Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Italy & France - 08/04/08

My family and I went on vacation to Italy and France recently. While I did not do a lot of cooking, I did do a lot of eating, so I thought I would share my eating experiences. Briefly, French cooking is quite saucy - it reminds me in some regards of American cooking (meat + sides + sauce). It is good, but Italian food is where the money is. In Italy, I learned to keep everything simple. Go for one or two flavors/spices instead of all of them. Here are some of the foods we had that really inspired me:


In Nice, there is a local speciality called socca. It is a dough made of chickpea flour and olive oil that is cooked a bit like a crepe. In this case, though, it is served with salt and pepper and piping hot as a finger food while perusing the markets.
On-End Manicotti

This is a form of manicotti with a thick filling, so thick that you can cut the manicotti in half and bind them together with some scallion/leek without the filling leaking out. And the tomato sauce was served on the side instead of all around the stuffed pasta.

Linguine con Vognole

Linguine with clam sauce never tasted so good. The sauce was perfectly balanced on all of the freshly cooked, al dente pasta. Americans sometimes forget that al dente does not mean crunchy, it just means slightly firm.

Crepe Beggar's Purses

Looking for a new use for crepes? Something savory perhaps? How about turning them into beggar's purses. These purses were filled with cheesy deliciousness and tied up with more green onion/leeks.


This dish is not something you find regularly in the US. It is a cuttlefish body that has been stuffed with its own tentacles, along with capers and breadcrumbs. It was very different but quite good. Reminds me of my own stuffed calamari, except pulled off a lot better.

Vesuvio Pizza

The menu listed this pizza as sausage and broccoli, which interested me enough to order it for something different. By broccoli, they actually meant broccoli rabe, which gave this pizza a great flavor. I need to try this at home.

Roman Lunch

The "typical" (i.e. touristy) Roman lunch consists of multiple courses and lots of food. This plate shows the appetizer course, which was followed by pastas, meats and desserts. The fresh mozzarella was wonderful with so much better texture and flavor that what I'm used to. Salami in Italy far surpasses what we can get in our local deli. It has more flavor and a richer texture.


I cannot forget beverages. Do you know the 4 Fanta flavors we get in the states? Well, each country has its own reportoir of Fanta flavors. In Italy, they have limone (lemon), a flavor of some citrus that is supposed to improve appetite, and this flavor, red orange. It had an orangey flavor, but without a lot of the acidity of orange Fanta.


One food goal I had was to eat some gnocchi. This one (from Buca Mario in Florence) was served in a wonderful gorganzola cream sauce that was perfectly attuned to the delicacy of the gnocchi. I did not think they could make this dish any better until we went to Pietro's restaurant in Rome:

Truffle Gnocchi

Yes, the only way to top the above gnocchi was to add freshly grated black truffles to it (and some bacon). Truffles are more popular in Europe and many restaurants had them on the menu. We also ate some thinly sliced zucchini salad with pine nuts, shaved parmigiano, and white truffle oil. I know have an idea to try a truffle turkey or savory truffle cake. Also at Pietro's was a signature drink (champagne with Cointreau, whiskey and muddled basil) and the best cheese bread I've ever eaten. The chef willingly gave me the recipe for the cheese bread, but made me promise I would not reveal it en masse. The directions and measurements are little confused at this point, but I'm going to give it my best shot.

Truffle Veal

Also at Pietro's was veal covered with mozzarella and, you guessed it, shaved truffles. The truffles add a depth of flavor to the food with a slight air of garlickiness. I've already bought some truffle oil to use at home. I was bad about taking copious food pictures (and I was too hungry to wait), so here are some other delicious meals we had:

  • Pasta stuffed with smoked fish

  • Mushroom lasagna with very little sauce and no cheese

  • Lasagna noodles (unassembled) with a creamy pesto

  • Pickled garlic with chiles

  • Mimosa dressing

  • Spinach sauteed with bay leaves

The basic gyst of all of this is to keep your flavors simple. Let the fresh ingredients and spices speak for themselves. Play off of the foods' subtleties. Lastly, one delicious find was limoncello, a lemon-flavored liqueur. The ones I liked were the less intense (lower alcohol content) versions that tasted like a Lemonhead candy without the tartness. Next post is a special surprise I had while we were in France.

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