Recently in Italy category

RAP Épicerie

RAP Italian Epicerie

Due to our closeness to Italy, it’s fairly easy to find an Italian épicerie in almost any Parisian neighborhood. (Although locating an authentic Italian espresso is a little more elusive.) I’m fortunate because there are two excellent Italian épiceries (speciality food shops) close to where I live, but most of the places get their items from a distributor, which means the selection is somewhat narrow. Few places have farro, and I’ve never seen anyone selling farina polenta taragna, the mix of polenta and buckwheat that I first had in the mountains above Milan, and I’d never seen it anywhere outside of Italy. (So I’ve been making my own.)

RAP Italian Epicerie

That’s not a complaint – it’s great to be able to find Sicilian salumi and pasta from Tuscany. And Cooperative Latte Cisternino, an excellent Italian dairy cooperative, is a terrific place for Italian cheeses and other products. (Although they always seem to be closed when I go there.)

RAP Italian Epicerie

But artisanal products, items from small producers, are a little more challenging to find. So I was charmed when my friend Terresa and I took a field trip to discover RAP, which offers rarely seen Italian foods, imported directly by Alessandra Pierini, who curates the selection in her jammed-to-the-rafters shop in the 9th arrondissement.

RAP Italian Epicerie

I haven’t seen such a varied and curious selection of products all together outside of Italy since, well – ever. (Eataly, eat your heart out.) Granted RAP is tiny; imagine if someone pushed eight phone booths together, and you’ll get some idea of its size.

RAP Italian Epicerie

Yet I was incredibly excited to be surrounded by shelves and shelves holding many of the foods I love from Italy, including unusual chocolates, citron soda, and pure, unadulterated pistachio spreads, which were in danger of being eclipsed by things that I’d never seen or tasted.

RAP Italian Epicerie

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Modica (Sicily)

Cannoli

The good news about my trip to Sicily is that it wasn’t all eating almond cookies and cannoli, looking for parking spaces in Palermo (and paying one of the fellows lurking about to keep an eye on the car), gorging on fresh ricotta, and wiping and everything you possible can in generous drizzles of the amazing olive oil produced there.

There was “pasta” – made from almond paste, a plate that’d fool even those with sharper eyes than I. We had the aforementioned spleen sandwiches, which I was relieved to hear were not made from pancreas, and we ate salumi (charcuterie) because it was so good that it would have felt like a crime not to. (And I didn’t want to get into trouble in Sicily, if you know what I mean.) Since I only had one week on the island – two days of which were travel days, and two other days were dedicated to work that landed in my Inbox right before the trip – we managed to make the time for a quick trip to Modica.

Sicily pictures-76

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Sicily

Sicily

I’ve been living in what is arguably the center of Europe for a while now (and I’m certain someone will get out their ruler and argue that technically, I don’t actually reside in the precise center of the continent – but let’s just go with that for the sake of the story), I don’t visit other countries as often as I’d like. It’s so easy to just stay home, not worry about airline tickets, packing, making sure you bring enough socks and don’t forget shaving cream, getting to the airport on time, the stress of unpacking everything to pass through security, and being herded onto, then cooped up in, a tight plane for a few hours in a seat that’s just barely big enough to hold a small child.

persimmons

The reward, however, is arriving somewhere, leaving the airport, and realizing you’re somewhere magnificent. Even if you have to nearly blow-up like a smoldering Sicilian volcano to get there.

Sicily

Sicily has been at the top of my list for a while now, but by the end of fall, less folks want to travel there. And because it’s not a popular winter destination, airlines heavily reduce their flights to Sicily and I had to do some sleuthing around to find out which one would actually take us there.

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Milan

Italian Breakfast

Even though it’s just next door, every time I go to Italy, I wonder why I don’t go more often. Before I moved to Europe, I used to wonder why Europeans didn’t travel to other countries more often. And now I’m one of them. I think it’s because just to go anywhere, whether it’s a 45 minutes flight or a 4.5 hour flight, you still need to schlep to the airport, arrive in a new city, find your bearings, and by the time you’ve finally figured out most of the good places to go, it’s time to head home.

babas

It also doesn’t help that when I returned from this trip, two airlines were striking at Charles de Gaulle airport, the RER train was closed for some unexpected (and unexplained) reason, prompting a few thousand of us to be bused to a deserted train station in the middle of nowhere, to wait in the cold pre-winter air until a train showed up nearly an hour-and-a-half later, well after midnight, making the trip from the Paris airport back to the city (which is a mere 23 km, or 14 miles), nearly four hours – or three times longer than the flight to Milan.

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Il Gelato Centogusti

chocolate gelati

I’m very fortunate to have a gelato guide in Milan, because it’s a rather spread out city. And like many Italian cities, I’ve found some of the best gelaterias are located farther away from the city center. (Younger, less-established gelato makers can’t often afford to be in the expensive areas.) Unlike other Italian cities, Milan isn’t really a place that caters to tourists – which isn’t a bad thing. It’s just that unless you have someone taking you around, sharing the best addresses, you won’t likely stumble upon great places like Il Gelato Centogusti.

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Spritz

spritz

Cocktail culture has sort of landed in Paris. I like cocktails but for some reason it just doesn’t seem right to drink them here. Perhaps it’s cultural since France is more known for as a country for wine and beer drinking rather than downing Screwdrivers, Cosmopolitans, and straight-up Martinis. A few cocktail places have opened where I’m told they serve decent drinks, and Mojitos have become omnipresent during les happy hours, but if you order a Martini in a bistro you’re almost certain to get a class of red Martini & Rossi with a dinky ice cube idling away on the surface.

And I have memories of trying to explain to a very confused café waiter how to make a martini for some guests who just had to have one before lunch. And even though I warned them away, out came a shot glass with one ice cube and some straight gin poured over it.

Campari

Tip: Not that I’m a cocktail expert, but if the waiter or bartender doesn’t know the kind of drink you’re ordering, I don’t recommend ordering one. Aside from a well-known aversion to icy drinks (I’ve been told they can freeze your stomach…ouch!), in their defense, ordering a cocktail in a French bistro is like going into TGIFridays and asking them to make you Bouillabaisse. Just because they have some fish in the refrigerator—or freezer—doesn’t mean that they’re going to whip you up a decent bowl of the classic fish soup.

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Tasting Rome: Gelato, Pasta and the Market

porchetta

Whenever I go to a foreign city, within a few hours of getting oriented, I invariably find myself mentally preparing my move there. I walk around the streets, admiring all the shops and interesting people speaking beautiful languages, and looking up at the apartments with curving iron railings and linens hanging out to dry I imagine myself being a part of it all and making a new life for myself there.

rome

It happened when I moved to San Francisco, and I remember arriving and thinking that it wasn’t quite as pretty as people said it was. No one told me that South San Francisco, near the airport, wasn’t actually San Francisco. And twenty or so years later, when I moved to Paris, I was in for another shock.

I’m not a particularly good traveler; I like being home. (And I love my pillow.) So perhaps that’s the appeal of moving somewhere and staying put for a few decades. I can really get the feel of what living in whatever city I’d like, and come home and sleep in my own bed every evening.

Italy is a special place and many of us are quite fond of it. And why not? The people are friendly, the food is great, and Italians have an easy-going, sometimes boisterous nature, that I think appeals to Americans. Initially I’m usually reluctant to jump into a local restaurant, especially if I’m alone. But in Italy, if you show the slightest interest in the food, people are very excited to explain more about it. Whenever I’ve made the effort, it seems like they can’t wait to feed you.

burrata

You might be presented with a plate of mozzarella, a soft and supple cheese completely unlike the rubbery bricks most of us are used to, when cut with a fork, ooze out a sweet, warm puddle of milk.

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Rome, Again

Today, I’ve had gelato for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. And as I write this, it’s only 3pm in the afternoon.

lunch

It all started on this bright Sunday morning, when I made the onerous hike up to Prati, to Fatamorgana for their daring, wildly-flavored gelati. If you weren’t looking for the place, you’d probably keep going. But being the trooper that I am, in the blazing heat, I pushed past the crowds at the Vatican and trudged upwards toward my goal.

fatamorgana gelato

To say the walk was worth it is putting it mildly. This compact address scoops up some of the most astounding gelato I’ve tasted. I wasn’t quite sure what to order, as there were literally three kinds of frozen zabaglione and nearly ten various riffs on cioccolata.

I decided to go for it and had Kentucky, flavored with chocolate and tobacco, ricotta-coconut, and pure zabaglione. When I took my cup outside and spooned in my first bite, I almost started crying. In fact, I did cry a bit—it was so good.

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