Back to Black

After a lengthy hiatus that included a pit stop in the U.S. followed by a couple weeks stationary in London, I am hitting the road, this time traveling throughout continental Europe. More to come…

T’was a Brave Man Who First Ate Capelonghe (and some other things…)

Well, Italy, you’ve been swell, and I really mean it. I give an endless thank you to the wonderful Pedrocco family for hosting me over the past five weeks and teaching me about Italian culture, both in the kitchen and out. I cannot say anything that will do your warmth and kindness justice and I could not have been any more fortunate to have had the opportunity to live with you and get to know you.

For my last supper (I have yet to see the painting because it’s basically impossible to get a reservation; in other words, I’ll be back), we had a feast of seafood. No recipes necessary, but I’ll share some photos of the meal in progress. I must warn you, the preparation was a bit gory and Massi wasn’t sure I’d eat the dinner after seeing it. It involved decapitating sardines, dismembering calamari (yes, again, although last time it was squid), and killing strange shellfish called capelonghe, a speciality of the Venetian Lagoon. If you’re interested in making it, the calamari is stuffed with a blend of breadcrumbs, Parmesan, olive oil, and parsley and baked at about 200 degrees Celsius for around twenty minutes (you should be able to tell when it’s done).

The Before

Capelonghe

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Sardines

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Calamari

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(that’s the mouth)

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The In Between

Capelonghe

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Sardines

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Calamari

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The End

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The Afterwards

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I will be back to Italy many more times. This is a country of huge cultural variety — the different regions could be different countries — and extraordinary geographical beauty. And regardless of where you are, Italians are fascinating people, full of life, and never allowing for a dull moment. In the past month or so I made it to Mestre (home), Venice, Bologna, Bolzano, Verona, Padova, Milan, and Naples (last time — eight years ago — I visited Rome, Venice, Florence, Sienna, and Milan). I look forward to visiting the south, including Sicily, but will not hesitate to return to any of the places I’ve had the opportunity to spend time in so far.

Finally, for the record, I have no doubt, even though I’m still pretty early on in my journey, that the best food of the world is made here. Italians know how to eat and I was lucky enough to be able share with them.

Gnocchi di Zucca and Italian Super Heroes

NYAWK-KEE. The Italian “gn” combination is difficult for many people to pronounce and I’ve noticed a widespread mispronunciation of gnocchi among Americans in particular (who often say “no-kee”). While it is a little time consuming, gnocchi might be easier to make than it is to say. Last night I had the long awaited gnocchi di zucca (i.e., pumpkin or winter squash), homemade nonetheless, which is an an alternative to traditional potato gnocchi and one that I prefer. It was so good that it almost eased my bad mood. Although not quite.

To make it, first peel the pumpkin and steam until it is soft (you can also steam it in the microwave).

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In the meantime, flour the kitchen bench (or using a bowl would be fine), and when the pumpkin is ready, mash it onto the floured area. You can use a potato masher if that helps.

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Next, add, flour, one egg, more flour, and some salt. You don’t need too much salt because the gnocchi is a little sweet, and, in the meantime, you should be boiling well salted water for later.

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Massage additional flour into the pumpkin and egg mixture until it results in a sticky, dough-like texture. The batter should not be watery but you also shouldn’t over flour it. More or less, it should look like this, but, of course, the flour will be all mixed in.

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Next, drop little balls of the gnocchi dough into boiling water. When they begin to float, it is an indication that they are cooked, however, you should sample one to make sure. You also may want to attempt to cook one gnocchi ball before dropping them all in the water to confirm that you’ve added enough flour. If you haven’t, the batter may fall apart in the water.

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That’s it. Strain the gnocchi and serve. We made a simple gorgonzola sauce by adding some gorgonzola to a bit of milk and a splash of flour and mixing and simmering it for a couple minutes in a pan. You could also make what Italians call a white sauce–olive oil, butter, salt, pepper, and Parmesan.

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In other news, the times they are a changin. It is a pretty interesting moment in Italian politics–the economist Super Mario Monti has replaced Bunga Bunga-ing Berlusconi as prime minister, sans election. Monti is expected to put together a cabinet of technocrats rather than politicians. Dare I say, there might be an arm of government without corruption? That remains to be seen, but I think people are cautiously optimistic and perhaps installing someone with true economic experience will aid in the rescue of Italy from its debt problems and ease the strain on the European economy. Unfortunately, that might not be ideal for my future job prospects, since I (used to) work on the floor where companies go to die, as someone once said to me as I stepped out of the lift. In my opinion, they come for life saving cardiopulmonary resuscitation. Anyhow, let’s see how it goes.

I leave Italy the day after tomorrow to meet Akane in Paris for the weekend. We have both agreed that 90% of the weekend will revolve around food, so there should be plenty to report on.

The Caveman Diet

Food for thought: what was Ötzi eating that helped preserve him for over 5000 years? Maybe the caveman diet has merit.

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At the very least, it earned him a spot on Brad Pitt’s forearm.

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For more information click here.

I neglected to adequately document my consumption while in Bolzano, an Austrian/German city in the far north of Italy, over the weekend, so this is all I have. Plus some photos of pretzels. I may have been too distracted by the landscape. As you can see, it is beautiful.

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More food to come. Paris and London are coming up shortly and I have to leave Italy with a bang. Thanks for reading.

A Black Birthday

Today my host family prepared a very special birthday dinner for me — seppie in nero alla veneziana, or squid in black ink. I have had squid ink pasta in the US, but this is a whole different story. Preparation requires dismembering squid, including, among other things, removing their single bone, cutting out their eyes, and cleaning out the inside of their heads, all while keeping their ink sacks intact. Sounds enticing right? I do not think this is something I could make and unfortunately (or fortunately?) I missed the prep time so do not have step by step photos. In its original form, the squid looks like this:

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Once the squid is dismembered, it is sautéed for a long time with garlic and onion.

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The seppie turns very black from its ink and served with polenta.

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I kind of liked it but but had a little trouble eating it when I thought too much about it, or looked too closely at it. It tastes more fishy than any other form of squid I’ve had and it turns your teeth and lips black if you aren’t careful. Never eat it on a date.

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Finally, the birthday dinner was capped off with an Italian sweet called cotognata, which is a very nice, light confection made of quince and sugar.

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I now begin the final year of my twenties, a thought that makes me queasy. While there is probably no better way to spend it than how I am, I can’t help but feel underwhelmed. I guess there is one upside, as Doron was was kind enough to remind me:

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