Bringing Italy home (to eat)

It has been 3 years since we lived in Italy, and our hoarded kitchen supplies from Milan are long gone. Last week’s Italian adventure was the perfect chance to change that, since we went by car. I was giddy with anticipation. Grocery shopping in Italy ranks high on my list of fun stuff to do.

Small items were purchased here and there along the way, but our last morning in Italy was when the shopping got serious. First it was the farmer’s market in the center of Padua for artichokes, clementines, tomatoes, exotic mushrooms, bell peppers, and other fresh veggies. (Yes, we have vegetables in Munich, but at twice the price and half the quality.)

After a farewell lunch we stopped by a grocery store, just to pick up ‘one or two things’ before we got on the road. An hour and a half later, we dragged ourselves out of the shops, loaded down with weeks worth of food. Five kinds of cheese (parmigiano, grana, pecorino, burrata, and smoked scamorza). White truffle oil. Dark chocolate Ciobar (thick Italian-cafe-style hot chocolate). Wine. Porcini bouillon cubes. Cynar. And on and on and on.

Along with the 25 or so liters of olive oil we had obtained in the south, this spree made for one packed car. I got home wondering where I would put it all. I shouldn’t have worried so much – it’s not lasting long.

One of these days I’m going to have to go check out the giant Italian grocery store outside of Munich that Em has been telling me about…

Italy: what I ate this trip

Just slapping this up here for posterity. You’ve already heard about the kilos of mozzarella balls I scarfed down in the south, but surprisingly there was also room in my belly for other food, too, as we made our way up and down the peninsula. Here’s a little taste:

Pumpkin gnocchi with roquefort sauce and artichoke hearts at the unfortunately named Bufalo Cantina’s in Bressanone (Brixen), Alto Adige.

Pastatelli with tomato and porcini mushrooms at Ristorante La Loggetta overlooking the main square in Cortona, Tuscany.

Not pictured: amazing gelato from Gli Svizzeri in Arezzo, Tuscany. Excellent chocolate!

Grilled porcini mushroom caps (they taste better than they look) at Trattoria La Grotta in Cortona, Tuscany.

Tagliolini with fresh truffles, ravioli with truffle sauce, and a side of spinach at Trattoria la Grotta in Cortona, Tuscany.

Some of the food we cooked ourselves: a simple pasta with tomatoes, garlic, basil, olive oil, mozzarella and parmigiano (can you tell the apartment was missing a cheese grater?).

And an even simpler meal: tomatoes with fresh smoked buffalo mozzarella.

A plate of mixed veggies (escarole, roasted red peppers, potatoes with mushrooms, and another green) at a simple but fabulous hole in the wall in Vallo, Campagna, called La Tavernetta del Principe (Piazza V. Emanuele). They also had homemade ravioli and other yummy stuff.

Dessert in Vallo: chocolate ricotta balls rolled in coconut.

A couple veggies, including carciofi alla romana (Roman artichokes) in Bagni di Tivoli.

Pasta cacio e pepe with artichoke hearts. Cacio e pepe is typical of the Rome area, containing pecorino cheese and black pepper. In Tivoli.

At the Pizzeria Stecca (Via G. Bruno, 42) in Padua. This is what a pizza verdure (vegetable pizza) is supposed to look like. Hear that, Zurich?

And in conclusion, I give you gelato from Grom, a high-end chain which has been popping up in all the major Italian cities (and NYC!) over the past few years. Some of the best pistachio gelato I’ve ever had. In Padua.

In Tuscany, with the sun somewhere vaguely overhead

The official reason* for this trip to Italy, besides the eating, was to be creative. That is why I found myself awake at 6:30 one morning in Tuscany, being dragged outside to take photos. Even though my only camera is a tiny point-and-shoot which coughs smoke when the flash is used, I still managed to get some lovely shots, and plenty of inspiration for future paintings. Which isn’t to say I wouldn’t have been a lot more successful with a big fancy camera with lenses and stuff. So, you know, if you’re trying to think of a present for me or something…

We were staying at Le Terre dei Cavalieri, a painfully adorable Tuscan farmhouse-turned-guesthouse. I highly recommend it to anyone visiting Tuscany by car who doesn’t mind having a 10-minute drive to get to dinner (the closest restaurants are in nearby Cortona). Our first evening we were greeted by a foursome of American tourists who had dipped into the wine they had purchased that day. They had more empty bottles than people when we arrived, and clearly none of them was fit to drive. They didn’t seem to mind the prospect of just drinking their dinner, but I for one find it a horrible tragedy to miss a meal opportunity in Italy.

When we returned from our delicious dinner in Cortona, we were greeted again by voices from their balcony: “Hey, did you bring us any wine? We’re all out.”

* Right, as if a reason is needed for a trip to Italy.

Late night art in Munich

So I’m back in Munich. Oktoberfest may be long over, but there’s still stuff going on in this lovely city. There’s always something going on, I tell you. Yesterday evening it was the Lange Nacht der Münchner Museen (Long Night of Munich Museums), which, as its name implies, is a evening where many of Munich’s museums stay open until late in the night. For a 15-euro ticket, one could visit them all. Many locations had special events going on such as live music or readings.

Using the same modus operandi as we did for Zurich’s museum night last year, we skipped our favorite museums and used the evening as an excuse to explore some locales we may have never made it to otherwise. We saw a fairytale reading at the Alpine Museum, some a cappella at the Staatliches Museum für Völkerkunde (Ethnology Museum), and some fancy roof restorations at the Galerie Handwerk. My favorite part of the evening was the introduction to lithography session we attended at the Münchner Künstlerhaus.

We didn’t make it to even half of the museums and galleries that were on my list of interesting-looking stuff, but it was a lovely evening nonetheless. Looking forward to going again next year.

Buffalo mozzarella, part 2: the source

You’ll know when you’ve arrived in buffalo mozzarella country by all the roadside signs advertising it. It’s kind of like driving through the American South and seeing all those billboards for fireworks superstores, except the southern Italians are excited about cheese instead of explosives. Just a small cultural difference.

The signage starts as soon as you enter Battipaglia.

When I first lived in Bologna back in the 90s, I asked an Italian guy once why the good stuff was called “mozzarella di bufala”. Were there actually buffalo hiding out somewhere in Italy, or was this simply a misnomer along the lines of the famous wings, having nothing to do with actual buffaloes? He didn’t know. Poor thing, he was from the North.

On this trip I finally got a chance to see real live Italian mozzarella-producing buffalo. It was at Vannulo, a buffalo dairy. In addition to mozzarella and other cheeses (such as ricotta, another local specialty), they sold yogurt and gelato. There’s also a cute coffee bar. I’m not sure if the milk they put in their cappuccinos comes from the buffalo or not.

Mmmmph mmm mm mm mmmph!

OK, that title was supposed to say “Greetings from the land of mozzarella!”, but my mouth was full of, well, mozzarella. Mozzarella di bufala, to be precise, freshly made, right off the farm, never refrigerated… the way it’s supposed to be, but alas, rarely ever is, unless you happen to be hanging out in, say, the region of Campagna, Italy. Which I am. Mmmmmm.

For those of you (I’m looking at you, middle America) unfortunate enough to think mozzarella is a dry, rubbery cheese which comes in big bricks or pre-grated in your grocer’s refrigerated section, I’d like to introduce you to the real stuff. Mozzarella di bufala (literally buffalo mozzarella) is only produced in a couple regions of southern Italy, where the buffalo roam. The soft balls of goodness wait for you in giant tanks of whey. You take your purchase home in a plastic bag of liquid, kind of like when you you buy a goldfish. Except the mozzarella is much tastier. Soft, creamy, melt-in-your-mouth-y. It has to be eaten right away for optimal flavor, and never refrigerated, which explains why it’s so difficult to enjoy this delicacy to its fullest if you’re not directly at the source.

But don’t just take my word for it – come try for yourself. I mean, if there’s any left after I’m done here.

Gone eatin’

I’m off to Italy for a little while. Not sure how much internet access I’ll have while I’m there, but I’ll try to get a little blogging in from the road so you don’t miss me too much. In the meantime, just imagine all the wonderful things I’m eating right about now…

Norway: Bergen & other notes

I can’t wrap up my posts about Norway without mentioning Bergen, our favorite city of the trip. It was adorable, charming, vibrant, historic, and fun – everything a European city should be.

There’s a small market for extremely fresh fish (and other stuff, like local knitwear and cloudberry jam) downtown.

This was a gorgeous sunset to watch, sitting outside and sipping 10-euro beers. We sipped slowly.

This area is called the Bryggen, and greedy German merchants from the Hanseatic League used to live here and make lots of money trading dried Norwegian fish (meanwhile the Norwegians were too drunk to figure out how to do this job themselves). We learned a lot about this history while in Bergen, mainly from the (free-with-admission English daily at 10:00am) tour we took of the Hanseatic Museum, which was also where we came across these creepy flying dried fish:

Bergen also had a fabulous art museum, where we say several Munchs and other works by Norwegian and international artists. Good stuff.

We traveled to Bergen from Oslo via train, making a detour to take the Flåm railway down into the Aurlandsfjord and then a boat through the Nærøyfjord. While the fjords were quite lovely, I could have skipped this part of the trip. We got enough fjord in during our Hurtigruten ride, and the Flåm railway was not as impressive as I was expecting, most likely because of all the crazy mountain railways we experienced during out two years in Switzerland. Plus I could have done without the 6:30am train departure from Oslo.

Overall we really loved our trip to Norway (if you haven’t gathered that yet from the gazillions of posts I’ve made about it). I think I need to go back sometime during the midnight sun (or perhaps the Arctic winter – although that’s probably less fun, northern lights notwithstanding). But first I need to win the lottery – Norway is expensive!

All my Norway posts:

Kick the Baby
No bras allowed?
The Hurtigruten
The Lofoten Islands
Å i Lofoten
More Norway trip photos on Flickr

Enough with the hugging already, Europe

Sometimes when I get overwhelmed with the current political reality, I like to fall back into this alternate version:

I love you, President Gore.

(Unfortunately the video seem to only work for those whose IP address is based in the US.)

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