I could fill a whole newspaper with details of our epicurean adventures, but I’ve narrowed down our highlights to the following Shortt list:
Pizza! We had delicious take-away pizza in Tuscany and an incredible roasted red pepper & basil pizza in Rome. Italians tend to go easy on the toppings –typically one or two toppings on each.
Tuscan bread soup. It’s quite thick – more like a stew than a broth. This soup is one of Tuscany’s most famous dishes; full of beans, vegetables, potatoes, kale and of course, bread. The best thing I ate on the trip was a bowl of this soup in a charming trattoria in Montepulciano.
The AutoGrill. A café/convenience store chain next to some gas stations along major highways. Oddly enough, the coffee was some of the best we enjoyed in Italy. You won’t find hamburgers and fries on their menu. They sell pastries, gourmet sandwiches, fresh salads and fruit along with the more typical snack foods. You can even buy a mini bottle of wine to enjoy with your meal! Talk about civilized! One of the AutoGrill’s we visited even featured separate “marché style” stations: primi (antipasti & formaggi), secondi (pasta & risotto), grilia (meat) and pizza stations!
The Coop grocery store. At “our” Coop (in Bagno di Gavorrano) the cheese and meat selection was out-of-this-world and everything was cut fresh-to-order. I was finally able to experience authentic ‘Mozzarella di Bufala’ – fresh buffalo milk mozzarella. In Tuscany, we ate most of our lunches at restaurants but enjoyed most of our dinners back at the villa. One dish that made many appearances at the dinner table was a buffalo milk mozzarella and sliced tomato salad drizzled with olive oil and fresh torn basil.
Gelato! Need I say more? I was amazed at the number of coffee and gelato shops – they are on every corner. My favs – Nutella (truly an Italian ‘staple’) and coconut. We found the Nutella gelato at ‘Antica Gelateria de Matteis’ near the Colosseum in Rome (the owner’s from the same town as David’s grandmother, and all of their gelato is made in-house).
Spaghetti with aglio olio e peperoncino (spaghetti with garlic, olive oil & chili or hot pepper flakes). For lunch in the city of Massa Marittima, we shared four different entrées. This simple pasta dish was by far the best. It was David’s favourite entrée on our trip so I promised I’d make this for him back home. (Note: With this oil topping, David prefers the slightly thinner spaghettini over the more traditional spaghetti. He also "insists" on freshly ground pepper over the pasta just before serving it.)
The oil from this dish is outstanding – we like it so much that we’ve been drizzling it on everything but dessert! In addition to tossing it with spaghetti, try drizzling this “sauce” onto pizza, eggs, grilled vegetables, toast with tomato, and/or smashed potatoes.
aglio olio e peperoncino
• 2 cups (two cups) olive oil
• 25 (twenty five) garlic cloves (about one cup),
peeled and thinly sliced
• ½ - 1 (one half to one) teaspoon hot pepper flakes
• coarse salt, to taste
- Heat oil in a large sauté pan over medium-low heat.
- Add one or two pieces of garlic to the oil to test its temperature – a few bubbles should rise to the surface, but it shouldn’t make a lot of noise nor brown the garlic – if this happens, your oil is too hot and you need to turn the temperature down and wait a few minutes before trying again. (Note: if you add the garlic to oil that’s too hot, it will burn and taste bitter and you’ll have to start over from scratch!)
- When the oil is at the correct temperature, add the garlic and stir for about a minute.
- Add the hot pepper flakes and stir to combine.
- Turn the heat to low and let simmer for about 20-25 minutes, stirring occasionally. The oil should taste of garlic and the garlic should be soft and sweet tasting when ready.
- Season to taste with coarse salt.