Thursday, April 29, 2010
Wednesday, April 28, 2010
Today, the regions that we were focusing on were Sicily and Sardenia, which are the two largest islands off of Italy's coast. Sicily is the large island at the tip of Italy's "boot" toe, and Sardenia is due west of Tuscany. Obviously, being islands, they are well known for their seafood!
First up? Probably one of the best pasta dishes I have had in Italy to date:
The sauce was made by first sauteeing red onion in olive oil. Once it had carmelized a little, we tossed in garlic, tomatoes that had been boiled, peeled, and chopped, basil, and the usual salt&pepper. While the sauce was thickening, we deep fried strips of eggplant in oil, adding them in just before the sauce was done. Toss the al dente penne with the sauce, top with parmesan and extra strips of eggplant, and voila! Deliciousness. I may have gone back for seconds.
Next up was calamari imbottiti, which is stuffed squid. A lot of people in my class were real babies about trying this dish, but I sucked it up and gave it a try. I wasn't SUPER impressed; it was a bit "fishy" for my taste, but at least I tried it!
The calamari was stuffed with breadcrumbs, parsley, and the chopped tentacles, lightly fried, then simmered in a tomato sauce made with white wine until tender.
Finally, my group was in charge of the dessert (how does that always happen?). We made a cassatta siciliana.
Now that I'm back from class, I'm totally exhausted due to the pills I took earlier today for my ALLERGIES which have been acting up! Something about this Florentine pollen is really aggravating my nose; I've been having sneezing attacks and my eyes are constantly puffy and watery. I'm surprised that I haven't terrified the locals with my teary appearance. So today, I meandered down to the farmacia and demanded relief from the man at the counter, who handed me a box, took my eight euro, and gave me no directions on how often to take the pills, etc. Welcome to Italy.
Oh, wait, as usual, it's not my fault, but that of my internet, which was darn determined to keep me from posting both of the past two days. Blah! So here is my past-two-days recap (and you'll get another entry tonight, after I get back from cooking....lucky you!)...
Monday I was feeling ambitious! I have no classes, so when I woke to a gorgeous day, I decided to take a walk down to all of the junk stores where Gillian and I went earlier in the month.
Oh, Grom, you have been bested, for sure.
I wandered a little more, passing the Ponte Vecchio. Long time no see!
Though I'm also a fan of the San Lorenzo market.
Tuesday morning I woke up and went to Italian like a good student...but then ditched writing to go to the flea market at Cascine park. It only happens on Tuesdays from 7 AM until 1 PM, so I absolutely had to skip class to see it! It was necessary for my cultural assimilation!
It was definitely the LARGEST market I've seen to date, and stuffed to the gills with all kinds of interesting people and products. Gillian picked up a couple of clothing items and we spent the rest of the day perusing kitchenware, jewelry, food, what looked like used make-up (ew) and an assortment of other items.
[Thank you for your patience. Regularly blogging and writing sans cutsie endings will now resume.]
We took a bus back to the city center, where we took advantage of a free afternoon to hit up a lunch spot we have been waiting to try...Nerbone!
This little piece of Florentine culture is actually located inside il Mercato Centrale, and is therefore only open until 2 PM. Due to our regular date with Sergio's and conflicting class schedules, we have been unable to make it...until yesterday!
In true Italian style, everyone sits at communal lunch tables to enjoy their meal, after fighting tooth and nail to reach the counter to place an order.
I had pappa al pomodoro (Tuscan tomato soup) but the picture was a little...unappetizing, so I decided to spare you. I wasn't totally impressed with it, but sometimes food isn't necessarily about the food but about the experience, and dining at Nerbone, elbow to elbow (or, in my case, back to back) with the locals was certainly an experience I was unwilling to miss.
But once we found the food section, it was all over. We spent the better part of the evening stealing samples from the people. I ate what probably constituted an entire meal made of samples of bread, cheese, wine, crackers, and the occasional piece of chocolate.
We walked out of the food fair with our pockets slightly lighter and our stomachs totally stuffed. I'm kind of bummed that I won't get to go back to explore the rest of it, since we leave tomorrow and the fair will be gone when we get back on Sunday night. The fair was HUGE and took place in this old fort. There were something like 8 buildings filled with all kinds of different crafts.
Anyway, the roomies and I are currently preparing for our weekend abroad in Barcelona! We leave tomorrow night around 8 PM and won't be back until late Sunday night...three whole days of Spanish fun! And with Gillian's roommate from home there to show us around, I'm certain that we will be kept plenty busy.
Like I said, look for another post tonight about my last cooking class of the semester!
Sunday, April 25, 2010
People in America are constantly on the go, driving somewhere, always multi-tasking, never taking a moment to just stop, enjoy, and indulge. Shockingly, despite their indulgent eating habits, I have seen very, very few overweight Italians! Shocker! I feel like back home, I was either constantly indulging (eating sweets like there is no tomorrow) or cold-turkey depriving myself of the things (foods) that I love most. This unhealthy kind of attitude lead me personally to some unhealthy eating habits, and I know that I'm not alone. There is probably a reason that America ranks so high in obesity, cancer, and heart disease!
What I've learned here is about balance. Balancing my work with pleasures, like traveling. Balancing my bank account, money I need with the money I want to spend. And easier things to balance...such as how many times a week to eat lunch at Sergio's versus Mario's! :D Anyway, the point is that life here has given me a different perspective not only on eating things like gelato (a couple of times a week won't hurt, with all the walking we do!) but also with life in general.
There is no need to rush, people. (Except of course, if you are rushing to a gelateria! Just kidding.) Slow down. Enjoy your life. And every now and then?
As the Italians would say...perche no?
Saturday, April 24, 2010
I did go to bed pretty early, though, because Gillian and I had a culinary extravaganza planned for today!
But I did keep having deja vu all day! With all of the palm trees and the bipolar weather, I was sure that we must be in the Sunshine State. In reality, we were in Livorno, which is so much better than Florida (sorry).
Gillian and Sam actually went to Livorno over spring break, but since I missed the trip and really wanted to try cacciuco (you'll see what that is later...), Gillian agreed to go with me again (what a sport!).
The last time Gillian came to this place, they were unfortunately out of cacciuco, which is a typical Livornese dish. I thought that we had heard good things about it, but looking back, it seems like most people just wanted us to try it..not necessarily because it was delicious. Somewhere down the line I had gotten the idea that it was a soup (think Mario's and Sergio's). I was very, very, VERY wrong, and after they brought out this dish, I was in shock for the rest of the meal. Heck, I'm still in shock!
It turned out to be a kind of...um...well...a seafood stew, if you will. But like mystery stew. You had no idea what you were getting when you pulled something out. And there was an entire, large shrimp sitting on top of the whole thing, staring at me. It still had its claws. The entire dish was coated in this thick, almost barbeque-y sauce.
This dish was an experience. This is the kind of thing I came to Italy for: to experience the culture. And cacciuco is definitely full of cultural value (and octopus. I probably ate the entirety of Ursula from The Little Mermaid). Gillian and I could not stop laughing the entire time we were eating this...it was the kind of meal you never forget. I really don't know what else to say about it, except that it wasn't bad...it is just something I'll probably never order again.
After we picked through the...um....stew, the waiter brough us each a GIANT shot of limoncello, which is typically served as an post-meal aperitif, to aid in digestion. I have tried limoncello several times before this, but I decided to give it one last shot. Plus, I kind of wanted to wash the taste of octopus out of my mouth. (Kidding.)
After lunch, we were both EXTREMELY full (despite my ragging on the cacciuco, we did some serious damage). We walked toward the harbor, since, like I said, Livorno is a port city.
We probably walked around the city for a good hour and a half (there may or may not have been some gelato...) before heading back to the train station. Look how pretty!