Sep 092010

aka: “Thinking about Food.”

Travelling through Italy has left me with a number of thoughts, many of them about food.  While others may come here to soak up the culture in the form of art or religious monuments, I have my own agenda.  Of course I visit the obligatory attractions, but not with the vigor of other tourists.  I breeze through the churches and frescoes in favor of museums about science and ecology.  Yet, even while these places satisfy my curiosities and broaden my understanding of the Italian language, they aren’t the reason why I chose to come here either.  My moments of enlightenment come not from paintings, statues, or cathedrals… they are born from my plate.

Hopping from one trattoria to another osteria and stopping at a gelateria for a midday or evening snack has been simply divine.  I’ve been selecting very carefully.  By perusing hundreds of menus, surveying other diners’ plates, searching for locals enjoying the cuisine, seeking out cucina tipica that embodies the local culinary traditions, and occassionaly peering through guide books, I have had a pretty successful tour thus far.  I’ve faithfully taken pictures of every meal, and upon my return I will share my findings.

I’ve managed to have little need for packaged foods, and only purchased them on one occassion while waiting for my laundry to finish the spin cycle.  Even then I decided to forgo the beckoning Oreos in favor of an Italian snack.  Despite the abandonment of all things in a box, I’ve had a surprisingly difficult time finding produce until now.  Venice and Cinque Terre weren’t brimming with fruit or vegetables, neither on the menus nor in the markets.  Despite my constant search, only two items could slightly fill my veggie fix:

  • Insalata mista, typically little more than a cup of iceberg and a few pieces of radicchio
  • Verdure alla grilla, a few thin strips of zucchini, eggplant, red pepper, and (!!)potato off the grill amounting to less than a half cup of vegetation

I’ve picked up a few juicy peaches and a several bunches of delicious grapes with seeds off the market stand, but that’s been about the extent of the selection.  Even tomatoes were hard to find.  But now… Tuscany.  Ah, Tuscany.  Florence markets and menus bring the spinaci, rucola, and fragole I have craved.  Not only are the fruits and veggies bursting with flavor, but the bread suffers from an incredible lack of it.  It’s instantly apparent that Tuscan bread lacks salt, modifying its texture and giving it an earthier quality.  A quick Googling teaches me this may be a result of a centuries-old tax on salt that has since been removed… but it’s just as well for me.  I’ll ditch the pane now that I have little bursts of sunshine to go with my pasta once more.  With that, I set out on another week of culinary adventure.

Until I return… buon appetito e arrivederci!

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