Many years ago, I think it was about 5, Patrick and I went backpacking through Europe. It was the first time I ever traveled outside of North America and it was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. We spent a good 5 months planning this trip and it was worth the diligence. Being the passionate Italian foodie that I am, I insisted that we spend a good chunk of our trip traveling around Italy. The main reason being, I couldn't wait to experience authentic Italian eating at its best! I needed to know what real Italian pizza was like and I couldn't wait to try real pasta. I didn't care what form it came in pasta, pizza, pasta was all I could think about while planing this trip. I had a solid month with Patrick in Europe where we would spend a few days in each destination seeing the sights and eating at the local food joints wherever we could. We landed in Amsterdam where we enjoyed the culture much more than the food. I'm all for french fries and mayo, but I wouldn't say the food was memorable there. However, in Amsterdam I did enjoyed my first experience of Schwarma. Which I now love very much.
Amsterdam was were we landed but we didn't stay long. We were on a mission towards Italy. We visited Genoa, Florence, Rome, Pisa, Solerno, Cinque terre, Venice and we also stopped in Cannes and Paris, France. Patrick grew up with a very French European background he loved the french culture and the french food. I was more about the Italian food but I did have a few very fun french food experiences. I could write for days about this trip and the food I enjoyed but I'm sure you don't want to read my ramblings so here are my top 5 food memories of this trip:
5. Sitting on a patio in Rome drinking 1 Euro Peroni's and playing Euchre with Patrick: After about 5 tall cans we stood up to leave and realized that we wouldn't be walking straight for a while! It was a great afternoon spent in Rome. (Okay so food isn't really involved in this memory but it is where I found my love for Peroni, an Italian beer which you can get at the LCBO.
4. Ordering our first pizza in Genoa: Genoa was our first stop in Italy and since everyone knows Italians make pizza the best we were so excited to enjoy real Italian pizza. We climbed up a small mountain to get to this little pizza shop where we ordered take out pizza. By the time we walked back to our hostel with our pizza, the box was soaked with grease! The pizza was delish. I think it was a Margherita pizza. Very simple, with very fresh toppings. But.... it was not the best pizza we experienced in Italy.
3. Going to a grocery store in Paris with our friends Rich and Julie: We shopped around for some deli meats, cheese, a baguette and some cheap french wine. (Anywhere in Europe you could find a good bottle of wine for no more than 2 Euro's.) We spent the night eating bread and cheese and we took our bottle of wine to the steps of Sacré-Coeur were all the local Parisians spent their evenings. It was a time I will never forget.
2. Dining at a small hole-in-the-wall pizzeria in Florence: We were staying at a shared apartment in Florence where another French guy was living. We asked him were we could find really good pizza. He told us about this place and he gave us directions. It took Patrick and I a while to find this pizzaria but when we got there it was worth it. This place was a gem. It was where all the locals ate and I'm kicking myself now for not remembering the name of it. There was only three options for the pizza. I can't remember the third choice but I know that two of the options were Margherita - a simple pizza with just tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella and basil and a Napolean - which had tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella and anchovies . I had the Margherita and Pat had the Napolean. There were only three tables in the joint and we waited a good hour to get a seat. After having their pizza I would wait three hours to eat here. The pizza was so good! The sauce was so fresh and the cheese was so gooey! The crust was unbelievable! It was perfect! Crunchy but chewy all at the same time. Pat and I have both said that when we go back to Florence we will have to find this pizzeria again.
And for the number one spot on my top five food memories on this trip...
1. Our nine course French feast in a small hotel outside of Cannes: I know that this is not an Italian memory but I will never forget my first experience of what it is like to eat a really fancy french meal. The funniest part of this experience was I wasn't even dressed for such a fancy occasion. Patrick and I were checking out small towns outside of Cannes with his friend of the family that we were staying with. I was wearing a white shirt with a black bra not so classy if you ask me. But, it was all I had left we needed to find some laundry soon. Anyhow, she was getting hungry so we were trying to find a place to eat. The village we were in was so small it didn't have a restaurant so we were driving around trying to find another town with a restaurant. Finally, we come across this small hotel with a restaurant. I imagine this type of hotel was where celebrities go in Cannes to get away. It was very very elegant and very very expensive. Pat's friend was very very hungry, so it didn't matter. The smallest meal we could have was NINE COURSES! So we ate. In this meal I tried things I would never have tried before. Some I liked, some, not so much! I tried for the first time truffles - which I thought were very very good. I also tried escargot, which now I can appreciate. However, I do not appreciate foie gras and I never will. Ewww the texture is just too much, and then I learned how they make the duck liver so fatty and then I ethically I could never eat that again. (They force feed ducks by putting a tube down their throats and pouring food down.)
After this meal we were so stuffed. We could barely move. I will never forget this place, if I ever win the lottery I will for sure make a trip back here and dine like the rich and famous!
I do have one last food memory, it didn't make the top 5 but it does lead me back to my picture of Venice. This memory happened in Venice at a camp ground and it has led to my absolute love for risotto. Before this trip, I had never tried risotto. I don't even think I knew what risotto was. For all of you who may not know, risotto is a slow cooked rice that due to the slow cooking process becomes very creamy. Risotto is great because you can pretty much add anything you want to it. As I was saying, I first tried risotto at a campground restaurant in Venice. It was such an amazing discovery! People say that making risotto is a hard thing to do. I disagree, you just need time and patience. Since that trip I have, on many occasions, tried out new risotto recipes. The best risotto recipe I believe is the classic risotto. It is just arborio rice, onion, white wine, chicken stock, peas, Parmesan cheese and butter.
As per requested here is my favourite Risotto recipe:
1 1/2 cups of arborio rice
1 box of chicken stock (4 cups)
3/4 cup finely chopped onion
1/2 cup white wine (make sure to use a white wine you like)
3/4 cup peas
1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese
3 tbsp. butter
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1. In a small saucepan bring the broth to a simmer. Cover the broth and and keep hot over low heat.
2. In a large heavy saucepan, melt 2 tbsp. of butter. Add onion and saute until onion is translucent. Don't brown the onion. It should take around 3-4 minutes to cook.
3. Add the rice and stir to coat the rice with the butter.
4. Add the wine and simmer until the wine is almost evaporated.
5. Using a ladle, pour in chicken broth, stir that fist ladle continuously until it is almost all absorbed.Once the first ladle is absorbed, continue this routine.
6. At this point you cannot leave the stove. You must continue to stir the rice while it is absorbing the chicken broth. The act of stirring is helping the rice to release its' starches. This is what makes risotto so creamy. You also have to continually taste your risotto to see how the rice is cooking. I like my risotto with a little bit of bite. You don't want to over cook the risotto because it will be too mushy.
7. Half way through cooking, add your peas to the broth, the hot broth will help cook the peas. And as you are pouring broth in your risotto, you are also adding the peas.
8. Once your rice is cooked to your liking, you will notice a creamy texture. Add the Parmesan cheese, salt, pepper and the remaining tbsp. of butter. (The cheese and butter will make your risotto even more creamier) If there are any peas still left in your broth, fish them out and add them to your risotto.
9. Stir, Eat and Enjoy!