Above: A scene from the famous Pescheria Rialto (Rialto Fish Market) in Venice (photo via Dall’Uva).
In a country like Italy where a large part of the culture revolves around its cuisine, food tourism is a legitimate form of entertainment. While wiling away the hours at restaurant after restaurant certainly is pleasurable, it just doesn’t fit into the economic reality that most of us are dealing with today.
So keeping in the spirit of budget travel, our number one way to have fun and learn about Italian food is taking a stroll through the open-air food markets. The technicolor visual display of fruits, vegetables, and flowers can rival any art museum in its beauty. It doesn’t cost un centesimo just to walk through. Listening to the Italian grandmas haggle with the fruttivendolo is a true slice of Italian life to savor. It’s also a first-rate education in regional produce and seasonality. For the die-hard foodie, there is hardly anything better.
There are also fish markets that are a sight (and a smell) to behold. The famous one is Venice is not to be missed!
You can easily make a picnic of fruit and cheese purchased at a market. But if you happen to have a kitchenette in your affittacamere, you can dine like royalty on your market score for a fraction of the cost of a restaurant meal. If you are brave and armed with minimal Italian vocabulary, ask the vendor how he suggests preparing those fresh fuchsia and white Barlotti beans in your bag. Find out from the fishmonger what one does with half a kilo of cicale di mare (sea crickets).
Who needs cookbooks? This is the real deal!
Whether you have access to a kitchen or not, the pleasure of sitting on the steps of the cathedral dominating the market piazza while biting into a warm and juicy Italian peach can, at best, be a transcendental experience. At worst, it is simply delicious and it will hardly cost you a euro.
Top 5 markets da non perdere (not to miss):
Venice: Rialto Fish market, Campo delle Pescherie (Tuesday-Saturday)
Rome: Campo de’ Fiori (Monday-Saturday)
Florence: San Lorenzo Market (Tuesday-Saturday)
Padova: Piazza delle Erbe and Piazza della Frutta
Naples: Pignasecca Market (open daily)
Did you know that Italy produces and consumes more artichokes than any other country in the world?
It wouldn’t be Italy without artichokes…
We are in the season of artichokes. If you can find the baby ones, buy some, then fry them. The small ones have an underdeveloped choke, so there’s no need to remove it.
Here’s what you do:
-Remove the tough outer leaves until they start to break off easily. Slice off the tips, and trim the stalks.
-Quarter or halve them, depending on their size. The pieces should be about the size of a thumb.
-Dress them in a flour-egg-breadcrumb order.
-Heat oil (peanut works best, but you can use olive oil) to medium in a skillet. Oil should be deep enough to accommodate artichoke pieces up to about halfway.
-Fry until golden on both sides.
-Salt them, then try not to pop them in your mouth, one by one.
Celebrate the season by eating like an Italian.
Today, there are many shops in Italy that offer pizza and focaccia by the slice: a great way to save on one of your daily meals while traveling there.
One of the most fascinating aspects of Italian culture is the food. The popularity of Italian cuisine has reached virtually every corner of the world, and it’s one part of the travel experience that you do not want to miss.
Eating on a budget isn’t that hard. You can still have some splurge days if you observe some budget practices most of the time.
Starting with breakfast, or colazione, try to take advantage of the breakfast wherever you’re staying. If that is not an option (as in most affittacamere), go to the local bar and take your cappuccino and cornetto right at the banco. Now, we mentioned this in our caffe’ segment, but don’t forget that it applies to food as well. You might even end of having a chat with the barista!
At lunch, there are so many d’asporto (take away) options. Many bars also sell panini, same rule as above applies here. But one of the best-kept secrets is that in most salumerie (and in the “deli” section of the grocery stores), they will make a panino for you on the spot. They don’t have condiments and veggies, but who needs lettuce with a mortadella and mozzarella sandwich?
A simple crusty baguette or rosette stuffed with salame or prosciutto crudo is one of life’s most delicious simple pleasures.
They’ll wrap it up for you and the cost is the same as if you would have bought those items and made the sandwich yourself. You probably don’t have a kitchenette in your room, so there’s no need to worry about grocery storage. At the grocery store or salumeria, you can get a large bottle of water for what you would have paid for a small one at the bar. (You might even find a nice vino paesano on the shelf for a pittance of 2 euro!)
If you want a more elaborate lunch, there are always by-the-slice options in almost every city, or some local variation. You might find calzoni in the south or savory foccacia or pesto and potato pie in Liguria — the regional variations are endless! It’s almost impossible to become culinarily bored in Italia, even on a budget.
And with all of the money that you saved at breakfast and lunch, you can afford a little splurge at dinner!
Continuing our series on budget travel in Italy, let’s talk about how to drink amazing espresso on the cheap.
Coffee or caffè is elevated to an artform in Italy. There is virtually no place that you can go where a bad espresso is served. It’s also pretty inexpensive. If you order your espresso sitting at a table, you will pay a markup of up to 300%, on average. (If you plan on having a cappuccino, please do so only at breakfast! Italians see this beverage as a strictly A.M. ritual and ordering a cappuccino after a huge meal is downright incomprehensible to the locals.)
Instead, order right at the bar. The average espresso costs Euro 1.20 (unless you’re in a very touristy place) when ordered al banco (at the counter). That’s a pretty big savings. The same goes for the pastry that accompanies your cappuccino in the morning. If you plan to linger, it’s worth the extra couple of euro to sit, but you have a money-saving option.
Paying more to people watch is a worthwhile investment in large piazze like Piazza Navona in Rome or Piazza San Marco in Venice, but save your moneta (coins) where you can and you’ll find yourself being able to afford an extra day!
Zucchini flowers are an absolute delicacy of summer in Italy. In addition to being delicious, it makes quite an impression on diners to know that they are eating flowers! The blossoms are 100% edible and display a beautiful yellow and orange hue.
The first step is picking the right product. The flowers should be bright, firm and free of brown spots. Limp ones or those with brown spots should be rejected and discarded.
In many restaurants in Italy, you can find zucchini blossoms stuffed with ricotta, or various other things, but to get the pure flavor we recommend consuming them uninterrupted by fillings. The flowers are delicate, and in our opinion, never hold up well to a heavy filling. Why guild the lily? This preparation will help you understand why simplicity in the kitchen will help you eat like an Italian.
Here’s how to clean them: if there is still a stem attached, trim it to about and inch. As you trim them, put them into a large pot filled with cold water and let them soak for about 10 minutes. Drain out the water, and shake the flowers lightly one by one to dislodge the water inside. Set them aside to dry out. 15 minutes should be enough, just as long as they’re not full of water!
Here’s how you make the pastella or batter. There are many regional variations, but this one is basic and reliable.
-Beat 2 eggs in a bowl.
-Combine 1 ¼ tbsp. dissolved yeast to 1 cup of water and add large pinch of salt.
-Let the yeast and water sit for a few minutes.
-Mix the eggs with the yeast and water.
-Slowly add flour while beating the mixture steadily with a fork. The consistency should be similar to that of pancake batter.
Whichever version you choose, once the batter is done, add the flowers (put enough in the bowl with the batter so there’s room to stir) to the batter and mix them gently around to coat. You can do them one at a time, but it’s much more efficient this way.
Slip them one by one into oil heated to med-high (the oil should come up a little more than halfway to the flowers). Once they are browned on one side, turn them.
You may have to do this in more than one batch. The pastella is enough for about 30 flowers. Once they’re cooked, let them drain on a paper towel. Try one right away, preferably with a cold glass of white wine.
Black truffles (tuber melanosporum) are found in southern France, Aragon (Spain), and in Italy in Tuscany and Umbria.
They grow underneath oak trees but also poplars and walnut trees.
Their color is black to brown and when grated, they will turn to an iron color.
Their surface is full of dense wrinkles and inside, when properly ripe, their color is grey to violet, grey to brown, or break to red (depending on the variety).
Classically, black truffles are shaved or grated over long noodles, like the pici or pinci of Tuscany. Or they can also be served over lightly seasoned scrambled eggs.
The important thing to keep in mind when serving black truffles — especially because they are rare and very expensive — is to pair them with simple, pure flavors that won’t overwhelm the delicate nuance of the truffles.
It’s also important never to heat the truffles excessively: they need heat to release their flavors and aromas but over-cooking will mute their delicacy.
A favorite way to serve black truffles in Umbria: gently heat grated truffles in extra-virgin olive oil over low heat with a garlic clove and then toss with handmade fettuccine cooked al dente and a judicious amount of clarified butter. An anchovy or two (cleaned and smashed) can be added to the truffles as well.
Summer is almost here and that means its nearly time for fresh tomatoes and pappa col pomodoro, classic Tuscan tomato bread soup — a summertime favorite.
To make pappa col pomdoro at our house, I carefully washed and finely chopped the stalks of two leeks. And then I sautéed them in San Giuliano extra-virgin olive oil from Alghero (my favorite commercial olive oil) with two cloves garlic, peeled and minced.
And then added one jar of puréed tomato (making sure that the only ingredients were salt and tomato), seasoned with salt, pepper, and chili flakes, and then added a generous amount of freshly torn basil.
“Texas basil.” (Yes, I know, everything is bigger in Texas.)
Then I added stock and cooked the soup for about thirty minutes over medium heat and removed.
Then I added the 4-day-old stale bread. It’s important to let the bread soak in the soup for at least 30 minutes. I used a immersion blender to purée the bread after it had sopped up all the soup (in the olden days, I used to use a vegetable mill but, I gotta say, the immersion blender was awesome).
I served the Pappa room temperature, drizzled with olive oil and garnished with a basil leaf.
That’s how we make Pappa col Pomodoro at our house. 🙂
—Jeremy Parzen (DoBianchi.com)
Love like an Italian…
Another New Year’s Eve in Baltimore alone was not an option. It was time for a change, and before I knew it I had booked a trip to Genoa for a week. If all went according to plan I would arrive in time for dinner and fireworks. I had been to Italy before, and both times, I saw it through the eyes of the man I was traveling with. This time, I would see Italy through my eyes.
I had seen Italy (Rome, Florence and Carrara) through the eyes of my artist lover back in the 80’s. I had seen Italy (Bordighera, Italian Riviera, and Alba) through the eyes of my future husband in 1992.
At the Tenuta Il Poggione, where Mazzoni Toscana Rosso is produced, one the family’s favorite dishes is pici al ragù di cinghiale, long hand-rolled noodles topped with wild boar ragù.
Pici (pronounced PEE-chee, also called pinci, pronounced PEEN-chee) are a staple of rustic Tuscan cuisine.
They are made by hand rolling flour with a touch of water — just enough to make an elastic dough. And while some add salt to their pici when rolling them, the tradition of classic Tuscan cuisine calls for the savoriness of the dish to come from the gamey meat sauce.
Everybody’s talking about pizza and wine, wine and pizza, pizza and pizza today…
In part because Eric Asimov wrote about pairing wine with pizza in his column in today’s New York Times.
In part because nearly the entire Dining Section of the Times is devoted to pizza today: toppings for pizza, recipes for pizza dough, and of course pairings for pizza.
Eric notes in his article that “Italians themselves prefer to drink beer with pizza.”
And indeed, despite what anyone tells you, Italians generally pair either beer or Coca Cola with their pizza. In fact, many would find it strange to pair wine with pizza.
There are many reasons for this but the main and historic reason is that authentic pizza must be served piping hot. And as a result, you need something chilled with pizza. The intense temperature overwhelms the flavors and aromas of wines — or so the conventional wisdom goes.
Italians still prefer beer or Coke with their pizza. But that’s changing as well.
A new breed of pizzaioli has emerged and they are straying from the traditional toppings.
And while artisanal beer seems to be the pairing of choice these days in Rome, for example, more and more pizzerias are offering a sophisticated wine list to their patrons.
Anyone who’s ever visited an Italian home for lunch or dinner knows the magical art of pinzimonio, Italian for crudités.
In Italy, pinzimonio is typically served before a meal when guests arrive and consists of peeled and sliced carrots and celery (all carefully washed and dried, of course), trimmed radishes, sliced fennel, and — when in season — ripe tomato wedges.
But the key to GREAT pinzimonio is the quality of the olive oil dip.
Thanks to its supreme balance of fruity, nutty, and savory flavors, Ligurian extra-virgin olive oil is often considered the best for pinzimonio. But the choice in olive can vary depending on taste: Tuscan for an earthier flavor; Sicilian for a spicier flavor. The important thing is that the olive oil be extra-virgin and the best quality possible.
Using a whisk, emulsify a gentle kiss of vineyard, a dash of sea salt (ideally Sicilian), and just a touch of freshly cracked pepper to make the perfect dipping sauce for your pinzimonio.
In the United States, we eat our salad before the first course or entrée at dinner.
In Italy, salad is served instead after the main course.
For Italians, salad — generally dressed with extra-virgin olive oil, aromatic balsamic vinegar or wine vinegar, salt and pepper — is intended to cleanse the palate and aid in digestion.
The acidity of the vinegar and the fresh lettuces refresh the mouth and tastebuds (in anticipation of dessert!).
And the olive oil helps to settle and balance the digestion.
But there’s another reason why Italians eat their salad after the main course: the acidity in the vinegar competes with the acidity in wine and can often overwhelm the palate and thus attenuate the flavors and aromas of wine.
You’ve seen her here before but after her stunning photo of and recipe for Zeppole di San Giuseppe came up in our feed, we just couldn’t resist giving our weekend recipe shout-out to Kathy Ayer, author of Food Lover’s Odyssey.
Her excellent post includes a wonderful history for this classic pastry as well.
Kathy will be leading a food tour of Puglia later this year. Click here for the details.
Kathy, we love your style! Keep the good stuff coming and buon appetito!
Like the French word crouton, the Italian crostino comes from the Latin root crusta, the same word that gives us crust in English.
And like the croutons that we throw in our salads here in the U.S., the Tuscan crostino is one of those classic Italian methods for getting “extra mileage” out of stale bread.
The difference in Tuscany is that the bread there is made without the addition of salt. As a result, it is the toppings for the Tuscans’ crostini that gives them their flavor: sautéed and olive oil-cured mushrooms; creamy pâtè; and traditional Italian tomato sauce.
In his Divine Comedy, Dante’s grandfather Cacciaguida predicts Dante’s exile from the Tuscan city state of Florence and tells him:
And thou shalt taste how salty is the bread of other men…
Wow, there are just SO many amazing Italian food blogs out there!
Every week, we discover new ones, each with mouthwatering photography, superbly executed recipes, and highly useful resources for ingredients and Italian food products.
This week we’re featuring a blog called Jul’s Kitchen, authored by a young toscana, a thirty-something Tuscan woman named Giulia (below, HOW adorable is that photo!!!???).
“Pasta cooked with potatoes,” writes Giulia, “is one of the most comfortable dish you can think of in a cold winter day.”
Buon weekend a tutti! Have a great weekend, everyone!
Today’s post is devoted to another one of our favorite Rome blog’s, Elizabeth Minichilli in Rome.
This week she reviews one of the hottest new tables in the Eternal City, Metamorfosi (Metamorphosis if translated to English), where molecular gastronomy is combined with traditional Roman and Italian cuisine (hence the name).
You’ve read Elizabeth’s writing in Food & Wine and Architectural Digest and perhaps you’ve seen her excellent (and gorgeous book) Italian Rustic.
Her blog is one of the top resources for where and what to eat in Rome, where she lives with her husband Domenico.
Most people don’t think about steak when it comes to Italian gastronomy.
In fact, the famous bistecca fiorentina — Florentine beefsteak — is one Italy’s most celebrated dishes.
The cut of beef is the same as the U.S. porterhouse. The difference is that the “T-bone” of the fiorentina is always charred standing upright and then quickly grilled at high temperature on both sides — served religiously al sangue (bloody).
The only dressings used (if any) are extra-virgin olive oil and sea salt.
While huge Chianina breed cows are used in Tuscany and throughout Italy to make these over-sized T-bone cuts, nearly any breed of cow can be used (and you can simply ask for a porterhouse at your local butcher).
The photo above comes from Briciole’s Valentine’s Day post.
Friday has become Italian Food Lover Friday at Live Like an Italian…
The photo above comes from the number-one resource for Italian recipes and Italian gastronomy pronunciation, Briciole (BREE-choh-leh), meaning [bread] crumbs by Umbrian native Simona Carini who lives in Northern California.
Not only does Briciole publish Italian recipes and cooking tips, she also provides audio clips with authentic Italian pronunciations of the ingredients she uses and the dishes (Italian was Simona’s first language).
Click here to visit Briciole, one of our favorite Italian food blogs.
Buon weekend a tutti!
Every week we look forward “Italy on a Plate,” Kathy Ayer’s excellent roundup of Italian food and gastronomy blog posts…
Based in Northern California, Kathy is an Italian food expert and she travels to Europe frequently, always expanding her already vast knowledge of rustic and fine Italian and French cookery.
And she’s constantly scanning the internet, looking for great food and wine stories about Italy.
Her “Italy on a Plate” is a must-read weekly visit for us!
And she is an unending resource for finding recipes and Italian food and wine posts across the world.
Kathy, keep it coming! And happy #FollowFriday!
Prosciutto di Parma, Prosciutto di San Daniele, Prosciutto Toscano, Prosciutto di Cinghiale (wild boar prosciutto, also from Tuscany)…
Prosciutto is one of those foods that defines Italian gastronomy. It’s one of the country’s most ancient dishes (dating back to Roman times) and one of its most delicious.
But what good is prosciutto if you throw it on to a Hobart deli slicer and allow an overly heated blade to ruin it?
In Italy, prosciutto is sliced using slowly run blades, often hand operated. That’s the key to correctly slicing prosciutto: if the blade runs to fast (and is not sharp enough), the resulting friction will heat the steel and consequently melt the prosciutto.
Many restaurants in the U.S. are now using reproductions of old Berkel slicers — the gold standard in prosciutto slicing. And many restaurants in Italy are having old Berkels restored and refurbished: there’s something about the blades on the old models that makes them slice better than the newer ones. Perhaps because they were beveled by hand, they never slice too thin (which would result in the prosciutto falling apart) but just thin enough that the prosciutto still melts in your mouth.
Your best bet? Ask your grocer to slice by hand.
One of our favorite bloggers, Katie Parla of Parla Food, based in Rome, has just released the second generation of her Rome for Foodies app.
We’ve written about Katie here before: when it comes to dining in Rome, nobody does it better…
Photo via Cate Can Cook, So Can You!!
Now, please don’t get us wrong: there’s nothing wrong with mixing seafood and dairy, as in the dish, above, Gamberi alla Parmigiana, breaded prawns topped with mozzarella and tomato sauce by Cate Can Cook, So Can You!!
But to an Italian, the thought of mixing seafood and dairy is, frankly, repugnant.
No one really knows the origin of this taboo but it probably dates back to the Middle Ages when the consumption of meat and dairy was forbidden on “Lenten days.” The practice of not eating meat on Fridays and the night before Christmas, for example, is a trace of this gastronomic legacy in contemporary Catholic culture and ritual.
When you consult Italian cookery books from the Renaissance, the recipes are often classified by “Lenten” and “fat” days (mardi gras means literally “fat Tuesday,” the last day you could eat meat and dairy before Lent). On Lenten days, you ate seafood and avoided meat and dairy.
And while few Italians could tell you why they feel this way, the thought of mixing dairy and seafood is repulsive to them.
This is the reason why grated Parmigiano Reggiano is added to chicken and beef stock risotto and meat sauces like ragù alla bolognese but not to seafood dishes.
While there are still many Italians for whom the only pizza is the classic Pizza Margherita — topped with tomato purée, mozzarella, and basil — the world of Italian pizza continues to evolve as pizzaioli (PEE-tzeye-OH-lee) across the country continue to experiment with a wide variety of toppings and approaches.
From “natural yeast” pizza to unusual toppings, the world of pizza continues to change but there are a few rules that true Italian pizza lovers continue to live by…
Pizza as we know it originated in Naples. But today, pizza is served everywhere in Italy, from Sicily to the German- and French-speaking regions of the north. It’s one of the world’s greatest foods and it unites people from every walk of life: do you know anyone who doesn’t like pizza? No, we didn’t think so!
1) a pizza is generally served as a complete meal, with every diner ordering their own pizza;
2) pizza is only very rarely served for lunch;
3) and as much as we love pairing Mazzoni with our pizza, beer is the beverage of choice for pizza (although some of the more avant-garde pizzerie are beginning to offer more wines to their patrons).
Pizza as we know it today originated in Naples. But today pizza is served everywhere in Italy, from the island of Sicily to the French- and German-speaking regions of the far north. It’s a dish that unites people from all walks of life: do you know anyone who doesn’t like pizza? No, we didn’t think so!