Tag Archives: italy

The Food of Italy

I just got back from a trip to Italy, and, as you can imagine, the food was, on the whole, pretty fucking incredible. My wife and I did three stops: Rome, Venice and Milan.

This could get crazy long so I’m just going to jump right into my truncated reviews.

ROME

L’Archaeologie

We hit this place for a quick lunch after touring the catacombs. Excellent pasta dishes, and this was technically our first meal in Italy. We only had two pasta dishes.

Pici carbonara:

Tagliolini with porn cheek and artichokes:

Osteria Barberini

This place had some amazing pasta. This was our first dinner in Rome, and it was a joint that was highly recommended by friends and family who had been here before.

We tried two pasta dishes; cacio e pepe, served in a bowl made of crisped cheese, and a chitarra pasta with shrimp and a ground pistachio pesto.

We also had a stuffed artichoke, and dessert…

Roscioli

This salume joint turned restaurant was highly recommended by friends and fellow foodies.

It was pretty crowded, so we sat at the bar. We kept it somewhat simple, with a plate of meats and cheeses, pasta and meatballs.

We also took in some dessert, because “when in Rome.”

Baladin (Local Brewery Bar)

This place had a great selection of local craft beers.

Bonci

Anthony Bourdain featured this pizza joint on his layover show, so we had to check it out. It was pretty fantastic.

My favorite slices were the traditional and the onion with ham.

La Prosciutteria

One thing you see a lot of in the cities of Italy are meat shops that offer amazing platters of salume for very good prices.

This is one of them. I was pretty much in heaven here, and I was annoyed that we had just eaten and couldn’t do a bigger platter.

Da Enzo

Nestled on a small street near the river, this Trastevere staple was known for their fried artichoke (which was incredible) and their ox tail. We got both, of course, along with some lasagna.

Tonnarello

I had to stop into this place just because I saw that they had “chocolate sausage” on the menu. I was thinking “Lexington Steele,” but what came out was like fudge and cake pressed into a delicious dessert log and then sliced up, served cold.

But look at the fried artichoke they had on display outside.

Gelato Shops: Giolitti and Fatamorgana

Giolitti was in the main part of Rome, and Fatamorgana was in the Trastevere neighborhood. Both served up some amazing pistachio gelato, and we even tried some Sicilian Cream flavors as well. So good. Giolitti was a full-on pastry shop as well, while Fatamorgana was just gelato.

Pasticcerie (Pastry Shops)

Pasticceria da Te is small Trastevere shop goes almost unnoticed, as there is no signage out front. We tried some chiacchiere or crostoli, which are crispy fried snacks that are often eaten when celebrating Carnivale.

 

At Forno Campo de Fiori, we tried some little doughnut balls and other patries, like sfoglie.

VENICE

Un Mondo Vino

Happy hour is big in Venice. Wines are even cheaper than usual, and they serve up “chichetti” – which are pre-prepared savory snacks – to go with the wine.

We found this little hole in the wall, called “A World of Wine,” as we were walking around. It was filled with locals, so we knew we were in a good spot. We warmed up with some hot mulled spice wine, as it was below freezing and crazy windy that day.

Osteria Ai Promessi Sposi

This little joint, tucked away down a lonesome alley, was recommended by friends of ours as a great place to eat.

Venice is known for seafood, so that’s what we were after (though the steak on the menu was really tempting). We came here at 6pm, right when they opened, and it was still crowded. Usually people don’t eat dinner until about 8pm or 9pm. But now I know why it was so crowded – the food was amazing.

Super tender braised cuttlefish with a rich, buttery black ink sauce. Usually I hate ink sauces because they taste way too fishy. This was amazing. I was slurping it up.

My grilled calamari just didnt compare to that cuttlefish dish, but it was still excellent.

Starters were burrata and mixed seafood in broth.

Gam Gam

We stopped in this joint when another restaurant nearby that we wanted to try was too crowded. This is Israeli Kosher food. I wasn’t overly impressed, but the artichoke heart dishes were delicious. One fried, one sauteed.

We also had some meze type dips, and a pappardelle pasta dish with mushrooms.

La Cantina

This joint sort of fell flat for us. The meat platter was expensive, although it was good quality and all hand cut. The seafood platter was nice too, but way overpriced. Perhaps they were trying to recoup some funds after their flood a few years back.

Alla Palazzina

After meandering around Venice looking for a late night spot to eat, we stumbled across this corner joint. Ravioli with mushroom and truffle, and a scallop and shrimp dish.

Rialto Market

What an amazing market. Fresh produce and fresh fish. And the artichoke hearts!

And all around the area are cheese vendors and butcher shops, too. My kind of spot!

Yeah – that’s horse salami.

Coffee & Pastries

These coffee shops could put Starbucks out of business if they were in the US.

And the frittelle in Venice are fucking outstanding. They’re like zeppoli, kind of, but they are often made with a flavored dough or filled with raisins, nuts, etc.

Cookies that look like fish.

A lot of these shops also sell savory items too, like pizza and panini sandwiches. Venice style pizza is more like NY thin crust.

So freaking good.

MILAN

Meucci Pizza

This was a quick lunch. We each ordered a mini pie and shared. The pizza styles are different in every city. Rome was like puffy square (what we would call Sicilian), Venice was circular and flat (like NYC style, as I mentioned above) and Milan was somewhere right in between: circular and slightly puffy.

Salsamenteria di Parma

This is another one of those wine and meat shops I mentioned above. This one was incredible. We got so much food for $20, along with free amaro afterwards. I want to go back right now.

Osteria di Brera

For our last meal in Italy, we had to try the osso buco in Milan, which is supposed to be one of the region’s specialties. It was pretty tender and flavorful! Also hit some pasta as well.

Pasticcerie (Pastry Shops)

We did a lot of browsing in these hops. I think we had a bite at one spot but I can’t remember what or where.

Like all over Italy, the bakeries also sell savory breads.

Conclusion

Italy is absolutely amazing. On our next trip, we plan to hit six more distinct locations: Amalfi coast, Sicily, Tuscany, Florence, Lake Como and Capri.

Salumi

A recent trip to Italy renewed my interest in, and appreciation for, all things “sliced meaty.” I thought I’d seize the opportunity, capitalize on my rekindled passion for this delicious shit, and dive a fuckload deeper into the various types of salumi with a detailed-as-balls educational post for you assholes.

Check it out you savages. This was an actual street name in Trastevere, Rome:

In case you’re a complete dunce, that means “Street of Salumi.” I like to call it Meat Street, if you will, which is where I’m about to take your ass right now.

A photo posted by Johnny Prime (@johnnyprimecc) on

So just what exactly is salumi? Generally, it’s any food product made from pig meat (usually), especially cured meats, such as salami. That’s not super explicit, and some salumi even involve beef, but essentially we’re talking Italian pork-based “cold cuts” here.

One thing we all love is prosciutto. Prosciutto is a TRUE salume (singular of salumi), meaning it’s a whole cut of animal, usually a leg or shoulder. A leg gets hung to cure, and later it is sliced and eaten.

Then there are items that involve ground meat, like salami and salsicce (sausage). Salami are smoked, air dried or salted, and then left to age. Salsicce is either raw or cooked slightly, and is a kind of salame (singular of salami).

Okay so salumi, salami: is that like potayto, potahto? Nope. Salumi is more of an umbrella term. All salami are salumi, but not all salumi are salami. Get it? Of course you don’t, because it’s fucking confusing. You had to go back and read that twice, didn’t you? I did. Maybe a Venn Diagram will help illustrate the point better:

Okay so let’s ignore the umbrella salumi term, since it’s kind of useless for our purposes here. I’m going to give you some info about the two major types of Italian meats: true salumi and salami.

TRUE SALUMI

As mentioned earlier, these are cured meats that have been made from a whole cut of animal, usually a leg/thigh or shoulder.

Prosciutto

Prosciutto is a dry-cured leg o’ pig, and is probably the most common salume. These legs actually hang in Italian salumeria shops like decorations. It’s amazing.

Prosciutto crudo is the uncooked version, while prosciutto cotto is the cooked version.

For crudos, you’ll often see differences in the aging time based on the regions in Italy from which the ham hails. For example, Prosciutto di Parma is usually aged about 10-12 months, while San Daniele is 15-18 months. Some regions will age their hams longer, like 24 months, to impart different flavors, increase sweetness levels, etc.

As for prosciutto cotto, think of it like a traditional cooked ham.

Speck

Speck is a type of prosciutto that’s smoked (as well as dry-salted and aged), so it has a stronger, more unique flavor.

Capocollo

This salume is usually lightly seasoned with garlic, herbs, spices and wine, but the execution differs by region. The meat is then salted, stuffed into a natural casing, and hung for up to six months to cure. The meat itself is whole muscle from the neck and shoulder areas, so it is a salume despite being stuffed into a casing.

A photo posted by Johnny Prime (@johnnyprimecc) on

Fun side note: You may have seen capocollo spelled coppa, capicollo, capicola or capicolla. It’s even referred to as “gaba-gool” by NY/NJ area Italians and the show The Sopranos (or in this case, MadTV):

Pancetta

This is Italian pork belly (bacon). It’s usually cured and sometimes spiced. They slice it thin and eat it like cold cuts over in Italy. While technically not the same, you will often see pancetta swapped out with guanciale (pork cheek) or lardo (pure fat) in many Italian dishes that traditionally call for pancetta.

Bresaola

Bresaola is a cured, lean cut of beef, often times filet mignon.

You can see it here in my wife’s video from a salumi shop in Rome called La Prosciutteria, which I refer to as fucking heaven. There are a few selections of bresaola across the top right, immediately as the video begins:

A video posted by Katherine (@thecakedealer) on

Think of it like beef carpaccio, only salted, spiced and air dried rather than sliced raw.

A photo posted by Johnny Prime (@johnnyprimecc) on

Porchetta

While this may not necessarily be a salume, it is very often found in Salumeria shops throughout Italy. With that said, and the fact that this shit is delicious as fuck, I figured I’d mention it here.

Porchetta is a savory, fatty, and moist “pork roll.” It’s essentially a boneless pork roast whereby the pig is gutted, de-boned, arranged carefully with layers of stuffing, then rolled, wrapped in skin, and spit-roasted over a flame. Stuffing usually includes rosemary, fennel, garlic and other herbs, and porchetta is usually heavily salted.

It is typically served hot, cut thick, and eaten like a main course dish with a fork and knife. However it’s also common to see it sliced thinly after cooling. It’s then put into sandwiches or served on wooden meat board platters like the other salumi discussed above.

A photo posted by Johnny Prime (@johnnyprimecc) on

SALAMI

Okay, so a recap: Salami are ground meat, encased products that are smoked, air dried or salted, and then left to age.

If you’ve ever eaten an Italian hero, you’ve eaten some of these meats. Ingredients and parts can vary. In some cases you may even see non-pig versions, like venison or elk. In Venice, I even saw horse salami:

Regional Salami

Salami varies greatly by region. In some areas of Italy, the meat is finely ground with tiny flecks of fat visible.

Other regions use a more coarse grind, use larger chunks of fat, or add spices and herbs.

My favorite varieties are the ones in which truffles are added.

Salame Piccante

The pepperoncino pepper is a mildly spicy variety of chili pepper. That pepper is what makes a salame “piccante” (spicy), as it is mixed up into the grind when making salami piccante. In the US, salami piccante is typically called “pepperoni.” However, in Italian, the word “pepperoni” actually means “bell peppers.”

Soppressata

Soppressata also varies by region and exists in different sizes and shapes, but the spice level and red coloring are both universal traits. It is almost always more coarsely ground than salami.

All that said, one can still find varieties of soppressata that aren’t quite as “hot.” While these pictures show a thinner chub, the most common forms I have seen were thicker, like three or four inches in diameter (like a giant’s penis).

‘Nduja

This delicious shit generally comes from southern Italy. It’s an aged, spicy, spreadable salami “paste” that’s made from various parts of a pig. The spice levels are pretty hot in this product, and since it’s so soft, it is often spread onto bread like butter, or thrown into tomato-based sauces to kick them up a little bit.

Mortadella

This might be my favorite of the lot, and that’s a bonus for me, because it is usually the cheapest to buy in stores. The meat itself is similar to bologna in texture (in fact it IS bologna, since it hails from the town of Bologna). It’s extra finely ground (almost like it was processed by machine) heat-cured pork, which incorporates small cubes of pork lard.

I think mortadella is more smooth and soft than standard bologna here in the US, and it has a real porky flavor. Sometimes truffles, pistachios, olives and garlic are added for flavoring as well. Those are the best kinds. Also, lots of times these meats are formed into HUGE logs that are upwards of a foot in diameter.

Salsicce

Sausage party! The main difference here is mainly that, most times, salsicce is raw, uncured, or un-aged and needs to be cooked prior to eating. But some sausages are smoked and, thus, can be eaten as-is (like a hot dog or kielbasa).

So that about covers most of the common types of salumi you’ll see out there. I hope this information was helpful. If it wasn’t, then I should add that I don’t really give a fuck. Either way, go forth and eat this delicious meat. It will make you happy.

Urbani Truffles

I’m going to use this product review and press event post as a vehicle to deliver unto my readers a comprehensive guide to truffles. Let me begin with the education portion of this post.

What Are Truffles?

You’re probably all somewhat familiar with truffles. You occasionally see them on menus as expensive add-ons to your pasta dishes, and you may see “truffle fries” offered at a higher price than regular French fries at certain restaurants. Shavings per ounce can be quite pricey, especially for white truffles.

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But what exactly is a truffle? It’s a fungus. It’s a tuber-like fungus that grows along the roots of certain trees, like oak, hazelnut and chestnut. They are incredibly aromatic, with an intensely concentrated earthy flavor profile that’s truly unlike anything you’ve ever tasted or smelled before.

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Some people say they’re similar to mushrooms, but that’s like saying Kraft mac and cheese powder packets taste similar to piave vecchio. Not even the same ballpark. Similar to dry aged beef, fermented foods, or smoked and/or aged cheeses, truffles offer that same kind of “umami” sensation for your taste buds.

Size & Shape

They typically range in size from something like a walnut to about the size of a softball. They get to market size overnight, growing very fast, as do other members of the fungi kingdom. However it may take some time for the spore to first germinate properly.

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But just like the saying goes for dicks, “size doesn’t matter.” The same flavors exist in small or large truffles. But preference does matter (just like dicks, I would imagine). The smaller truffles are just as good in terms of quality as the larger ones. They’ll still get you off. Yet, kind of like a director’s preference for big dicks in porn, some restaurants want larger, more uniform shaped truffles so that their shavings look prettier on the plate.

Speaking of which, their shape varies based on the soil in which they grow. Soft, loose soil allows the truffle to grow and expand mostly unhindered into a more spherical shape, while harder, rocky soil will result in more odd-shaped, lumpy truffles.

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Kinds of Truffles

There are (generally) four varieties of truffle: white, black summer, black winter, and bianchetto.

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As you can see from above, there are specific seasons for harvesting each type of truffle (in Italy, that is). The neat thing is that some black truffles are grown in Australia as well, so we have access to them in the reverse seasons as well.

Each style of truffle is suited for its own unique purposes. For example, white truffles are best for shaving directly onto freshly cooked food, like eggs and pasta. Black truffles are better suited for grating and incorporating into sauces. If you see black truffles being offered for sale, per ounce, shaved directly onto a food item, my advice is to skip it. That’s not the ideal way to enjoy a black truffle, and you may not even taste anything.

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Ripeness & Storage

The best way to tell if a truffle is good is to feel it and smell it. They should be firm, but not rock solid, and definitely not mushy. The aroma should be very powerful and fill your nose with an abundance of robust earthiness. In fact it is said that some can detect up to 120 different flavors and aromas from a fresh truffle.

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Here, you can see how the degradation process occurs as a truffle goes from good, fresh and ripe to bad:

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As a truffle begins to go bad, less of those invigorating aromas come through, the truffle gets spongier, and it emits a more ammonia-like scent. Eventually a white truffle will turn more brown, as well.

The shelf-life for a fresh truffle varies from 7-10 days for white truffles, to 15-20 days for black. A truffle is about 90% water, and it will lose 3-5% of its moisture per day, so that’s why it’s so important to use them while they’re fresh. The intense, characteristic flavors and aromas come from the moisture content within the truffle.

Lots of times you see truffles stored in a box filled with rice. This isn’t a good idea, unless your goal is to infuse the rice with the flavor of truffle. The dry rice will leech out all the moisture, and thus the flavor, from the truffle. My opinion: that’s a dumb move, even if your goal is to infuse the rice. Why? Because rice dishes will never sell for or be worth an amount that’s high enough to cover the cost of the truffle you just wasted by storing it that way.

The best way to store a truffle is to individually wrap each in a paper towel, somewhere cool. It should also be put into a wooden box or a glass mason jar; not plastic, as plastic doesn’t breathe the same way. Excess humidity can build up in plastic and ruin the truffle.

Where Do They Come From?

In Italy, truffles can be found in a variety of locations, as Italian geography is ideal for producing the right weather conditions that result in truffle growth.

truffle-regions

The coveted white truffles are highly sought after when they come from the Alba, Piedmont area in the northwest, which is similar to our Napa Valley. However the demand for certain wines from that region (Barolo, Barbaresco) has created a situation where the land is being altered by vintners, with trees being removed to make way for grape vines, and chemicals being used in the soil to aid in the grape-growing process. Trees are necessary for the truffles to grow, so Alba truffles are very rare indeed. In fact, less than 3% of the truffles on the market hail from Alba, and most of the truffles from that region stay local. So be aware, if you happen to see a menu flaunting that the truffles are from Alba: it is likely a lie.

Black truffles can be “seeded” with spores and grown in other locations that have the right climate and trees, but white truffles can not. Therefore, white truffles tend to be a fuckload more expensive, as they are much more rare and localized. Think $1,000/lb.

In Italy, much of the land where truffles are hunted is public access, meaning anyone can come by (licensed truffle hunters, typically) and pick up a truffle. In other places, like Australia or the USA, the land can be owned outright so no one else can lawfully snatch up any truffles that might be growing on your tree roots.

Urbani Truffles

Now that you’ve gotten a good first lesson on truffles, I guess I can begin the product and press review portion of the post.

Urbani Truffles began in 1852 and now supplies 70% of the global market with their truffles.

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Urbani Truffles are in the hands of NYC restaurateurs within 36 hours of being dug up by their network of truffle hunters in Italy. Amazing! Truffle hunters go out with their trained sniffing dogs at night, to minimize noise and distractions for the dogs. The next morning, any truffles that were gathered are cleaned and sent to the market or shipped out on airplanes all over the world. Cleaning just requires getting the dirt and blemishes off (like a potato). If needed, some light brushing is done, but cleaners are careful to avoid direct contact with water, as that can harm the truffle.

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Take a look at this Urbani video below, which will help you visualize the entire process.

You probably noticed some truffle products in there, like oils and canned goods. Whatever Urbani doesn’t think is fit for the fresh market, they use to create various other products.

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Like their fresh truffles, these products are all top notch quality. They never use chemicals in their products, so everything is all natural. Chemicals actually taint the flavor of truffle products, and deliver too much truffle flavor and aroma up front.

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All of Urabni’s truffle products will deliver a delayed and longer lasting truffle flavor, due to their rejection of chemicals in the production process.

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I had the pleasure of sampling both their fresh truffles and some of the products they sell when I was invited to their truffle lab on West End Avenue.

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As a matter of fact, I was there while a presentation was being given to six Art Institute / International Culinary School students who were selected as the top of their classes to learn about truffles and to practice cooking with them. Talk about having a great lunch!

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First, we experienced one of the most simple and satisfying ways to enjoy fresh white truffles: shaved directly onto a fried egg.

According to Vittorio, the VP of Urbani Truffles, salt should be sprinkled on after the truffles are shaved onto the egg. Pepper can take away from the truffle flavor and aroma, so skip that.

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Truffle oil goes really nicely with flatbread and pizza. This one we tried really popped, making something as boring as zucchini really exciting for a change.

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We also sampled one of the canned truffle products: white truffle with porcini mushrooms. This was added to a pan of sauteed shallots and butter to make a sauce, which went on top of some polenta.

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This was delicious, and I can totally see this being used to spike something like gravy or even to make a sauce for the top of a filet mignon. Really flavorful – best thing I ever ate from a can.

Another item I tried was their truffle mnustard. I plan to feature this in some recipes in the future, as I think it would be an excellent addition on a cold cut sandwich or a burger.

Finally, we tried some truffle cream cheese spread as well. This, too, was plopped onto some sauteed polenta. I can’t imagine how amazing this would be on lox.

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If you’ve got room in your budget for a fresh truffle, I say go for it. Urbani delivers the freshest product I have ever experienced, and they supply big dog restaurants like French Laundry and Del Posto. Whipe up some homemade pasta, cook it, throw the pasta in a pan with some butter, fry a sunny side up egg for the top of the pasta, and shave that delicious truffle right onto it. Perfection.

But even if a fresh truffle isn’t on your to-do list, then I highly recommend picking up some of Urbani’s other products and experimenting with truffle in your own recipes that way. You can’t go wrong. Every product is amazing.

Eataly

Here’s a shameless photo-dump of some mouth watering scenery at Eataly, Flatiron’s legendary Italian food market. I suggest coming here for a long day. Get lunch, walk around, taste shit, walk around some more, taste more shit, and then sit for dinner. Enjoy the food porn, you bastards.

Front signage:

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Hallway: like a department store for food.

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Desserts:

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Signage for what looks like a great roasted meats sandwich joint:

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CHEESE!

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Nice looking seafood:

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“Meat: restaurant:

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Shellfish:

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Eaters:

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 Of course I managed to find the meat counter:

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 Pasta shelves. There are rows and rows of aisles like this.

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Expensive fois gras:

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Bread bakery:

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Pizza:

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