Morels, Proscuitto, Rigatoni, Truffles, Oxtail, Cherry Tomatoes, Ricotta, fresh fettuccini, Chianti and panna cotta…Just some of the many ingredients and dishes that captured my tongue, took it hostage, then infiltrated my brain, scalding my memory forever. However disappointing our first meal in Italy was, a stale ol’ panini at the train station, the rest of Italy made up for. Actually, the panini was never quite what we expected. But all the rest was quite fantastic. The simple preparations only accentuated the deep appreciation and respect the Italians have for the quality of ingredients. Yet, we hold preconceived notions about Italians: that they know good food and they appreciate the land. We can’t forget that this is a generalization. You know what, some Italians go to McDonalds, and some pick up pre-made this and that. On the other hand, the restaurants I frequented whether “authentic” or not seemed to value seasonality and simplicity. Pasta is the perfect example of this appreciation. And we had our share of it.
The first night began with the all-delicious creamy gnocchi tossed with morels and prawns. The combination struck the perfect balance between earthiness (morels) and sea flavor (prawns). It was an ode to land and sea, like a sophisticated surf and turf.
In Rome, a restaurant by the name of Pasta in Mani offered orecchiette with plump bursting sweet cherry tomatoes, with creamy bright green fava beans tossed with olive oil and topped with shaved black truffles, giving the dish an earthiness which balanced the sweetness of its counterparts. The pasta was a-la-dente and no cheese was necessary.
Another pasta favorite was the drunken pasta. This highly acidic, violently purple and deep in flavor seems quite unusual, yet the starchy quality of the pasta plays against the highly acidic, omni present wine. Some were executed with a bit more finesse; the wine didn’t overwhelm the pasta but brought out not only an acid component but the qualities of the wine itself. This pasta doesn’t look as absurdly purple and provides a more subtle and complex flavor. (Absurdly purple and acidic pasta shown.)
Finally, one of my favorite pasta’s was rigatoni à l’atranciata. I am not great at Italian, but from what I gather, this sauce can vary quite a bit. It tasted surprisingly like my mother’s pasta sauce, which is a secret I can’t give away. Needless to say, the rigatoni pasta is the perfect shape to capture this hearty tomato sauce; the ridges get filled up and the circular tube allows for sauce to seep in. I will indulge you with more on this meal later on.
Another way to enjoy the bounty that is pasta is to buy it. Buying fresh pasta and preparing at our Rome apartment was a great way to experience the quality of the ingredients. I love to cook with great, fresh ingredients. I kept in simple: fettuccini tossed with butter “de campagna”, olive oil, fresh cherry tomatoes, black pepper and some parmesan cheese. Delicious!
More to Come ....................
Ohh...if we all could be raised on wolf's milk...