Friday, June 22, 2012


Just got back from spending two weeks in Italy. I was there for a 10 day CIEE International Faculty Development Seminar on "Food from a "Glocal" Perspective: Italy, the Mediterranean, and the World."  There were many interesting lectures and field trips (more about those another day), but one of the highlights was the food. Most days, aside from a good breakfast, we were served one or two multi-course meals with restaurants chosen to specifically highlight regional specialities. After 10 days of this, I spend the next four days in Rome eating mostly bread, cheese, and fruit just to recover! I thought I'd start the Italy report by narrowing down my food experiences to four favorites. I am not listing them in the order of preference, but simply in chronological order.

The first half of the seminar was held in the small town of Pollenzo-- about 90 minutes southeast of Turin in the Piemonte region. Pollenzo is the site of the international college of gastronomy established by the founder of the Slow Food movement, Carlo Petrini. It's a lovely little town set among the rolling hills, where there is a lot of agriculture. I saw farms and vineyards, orchards and livestock. Pollenzo is part of the larger town of Bra. The first night we were taken to dinner at the official Slow Food restaurant, Osteria del Boccondivita,  in nearby Bra. The first course is pictured above, vitello e tonnato. In English, veal with tuna sauce. The veal had been baked and was quite tender and mild. What was surprising was the tuna sauce--it would never have occurred to me to put veal and tuna together, but the tuna sauce provided a slightly sharp and salty complement to the mild veal. It was surprising and delicious, and a great introduction to Italian food!

The next dish was eaten in a restaurant in Alba, a medium sized town in Piemonte (where there's also a Nutella factory!). After a meal of asparagus in lemon sauce, a pasta dish with butter and vegetables, and a rabbit dish, we were served panna cotta with fresh strawberries for dessert.
I had heard about panna cotta, and I have eaten panna cotta before. But this was something else altogether. It has a slight hint of vanilla and was creamy beyond belief. It had clearly not been made with gelatin, as I have tasted. I was told by one of our seminar leaders that it was made with glassine, a type of solidifier made from fish bladders. The strawberries were fresh and truly ripe, picked locally. The dish was simple yet delicious. Most of us had to fight the urge to start licking the plates clean when we were done!

The second half of the seminar was held in Naples, in the Campania region. Naples is in the south of of Italy, and is right on the Mediterranean. There, seafood was king. The first night in Naples we were taken to a nice restaurant in the centro storico, or historic old part of the city, called Palazzo Petrucci. The entire meal was fabulous, but this was the best dish of all:
This was billed (in English) as "Millefeuilles of Compania's Mozzarella Cheese with Raw Prawn and Sauce of Peas." This is no ordinary mozzarella, the rubbery stuff we eat in the States. This was fresh mozzarella made from water buffalo milk. It is a different substance entirely--chewy, slightly salty, creamy and delicious. The shrimp had been marinated and were a perfect complement to the cheese, and the pea sauce added a mild touch which tied it all together.

Finally, we had a dinner in Naples down in a yacht club. We were giving a cooking demo of many wonderful dishes, but my favorite was the stuffed pumpkin flowers, battered and fried. I don't have a close-up of the final dish, but here was part of the demo:
I had eaten fried zucchini flowers before, but these were even tastier! They were stuffed with a ricotta concoction, and the batter was made with yeast and was light and airy when fried.

I must say that the only bad food experiences I had in Italy were in the airports! I learned so much about the food of at least these two regions which I didn't know. I will definitely be trying some of these ideas in my own cooking. More later!

1 comment:

  1. Theresa, the dishes look absolutely sumptuous! What a wonderful adventure! Thanks for sharing.