Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Eat! Eat!

A shop in the market area

 “Watching Italians eat. . .is a form of tourism 
the books don't tell you about. They close their 
eyes, raise their eyebrows into accent marks, 
and make sounds of acute appreciation."
~Barbara Kingsolver

 I've had one of those days where I feel as though I've accomplished nothing. After yesterday's five-hour marathon walk around Venezia, my ankles were the size and texture of throw pillows by the time I went to bed last night. It was probably best that I didn't do anything. Still, I feel blobby. I usually walk 3-5 miles each day, so not doing much has taken its toll.

Cappuccino and brioche
In light of my very lazy day, I thought that I'd talk food tonight, if you don't mind.  I haven't touched on it much except to show the occasional cappuccino here and there. Truth of the matter is, though, that I really don't eat out except at breakfast.  I can make a horrible cappuccino (below) in the apartment with the Bialetti machine that's here, but I can barely stand it. Besides, colazione (breakfast) is social hour for me, so I like eating it out.

Homemade cappuccino a la Bialetti machine

 Everywhere you turn in Bologna, there are "bars." I know I've probably explained this before, but bars are basically coffee bars that have liquor.  When I walk out of my apartment building, there are literally four bars within a 30-second walk. I only go to one, Bar Santo Stefano, because the owner was my first friend in Bologna.  Between my apartment and the Piazza Santo Stefano, there are an additional four of which I'm aware.  Other than BSS, the only other one I really like is Bar 44 which is at 44 Via Santo STefano.  The owner there is also very nice and has become a friend.

 One thing that drives me batty—but it is the way they do things—is that some bars charge a different amount if you sit at a table rather than stand at the bar.  Ok, you probably think, they're charging for table service.  In most cases, you have to carry your own drink/pastry to your seat. For that privilege, you get to pay at least double.  The worst I ever saw was in Venice when Mike and I were there in 2010.  We went to a bar, ordered the cappuccino and pastry, and sat down.  When we went to pay, what would have cost us 5 euro had we stood at the bar, cost us 18 euro because we sat. 

Honking big espresso machine
In the late afternoon, most bars offer appetizers with drinks.  Many have little buffets set out, and other give you a platter or bowl of something like chips, nuts, olives, etc.  Sunday afternoon, I decided I wanted to sit and watch people, so I sat down at an outside cafe.  They brought me my prosecco and a bowl of chips (below) for 4 euro.  The  prosecco was good, but the chips? Probably leftovers from the night before.

(Side note: There is no law requiring bars or restaurants to throw out bread or chips or whatever they've taken from your table. I've seen waiters take a basket of bread that people have eaten from and place it on another table. I skip bread and such at restaurants.)

Working tableside
When I was in Italian class, I did go for lunch with my friends from the school. Most of the places we went were okay, but I was getting sick of pasta.  I know that anyone who knows me will probably fall over reading that, but I seriously was sick of tagliatelle bolognese.  My goodness. Make something else, people.

Caramelle prosciutto e asparagi

  Probably the best pasta I had out was at a little place, Trattoria dal Bissanott, on a side street away from the tourist area. I ordered Caramelle prosciutto e asparagi (above), a handmade pasta filled with cheese. It had a very light cream sauce with prosciutto and asparagus pieces in it. It gets its name (caramelle) from the fact that they fill the dough and twist it to look like little caramels.  It was delightful.

Plain, good salad

 I also had a good salad one afternoon when I just didn't want pasta anymore.  The mixed greens (above) had a light dressing of just oil and balsamic vinegar (They do not have a million different dressings in Italy. If you don't like oil and vinegar, I'm not sure what you do.).  Topped with aged parmigiano and pancetta (Italian bacon), it was wonderful.

True Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese wheels
 Speaking of parmigiano, I was walking by the market area of Bologna the other day when one of the shops received a shipment of parmigiano cheese (above). The shop received two pallets, each containing five wheels of cheese.  They cut the 85-pound wheels and sell it in much smaller packages (below).

Different cheese cut

To make true Parmigiano-Reggiano (Parmesan to Americans), the cheesemakers have strict formulas. The two basic ingredients are whey and salt, and the cheese ages about 12-24 months (and, you can tell a difference).  Once it reaches maturity, a master "grader" tests it, and if it passes, the cheese gets a seal.

 Interestingly, only cheese made in this specific region of Italy is actually Parmigiano-Reggiano, and the name is trademarked and protected by both the Italian and European Union governing bodies.  Any imitation cheese made elsewhere may not use the name.  In other words, if a store anywhere in the EU sells what we call Kraft Parmesan Cheese, the label here reads, Parmello.

 In Italian class last month, one of the exercises we had to do was tell what our favorite Italian pastry is. A lot of people said they love tiramisu (above) or cannoli (below).  In case you don't know, tiramisu consists of lady fingers dipped in espresso, mascarpone cheese (whipped with eggs and sugar), Marsala wine, rum and cocoa powder. Cannoli are a fried pastry shell filled with a creamy center that usually contains ricotta.  I'm not wild about either, although I will eat them on occasion.

 My absolute favorite Italian pastry, though, is a good crostata or crostatina (below). They are basically an Italian version of a pie. The crust, though, is more of a shortbread, and the filling adds just the right amount of sweetness to it.  I personally love the apricot, although the amarena (sour cherry) and Nutella (of course) are right up there.


 Of course, I wouldn't turn down gelato or anything that had Nutella (below) in it, either.

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