What does this Italian expatriate look forward to eating and drinking when she goes back to her country of origin? I grew up in Perugia and that is the city I usually visit first.
As soon as possible after my arrival, I go to a coffee shop and ask for un cappuccino. Two words, and I get what I had been wishing for during the long hours on the plane: an espresso mellowed by milk, topped with a layer of creamy foam, served in its own cup placed on a matching saucer, with a small spoon resting on the saucer.
In the days that follow, I use my cappuccino break as my daily writing time. One of the places where I like to sit down with my notebook is You Grifo in downtown Perugia, where cappuccino is served with a side of fresh whipped cream (panna montata).
Next stop is the grocery store, il supermercato, where I go to the charcuterie and cheese counter to get prosciutto crudo, mozzarella di bufala and ricotta. Where the various types of prosciutto are displayed, I can usually find prosciutto di San Daniele (PDO), prosciutto di Parma (PDO) and prosciutto di Norcia (PGI), the latter produced in Umbria, the region of which Perugia is the capital.
Besides prosciutto e melone (with cantaloupe), a classic summer dish in Italy, when melons are plentiful and flavorful, the pairing with fresh fichi (figs) is also quite nice. My favorite way of eating prosciutto is with torta al testo, a traditional flatbread from Perugia. My husband prefers to drape slices of prosciutto on crispbread.
A bite of fresh mozzarella is like a dive into a cool pool on a hot day: deeply refreshing. When the mozzarella is made with buffalo milk, the experience is even more pleasant. A plate of sliced milky, fresh mozzarella and salty, aged prosciutto offers a perfect balance of opposites.
The word ricotta comes from the Latin recoctus, meaning cooked again. The name describes the process whereby ricotta has been traditionally made in Italy for centuries, by cooking again the whey (siero di latte) left over from making certain types of cheese.
Ricotta can be purchased packaged in the refrigerated dairy section, but I prefer to get some of that sold in bulk. I choose ricotta di mucca (cow) or ricotta di pecora (sheep), depending on what I am planning to do with it, for example, dressing pasta. My favorite way of consuming ricotta is slightly sweetened, spoonful by spoonful. I regularly make cheese at home in California, and make ricotta with the resulting whey. It is quite good, yet not as delicious as the one I buy in Italy.
I then go to the biscotti aisle. Biscotto is a word of Latin origin that means twice-baked: the dough is baked, cut into slices and baked again. From describing a cooking procedure, the word biscotto came to indicate a baked product, crunchy and fairly dry in texture. Nowadays, biscotti are not usually twice-baked (some of them are, like biscotti di Prato). In Italy, biscotti dipped in caffelatte are a breakfast staple (they have their own entry in the Italian food pyramid http://www.piramidealimentare.it/) and in grocery stores you can find a wide array of biscotti: frollini, novellini, petit, oswego (or osvego), etc.
When I moved to California, I did not find in the local stores any of the biscotti I was used to eating. On the other hand, I found plenty of ‘biscotti,’ that is, variations on the theme of a twice-baked product that up until then I had called cantucci. While I am able to find some of my favorite biscotti in the U.S., in particular my childhood favorites made by Gentilini, I like to eat a variety of them when I am in Italy.
But “What about pizza?,” some of you may say, “What about gelato?” Space limitations prevent me from listing all the foods I am looking forward to eating during my visit. Let me know in the comments what your shortlist is. In the meantime, as a preview, I will tell you that I am also planning to taste some chocolate: I will write about this in my next post. Stay tuned!
With a specialty in handmade pasta, Simona provides detailed, accessible tutorials teaching readers to cook like an Italian right from home on Live Like an Italian as well as on her own blog, briciole.