Ask Terri a cooking question

HOME | Cooking Basics | Kitchen Tools | Cooking Tips | Ingredients | Wine & Food | About Terri

« Piquant Cocktail Meatballs | Main | San Mattia Food and Wine »

October 07, 2014

Eating in Italy

If you've ever been to Italy, you will know exactly what I am talking about when it comes to eating. Italians love their food. What we learned is each region and even each city we visited offer their own specialties and they all claim to have the best ingredients, dishes and recipes. We soon realized we would have to find out for ourselves who had the best food. We made it our personal mission to find our favorite Italian food. We quickly became an authority on salami, pasta dishes, pizza, and gelato. It was a labor of love.

There are many types of places to eat depending on what you are interested in. When selecting a place to eat, think about what you want, a more formal dinner with all the frills or local food with a family atmosphere. A Ristorante can be fancy and expensive offering an extensive menu. A Trattoria is a family run restaurant that offers home-style cooking, moderately priced, with a more casual atmosphere compared to a ristorante. An Osteria or rustic wine bar serves regional food. They tend to be moderately priced, trendy and a little more upscale than the trattoriais. The Pizzeria seemed to be the most popular type of eating place in Italy. Originally they served only pizza from wood-fired ovens. Now they provide other dishes especially pasta and are less expensive than a restorante. Bars serve coffee, snacks and sometimes sandwiches. These seemed to be very popular for the on the go Italians and tourists who wanted take away items. We saw many people walking quickly on their way somewhere, eating a sandwich on the go. But be aware if you sit down in a bar you may have to pay a table fee, making that normally 2 Euro cone of gelato about 6-8 Euro. Make sure you ask before sitting down if the prices are the same or different. There are other types of places to eat but these were the ones we experienced.

Our eating adventure began in Lake Como which is in the Lombardy region of northern Italy. The Lombardy region is best known for its dairy products and fresh fish since Italy's largest lakes are within this region. From there our eating tour got better and better as we became more comfortable with the Italian way of things.

We had to adjust our time table for meals. Many eating places especially in the smaller, less tourist cities close between 2:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. I like to eat dinner early but that did not happen in Italy. We were often touring around and were ready for a light lunch around 1:00 p.m. Because we were on the go all day, we worked up an appetite again by 5:00. But as we found out, we would have to wait until 7:00 or 7:30 and in some cases 8:00. We learned quickly we would have to sleep when we got home because meals in Italy could take hours. A friend of mine once said, "party, party, eat, eat, drink, party some more and sleep when you get home".

Our first dinner in Italy was in Lake Como at Bella Vista restaurant where we enjoyed a spectacular view of the lake and a fabulous dinner.

The most adventurous way to get to Bella Vista is by the Funicular railway that actually connects the City of Como with the Comune of Brunate, 750 meters above sea level. It takes about 7 minutes to reach the top where the view of the Italian Alps is breathtaking. The restaurant offers patio seating overlooking this view. Since we were on Italy's third largest lake I decided to try the local fish. No one could tell me exactly what the fish was but I believe it may have been perch. It was a very mild white fish that they prepared by baking and it was served with a sage and butter sauce. The sauce was light and flavorful without overpowering the delicate fish. The dish was served with white polenta that looked more like mashed potatoes. It was the best polenta I've ever eaten, creamy with a very fine texture. I also had a fennel, carrot and orange salad. I enjoyed a glass of Lugana, a crisp white wine with citrus flavors that was a great pairing with my meal. Lugana is produced in the Piedmont region of Northern Italy at the Santa Sofia Winery.

Dennis stepped out of his comfort zone and ordered venison. It was slow roasted with a rich brown sauce. He selected a spicy and acidic red wine from Montepulciano in the Tuscany region, a great choice for the venison. We did splurge a little on this meal but after all it was our first meal in Italy and we really enjoyed it.

The service at Bellavista was good. Our dinner reservation was for 7:30. It was very quite when we arrived. But by the time we left a band was getting ready to play and the place was filling up. We didn't know it at the time but that is how it usually is in Italy. People eat fairly late.

With jet lag and our first meal under our belt we headed back down the mountain to our hotel to turn in for the night. On our way we saw ice cream (gelato) shops everywhere. It was a hard to decide where to go but Dennis decided on a place, walked in and ordered his first gelato. We were amazed at how many places, called Gelatoria, there were to buy gelato. I believe there was at least one on every block. He orders, smiles and sighs. "Oh this is the best ice cream I've ever eaten." I know that look; he was hooked.

Tomorrow would be another adventure with more great food and wine. Next up is a trip to Bellagio via a ferry boat. It will take about 2 hours to get there and I know we will see a lot of beautiful scenery along the way. Bellagio is referred to as the "Pearl of Lake Como.

While in Como, we stayed at the Continental Best Western. They provided a very typical breakfast with salami, ham, cheese, fruit and pastries. The hotel was great and we enjoyed our stay there. Since we had a really big breakfast at the hotel, we didn't get hungry until around 2:00.

After we toured around Bellagio we found a little bar and ordered a glass of wine and a snack for a special price of 7 Euros, thinking that would hold us until we got back to Lake Como. We were surprised that the snack was so much. Like I said, they like their food in Italy.

The snack was served with the house red and it was drinkable. I learned quickly when to order house wine and when to spend a little more for better wine. In the upper scale restaurants the house wine was good but in the smaller eating places trust me and spend the few Euros for a better glass of wine.

You might get the impression that all we did was eat. We did eat a lot but we also enjoyed a lot of other things about Italy like the history and the art. But since this blog is about eating in Italy here is a summary of our next meal.

We arrived back to Como around 7:30, about an hour later than we thought. We began walking back to our room when we saw a wine bar and restaurant that was crowded with people enjoying food, wine and live music. We decided to try it out. During our entire stay in Italy this was one of the friendliest places we ate. I have to mention that usually the staff at most of the eating places we visited were polite but not overly friendly. They provided good service but they didn't take much interest in us, except for our waiter at Bargiuliant Pizza de Gasperi. He was great. When he realized we were leaving after our meal he tried his best to get us to stay, giving us a bad time about leaving so early. Hey it was 10:30 and we still had a little jet lag going on. I was full, tired and we had to walk another 2 miles back to the hotel. Since we were walking we didn't have to worry so much about all the food we were eating. Hopefully we walked off the pounds.

Back to the dinner at Gasperi. I ordered tagliolini with Pesto and Dennis had Spaghetti Bolognese. Tagliolini is a long, thin noodle, cylindrical in shape and often made with eggs. The pesto sauce had great flavor but a little heavy with extra virgin olive oil, making it fairly rich. I selected Dolceto D'Alba, a very good red wine being one of seven Dolcetto-focused DOC wines produced in Italy's north-western Piedmont region. The wine is named after the grape from which it is made and the area where it is produced. It is considered the most notable of the Dolcetto classified reds, thanks to the considerable number of quality producers in the vicinity. The wine was even better with Dennis's Bolognese and a great deal for the price. The glass of wine cost 6 Euros.

Bolognese is a meat based sauce usually made with tomatoes and enhanced with wine and milk or cream. It was very good. We were served a big bowl of parmesan cheese and I added a heaping spoonful just because I was in Italy. But I learned something about parmesan cheese and food. They really do have a lot of food rules in Italy and I was shocked. More about that later. See the blog coming up about eating in Tuscany.

The next morning we slept in a bit before we had to leave to catch the train back to Milan then to Venice. Our next meal will be with friends at Birraria La Corte in Venice which is in the Veneto Region of Northeastern Italy extending from the Alpine Mountain Range to the Adriatic Sea. In the Veneto region they are known for their risotto, polenta and seafood. The most popular wines are Bardolina, Valpolicella, Soave, Prosecco and Amarone.

Birraria La Corte was a wonderful place. We really enjoyed the meal. I ordered a seafood salad with shrimp and smoked swordfish. It was probably the best salad I had the whole time I was in Italy, at least a close tie with the salad I had in Soave.

Dennis had Pizza with buffalo salami and ham with truffle cream. I thought it was a very creative and delicious pizza. We all shared the house Pinot Grigio and it was a good choice.

The truffle cream added a earthy garlic and onion flavor to the pizza that was unique and different from any pizza I've ever eaten. I used to think our little pizza restaurant at home had the best pizza I've ever eaten but now I know that Italians are experts when it comes to pizza.

Truffles are mushrooms that grow underground. When the spores of the truffle mature, the fungus produces aromatic compounds making it possible for trained dogs to smell and hence the mushroom can be retrieved. But the hunter has to make sure he gets to the dog before the dog eats the truffle. Spring truffles are white and fall truffles are black. More later about the truffle.

Tuesday night, our 4th night in Italy was our last night in Venice. We decided to go back towards our room, about a 15 minute walk from Saint Mark's Square and eat at one of the restaurants in Garabaldi. One of the staff at our hotel recommended three and we selected the one that didn't charge a table fee (coperto), Hostaria All' Ombra. They were offering a special of the day, or della giorno for only 15 Euros. It really was a great deal but the food was just ok, not fabulous like I thought it would be. I think it was also the fact that the atmosphere wasn't what I thought it would be.
The next day we head to Verona. I didn't know much about Verona except that we would be drinking Amarone and Soave and we will be staying in an Agriturismo called San Mattia close to a really cool castle. An agriturismo is a farm that has been converted into a villa/hotel. This provides the families with additional income and a tax break for being a farm.
The food at San Mattia was fabulous. We had one of the best meals I've had so far. Wait till you see the pictures. See new post for San Mattia.

Posted by terri at October 7, 2014 02:30 AM