And finalmente the Italian post. Get ready for tantissime fotografie – though not of the Italy with its landscapes but of the prodotti e sapori italiani – and scarce words. There’s already a long line of upcoming posts and I’m still lingering with this one. So here it is, the dear and delicious Italy (cara e gustosa Italia), and this post is dedicated to the kind family of Caterina!
I’ve been to Italy several times already but only this time did I catch a glimpse of how an Italian family lives, particularly what they eat (what else would interest me more?), how they cook it and how they manage their stocks etc. Caterina, my friend from the Erasmus year in Greece, was hosting my parents and me for a short stay in Veneto, the Northern region of Italy, after we stayed in Venezia for several days (after visiting Strasbourg we took a train to Munchen and from there to Venezia, crossing a good share of Germany, Austria and Italy, with the Alps in the background… and this was also the only day when the sun was shining, unfortunately). In her home, I have seen how the polenta is cut and distributed, for example, polenta being the essential produce of the region, something like potatoes for the Russians (though both corn and potatoes are relatively new components of the diet, of course, before that both the Russians and the Italians survived on other crops, particularly cereals). But this I will tell you later when I get to the polenta flour I brought from Venezia (and there’s another post with polenta already). There were some minor eating culture shocks and discoveries which I will try to render here.
These cheeses (could hardly remember the names and now completely forgot them)… were great of course. What was unusual for us (although I already saw it in France), the cheeses appear on the table not in the morning to make sandwiches (as we’re used to) but during the more substantial meals of the day, especially in the end – you just pick the cheese you want from the board, slice it into your plate and that’s it.
I especially liked this hard cheese pictured above, and of course the polenta cookies with homemade orange jam made by the mother of the family! The Italian breakfast is sweet, with jam rather than bread-butter-cheese-sausage as we’re used to in Russia (not mentioning our various kinds of kasha or eggs). It was also funny to see how the family tried to deal with our tea-preference: while the central thing in a Russian kitchen is a kettle (in any of its disguises), in Italy there’s just a moka pot for your coffee. One of the first things I bought in Strasbourg was a tiny tea kettle and in Greece I got mine from Caterina. I’m in the tea camp myself (and the kefir one too), have this dislike of coffee from the early years when what they called coffee was this disgusting barley drink or equally awful instant coffee with loads of sugar, brrrr. Although when I tried Caterina’s coffee from her tiny moka, I liked it. However, the Italians drink coffee on the around-the-clock basis, whereas in Russia this drink is always considered as an energizer and avoided in the evenings if you want to sleep rather than sit for the exams the whole night.
Here is another type of cheese (and the three bell-peppers in an attempt to represent the colours of the Italian flag – now I realize they’re completely mixed and the yellow pepper is not white after all…), bought from a local producer in Belluno, one of the biggest cities of the Veneto region. Should you ever go there, here’s their name & address (and again, no adverts):
Fregona Renzo Commercio (Via Col di Roanza 15, 32100 Belluno Italy) – this is actually a mini-van parked in the street leading to the Duomo (which is similar to the ones you see in Strasbourg), selling both cheeses and sausages. We could hardly make our choice what to buy to take home (the Fregona people were surprised to know their produce will travel to St Pete!) as we had no idea what the cheeses were. After sampling some, we took this hard cheese, looking very decadent, haha, especially after two flights to Russia:
This tiny rolling pin is a gift from my friend Jana, who arrived from Germany to see us in Venezia, which was really great (and I miss this possibility to fly to another country for just about nothing…). We made pasta with a very hot arrabbiata sauce and aubergines. Next day we ate at a restaurant called Ai Sportivi (Centro Storico rio terá Canal No. 3052, Venezia Italia), very close to the apartment we were staying in. There we got our enormous luscious pizza formaggi e melanzane ‘per una persona‘ as they said (although the dough was thin as opposed to the deep-dish Neapolitan pizza, the topping was so nutritious that we had to take the leftovers home). It’s funny that next time we went there, the pizza was burnt and they were obviously saving on cheese and they did not give us the traditional grissini (bread sticks) which in Italy they provide along with the cutlery… Well, I will certainly remember the first pizza =)
The meat’s for my Dad of course but kind of fits in the photo. You should have seen the other sausage we bought, it looked really odd, all thin and rolled into a knob, very spicy but perfect according to my Dad.
This is the second type of cheese we bought in Belluno, the case the cheese in (already with this blue mold but completely untouched inside) is solid and the cheese itself is soft and rubbery, something like the fake suluguni we get in Russia (the one which doesn’t have the fiber-like structure). Here it is cut in two, pictured with whole-wheat biscuits and not Italian pasta;) we actually stuffed it with this cheese and baked it – mmm!:
As for other eating culture ‘shocks’ (at least for my parents) – they eat soup for dinner. And what soup, mmmm, boosted with all the greens from the garden which were preserved in a separate freezer for the winter meals. It was thick and delicious and noooo meat involved! (those who met me know that I normally do not skip soup, especially in winter).
I’m no blue cheese addict or mold-anything either, but this thing… well, there was something in it maybe because it was a travelling mold, which was birn due to a long way back from the North of Italy to the North of Russia:
mmm, basil! And again that soft cheese pictured with the Petits Pains:
And oh, fruit & vegetables are wonderful there even in winter, they have this Sicilian
mafia producers which supply the rest of the country with those attractive and delicious fresh peppers, tomatoes etc etc. We were surprised when we got grated raw carrots in the insalata (salad) in the restaurant and then the same thing was served in my friend’s house. The surprise is caused by the fact that in our Russian salads carrots are usually boiled, mostly because they are unfortunately not very tasty raw. And also because carrots are a bit disregarded here, considered to be only appropriate in soups or something like Olivie (and even the traditional Northern carrot pies – which are rarely seen anyway – they too have the carrots cooked of course). When I got to France, I was eating them each day (that’s why my hair grew there so fast!), just couldn’t get enough of those tasty raw carrots!
And now for the patient you – the recipe! Just as the above mentioned Petits Pains, this recipe is very basic but a very successful one:
This is Italian Bread adapted from about.com which will make 2 tight super-white loaves (baguette-style but the crumb is much denser) in just about no time.
The recipe is easy and I somehow could resist my habit of adding some wholewheat flour or bran to the virgin white all purpose flour… I used less water and thus less flour and that was it, no other changes! =) The only thing – I happened to leave the already shaped loaves for more than 20 minutes during the second rise but somehow that did not affect their appearance.
The result: super!
Here the bread is pictured with some completely NON Italian cheese – this is what we are used to eat here in Russia, and this is a nice version of what you normally see in the shops here, usually it’s just plain Rossijski cheese which has no particular flavour. God, I already miss the Italian cheeses!
More of that multicoloured Italian pasta which my friend – the same one who heroically brought the LOTR from the USA, weighing like a pretty heavy bag of potatoes – gave me as a present for the New Year. I cooked this pasta before the journey but already apprehending the inevitable Italian post, I made some photos. BTW, there are numerous shocks connected with pasta. Pasta is served as the first course, for example (and not the soup as it is in Russia). And did you know that the birds in Italy feed on… pasta? We were passing the same restaurant on the way to the centre of Venezia and spotted the birds making bazar (hubbub, the word actually means bazaar) around the scattered garbage. They were eating dried pasta! Truly Italian birds, 100%. Another and probably last ‘shock’ was that pasta is not considered a kind of bread product and so it’s eaten with bread (the same thing applies to Greeks). Italians eat a lot of bread and who wouldn’t since it’s so tasty there!
I first boiled the pasta and then cooked it slightly a bit more together with some mushrooms and herbs and here’s the result:
I’m both reluctantly and eagerly searching for a job (chronically unemployed! but… Non per questo crollerà il mondo! I keep telling myself), gradually meeting with my friends, and yes, mostly doing nothing but baking and reading LOTR. And also thinking, because once your mind gets rid of the job-related issues, it switches directly to all the remaining ones, especially when there are these crazy Tit birds (Russian: sinitsa) producing their characteristic chirruping which always puts my mind into a spring mood (the sound reminds me of the rusty swings in the yard). And the spring mood means a total mess and lots of ideas and this apprehension of something new and great. But it’s still winter, children are more eager to slide from the banks of the river than to occupy the swings… Would love spring to come, I’m waiting for it.