Italian cuisine is the most popular in the United States. Maybe it’s because pizza and pasta are so common. But it is even more so when you are in Italy. This is where I am writing this.
More importantly, Italian food is even better when you are in the middle of the country. Tomatoes are sweeter. Fruits are more tasty. Pasta is really cooked. Salads are more imaginative. Even olive oil has a deeper flavor.
For example, we stayed a few days in our uncle’s hometown in the mountains. Even with just 3,000 inhabitants, the availability of good food was enormous. Our friend Carmine invited us to her home on our arrival. There, she set up a table with large green olives, polenta torta (which she made herself), fresh cherries, cheese, salami and homemade sangria. Hospitality is the operative word here, and good food is the car.
Walking with us after church, he brought us to see his friend Petro, who had a sign on the door indicating that it was a gastrointestinal tract. I was expecting some kind of school. But no, it was a small house with a table, sofa, fireplace and small kitchen on the first floor. One leg of pork and a dry salute hung from the ceiling. Petro himself was saving them, making parasito from pork. “It’s better to make it yourself,” he said in his native Italian. (Of course, I thought I’d go home and do it.)
The table was filled with large cans full of cherries, some packed in sugar, and the other 96% grains were marinated in alcohol. Sugar cherries were left for a few months, preferably in the sun, after which the sugar extracted, melted, and became a syrupy liquid. It can be spooned on a cake or gelato or eaten straight.
Marinated cherries were also a delicacy. Enjoy the drunken fruit while breaking yourself! However, this is not common here. Drinking too much is rare, although you can buy hard wines from almost any store that sells food or beverages, including coffee. In Italy, “going to the bar” means drinking coffee.
Petro offered his dried cured pork sausage, liver sausage (none for me, please), prosciutto and salami pieces. Delicious fun! In fact, with the best flavor and the lowest fat content I’ve ever tasted.
He offered us some spaghetti to cook, but we had to go back to our place of residence. (Can I admit that we lived in a beautiful 14th-century castle apartment? About ً 35 per night for each of us?) So, dinner was planned for 8:30 this evening. ۔
We arrived with a small crowded table and spaghetti with our location settings almost ready to be served. The sauce, placed in the middle of a spaghetti mound, was made from fresh summer tomatoes, which were extremely sweet and deep red. Sprinkled fresh basil sprinkled it on top. The pasta had a perfectly cooked texture that was soft but not crunchy, and strong but not too hard. Petro was really an artist, even the simplest dish.
The bread of life
I noticed that grissini, those thin old bread sticks, are now less common in restaurants. Instead, most of them are offering crusty Italian slices.
One thing my niece Nicole noticed – the bread here is sharp but strong with a crisp, black crust. Many American restaurants do not offer any yellow, undercooked version. Most Italian restaurants serve it in brown bags at your table.
However, don’t ask for butter. Instead, ask for olive oil, but it will be out of the ordinary. When we asked for olive oil for our bread, the waiter placed a bottle on our table, but there were no bread plates. We were left to drop our pieces one at a time.
And street food!
Even on the highway, a variety of crispy rolls and flatbread sandwiches are served at autogirl rest stops – prosciutto, buffalo mozzarella, fresh tomato pieces, copacola, sausages, meatballs, and even hamburgers. Heat them on a water press or enjoy a cold. Or take prepared dishes like breaded fish fillets, roasted chicken, lasagna, grilled vegetables and pasta. Don’t miss out on pastries like Nutella stuffed muffins, stuffed croissants and bootloaders of Italian pastries. Most salad bars are finished with COVID-19, but pre-made salads delight every taste from simple to fancy. You can go crazy with just one choice.
I avoid tourist menus or anything that caters to non-Italians. You can find many things in any famous city, especially the visitor sites – the Vatican, the ruins of Pompeii, around Ponte Vecchio.
Here you will find spaghetti and meatballs which are not really Italian dishes. If you like meatballs, they are usually served as a side dish in the sauce. On our last night in Pompeii, we ate at a restaurant near our Airbnb. It was open to tourists, but we went anyway. My pasta was fine, if too soft, but the tomato sauce was too oily and flat. Not terrible, but not up to the standards of the country.
If you want good Italian food, ask your hotel janitor or your BnB host where they usually go. Explain that you want real local food, not catering for tourists. If you’re in a big city, the restaurant staff can speak at least some English.
However, the farther south you go, and the smaller the city, the less likely it is that English will become commonplace. Just subscribe to the online translator for your phone and do your best. Most Italians are glad you’re trying.
Except when I needed a road service, and the man who got there was uttering words to me in Italian that I had never heard before. Two trucks. Maintenance yard Blown tires. The less I understood him, the louder he shouted. However, I got the impression that his co-workers also thought he was on top.