You guys know me well enough to realize that I will be talking about food. Every day.
For our first night in the villa we had a lovely woman come and cook for us. The villa smelled simply amazing and she deftly prepared a four course meal while keeping the kitchen completely clean. That is a skill I need to work on. I can make a four course meal, but the kitchen would look like a train wreck.
I have done some reading about Italian cooking. In fact, it is my absolute favorite way of cooking at home. They use fresh, local ingredients, with many vegetables and healthy oils. The pasta is cooked al dente, and has a firm bite, unlike the soggy pasta we are used to eating in the US. The dinners are served later than we usually eat at home. Most restaurants don’t even open for the evening meal until seven pm. Dinner usually comes in four courses: appetizers (antipasta), pasta course, main dish (usually a meat with veggies), and dessert.
For appetizers we had two kinds of bruschetta and a vegetable tart. One bruschetta was layered with gorgonzola cheese, prosciutto, and locally gathered asparagus. The other was freshly shaved Parmesan with sausage. The vegetable tart was my favorite. It was filled with zucchini and other vegetables, with very light pastry.
For the pasta course we had orchietta (little ear shaped pasta) with sautéed turnip greens and red onions. The pasta had a definite bite and was more firm than even I cook it, and I try hard to not overcook pasta. I have read that pasta, when cooked the way it should be, is slowly absorbed into your blood stream rather than giving you the massive insulin release you get when eating overcooked pasta. In overcooked pasta the starches have already converted to sugar. So, if you are a pasta lover but deny yourself, just don’t overcook it. And eat it as part of the meal, instead of the main dish. I loved this pasta dish. Since we just planted spring veggies before we left, I think I could replicate this with beet greens, chard, and spinach.
The main dish was small veal and pork meatballs cooked in a rosemary scented tomato sauce, served with white cannelini beans. I loved the well seasoned meatballs paired with the bland but comforting white beans. What a marvelous pairing! I will definitely be trying this at home. The salad served at this time was perfect. It was a fennel bulb salad with cut oranges and chopped fennel tops. I have never had raw fennel before and I loved it. It has a slight anise flavor to it, and it is crunchy but tender at the same time. There was a very light vinegar dressing to tie all the flavors together. Fennel is not easy to find at home, but I will keep trying.
The dessert made me swoon. It was a chocolate mousse. Now, usually I am not impressed by chocolate mousse. It just seems overrated. But this was the best mousse I have ever had and one of the tastiest desserts I have had in a long time. There were flakes of bittersweet chocolate, and the texture of the mousse was fluffy yet dense at the same time. The chocolate was biting and strong. Just the way I like it! I am sure starting with supreme ingredients is the way to go with this dessert.
I am looking forward to collecting ideas about food from Italy. I think the way they cook is a model of excellent healthy eating. In that one meal we had zucchini, leeks, tomatoes, asparagus, fennel, and oranges. The main dish, full of fiber and protein, was very filling and satisfying. And dessert was not large but a perfect ending. Everything was made from scratch with no cans or processed foods. Even the dark chocolate and full fat dairy in the dessert has noted health benefits (if used in moderation, of course).
Today we are visiting some ancient Etruscan villages. And along the way, we are tracking down a gelato shop recommended to me by two different people. We will be having lunch in a traditional trattoria. I will let you know how it goes!