Eating Our Way Across Italy

Large lemons

Our tour guide on the Amalfi Coast demonstrates the size of lemons used to make Limoncello. They've got Texas beat on this one!

Saturday 7:00 PM on the airplane coming home from Italy:
Because this day started at 4:00 in the morning, Venice time, it has stretched far longer than the God-appointed 24 hours. I’ve had 4 meals, 1/2 bag of pistachios, 1/4 bag of peanuts, 1/4 bag of a huge container of popcorn, and I’m currently nursing a mix of Diet Sierra Mist and orange juice as offered by an American flight attendant. My weary and jet-lagged stomach is starting to complain and ask, “Where’s the salad in a jar?”

3:00 AM Sunday morning back at home:
Can’t sleep. My body thinks it should be awake. Decide to reminisce and finish blogging about our trip before the memories slip through the cracks of my everyday-life routine.

Many months ago:
When our friends Jerry and Debbie mentioned a trip to Italy together, we marked our calendars. Debbie made most of the plans because she has been there multiple times and organizing is her gift. It doesn’t hurt that her maiden name is Guardalabene. (Hope I spelled it right, Debbie.) Her grandparents immigrated from Italy. She speaks Italian fluently enough to make sure we got what we ordered for dinner. In her absence one day, our husbands asked for “two bills” (as in two separate checks). They were surprised when the waiter brought two beers.

Debbie and Jerry

Our friends Debbie and Jerry

I have lost count of how many people told me, upon finding out where we were going, that Italy was their favorite vacation destination.  Now I see why.

roman colliseum

Ruins in Rome

But I’m not a huge art or history buff, so while others took pictures of ruins, I was taking pictures of our guide.  Isn’t her hair adorable? She’s cute anyway. I always have trouble separating cute girls from their cute haircuts in the magazines.

cute hairstyle

Note to my hairdresser Diane: Would this hairstyle look good on me? Love the color too.

In addition to the fun of hanging with people I love, the highlight of most of my vacations is the food. Italy was no exception.

natural viagra

Really?

I had four food-related goals, none of which included verifying the claims of the picture above.

  • First, I wanted to try Italian pizza–lots of it. I was warned ahead of time not to expect Pizza Hut, thank goodness.
  • Second, I wanted to find an authentic cannoli pastry with chocolate chips in the filling. Ground pistachios garnishing the ends? Optional.
  • Third, I wanted to try as many flavors of gelato as possible.
  • And finally, I wanted to gain a new appreciation for pasta beyond one of my favorite recipes on this blog, Scooter’s Spaghetti.
pizza maker in restaurant

Making our pizza inside the restaurant

Almost every restaurant seemed to have pizza on the menu. We had the best in Rome, where the thin crust was unusually crisp, all the way to the inner parts of the pizza and the seasoning was better than average.  We found it at a tiny hole-in-the-wall place close to our hotel, so I don’t remember the name. If you go to Rome, stay at the Hotel Dorian where the nice man at the desk will be able to direct you. Half-way through our trip, however, I began waving the white flag.  No more pizza!

bread animals

Bakery with gorgeous food

My search for a good cannoli was a disappointment.  I tried two. The first was not so fresh. The other had chocolate in the middle, which was good, but unfortunately, not the sweet-ricotta-studded-with-chocolate-chips-inside-a-fresh-and-crispy-shell cannoli of my dreams. I did find this animal-shaped bread while checking out every bakery we walked by. Reminded me of one of my favorite blogs, With a Grateful Prayer and a Thankful Heart, and Lorraine’s animal-shaped breads.

Prima Vera Gelato

A recommended and popular gelato store where the Pope got there before me, judging by the picture

The gelato was every creamy drip as good as reported. My favorite flavors were coconut, coffee, and pistachio.  I think we ate it daily and twice the last day we were there. I felt guilty for the first couple of bites but got over it quickly.

spoon_1012

A practical alternative to a oval-shaped spoon--kinda like a mini-shovel

While I’m reminiscing about gelato, I have to share one of the coolest souvenirs I brought back– simple spoons with squared off tips. Italians serve gelato with a plastic version which enables one to scrape the bottom of a flat dish completely clean.  I can picture myself using them to eat homemade yogurt out of glass jars.

storyboard cooking school_edited-3

Cooking school in Florence (all iPhone pictures, please forgive the quality)

The pasta was plentiful, varied, and offered at every meal except breakfast. The best came from the cooking school Debbie and I attended in Florence, the highlight of the trip for me. If I ever go to Italy again, I will take cooking lessons morning, noon, and night while everybody else goes to the cathedrals and museums.

Our lessons included recipes for Eggplant Caprese, Fresh Water Pasta with Fresh Mediterranean Sauce, Chicken or Turkey with Fresh Vegetables, and Chocolate Panna Cotta for dessert. Along with Debbie, two young girls from Panama were part of my small cooking group. They told us they were on break from school and had come to Italy to learn the language and how to cook. They couldn’t have been more adorable, and our experience was richer for meeting them.

Amalfi Coast

Beside the Amalfi coast (Billy's red cap kept me from losing him in the crowd more than once.)

A heart-felt thanks to Jerry and Debbie for being part of a wonderful trip we will never forget.

 

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{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

Julie September 14, 2013 at 7:55 pm

Hi Paula…I love this post! Italy is definitely on my bucket list!! Anywho…I was wondering if you ever shared the recipe for Eggplant Caprese? I couldn’t find it in your archives if you did 🙁 (I’m trying to make a few more tasty meat-less meals these days, and that looks yummy!)

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Paula September 16, 2013 at 8:38 am

Hi Julie,
Sorry, no eggplant caprese here. I’m no expert with Italian food, unfortunately. But glad you liked the stuffed shells.

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`Suzanne May 24, 2012 at 6:09 pm

Absolutely wonderful photos of your trip to Italy, I’m so envious. It has been on my list of places to visit for the longest time. Hopefully someday soon. I would be like you and want to do the cooking classes while the rest went to the museums. Thanks for sharing the fun you had on your trip.

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Erica May 17, 2012 at 9:50 pm

I will have to try those next time I’m up in Boston (that’s good to know — Boston is a much easier trip than Italia!)

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Erica May 16, 2012 at 5:42 pm

Looks like a lovely vacation! I find it hilarious you shot some pictures of the guide’s haircut (I would have been doing the exact same thing!). I can’t believe you didn’t find a perfect cannoli though! (I guess that’s an excuse to go back!)

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Paula May 16, 2012 at 9:53 pm

Erica,
Great idea about making another trip to Italy to look for a cannoli. But, they have really good ones at Mike’s in Boston so I may have to settle for those. Thanks for stopping by. pr

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Paula May 12, 2012 at 11:12 pm

We will be in France and Italy for 11 weeks this summer and Florence for a month in September-October. Have been to several cooking schools, but the recipes you made sound better than the just make pasta and eat it that many hold. What is the name of the school you attended? Love your pictures of the food. Thx.

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The Café Sucré Farine May 12, 2012 at 12:16 pm

Paula, what a wonderful trip! It looks like you enjoyed every minute of it. I haven’t been to Italy since many years ago but you brought back a lot of wonderful memories – looks like it hasn’t lost any of it’s charm! Thanks for sharing!

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Marella May 10, 2012 at 2:21 am

Hello!!
I saw pictures and are wonderful, I live in the center of Italy and my brother has an ice-cream shop, I wonder if you can insert a little pit-stop in my village to taste a great, natural and artisan ice-cream.
We live in Reggiolo -Reggio emilia- and near us we have Bologna, Mantova, Verona, Parma, Modena….so we are really in the middle of the best kitchen of Italy.
I wait you 🙂

Stay well, Marella Alcorini

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Patricia Elbert Byrd May 8, 2012 at 2:14 pm

Your mother’s daughter! Byrdie would be so proud of you – your interests are right as hers would be… Glad you had such a great time. I loved the French cousine and, as you did in Italy, I did in France. The cooking school you found has to be the best idea, yet!

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Natasha May 8, 2012 at 12:44 pm

I am very glad you had such a wonderful holiday and realy enjoyed your post.
Hope the jetlag has eased off though!

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Paula May 9, 2012 at 6:41 am

Thanks Natasha,
We’re getting back to normal. I’m hoping the next trip to Europe includes your beautiful country which is actually my favorite vacation destination.

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Peggy Helmick May 7, 2012 at 10:05 am

Loved your pictures of Italy and the food. What is gelato? Is it like our ice cream?
I think I would want to do the same things you did if I were ever able to go. Find the best pizza, pasta and learn how to fix it. We were to go to Hawaii in April but in late March found out I had a large mass (ca) of my colon so that has delayed everything for now but still hoping next year or maybe even Italy some day. It was to celebrate our 55 years of married bliss to one of the best men God has created on this earth. Thanks for your blog. I love it. Peggy

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Paula May 7, 2012 at 5:36 pm

Hi Peggy,

Yes, gelato is a form of ice cream–very smooth.

I’m so sorry to hear of your bad medical news. I’m assuming you have some serious treatment ahead so I’m adding you to my prayer list.

Congrats on 55 years. You may have a good man but that says something about you too. Good bless. pr

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Paula May 7, 2012 at 9:45 am

What a wonderful vacation! I remember when we were in Venice and my husband ordered a pizza. A customer across from us also order a pizza. When it arrived the customer poured olive oil all over it before he ate it. That really surprised me but I guess that is how they like their pizza in Venice.

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Paula May 7, 2012 at 5:32 pm

Paula,
The chef at the cooking school poured oil on every layer of everything. Yikes! Of course, it was delicious. pr

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Gary May 7, 2012 at 6:45 am

Well, how much FUN was that? Thanks for the tour. Looking forward to some great pasta recipes! Welcome back. (The first time I had gelato was in the 70’s in Germany when the word “gelato” wasn’t an everyday word here in the States like it is now. I went into an “ice cream” place and ordered a pistachio cone. It was like silk. Smooth and luscious.)

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Sandy May 6, 2012 at 11:12 pm

Paula,
Love this post!!! I am so excited that you got to go and enjoy God’s mighty works.
I love the pictures of the food you and Debbie made in your cooking class and it had to have been incredible. I was wondering if those critters in the one photo was bread. Glad to know and you need to think about making one with your sweet little grandson! Glad you are back and looking forward to hearing more about your trip.

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Paula May 7, 2012 at 5:03 pm

Sandy,

Thanks! As you can imagine, I have plenty more pictures. God’s mighty works are truly gorgeous in Italy.

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sis May 6, 2012 at 6:01 pm

Thanks for the travelogue. Thoroughly enjoyed it.

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Sarah Galvin (All Our Fingers in the Pie) May 6, 2012 at 5:42 pm

I loved the Amalfi Coast. It is a place I will never forget and hope to return to.

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Paula May 6, 2012 at 9:21 pm

Sarah,
My favorite also. pr

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Natasha McEachron May 6, 2012 at 3:46 pm

Great blog post! I’ve heard so many great things about Italian gelato and would love to taste some for myself. The photo taken overlooking the Amalfi coast is beautiful.

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Susie May 6, 2012 at 1:55 pm

I wanna go someday!

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Debbie May 6, 2012 at 12:27 pm

Yes, you spelled my maiden name correctly and it was a great trip. I love Italia and each trip I have made there has been special in its’ own way. This one was no different. Jerry and I enjoyed eating our way across Italy with you and the guy in the red hat! A true, proud Ranger fan! Thanks for the memories!

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Robert May 6, 2012 at 10:13 am

What an awesome trip! Thank you for offering a “play by play” synopsis with photos. I hope some day I can travel to Italy and experience their culture…oh, and did I say food? The foods aspect is probably the most important issue for me – lol

Thanks again- Rob

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Piper @ gotitcookit May 6, 2012 at 10:12 am

Paula,
So fun to read your adventure in Italy. I’ve never been either…. Hoping to go this fall on a business trip ( fingers crossed).
A friend always says when we go, we have to take cooking lessons and I’ve always poo poo’ed the idea because I “know” how to cook Italian….. Mmmmm, maybe not.
P.s. I need those spoons….

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scooter May 6, 2012 at 9:15 am

Yay! Glad you are home safe and sound with wonderful stories and memories.
Love the pictures of the cooking classes. I know that was a ton of fun. And the story of the 2 beers is really funny. Can’t wait to hear more stories.

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Paula May 6, 2012 at 9:27 pm

Thx Scooter, We’ve got some catching up to do. pr

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