Drink Category

An EDD-ter’s Tour of Italy – Siena

One of the most wonderful surprises during our trip was the medieval village of Siena in Tuscany. It’s easy to imagine princes and princesses, dukes and dragons, and all manner of swords and sorcery while walking the narrow cobblestone streets of this town.

It’s also easy to gawk at the tempting nibbles of salami, formaggio, and gelato along your stroll.

So much of the town seemed untouched in the rainy drizzle of the November morning when we arrived. We made our way slowly toward the famous Piazza del Campo that when entering felt much like emerging out of a dense jungle into a wide ocean. It was thrilling to imagine the bartering and marketplace activity that must have happened here day in and day out in medieval times.

I must mention that this famous tower is called “The Eater’s Tower” due to its first guardian being known to spend all his money on food. Was this a prophetic sign for things to come?

But nothing could have prepared us for the Duomo in Siena and its adjoining cathedral. Towering above all the orange brick buildings of Siena are the dramatic black and white marble towers of this incredible gothic cathedral. It appears adorned on every corner of its outer facade with elaborate carvings of medieval creatures and intricate designs. And within its walls, every inch is crafted with purpose and care – a testament to the time, sacrifice and devotion its artists had for this structure. We were extremely lucky as well to have viewed the legendary marble-etched floor inside which was uncovered in its entirety (only 6 weeks out of year)!

I also must mention the Piccolomini Library that felt alive when I walked into it. Its wonderfully preserved Renaissance frescoes teeming with gold inlay and brightly colored detail, as well as, an amazing collection of medieval choir books took me back in time to something akin to a historical fairytale.

As we left the cathedral, we walked as if in a waking dream and only snapped back into reality when our stomachs started growling and we absolutely had to find the perfect dining experience to go along with our new found love for Siena.

And we found it – Antica Osteria Da Divo.

Da Divo is housed in ancient Etruscan rooms cut out of the ‘tufa’, the soft volcanic rock on which Siena is built. Cozily lit and surrounded by exposed ancient rock walls, we settled into our table and couldn’t believe our luck in not only finding the place but squeaking in with a last-minute reservation.

We had an array of rustic yet elegant Tuscan dishes that ranged from crispy breaded anchovy fillets pungent with extra virgin olive oil, famous Florentine-style T-bone steak carved table side, Senelese style pasta – thick and chewy – in a rich robust wild boar ragu flavored with whole juniper berries, and an indulgent porcini mushroom risotto finished table side in a Tuscan pecorino cheese wheel. Unbelievable.

We finished off our many courses with plenty of Chianti Classico and homemade Italian cookies with espresso. Oh, and there was a chocolate lava cake – more chocolaty than sickly sweet – that just happened to appear on our table.

Needless to say we were seriously delirious and pretty slap-happy when we finally stood up after the hours of warm-cozy-delicious-sumptuous-all-day-sight(eat)seeing in Siena.

The cold drizzle outside was a welcome embrace when we walked outside. Again we were immediately transported back in time except now the village looked excitingly dangerous in the dark.

Somehow we found our way back to our car and sadly bid farewell to Siena.

We vowed to return one day.

But now, it was time to head to Florence.

p.s. Don’t forget to check Food Pix for more photos from Siena!

An EDD-ters Tour of Italy – Rome

Buon giorno! Or should I say, buon appetito!

I’ve just returned from a magnificent trip to Italy where its sights, smells and tastes continue to imprint themselves on my culinary consciousness every day. And although I’ve only just scraped the surface of what Italy offers in terms of its proud but also surprisingly simple cuisine, one thing is for certain – ingredients are tantamount to the Italian experience. Whether they are foraged at their peak like the porcini’s or favolosi’s that were in season or roasted until caramel-ly sweet like the chestnuts I ate hot off the street, every ingredient, every cook used in every pizzeria, caffeteria, rosticceria, or osteria was prepared with love and respect.

Food across the board in Italy was fresher, more flavorful, and for lack of a better word, more “real.” The higher quality ingredients Italians use are not only apparent in how beautifully red-ripe the San Marzano’s look; you can bet that tomato is going to have the fragrant grassy sweet flavor and aroma that makes a tomato a tomato. Remember what that used to be like?

Of course this isn’t news for a lot of you, but I can’t stress enough the startling differences I tasted in such simple foods as tomato foccacia, arugula salad, or pork sausage as during my travels in Italy. Flavors popped and delighted and lingered. And it was wonderful.

Rome

Pizzerias of all kinds were everywhere in Rome. Whether the pizzas are oval, circular, or square, they were deliciously adorned with all manner of fresh toppings and glistening green extra virgin olive oil. They glittered like jewels behind those glass cases, except these ones you can eat! My favorite – sliced porcini with cherry tomatoes – was one I ate on the go from this little place near the Trevi Fountain.

This was the first hot food I ate when I touched down in Rome, and I craved the combination, especially the juicy meaty porcini’s, throughout the entire trip!

Babbo’s

As we were challenged with only a few days in Rome and had not strictly established where to have dinner every night, there were bound to be some misses in the bunch. We decided to wander around our hotel neighborhood after a very full day that included the Colosseum, St. Peter in Chains, The Roman Forum and A LOT more walking all over Rome. We settled on a bustling place called Babbo’s.

The most memorable parts of my dinner at Babbo’s were the long colorful dreadlocks on the zia taking our order and two Chinese tourists – the pair strangely Abbott and Costello-ish – wolfing down their pasta like some niu rou mien back home. The skinny one ate twice as fast as the chubby one and would spend the rest of the time watching the other eat (was that disgust I saw in his eyes)? Hilarious.

The food was uninspired, but I appreciated the freshness of the ingredients and the place was energetic and bustling, making for some fun people watching. The complimentary Vin Santo and cantuccini after dinner was appreciated as well. 🙂

Ristorante Pizzeria “Andrea”

Finally, a revelation.

Frustrated with not being able to fully capture Rome on our palettes and leaving for Tuscany later in the day, the Fates intervened and we stumbled upon this neighborhood trattoria and al forno pizzeria. I saw fresh made pasta in the window, and a warm soul of a woman (Andrea) chatting with some locals sprinkled about, and took one last chance.

Feast your eyes on some of the dishes that filled our souls.

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One of these I actually end up eating again on our last day in Italy. Can you guess which?

Yep, it was the fresh homemade fettucini della casa d’Andrea. The pasta is tossed in Andrea’s own mushroom and truffle cream sauce – each noodle luxuriously but not overzealously coated with an emulsion of these wonderfully complementary ingredients.

The traditional Roman bucatini amatriciana was fully dressed in a robust zesty tomato sauce – each hollow noodle bursting with sauce as one chewed the smokey bits of pancetta. The trippa a la romana – another traditional Roman dish – was also sensational. If you like honeycomb tripe, this dish is so rich, rustic and homey. Plate me up some trippa a la romana and a big hunk of shatteringly crusty bread, and watch as it seems I’m sinking into an invisible hot tub.

The proscuitto di parma in the salumi misti was so delectably sweet and so incredibly fresh, I pretty much hogged the entire portion for myself (sorry Jordan!). The little anchovy stuffed peperoncino was a spicy surprise along with each piece of cured meat as well. I should mention Andrea came by whilst we were enjoying ourselves to say hello and also pick some fresh peperoncino from the planter hanging above our heads.

I was tempted to stalk her as she returned to the kitchen, then beg her to teach me everything she knew. At least the fettucini, please Andrea!? But I chickened out. I figured there was no way I wasn’t coming back here before we left Italy, so I would have another chance. Mwahaha.

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Now, with our bellies full and crooked grins across each of our faces, we were ready to leave Rome and set off in our mini-Mercedes rental car on the A1 out to Tuscany.

Next up: Siena, cooking at the Castello di Tornano, and Florence!