Italian dining!Dining very al fresco

Epicure, connoisseur, gourmet or foodie…whatever title you assign yourself, Italy is the place you want to be for succulent dining. The food is closely tied to the various regions, which explains the rise of Eataly restaurants throughout the country (and elsewhere!). It was an encompassing experience to eat at Milan’s San Babila in 2015 and I’d try another one some day. But the small, family-owned restaurants win my heart every time.

In Liguria, we discovered treats like:

Drinks

Although an online search shows that the Aperol Spritz is a Northern Italian specialty, it was new for us. The citrusy and slightly bitter taste is perfect on a hot day…and maybe that explains stumbling on it. This was first time we visited at the end of May and ran into some unseasonably hot weather. Thank goodness to needing to cool off because between the Aperol and the comparable Campari Spritz, we were in heaven. Easy to mix: three parts Prosecco, two parts of your favorite alcohol and one part soda or, our preference, San Pellegrino.

Another treat was a traditional Bellini—this time made with freshly pureed peaches. Give it a blend and see what you think of this use of Prosecco. Another new thing for us were the sides delivered with our Happy Hour drinks. They ranged from potato chips, olives, peanuts and focaccia bread with multiple toppings. Pop sprigs of Rosemary or chunks of olives into the risen dough and you’ll discover something infinitely repeatable.

Coffee

With the spritz drinks covering our late afternoon, early evening chilling, the mornings were spent enjoying espresso and their buddies. If you’re accustomed to ordering a latte stateside, that abbreviated request doesn’t work here. I wound up with a creamer container full of frothed milk=latte. Realizing my mistake, I ordered an espresso to go with it and that became my signature drink at our hotel. At the top of a hill above Rapallo near The Sanctuary of Montallegro, an overflowing cappuccino was scrumptious enough to match the view.

Our friends Silena and Lorenzo introduced me to an authentic macchiato—a shot of espresso topped with a small dollop of steamed milk. Perfect for a post-lunch boost.

Pasta

Ravioli is my go-to pasta in all its variations. The tenderness of it disappearing on your taste buds is enough to make this human swoon. Sauces are diverse and although Pomodoro is prevalent, try opting for things like butter and sage or go for the pesto. Each restaurant has a twist on this tangy basil dressing that will spark your dining enjoyment.

A regional pasta is Trofie and becomes more intriguing when you combine it with pesto, green beans and small bites of potatoes. Who would think of adding those vegetables? The Ligurians, of course. Try it at home, but make sure to buy quality pasta.

Produce

If you’re thinking of creating your own dishes, here’s what your ingredients ought to look like as you get started. The street markets were expansive and popped up when you rounded a corner. The zucchini grabbed our attention. Where we live you can get the zucchini or you can get the flowers, but you can’t get them at the same time. We’ll be including some zucchini plants in our garden and harvesting both parts.

 

Bits & Pieces

Being from Pittsburgh, we always laugh at the Heinz sightings that catch our eye through shop windows or on tables or even at the hotel we stayed at—the superb Sheraton Milan Malpensa Airport. For treats, I’m a limoncello fan and this combination with chocolate…I had to be pulled away from the store.

Dessert

One of the best inventions of the land has to be Tiramisu (translates to Pick-me-up) and this time we discovered it in wrapped in pistachios. Oh my! A light hand mixed the mascarpone and eggs, tiny bits of cookies and chocolate, sprinkled the pistachios on top and whipped together the sauce. With happy taste buds clamoring for a repeat, we’ll have to figure out how that was done.

Pistachio tiramisu with pistachio sauce

Pistachio tiramisu with pistachio sauce

 

The most delicious meal of all was the one created by Silena. She and Lorenzo opened their home to us for our last evening. Ah, the food! A tart filled with strips of red beet, slivers of zucchini and slices of potato. I could have eaten the entire dish. Next up was traditional risotto, topped with whole and containing bits of fresh strawberries. If you haven’t had this blend, I highly suggest putting it together. And don’t forget, risotto is best made using white wine. As if this wasn’t perfection enough, our gourmet chef topped off the evening with an Amaretto-crusted torte stuffed with chocolate and nuts.

 

Eating well in Italy is a national pastime. As the manager at the Parma Stendhal Hotel, we stayed at in 2015 replied after a moment’s consideration of our question, where is a good place to eat, “There are no bad meals in Parma.” Indeed, we have yet to experience anything but exceptional food throughout our Italian travels.

PS. The signs are fun—read through from top to bottom. The Italians have good humor, so don’t let it pass you by.

 

Next: Awed by the Elaborate San Lorenzo Cathedral!

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