At times like this, I find that it’s helpful to think of the nicer things in life. Moreover, I find eating to be a generally pleasant experience. With that in mind, I have prepared a list of some of the nicer things I’ve experienced (read: eaten) in Italy. After all, who doesn’t love Italian food?
No one. Everyone love Italian food. All over the world, people rave about pizza and pasta. With so many restaurants claiming to sell authentic Italian food, it can be hard to know what you should look for. Not to worry: I’ve done the hard work for you. It’s not all pasta and pizza, my friends.
Tortellini con Pera e Ricotta
pera e ricotta (peh-rah eh ree-koh-tah): pear and ricotta cheese
It might not look like much in the picture, but this little plate of delight is, in a word, amazing. I first had pasta con pera e ricotta when I was in Rome four years ago, and I haven’t stopped talking about it since. Just as my mother. I never would have thought of putting pears and ricotta cheese together, let alone in pasta, but I’m glad that someone else did. It’s served with a cream sauce on top of a carrot puree, and I’ve only been able to find it in one restaurant in Rome: Osteria dell’Anima, just off of Piazza Navona (Via Santa Maria dell’Anima 8).
Pasta Fatto a Mano
pasta fatto a mano (pah-stah fah-tah ah mah-noh): handmade pasta
Okay, I’m bragging a bit with this one.
I wanted to have a true, Italian food experience. So, I asked my boss if she could teach me how to make homemade pasta, and boy, did she ever.
We started out in the morning and bought the flour, the eggs, the tomatoes, the meat, and the vegetables, and we set to work. By lunch time, we had a massive – I mean, colossal – bowl of pasta to pass around. There were six people at lunch that day, and we still didn’t eat all of it. Despite the absurd quantity, the end result was fantastic. I even got the skinny on how to make a homemade ragù. Since then, we’ve received several requests to host a luncheon di nuovo.
aperitivo (ah-per-ee-tee-voh): happy hour
I’d be remiss if I didn’t include this, the staple of a classy Italian afternoon. While it’s often translated as happy hour, which is the closest thing we have to this in the US, is a happy hour, here in Italy, it’s a budget-friendly pick-me-up. And – importantly for us American tourists – a way to stave off the hangry episodes before the restaurants open for dinner at 7pm (in Sicily, it’s closer to 8 or 9pm!). That means that for less than €10, you can get your choice of a drink and a plate of snacks. In Messina, ‘snacks’ means something more like ‘heavy hors d’oeuvres,’ and usually includes mini arancini and sandwiches.
cannoli (kah-noh-lee): sweets made with sweet ricotta cheese and a fried pastry
Eating cannoli makes me happy. Better yet is eating cannoli in Catania. The best is eating cannoli in Catania with old friends.
Even Italians go crazy for these little guys. One night, a group of us went on a hunt for a shop that sold cannoli at 11 o’clock at night in the middle of winter.
If you’re unfamiliar with cannoli, they’re desserts made from a fried dough, which is shaped into a tube. It’s then filled with a sweet, creamy filling. The traditional recipe calls for a mixture made from ricotta cheese, although you will also find other varieties, such as chocolate.
Gelato à la Rogue Asparagus
gelato (jeh-lah-toh): a delightful frozen dairy dessert
So, this happened.
It’s pretty much mandatory for me to stop in a gelateria in every town I go to. Needless to say, when we found ourselves in Reggio Calabria, we found a gelateria. We walked in, and the guy dipping gelato behind the counter immediately pegged us for tourists. As a result, he was immensely entertained when my friend tried to order in Italian. At several points, he helped her pronunciation. After she successfully pronounced a particularly difficult flavor name, he gave her a high five. Next, he asked if she wanted cream on top. “It’s very good,” he said. My friend hesitated. “Yes,” he said. “Nutella? Yes,” he said. “Nuts? Yes,” he said. Finally, it was my turn to order. He didn’t even ask. He just piled it on. I ended up with three flavors of gelato, whipped cream, three shortbread cookies, three chocolate chunks, chocolate sprinkles, and chocolate sauce on top.
I’m not sure what was the best part of this whole escapade: the gelato, how entertained the guys in the shop were by how entertained we were, or the fact that the (Becky-sized) cup of tasty goodness only set us back €3.50 a piece.