The Culinary Trip of a Lifetime – Part 1 (Venice & Lake Como)

So yes, it has been a month since my last blog post. No, I didn’t stop cooking and I certainly didn’t stop eating. I spent 2 weeks in Italy, vacationing with my husband, and 2 more debating how on earth I would going to write a blog post (or multiple blog posts) about it.

The reality is, we will be doing this in phases. We took a cooking class in Lake Como that warrants its own blog post. Also, each region had such different, unique food – I will be breaking this out into Northern Italy (Venice, Lake Como), Cinque Terre/Italian Riviera, Tuscany, Umbria and Rome.

So, I will start from the top…

I was lucky enough to have been to Italy once with my parents, but I barely dipped my toe into the culture, the food and the wine. I knew I needed to go back. On the flip side, my Italian husband (whose grandfather came from a small town in Tuscany called Pietrasanta) had never been. We love food. We love wine. It seemed so obvious.

So, on our 3 year anniversary, I surprised my husband with plane tickets for the next spring, and 8 months later we were on a very long Delta flight to Venice for two weeks of relaxation, romance, scenery, food and wine. And more wine.

I did my culinary homework before the trip – reading about the foods in each region and studying up on my issues of La Cucina Italiana (I highly recommend it). I started to learn what areas were known for, what you “have to have” in each city, and the importance of all of the Italian basics.

VENICE

Our trip began in Venice, and I will admit I was so enamored by the romance and a bit blurred by jetlag, that I didn’t take photos of much food in this city. But, it was obvious the abundance of seafood. Our first night when my husband got Carbonara (my personal favorite) I went with a seafood pasta. Of course, it was a small taste of what 2 weeks in Italy would be like – food heaven. Also, in Venice we had our first gelato (which was followed by MANY more) – there is nothing else like it! Gelato is make with milk instead of cream (which is how ice cream is made) so gelato is lighter and smoother.

Below are a few food and wine pictures from Venice:

Gelato

Street market stall

Panini

Drinks at Cafe Florian - I had the house red, Rob had sambuca

VARENNA, LAKE COMO

After a mere one night in Venice, we took the train to Varenna on Lake Como. I was particularly excited about this city, and not for the chance of running into George Clooney (although it would have been nice.). I have heard that Lake Como is a gem – a still somewhat off the beaten path vacation area for wealthy Milanese. The alpine lake is a crystal blue, the alps show their snow caps in the distance and the little villages are quaint and surreal. Every view was a postcard.

Beef Risotto with Red Wine Sauce at La Vista

Our first night in Varenna we had reservations at Ristorante La Vista – very well known for amazing cuisine. We each started with a shrimp bruschetta that was amazing, the freshness and slight citrus of the dish woke up your palate. My entree was a risotto with beef, yet instead of the traditional broth sauce, it was a heavy wine sauce, drizzled with a red wine syrup. It seemed so intriguing on the menu, I knew I had to try it and it was so rich and deep with flavor. I could never recreate it.

Filet of Beef with Balsamic Reduction at La Vista

My husband had a filet mignon with a balsamic glaze. I beamed with pride when he told me it tasted like my filet mignon I make for him with balsamic (on this blog) but of course the quality of the balsamic in Italy surpasses anything we have in the US, so it certainly was a notch above. Dessert was a chocolate dream on a plate. And complementing our meal along the way was a splurge wine – a Barolo. Lake Como is close to the Barolo region and as we attempted to eat regional cuisine and drink regional wine on the trip, we knew it was the right wine for the night. It was one of the best bottles of wine I have ever had.

Chocolate Goodness at La Vista

As if we hadn’t had our culinary overload on our first night, on day two we were picked up in the Varenna square by Francesca who wove us up some hills for 10 minutes (Italian driving at its best) to her father Moreno’s restaurant in Perledo. We partook in a cooking class at his restaurant – 5 hours of cooking, drinking, eating and hearing Moreno’s stories. As I mentioned, this experience deserves its own entry, so I will do one at a later date.

Other food and wine we enjoyed in Varenna (and nearby Bellagio, after which the famous LasVegas hotel is named) included:

The Barolo at La Vista

In Northern Italy, an Aperitivo (drink before dinner) always included lots of snacks

Chianti Classico

Tiramisu - my favorite!

Gnocchi with Tomatoes, Sausage and Fennel

Lamb Chops with Fresh Herbs

Filet Mignon with Green Peppercorn Sauce

Melon with Proscuitto

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