a foodie in italy

my family has wanted to take a vacation to italy for quite some time. and after years of racking up their air miles, we finally loaded the family onto a plane and made a 30-hour trek to italy. 3 planes, a bus ride and two trains later, we arrived in cinque terre - one of the most picturesque spots on the italian riviera. we stayed for three nights in monterosso, the northernmost town of the five little cities, and from there explored the beaches and terraced vineyards throughout cinque terre. perhaps our most delightful meal was in corniglia - a town famous for it's wine production and it's specialty sciacchetra dessert wine. after hiking up the hill from the train station, my sister and i stumbled over a wee little wine bar set in a hillside garden. dirt floor. vines hanging over our tables. candles seemingly floating in the air, placed all throughout the wine bar. we had to stop in for a few drinks and an appetizer. the sciaccetra was served with cantucci - or as we call them here, biscotti - classic to dip your cookies into the wine. the couple next to us however, ordered the most intriguing colorful drink, so intriguing that we asked them what it was and discovered for the first time italy's most popular drink: the aperol spritz. aperol is an italian aperatif, similar to campari only lighter in alcohol content. it is made with bitter orange and rhubarb to give it an intense orange color. spritz are simply made with a slice of orange, aperol and italy's version of club soda (prosecco). i had no idea how popular they were until i asked a waiter in bellagio if they had spritz, to which he replied with a laugh and told me "yes, you are still in italy"...
my family spent the remainder of our week together in lucca - an ancient walled city in the heart of tuscany. we stayed in an amazing 14th century bed and breakfast with lovely breakfasts of soft boiled eggs and cured meats along with bowls of fresh fruit. from lucca, we took a day trip out into the tuscany farm land to visit our hosts' friend's winery, fattoria maionchi. there, we had our own private tour of the vineyards, cellars, and a tasting of all of their wines. leaving rather tipsy, we made our way on to another fattoria (farm) for a light lunch of tuna stuffed peppers and wild boar pasta. it was everything and more that i imagined tuscany to be.

there are too many amazing meals of pastas, gnocchi and wood-fired pizzas to describe in full detail. but i will mention some of the highlights and describe some of the smaller bits of pleasure we enjoyed. perhaps my favorite things were antipastis - appetizers... the cheese and meat plates, piles of prosciutto over melon slices, smoked local fish, orange-pine nut gelato and tart yogurt gelato, limoncello liquor made from the zests of lemons grown in moterosso, or lemon juice slushies to cool off after a day at the beach, macchiatos and biscotti and many many aperol spritz.
*left to right... aperol spritz with bruchetta antipasti; lemon risotto with lake como fried fish; lemons in moterosso; house smoked trout and sword fish; cheese plate at linea d'ombra; lobster pasta with fresh tomatoes; raspberry tiramisu with espresso creme; caprese with oregano and buffalo mozzarella

after a week of travel with my family of four, i made my way to milan to pick up jonathan. from there, we hopped straight onto a train to lake como where we took a ferry to bellagio. it was wonderful to slow down our pace, relax and just enjoy the small, quite little town of bellagio. eat, drink, nap, sun, gelato, eat, drink... this cycle went on for 3 days, intermixed with little ferry trips to other areas of the lake. we had some wonderful lake front meals, but i think my favorite evening was spent sipping hot chocolate and macchiatos and munching on cookies while watching the nightly thunderstorms. still warm and pleasant when under cover, but rain and lightning would hit the lake each night around 9pm. magnificent!

after lake como, we took another train to venice. gorgeous as it may be, the city is overflowing with tourists and trash. we woke up at 5 in the morning on the second day just so we could go walk the town for a few hours before all the other tourists woke up. it was amazing to feel like we had venice to ourselves, but we did see a lot of trash and a very small, overworked crew of street cleaning folk. you would think that with all the money coming in through tourism, the city would reinvest into keeping the city clean and enjoyable. my other gripe, was that of all the places in italy i was shocked that venice had the worst food. perhaps it's simply because there are just too many tourists and that is who these restaurants cater too. or if you do want to find quality food, you will pay a hefty bill. and we did exactly that. we splurged on a mouthwatering, four course meal at the waterfront restaurant of linea d'ombra, one of venice's most romantic and creative restaurants. their inch-thick wine list was rather intimidating (picture above), but our server kindly guided us through our selection process to a locally produced pinot grigio that paired lovely with our seafood-rich meal and cheese platters.
our other foodie highlight in venice was visiting harry's bar for the original bellini. a simple drink of white peach puree and prosecco, bellinis are famous all over italy and originated from this funky historical bar in venice. our meal there was overpriced (good grief!) but we were happy to sit and cool of in the bar, sipping our bellinis for a few hours to escape from all the hustle and bustle of the thousands of tourists just outside the door.

our final destination was bologna. a college town in central italy in the middle of all of the major food producers - parma cheese and ham are made in the area. my parents went on a food tour here and reported back all sorts of interesting facts and tid bits. bologna itself is filled with college students, bars, restaurants and lots of shopping. but the best part about the city are the delis. oh how i wish we could have delis like these here in seattle!! the selection of meats, cheeses, oils, balsamic, sweets, pastas... are all locally made and absolutely delicious. i could have spent days just eating from the delis. but alas, it was time to fly home. our bags stuffed with a bottle of rose wine from lake como, a huge chunk of parmesan from bologna, a fresh lemon from the vineyard outside lucca, and somehow security did not take any of these items away, hurrah! and just when we thought our food marathon had come to an end, we ended up with a seven-hour lay over in chicago that motivated us to take the train into the city. and of all possible days to visit chicago, we ran into the 'bite of chicago' food festival. and the grubbin' recommenced...

i can't wait to recreate some of the meals we had in italy. we've already gone out to track down a bottle of aperol to make spritz at home. i suspect several italian inspired dishes to appear here on the blog soon! but i'm glad to be home, back with my dog and my work. back to cooking for ourselves and seeing fiends. vacations have a magical way of making me appreciate the life i have here even more...