“This is the best tomato I think I have ever had!” my son exclaims.
I reply, in my typical sarcastic way.
“That is actually what a tomato is supposed to taste like.”
One of my favorite things about traveling to Europe is the food and the simplicity of it. People often think when you travel to a place like France or Italy you will be bombarded with rich and heavy food similar to what you would find in an Italian or French restaurant in the States.
My experience has been much different and instead, I find the food simpler, healthier and more satisfying overall. The plates do not include heaping servings we have become accustomed to in this country. The vegetables are fresh and flavorful and my son is correct in observing that the tomatoes do not taste like the ones we buy in the supermarket – basically tasteless. I was in awe of the fact that I could order a salad at any establishment and then was presented with something fresh and delicious. Typically, I am very picky about where I order a salad because it can often taste like it came out of a bag and often contains lots of lettuce and not a whole lot of anything else.
One of the highlights of our recent trip to Italy was not only eating the food but learning a bit where it comes from. We learned tomatoes which are synonymous to Italy are not indigenous to Italy at all but rather were brought to Italy by Spanish Conquistadors from South America in the mid 16th century.
As we ate lots of fresh cheese and olive products we reflected back to our trip in Sorrento to learn more about how these foods are delivered to our table.
We visited a family cheese factory and learned about the cheese making process. At 2 am every morning the process begins and shipments of fresh mozzarella are delivered hours later to local restaurants and markets. Every day. That fresh. They utilize every residual ingredient and make fresh ricotta and butter and aged cheeses as well. Cheese Factory
Our next stop to a local family run limoncello factory dating back to 1875. Limoncello can be an acquired taste for some and a delicious digestif and after dinner drink at the end of a meal. Limoncello is made from lemon peels, soaked in grain alcohol with added water and sugar. This business hand peels each lemon unlike some of the larger facilities. Limencello Factory
Finally a stop to another family business, an olive oil factory. The harvest begins at the end of October so we could not see the process but instead learned of the process of shaking the olives from the trees by hand and then were shown the machinery used to press the olives with the pits to create an olive oil. The best part was the tasting at the end of our tour. Olive Oil Factory
In Italy, the dining experience is one of leisure. There is definitely an adjustment as we are typically used to having an “in and out” experience at home. In Italy, we often needed to flag someone down to take our order, to request another drink and it could be especially challenging when it came time to getting the check. No one is in a rush. We could sit for hours and the enormous number of outdoor cafés lining the streets.
Here are some highlights of my food diary. I was able to get some great photos despite my family telling me to put my camera away! Here are some pictures of some of the wonderful food we experienced.
Love the pizza for lunch. Thin crust. Fresh. Sauce. No Sauce.
PASTA. PASTA. It is not Italy without homemade pasta.
Linguine Vongole (fresh clams), Gnocchi Sorrentino, Pasta with lemon cream and tomatoes, Risotto with yellow tomatoes and seafood, Pasta with clams, anchovies and olives, Pasta Amatriciana. Pasta with veal. Cold pasta with eggplant, tomatoes, and breadcrumbs.
Pasta with clams baked in parchment paper- tossed at our table
Fish sautéed in lemons of Sorrento
Prosciutto of course..
And some meat dishes.
Are you hungry yet? These are all local restaurants that do not “break the bank” but the food certainly presents itself like that. Our last night in Sorrento we did dine at a top restaurant with one Michelin Star and the food presentation fabulous.
And of course not to forget dessert.
The United States has seen a “farm to table” movement and what strikes me is how much Italy embraces this concept normally and for us, it is a movement with often a premium charged at restaurants that serve the freshest farm food. I sometimes laugh because I grew up in Upstate NY in the country. I am talking the COUNTRY. There were cows in my backyard when my parents moved into their house. My father had a large garden and in the summer all our vegetables came from the garden. Living in the Boston area I have submitted to eating less tasty food only because getting farm fresh produce, meat and cheese is more difficult.
Now back to reality. I realize I am not moving to Italy anytime soon. Instead, I feel inspired to cook simply this summer and try to re-create many of the simple dishes we had in Italy. I am stocked with my Italian spices, olive oil, limoncello and lots of memories of some wonderful food.
Here are 3 of my favorite recipes I make at home to share with you offering a small taste of Italy.
Herbed Ricotta Bruschettas
Linguine with Shrimp Scampi
Roasted Fish in Parchment Paper