Saturday, April 5, 2008

A Food Tour of Italy

Gastronomically speaking, it may be said that the Smiths are Italian. In one week, we ate pizza for dinner four times and pasta 3 times and it was a good thing. Jackson is sure that's what heaven is like. With gelato for dessert of course.

Our culinary experience began with our arrival in Vicenza on Easter Sunday. Italians take their holidays (or just plain old Sundays for that matter) very seriously, and all local food shops were closed. We knew this was probable, but the budget airline we flew on had very restrictive luggage policies, preventing us from bringing anything along. Our hosts anticipated this, and upon our arrival, had a list of a few pizza places that would be open. Grateful, Jamie, Coleson and Jackson headed out to forage, and returned with 3 pizzas. Quickly consumed,with some yummy, local red wine, I was still feeling a little hungry (the crackers we'd eaten from the gas station had already digested) and I suspected the others were feeling the same. For some strange reason they were uncharacteristically silent about it though. Perhaps they were wanting to start the holiday off on a good note. I thought this admirable, and kept my silence as well.

The next day, Easter Monday, and also a holiday, meant that everything was still closed. After a muddy, morning hike, taking in the absolute beauty of the countryside, we managed to put together a lunch from a tiny alimenteri. The locals spoke no English, but Coleson had been faithfully studying his 15 minute Italian book for weeks. ( He'd impressed me one evening with a beautifully flowing sentence. I asked him to translate: "I have 2 brothers and 1 ugly sister and my parents are fat." I told him he could perhaps learn something a little more useful like, "I promise to be a good boy.") With no other options for supper, Jamie headed out to pick up pizza. I told him to maybe get 4 this time and the others agreed. A little more satisfying, and washed down with some yummy, local red wine, but really, I could have eaten more. We were all looking forward to the next day when the local markets were opened, as well as the supermercato.

Grocery shopping was an adventure in itself and I had a headache by the time we were done. So many people adding things to the cart that were either cookies or chocolate. The cheese and meat kept behind a counter that we had to actually ask for. Ahh, mi scusi, vorrei formaggio, per favore? We needed to be more specific than that. After all, there were what seemed to be hundreds of kinds of cheese. Jamie got some provolone (that was almost cheating, I think. We buy that kind at home every week). Supper was simple. Spaghetti bolgnese( which our hosts informed us, was not even Italian but rather a British invention) and some yummy, local red wine. We'd also done some sightseeing in Vicenza and had our first taste of gelato. 2 gustos each. So good.

The next day, we headed to Padua to do some more exploring. Charming city: beautiful piazzas, fountains, churches, more gelato, churches, pigeons, churches (...did I mention the churches?). However, the bathroom situation there is quite precarious. I will spare you the details. Jack may be scarred for life. We thought we would just eat dinner in Padua. Rick Steves had recommended relaxing at an outdoor table on the piazza, sipping an orange liqueur and herb-infused spritz, and dining like the locals. It all sounded so simple.

But we were way too early. Dinner in Italy does not start until 7:30 or 8. Some of the Smiths are in bed by that time. Hungry, we jumped in the car to head back home. The thought of then having to prepare something to eat was too overwhelming, and we voted to stop and pick up pizza. They only take about 4 minutes to cook in the pizza oven. When Jamie asked how many to get, everyone shouted "6"! He emerged sheepishly from the shop, his face barely visible above the skyscraper of pizzas he carried. We could not get home fast enough. It was like feeding time at the zoo.

By Thursday, the weather was gorgeous and we spent a lazy day on the farm. The kids jumped on the trampoline and played with the dogs. In the afternoon, Jamie, Jack and Coleson headed out for a hike. That night we feasted on pasta with a sauce we had made from roasted tomatoes, onions, eggplant and lots of garlic. And yummy, local red wine.

We spent Friday in Venice and returned home in time to attend the local festival of St Giuseppi with our hosts, Sylvie and Phil. The charm and allure of this evening spent with the locals was magical. We ate gnocchi pomodorro, lasagna with quail, plates of salami, polenta, and washed it down with vino frizzante. We avoided the horse steak. The kids and Jamie rode the bumper cars, and we were delighted by the music of the band and watching the dancing under the big tent. We talked about maybe moving there and found a "fixer-upper" for sale near by.
[What do you think of this fixer-upper? ;-)]

On Saturday, it was decided we would make home made pizza and cook together with Phil and Sylvie. After all, part of the allure of this vacation rental was the outdoor pizza oven. We picked up a kilo of mozzarella cheese from the local factory and stopped by the wine factory where they pump it like gasoline: 1 euro a litre (actually cheaper than gas!).

Maddie and I set to work in the afternoon to make enough dough to feed 11 people. Sylvie said to count on 1 pizza each plus more for the guys. You are expected to eat a pizza yourself, perhaps 2. The base prepared, it was set out to rise for several hours. Sylvie complemented us on our results. The pizza oven was lit and attended for the 3 hours necessary to get it to the right temperature. At 8 (8!), we began rolling out the dough, as thin as possible, everyone making their own.

It was fantastic. Perhaps it was the satisfaction of a job well done. Or the joy of sharing a meal with friends. I expect that it was both of those things, improved upon by the enchantment that is Italy.


Kari said...

Ah - family after my own heart!

I was laughing out loud a lot reading this. :)

I'm glad to see that Italy has ensnared you all with its charms as well. I can't wait to go back.

Mike said...

Amazing! You really had a superb food tour in Italy. I am glad that you had a lots of fun there. I would also love to go there.
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