Off to Spain? The Death of European Airspace

In theory, my UNISG classmates and I are going to seek gastronomic enlightenment in the French wine country of Bordeaux as well as the Spanish Basque country. Touring oyster farms, eating foie gras and confit, and of course drinking the delicious specialties of these regions, including Bordeaux wines as well as Txacoli wine from the Basque region.

Bordeaux wine country
Bilbao

Unfortunately, it seems that our group always runs into large bouts of good luck. Sardegna: blizzard, Liguria: Blizzard and high speed winds, just when the weather starts to normalize…. VOLCANO IN ICELAND CLOSES ENTIRE EUROPEAN AIRSPACE FOR AN INDEFINITE AMOUNT OF TIME! Cool.

Anyway, I write this entry in hopes of being able to part for my trip on Monday to Bordeaux. If you don’t hear from me, I’ll be back next Sunday with an update, if you hear from me before then, it means I didn’t go and I am very sad….and most likely hungry.

P.S. Iceland, WTF?!

Advertisements

Sardegna Update: I am Sheep

Wow folks, sorry for the intense delay in my Sardegna update… due to a technical difficulty I was unable to update before.

Anyway, the trip was great, we ate about every single product that could be conceivably produced by the sheep, as these are indigenous animals of the island…in fact flying in on the plane I saw nothing but rolling green hills, expanding coastline, and large white herds of sheep…

Ah where to begin? Well… first of all I can no longer stomach the thought of Pane Carusau (the traditional Sardinian flat bread which is really more like a cracker than anything else), Pecorino Sardo (traditional sheep-milk cheese) or cured sheep meat…. while these products are delicious I was totally saturated after 5 full days of their consumption.

Contrary to my initial assumptions, we did not eat as much fish as I had hoped… though Sardegna is an island, prized for the production of delicious products including Lobster and Bottarga (cured tuna egg sacks) we were only taken to one fishery to see the ways of traditional fishing that has not been changed since the Medieval times (think wooden boxes and small tin fishing boats).

It was nice to see the pride of these people for the products they produce… refering to mainland Italy as “The Peninsula” I entered the land of Sardegna feeling as if I had escaped the world of Italy almost completely… an entirely different cuisine, culture, and even language in some places..

Strangely enough, I also directly experienced the fears of climate change that are quickly becoming relevant on an international scale. What am I talking about? Well.. aside from the fact that we were in Sardegna in February (off season) our final day on the island we experienced some of the most intense snow storms I have ever seen in my life… More snow than I have ever seen in Parma for sure… In fact, these snow storms made most European news as they were completely abnormal to the regular climate of the island. We almost thought we wouldn’t make it out of there because there was a blizzard that made our enormous tour bus into a mobile vomit facility (about 6 people lost their sheep on the bus and it made for an incredibly unpleasant return to Alghero..where we ultimately caught our plane back to Parma.

Nonetheless, despite the close quarters with my classmates and the over consumption of meat and cheese, I really would love to return to Sardegna under less strained conditions. For example, due to our concentrated meat and cheese consumption, not only did many of us experience less than pleasant digestive issues (use your imaginations) but also, the day we were offered vegetables at a local winery everyone jumped to the plate like we hadn’t seen anything green in months… my mouth felt like it was at Disneyland after that first bite of fennel…and I don’t even particularly like fennel.

Ok let me get to the good stuff.. I’ll add some of my pictures from the trip so you can get an idea of not only the amount of food we consumed, but also the spectacular places in which we dined… absolutely unforgettable.

And now, off to the gym. hahaha

Cenone: An Italian New Years Tradition

Now that the holiday season is winding down, I have a chance to write an update on the various eating endeavors I’ve taken on in the past several weeks. For Christmas, I went to a friend’s house in Montalcino, a small but famous wine area in Tuscany.. For those of you wine afficionados, Montalcino is the home of Rosso di Montalcino as well as Brunello… Brunello has a very affluent following as a bottle in the States sells for as much as $300.

Montalcino Countryside: A view from the top

To say the least, I ate and drank very well over the Christmas holidays. But that wasn’t the end of my adventure. Within two days of returning home to Parma, my boyfriend Andrea and I embarked on a 4 hour journey into the Italian Alps, to a quaint little town called Pozza di Fassa where he has a cozy mountain apartment. Not discouraged by the winding mountain roads, and occasional hydroplanes close to the cliff’s edge, I was excited to see this new region of Italy, Trentino, a place I had never been in the country I call home.

Just a quick aside, I was shocked by how German this area of northern Italy truly is. Trentino-Alto Adige is quite close to Austria, making the culture there very different from the rest of Italy. In fact, the first language there is Ladino, a dialect that combines German, Austrian, and some Italian. Me being me, I was particularly interested in the cuisine of this region, because while traditional pasta and pizza plates can be found in restaurants, so too can German specialties such as kraut and wurstel!

Infatuated by this geographical change in menu, Andrea and I decided to go traditional for New Years and sign ourselves up for something called a “Cenone” which translates to “Big Dinner” at a hotel near his apartment. Now, keep in mind that a “big dinner” on Italian terms isn’t your traditional 3 course meal… rather, a 4 hour 13 course eating extravaganza. Could my underfed American tummy handle the pressure??? For a belly busting 90 Euro a person, I was well aware of the magnitude of the feast that was before me.

Starting with an Aperitivo (remember what that is?) at 7:30pm, we were welcomed with sparkling Prosecco, various bitter cocktails, and some light snacks. I made sure not to eat too much of the early stuff because I was well aware of the feast that awaited.

Then we went to our table, which was nicely marked with our names. Then the real deal began. Here is the menu:

New Years Cenone Menu

For those of you that can’t see the menu clearly, there were 5 starters, 2 first plates, 4 second plates, a palate cleanser, and 2 desserts.. accompanied of course by bottomless wine and champagne. This was the hedonists dream.

Aside from the fact that our dinner companions were the strangest mix of Austrians, Germans, Italians, and various other Nordic cultures, we definitely had ourselves a ball of a time. The experience could be described as a strange mix between a John Hughes film from the eary 80s and an awkward European sitcom.

Nonetheless. I thoroughly enjoyed my holidays. A little romance, a lot of food, and of course, always gourmet.

Here are some more photos from the trip:

Happy 2010 everyone! I look forward to a very eventful and successful year, and I wish the same to all of my loyal readers. The best is yet to come 😉

P.S. Good luck to everyone who is attempting the beginning of the year diet. I’m with you on that one… until lunch that is…

Pesto Performance: An Inspired Culinary Solitude

I seem to be getting the hang of this ‘living alone’ thing. I am trying to avoid getting to comfortable living in my own filth with no one around to tell me what to do, as eventually the housemates will be back from the winter holidays. Nonetheless, without the immediate pressure to CLEAN EVERYTHING IN THE HOUSE, I have had some time to experiment with recipes and cooking. As I’ve been lamenting in previous entries, the ominous freezing rain outside the window is a deterrent from walking through the streets, enhancing the romanticist perspectives we Americans have of the Italian world.

OK, enough philosophy. Yesterday I was feeling inspired and perhaps a bit ashamed that I am here in Italy studying gastronomy with absolutely no cooking skills (well some, but… nothing to call home about). I said to myself, enough salad, enough sandwiches, “Michelle you’re going to make yourself a grownup meal.” I needed to act quickly as these bursts of culinary inspiration are few and far between.

It was a pasta night. I rushed to the grocery store, bought myself some fusili pasta, sundried tomatoes soaked in oil with capers, cannelini beans (white beans), goat cheese, fresh bread, and a bottle of Cabernet. What did I make?? Only the best pesto pasta in the history of man…of course.

Ingredienti

Whoever said cooking for yourself is a depressed, reclusive, liar. Of many of the nights I’ve had in this house, I have to say that last night might have been one of the most entertaining. If I was going to make this huge expansive dinner for myself, I was going all out. I put the music on in the kitchen (Italian of course), put water to boil on the stove, and with the flick of the flame my night of culinary excstasy began!

Rather then explaining how delicious my meal was, I figure it’s more important to share the wealth and give you my recipe for the world’s best pesto pasta.

Sassy Solidarity Pesto:

Ingredients:

  • Fusilli Pasta (100g/person)
  • Sundried Tomatoes (to taste, I used about 4 big ones)
  • Salt: To taste
  • 1/2-1 TBSP Coarse Salt (for pasta water)
  • Pesto Sauce (I used Barilla)
  • 1/2 can Cannellini Beans (Italian white beans)
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 large clove red garlic
  • 1 small finely diced onion

1) Put water up for boil. It’s always nice to do this first because by the time your finished chopping and preparing your veggies the pasta is ready to be put in the pot. Do not forget to add salt to your water or your pasta will taste really bland

2) Finely chop garlic and onion, put into pan with olive oil. Saute until onions become translucent (In Italian the onion/garlic/olive oil saute is called a Soffritto and makes up the base of any good hearty pasta sauce.

3) Take 4 large sundried tomatoes and chop coarsely. I used sundried tomatoes from a jar filled with oil as these are more tender, but normal dry sundried tomatoes should work just fine.

4) Once onion/garlic mixture is ready add beans and sundried tomatoes to the pan, add a bit more olive oil to prevent burning, as well as a pinch of table salt.

5) Is the water boiling? Good. Put your fusilli in the boiling water until it reaches Al Dente (about 9-10 minutes)

6) Drain pasta and place into a large bowl. Add veggie/bean mixture from the pan, and a goccio (drop) of olive oil. Mix well.

7) Add 2-3 large spoonfuls of pesto sauce, and as much goats cheese* as you like (I added a lot because I like my pesto pasta super creamy). Mix. *Some prefer not to fully mix in goats cheese as it might be tasty to leave it in large creamy chunks.

8) Serve. Mangia like you’ve never Mangia-ed before.

My Pesto Masterpiece

I don’t know if my wine choice (Cabernet) was what a Sommelier would recommend with a pesto dish, but I’ll speak from personal experience that I thought it complimented the meal quite nicely. The fresh bread wasn’t too bad either. In a full, partially drunken stupor, I fell asleep feeling fulfilled and utterly satisfied. I was under the impression that I didn’t have the capacity to cook, but the truth of the matter is I just have ‘Kitchen Fright’

Ah, another night in the Grassroots Gourmet household, and another recipe for the books. Sadly what awaits me now is the aftermath of cleaning my kitchen…but I’d say it was well worth the mess. 😉

Buon Ingrassamento! (Happy Weight Gain!)

November Pork Festival: Diaries of a Jew in Italy

Are you there God (of bagels and lox), it’s me Michelle, please forgive me for today I have sinned.  I went to the most delicious festival in Zibello, the town best known for its production of Culatello, the prime and outrageously expensive variety of prosciutto. As sacreligious as this might be for one of the Jewish variety, I nonetheless had a religious experience with each bite of delicious cured meat that passed through my lips.

November Porc (yes spelled with a C) was just one of many celebrations Italian regions put on for their various famous products.

At the festival, aside from endless varieties of cured meat,  there was amazing cheese, artisanal beer, hand crafted china, wine, and everything else that puts spice into the life of the average Italian. I was a face in the crowd of hungry folks, all gathering for a general appreciation of pork products and the like….

This festival was the perfect remedy after a not so emotionally uplifting evening. Again, devouring my emotions. Delicious and absolutely recommended.  I find solace in cured meat. This isn’t abnormal right?

 

3 Weeks Until I’m an Expat.

Bancarella di Salumi, Parma
Bancarella di Salumi, Parma

The countdown to my November 12th departure continues. In fact, in exactly 3 weeks I’ll be an expat. It hasn’t set in yet that I will be gone an entire year, but I am so excited to experience the world through food cultures. This is my dream.

I always said to myself that one day I would open a winery or start a food business, but back then all of that was just unsupported self-talk. I never truly thought this would be my future. I am proud of myself, of my determination to follow through with my goals, however unrealistic they once seemed.

I’ve learned that the world is an unpredictable place, and that your life, no matter how mundane, can change in an instant.

As my Gastronomy education progresses, I hope to learn more about the wine industry, as I would love to open a vineyard someday. I don’t need to live a lavish lifestyle, a small vineyard on the Italian countryside will do me just fine (if it happens to become wildly successful I obviously wouldn’t protest).

My future vineyard?
My future vineyard?

Even though the Italian consulate has made my life a living hell this week (I’ve had to drive up to LA twice because of documents I needed), hopefully I will get my visa before I leave. They have my passport so… I really don’t have another option.

Anyway, here are some photographs of my future home. Parma. And everything amazing that awaits me there.

Ci vediamo tra 3 settimane ragazzi!

Piazza Garibaldi
Piazza Garibaldi
Piazza del Duomo, Parma
Piazza del Duomo, Parma
Parmaggiano Reggiano Factory
Parmaggiano Reggiano Factory

Ciao!!