Eating Our Way Through Italy

Once we were no longer in people’s lovely homes, I took plenty of food pictures with wild abandon. Eating well is a major part of all of our travels. A couple of my favorite meals of my whole life have been in Italy. I had forgotten how mild everything is, especially since these days we often eat Mexican and Asian dishes that have plenty of spice. I had also forgotten how little chicken is served: tons of pork and beef, which M doesn’t eat, but at several restaurants there wasn’t a single chicken entree. It was also nice once we were able to travel farther south and away from the German-influenced heavy food and to get the chance to stop eating when we were full! Not every meal was spectacular, but there was a lot to love. Rather than recount every meal in detail like I did in that last post, here are some of the highlights.

The Presentation!

Umm, hello? How gorgeous is that seafood appetizer? Everything looked perfect, and I can be fussy about seafood, but I liked everything I tried from this dish. Also, I love that the Italians are crazy about arugula. One of my favorite go-tos throughout the trip was steak with shaved Parmesan on a bed of arugula. Which I never took a picture of, probably because I was always so eager to dive into it. And does that look like a morning cappuccino on the right? It is not: it’s another appetizer, some kind of anise-based biscuits that you dipped into the savory cream sauce in the cup.

The Pasta!

Of course you think Italy and you think pasta, and we ate plenty of it. Some of my favorites included (left) variations on cacio e pepe, basically a sauce made of Romano cheese and pepper. One of my favorite pasta dishes was this weird one on the right, which included a pesto sauce, potatoes, green beans, and a big dollop of cheese on top. At the time I was positively starving (slow service), and it perfectly met my needs. And the extraordinarily simple seafood pasta in the center was my favorite pasta of the vacation. Fresh and basic and delicious, but also, almost everything tastes better when you are eating beside a canal in Venice.

The Desserts!

There was a lot of gelato eating, but we occasionally ordered desserts at restaurants. I’ve never been a huge tiramisu fan, but I ate a fabulous one at some point that’s made me rethink my life dessert choices. Here are a dark and white chocolate mousse and a lovely little chocolate souffle, both of which were scrumptious.

The People!

I’m trying to remember if the souffle above is the same souffle that we had to scarf down in order to make the last train back from Siena to Florence. Probably not, because we dove into that thing like it was a race. On that evening we had meant to go to one particular restaurant, but there was construction that had made power and cooking options limited, and they weren’t serving. Another restaurant with similar limitations graciously took us in, and we had two brand-new servers who had just started for the season and were gamely practicing their English with us. At one point, one was explaining that they had a shellfish dish available that was like lobster, but not lobster, and she kept referring to it as the “not-lobster.” Later, she determined that while Italians distinguish between these crustacean species, we Americans don’t, so she could have just called it lobster. Then, both of them came back out to introduce us to the “not-lobster.”

Which apparently they do so that you know it’s fresh. But M, in particular, did not want to meet her food after it was condemned to death and shortly before she ate it. The young women were lovely, though, and we were sad that we had to rush off to our train. In fact, the staff tried to treat us to after dinner drinks, and I always want to say yes to free drinks, but we had to run.

But this is how it was in many places. At another restaurant, the waiter gifted us with the best limoncello I’ve ever had after our meal (in fairness, we had been pretty good-humored when a seagull dive-bombed Cute W’s plate and knocked my glass of prosecco into my dish). At our first meal in Trento, the server explained that her elderly mother (or maybe grandmother?) made all of the desserts, and then the older woman came out from the back to check on us and receive our compliments. Just like in France and Spain, people are absolutely friendly and fantastic once they realize that you are trying to speak their language and you’re not actively obnoxious (and yes, we saw some obnoxious tourists: influencers posing like major landmarks were their stage, a grown-ass man looking for hot dogs on a menu, etc.).

The Snack Spreads!

Oh, we love some snacks! We snacked our way hither and yon. One of our favorite places was Signorvino, a wine store and restaurant right along the Arno River in Florence. We went there twice in part because they had fantastic salads, but we also loved their boards. In that bottom right picture, you can see their meat board, a vegetarian board, and a cheese board, along with some other stuff. I could snack on it all day. Another favorite was a restaurant in Venice, Al Parlamento. This restaurant was just a few steps from the apartment complex where we stayed, and we loved that we were in a very residential, non-touristy area. Every night, we’d see locals out late drinking and talking, and it was so relaxing to go out for one last drink or meal or evening snack knowing that our beds were a very short walk away. Those two darker images above are from that same restaurant, and you can see in the top right that, once again, the tables were right alongside the canals.

The Aperitivi!

Hands-down, our favorite new food tradition was the Italian aperitivo, a pre-dinner drink with a little snack. I remember one of my sisters coming home from Italy trips and serving everyone Aperol spritzes, but I’m not a big fan of Aperol, or, really, bitters in general. On this trip, I was pleased to discover that there are a variety of spritz options that are sweeter, especially a sweeter one that J suggested on our first day. But back to the tradition of the aperitivo: you order a lovely little drink and they also bring out a little snack, like some olives, potato chips, or something else. Here are two little plates that came along when I ordered my New Favorite Drink: on the left you can see the generous food included in non-touristy Trento, on the right, the snack I ordered in Florence when we all split up to have some personal time: (M napped and likely video chatted her girlfriend, Cute W climbed yet another tower, and I people-watched over my aperitivo).

Stay tuned: I’ll be gifting you with our two favorite cocktail recipes from our Italy trip in an upcoming post.

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