As I did in early 2016, I visited Italy at the beginning of 2017. I explored new territory in Emilia Romagna, (specifically Bologna and Ferrara), returned to familiar ground in Tuscany, (the walled city of Lucca) and re-explored one town in Puglia, ) the Florence of the South, Lecce).
On this blog, over the next couple weeks, I will try to summarize some of my experiences in Italian travel, food, and wine with both specific reviews of restaurants and wines to general travel writing about the regions in Italy I explored.
Like all travel stories, there were themes and story lines, plot twists and turns.
You'll see a lot of pasta, a theme I'm happy to explore, it's Italy after all. If there was a primary dish to sample, it had to be tagliatelle with meat sauce. While a flat ribbon noodle was sampled most, a stuffed pasta with basically the same ground meat sauce was a close second. A meat sauce with pasta is reliable, it will not let you down, and there's really no translation necessary, most people know what a ravioli is. The variables with pasta and meat sauce are salt level, sauce thickness and pasta thickness. Salt can make or break the dish and salt level seems to vary widely in this dish. Secondly, do the chefs finish the pasta in the sauce pan to absorb any pasta water? Thirdly, how thick is the pasta and to what level of al dente are they cooking it? A lot of variables for a simple dish.
The story line of Puglia had to be baccala or dried salt cod in English. It’s on every menu in some fashion. I would have gotten on my pizza if I saw it offered, which if I had looked into al Taglio in Lecce every night, I probably would have found it. Sautéed, deep fried, brandade.
The winter theme of nearly every restaurant in Italy was artichokes or carciofo in Italian. I ate a lot of artichokes this trip. Raw, boiled, sous vide, stewed, you name it, I had it. Inspiring really. So often, artichokes don’t pair well with wine and are left off of many menus. Secondly, artichokes are difficult to clean and prepare. Thirdly, artichokes tend to either get boiled and then grilled in much of the Central Valley and Central Coast of CA and then served with mayo or some kinda Ranch style dip.
The plot twist this year was being able to dine with someone regularly. Rarely do I have the opportunity to dine with others, not so on this trip. Dining with just one other person doubles the amount of wine and food I can try. So, when you see 6 or 8 pictures of food and wine in a single restaurant review, I was not dining alone. Even with my rather formidable eating skills, I can't plow down 8 dishes and two bottles of wine in one sitting.
I hope you enjoy my 2017 Tour d'Italia!