine called, of course, Orvieto Classico. So, not in order of importance, we visited the duomo, then tried the wine with lunch.

Pancetta Panini with a glass of Orvieto Classico

In Cinque Terre the light wine felt right with the seafood and sea views – but here, I will admit, it was a bit odd. The food in this region is very pork, boar, tomato-sauce focused so it felt ripe for red. But, when we found a restaurant on the square with a view of the duomo and ordered a panini, the white, light wine went perfectly.

After our short lunch stop in Orvieto we proceeded (sans GPS, unfortunately) to our villa. We were fortunate enough to have a work friend who knew an old coworker with a cluster of villas just outside of Spoleto (http://www.borgoacquaiura.it/borgoeng.html). We knew it would be off the beaten path and absolutely amazing. We were not disappointed.

The villa was situated on a hill, overlooking nothing but trees, flowers and a few small hill towns. Our villa, La Casetta, was the perfect home base. To add to the ambiance, we were greeted by the caretaker, Nicu, who knew absolutely no English. Remember how we called this our cultural immersion?

I have so many stories to tell about this portion of our trip, but I will try to limit it to our food experiences. Our first night, we didn’t know where we

Antipasti at Palazzo del Papa - not surprisingly lots of salumi and truffle mushrooms

should drive for dinner. We knew how to get to Spoleto, but didn’t know much about what was there. In broken Italian, we asked Nicu who kindly offered to drive us to a restaurant called Palazzo del Papa, which was down some windy roads opposite of Spoleto. To boot, he said when we were finished to tell the wait staff and they would call him to come pick us up.

So our first course was, of course, the antipasti of the house – again, it was interesting to see the difference. Of all the places we had been, this was the most robust and hearty antipasti we had ever eaten. In some ways, it could have been its own meal. But, there was just too much good food to stop there!

Truffle pasta at Palazzo di Papa

For our primi, I got a truffle pasta (although I actually ordered something else – but the language barrier was a blessing since it was amazing!). Rob had a tomato pasta then we both had pork cutlets (his with lemon and mine with truffle – that time ordered on purpose!). The food was to die for, and when we had the restaurant call Nicu, the bartender gave us a gratis after dinner drink while we waited. An amazing night.

The next night was a special one – and I won’t bore you with ALL of the mushy details. My husband and I renewed our vows. No, it wasn’t a monumental anniversary, but we had always wondered what it would be like if we had eloped to Italy, and got married in a chapel – just us. Now, at the end of the day, having our friends and family with us that day was so important to us, we never would have done it. But there was something about a romantic moment, just the two of us, in a foreign place that always tugged at me. So, when the coworker who put me in contact with the villa owner said he renewed his vows there, we thought it would be the perfect opportunity.

Nicu broke out the “popemobile” which in fact WAS the same type of car

The church in Torrecola where we renewed our vows

as the popemobile. He drove us to a church in Torrecola – population 24. Electricity had to be run from a neighboring house, the townspeople came to join us (none of whom we knew) and the entire ceremony was in Italian. But I can honestly say, there was something so surreal about that moment, that I felt not only a romantic and religious connection to my husband, but also to the land of Italy. Truly a once in a lifetime experience.

Now, the food. So no event like that is complete without a celebration. So after Nicu took out us, his friend Angelica and her husband Francesco out for a “chin

Wine at Il Capanno

chin” nearby, we had dinner reservations at a place we had been hearing about ever since we got there – Il Capanno (http://www.ilcapannoristorante.it/). Now you can’t be fooled by the dirt road that gets you there, and the fact that it isn’t near much of anything (except our villa). We went there the night before – Nicu took us to make sure it was “acceptable” for our celebration. They gave us wine, antipasti and we tried to communicate with the adorable girl Raquella who was there with the family. We knew it was good, and we knew it was a gem that not enough people had discovered.

We tried a regional wine from Montefalco that special night. I can honestly say the only reason we knew it was regional is we had seen a sign for the exit close to the villa. For our antipasti, we of course ordered “of the house” and were not disappointed. Rob got a delicious ravioli for his primi (which we shared). Don’t get me wrong, it was amazing – it all was – but what I remember most about this meal, other than basking in the glow of our vow renewal, was the steak. Oh my goodness, the

Best steak of our lives - salt crusted with rosemary

steak. I feel like in my life I have had some pretty good steaks, all over the country. But this steak had some sort of unique salt crust, and it blew you away. I could never reciprocate it no matter how hard I would try. We both agreed it was hands down the most amazing steak we had ever hand in our lives. For dessert, we got a chocolate mousse with a pistachio creme that was the perfect ending to a perfect meal.

Needless to say, during our time in Umbria we went back to the delicious Palazzo del Papa for dinner, this time getting a pizza and confirming the legend that Umbria does indeed have the best salumi and cured meats. Hands down, best pizza I have ever put in my mouth.

Spaghetti Carbonara in Assisi

Another memorable meal was in Assisi, where we visited for a day of sightseeing. Those who know me well, know carbonara is my favorite pasta dish. As a child, my father and I would beg my mother to make it as much as she could. The whole trip I knew that certain dishes were only available regionally. And although there were some exceptions (my husband had a mean carbonara in Venice), I knew in Umbria and Rome, we had entered “carbonara country.” So, for lunch in Umbria, I ordered my first plate of this heavenly pasta. It was a drier carbonara – less of that heavy creamy sauce – which was perfect for lunch. The bacon was like none I have ever had. All and all, an amazing dish, and worth the long wait to experience it in its regional birthplace.

Once we left the peaceful lands of the villa and entered clustered, noisy, crowded Rome, I will say we both experienced a bit of a culture shock. It took many different directions (GPS still broken) and near misses with other traffic to make it to the Hertz station to drop off our car. To boot, it was raining. Although, I have to admit, this was the first real rain of the trip (minus about 1 hour in Tuscany) so neither one of us was complaining. Once we got settled at our B&B, we realized it was pouring rain and we were starving. It was time for one of those typical 2 hour Italian lunches, while the rain would hopefully pass through.

We ducked into a little place in an alley by our B&B – looked like it was filled with locals (good sign), looked crowded (also a good sign) and looked very unassuming (the best sign). We sat down, shook out our umbrellas and dug into the menu. For an antipasti, we got baccala (cod fish) that was fried. Despite its popularity in Italy, it was actually the first baccala we had on the trip. It was crispy and delicious.

Bucatini in Rome

For our main meal I got, not surprisingly, carbonara. Rob got a bucatini (the spaghetti like strands with a hole in the center like a long tube), which has now become one of my favorite types of pasta. It was served traditionally, with a tomato sauce. They were both so flavorful, and the pasta was cooked to perfection. It seemed the perfect lunch in a cozy restaurant, while watching people trudge past in the rain. Then, we topped it all off with an espresso, to give us the energy to trudge in the rain ourselves.

Our last evening in Italy, after a visit to the Trevi Fountain, we decided to eat in a popular area with outdoor restaurants, street performers, and amazing food. I will admit, I ate more food than I ever thought possible. But I realized that this time the next day, I would be getting whatever Delta airplane food they put in front of me on a plastic tray, so I had to load up on the good food while I could. We did both primi and segundi and I had a craving for traditional spaghetti with a meat sauce. Yes, it sounds simple for my last meal, but I wanted to have that one, comfort food that I always think of when I think of Italian food. I wanted something traditional, after all of the amazing specialties we had throughout the trip. Rob got a gnocchi and we both got breaded veal for our main dish. We held off on dessert, knowing we could find some good gelato nearby. We were right.

Gelato in Rome

We literally followed the people with cones into what might be the closest thing I have ever seen to a gelato palace. The place was huge, more gelato than I have ever seen in my life, and there was a system. You pay first. Of course, as clueless tourists we waited about 10 minutes before realizing the system, but once we did and got our cones, we knew it was worth the wait. Maybe it was because it was our last night, or maybe it was because I was eating ice cream that tasted like a candy bar, but it was the best gelato I have ever had in my life.

The cuisine of Umbria and Rome was not only memorable because I was able to experience carbonara, but because it was yet two more regions, with their own specialties. Umbria felt raw in its culture, Rome a bit more metropolitan. In Umbria, it was all home grown food prepared in traditional ways, in Rome you could get some pretty good Chinese food, I am sure. They both had their own personalities, and it was necessary to experience both to appreciate the differences. This part of my trip has a sentimental meaning to me. Not only because I renewed my vows with my amazing husband, but because it was my last few days in a country where I know I will be returning.

Below are a few more food photos of our time in Umbria and Rome:

Rob in the butcher shop in nearby Spoleto where we bought our meats and cheeses for the villa

Lunch on our patio at the villa - meats, cheese and bread from the butcher shop in Spoleto

The antipasti at Il Capanno

Ravioli at Il Capanno

Chocolate mousse and pistachio cream at Il Capanno

Wine at Trattoria Al Camino Vecchio in Assisi

Gnocchi in Assisi

Best pizza I have ever had at Palazzo del Papa outside of Spoleto

Fried baccala in Rome

Carbonara in Rome

Spaghetti with meat sauce the last night in Rome

Gnocchi in tomato sauce in Rome

Last meal in Italy

The Culinary Trip of a Lifetime – Part 2 (Cinque Terre)

June 19, 2010

CINQUE TERRE

Every person who has ever been to Cinque Terre has said it is magical. I had no doubt it would be beautiful, but magical is such a strong word. But after 3nights in this breathtaking place, I knew exactly what everyone means. They mean you don’t want to leave – and you consider what your life would be like if you just never went home at all!

Different from Lake Como, Cinque Terre is on the Italian Riviera, so it has a more resort feel,with a Mediterranean backdrop. Cinque Terre means 5 lands, so you can experience all 5 villages, hanging from cliffs with pastel houses leaning on each other for support. We stayed in Vernazza, the only one with a natural harbor – but we experienced all 5 villages either by boat or by hiking.

The food history in the Cinque Terre region is amazing – and because of its regional specialties, I almost felt as if I were eating in a very different Italy.

Spaghetti with mussels and clams, at a restaurant in the Vernazza castle overlooking the sunset

Being on the sea, it is no surprise that seafood is their specialty…sardines, anchovies (a local favorite), octopus, clams and mussels to name a few. After many years of believing I was allergic to clams (and testing negative 2 days before my trip), I was thrilled I could try of one their well-known Cucina Tipica – spaghetti with clams and mussels. It was one of the most amazing dishes of the trip, and felt like the perfect food overlooking the sunset on the Mediterranean.

Another food that originates from the Cinque Terre area is pesto. They were the first to take basil, garlic, cheese, pinenuts and oil and use a mortar and pestle to create what we call pesto. I have never made much pesto – my husband never claimed to be a huge fan and although

Walnut Pesto at Trattoria Sandro (on the main drag in Vernazza)

I like it, I would rarely order it in a restaurant. But, when in Rome (so to speak)…..so, our first night we tried the pesto. And, appropriately, it was the best pesto I have ever had in my life. That night we had a green pesto, but then the next day we had a walnut pesto (another regional favorite) that was one of the best pasta dishes I have ever had. It is safe to say we had our fair share of pesto in Cinque Terre.

Another item we were told was a must have is focaccia – another dish that originated from this area. Our first night in Vernazza, we were looking for an aperitivo and a little snack before contemplating dinner, so we found a little place on the main street and had an amazing focaccia bread. We met a couple on their honeymoon and had an amazing time – we also all tried Sciachetra which is a local sweet wine. I am not big on sweet wines, but we had to try it while we were there (it came in the cutest little wine glass!).

But amidst the amazing seafood, unforgettable pesto and light, crisp white wine (perfect with their cuisine and a nice break from red) – perhaps the most amazing culinary experience in Cinque Terre was Angelo’s Boat Tours.

I had read about them on TripAvisor (no surprise to those who know me), and he offered small group (no more than 6 people) boat rides along all five villages. We opted for a sunset cruise where we were taken along all 5 villages – complete with salumi, pestos, focaccia and flowing prosecco. Then, we docked in Manarola (one of the villages) and he grilled a fresh swordfish he had just caught, along with amazing shrimp. The food was so fresh and delicious. And yes, the atmosphere sure played a role.

Below are a few photos from the amazing boat ride:

Angelo's boat, ready for our cruise - he had already poured us glasses of prosecco as we waited at the bench on the dock

Our amazing antipasti - pesto, focaccia, salumi, cheese, etc.

One of the villages, perched on the cliffs

Fresh swordfish and shrimp grilling on the boat at sunset

Our shrimp and swordfish on the boat

Another noteworthy culinary experience was less about the food and more about the atmosphere – it was this little cafe called Il Pirata up where the traffic is stopped and forbidden to come into Vernazza. Two Sicilian brothers own it and they are a hoot. We went every morning not just to talk with the hilarious owners, but also for a great breakfast.

Breakfast at Il Pirata - most like dessert!

Also worth mentioning is that we were in Cinque Terre just one week after their lemon festival. Needless to say lemons are plentiful and a point of passion for Ligurians. Because of the prominence of lemons, limoncello is also in abundance. We found out early on during our stay that people like to give away limoncello as a thank you – particularly with your bill. We got used to that polite gesture in a hurry!

Cinque Terre truly is a foodie’s paradise – as well as one of the most romantic places I have ever been. Below you will find more food photos from our stay along the Mediterranean.

Focaccia and a Peroni

The local Sciachetrà wine - yes, that is really how small the glass is!

Traditional pesto

Caprese salad

Fried seafood of the day

Pesto ravioli

Gelato with a pizzelle on top

Cinque Terre wine - each village bottles its own

When I saw this dessert in a glass case, I told Rob I wanted it before we sat down to dinner. It was amazing!


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