Thursday, September 13, 2007

Food at our Italian wedding

The food at our wedding celebration was wonderful. All of it was homemade by Loris' family and Bruno. I can't even count how many appetizers there were. Several different kinds of bruschetta, including one with tomatoes, one with gorgonzola and walnuts, one with a vegetable spread, and one with, rather unfortunately, foie gras. Also one with some type of cheese (I'm not sure what it was).

And a rather interesting watermelon apperitif.

Then a dish of sit-down antipasta, roasted peppers with tuna sauce, wild mushrooms, raw pepper salad, melon with prosciutto, several types of frittata, and bagnet. I'm sure I'm forgetting something.

This was all followed by pasta with leek sauce, then pasta with tomato sauce, and finally, wild boar with polenta. This is a photo of Bruno cooking the meat, the day before the wedding celebration.

Needless to say, that was the only meal we ate that day.


A few notes after eating a LOT of meat in Italy (and France).

I guess I'm no longer a vegetarian, as I've eaten a lot of meat since I've been here. And I think that's acceptable in some ways because I'm somewhat certain that the meat isn't industrial, and is probably pretty healthy. The more I read (and I read a lot), the more I realize that eliminating an entire category of food from my diet isn't necessarily the way to be healthier, or promote a healthier planet (read The Omnivore's Dilemma, among other things, to get an idea of what I mean). On the other hand, I still prefer a diet with more vegetables, and some days here I almost don't eat vegetables at all, which upsets my stomach and feels like a very heavy diet indeed. It's always amazing to me to see a culture which criticizes the US so much eat meat twice a day, every day of the week. Most of the meat that I've eaten here has been delicious, to the point where I'd consider adding it back to my diet. But then I run into this issue: should I buy Italian meat in California, so I know it came from a good meat-raising system? Or should I buy Californian meat, avoiding the preserving and shipping process, but potentially buying into the industrialized system? This is why I generally avoid meat when possible, especially in restaurants. After I learned that much of the meat in Corsica is not only industrialized, but actually imported(!), I feel like the only way to venture into such a situation is to do it myself. Although that's the general rule in life, right? If you want something done right, do it yourself.

Some generalizations on Italian food and drink

I don't really know where to start, since I've been eating Italian food for a few years now, and some of it isn't so exciting anymore. Also, I make a lot of it at home now, too.

Probably the best thing about Italy for me is the cheese. I mean, a lot of the other food is amazing, but it's reproducible at home. The cheese just isn't (and I've tried). Actually, we've had some luck locating acceptable substitutes for some of the Italian cheeses we eat when we're here, but they're always either difficult to obtain (i.e. from the Cheeseboard Collective in Berkeley, which is closed on Sundays, random holidays, etc.), or ridiculously expensive. After a while, it's possible again to eat the "creamy" gorgonzola in the US and not think about the really creamy gorgonzola we've left behind. And we usually bring some stracchino and parmesan with us to last a little while. But the variety of cheese that is all so fantastic and almost guaranteed to be delicious no matter which one you pick, that almost doesn't exist in the US, and certainly not in Davis. Loris thinks I should open a Cheeseboard Collective of my own, but then again, I also need to open a bakery, and a restaurant, and a deli, etc.

OK, on to other things. The meat here is generally pretty good, but as I don't usually eat meat in the US, it's hard to describe it, or compare it. Some of it is just too spicy for me. Although I ate it anyway. And speaking of spicy foods, I ate a dish of pasta with garlic and red pepper that I wasn't sure I'd survive. I was certainly proud of myself. I would like to develop an ability to eat spicy food, although I probably won't ever enjoy it, but just to get by when, for example, I'm a guest and have to eat what is put in front of me.

We haven't eaten a lot of vegetables here (see my post on vegetarianism), but of course the ones we eat are always delicious. We've had some roasted peppers, a ratatouille (at least, I think that's what it was), stuffed onions (with meat, of course), green beans, eggplant parmesan, and to be honest that's all I can remember. This vacation has been really low on vegetables, considering that theoretically, it should be the time of some serious harvesting.

We've been to dinner twice in the fort. The first time was for a fish dinner, which was pretty decent. We ate whole sardines (I think), which were not worth the time it took to remove the head, skin, and bones (and then keep fishing little annoying bones out of your mouth), two delicious fish steaks (one was salmon), and a variety of other seafood (calamari, etc.). And a dish of mussels, yum. The only vegetables that appeared here were some heavily battered and fried squash and eggplant. Which were good. But heavy. The other meal was a pasta dinner, where I ate the aforementioned spicy pasta and pasta with tomato sauce (which was, sketchily, the only veggie of the meal). This was preceded by a dish of meat. Spicy meat. In retrospect, that was probably the spiciest meal I've eaten in a long time. And the pasta was followed by a slice of apple that was, once again, heavily battered and fried. Another heavy meal. But good.

What else can I talk about? The delicious chocolate budino? The delicious goat milk ice cream we had at Manuela and Franco's? They also made us three pizzas, one with gorgonzola, one with olives and cheese (not sure if there was some sort of white sauce), and one with raw onions. They were all good, and served with real German beer from a mini-keg. It was quite possibly the best beer I've ever had, as the carbonation was different from typical beer carbonation - more like root beer, softer, less harsh, and taking a lot longer for the foam to go down. Once again, the meal started with meat, although I thoroughly enjoyed this meat. Speck from Valle d'Aosta, and some type of salami (NOT spicy). Yum. I'm not sure I've ever had speck before.

And that is my "brief" outline of the food in Italy on this trip. I'll add another post if I remember some other things.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

On preserving food

So the last two days before I left for Italy were filled with not only packing and cleaning but some major food preservation. I think I went nuts. Here is a list of everything I did:

1. Chopped and froze 4 large bags of zucchini
2. Chopped and froze 4 freezer bags of red and yellow peppers
3. Roasted, peeled, and froze one large tray of red and yellow peppers
4. Grilled two large jars of eggplant slices, preserved in oil and placed in fridge
5. Made two large containers of melon sorbet
6. Placed 10 butternut squash in the sun to dry out and preserve for winter
7. Canned 7 jars of tomato juice (yum!)

I'm looking forward to zucchini soup and risotto, peperonata, grilled eggplant, sorbet, and all kinds of winter squash recipes. Like toast with butternut squash jam and a glass of tomato juice on a cold winter morning (or a cup of herbal tea).

A brief note on my upcoming fall/winter garden

Just so I don't forget what I have in mind:

  1. Fava beans
  2. Broccoli
  3. Cabbage (green and red)
  4. Cauliflower
  5. Lettuce
  6. Carrots
  7. Beets
  8. Leeks (and onions?)
  9. Spinach/chard
  10. Turnips
  11. Fennel

What am I forgetting?

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Coriscan food

There's so much to write about since I've been in Italy, including many of the meals I've had here, but I'd like to use this post to describe the week I've just spent in Corsica before I forget too much of the wonderful food I ate there. As it is not a common destination for American tourists, traveling in Corsica meant a few things for me: 1) the food wasn't very Americanized , which was great (although it was probably still standardized to French or Italian cuisines more than was necessary); 2) I didn't hear very much English, and figuring out the menus was sometimes difficult; 3) much of the local food simply doesn't have an English translation, and the best I could do was to guess that something was "some type of Mediterranean fish (i.e.)". That being said, I spent a week eating some amazing things.

Most of the restaurants Loris and I dined at served various "tourist menus", meaning they had several fixed price menus consisting of several courses that were much cheaper than buying each course individually. While in some cases this could be a bit limiting, and also indicated that we may not necessarily be eating 100% authentically, it was great because we could afford to eat multi-course meals and by each taking different menus and then sharing, we could sample twice the variety of food. Most of the time, this worked out great for us.

One of my favorite first courses was the soup de poisson, a local dish of Southern France, but also of Corsica. It's a soup made with fish and vegetables and then pureed and served with toasted baguette slices, rouille, and sometimes Swiss cheese (gruyere). You spread the rouille (a sort of orange, spicy aoili) on the toasted bread, dunk it in the soup, and sprinkle cheese on top. It's delicious, but apparently difficult to make as you have to pass it through a food mill several times. I'm thinking I'll try making a big batch of it and freezing it. Or finally getting the pressure canner I've been wanting so I can can it.

Other memorable first course dishes were the salade de chevre chaud, which is, I think, more typical of France than Corsica, Bonifacienne eggplants (roasted and stuffed with some sort of brocciu cheese mixture - similar to ricotta), and stuffed zucchini (with a similar mixture, including what Loris thought was mint). In addition, we ate a lot of fish. The sole was in general a bit disappointing, I think we only had it once at the worst restaurant we ate at overall. I also got cannelloni with brocciu, and Loris got a sampler dish that included wild boar, cannelloni, lasagne, stuffed zucchini, and tripe. Good stuff!

Our last courses were always excellent. Corsican cheese is good stuff, especially the goat cheese, often served with fig jam. Delicious! Desserts included a sort of light chestnut cake, chocolate mousse, and a brocciu torte.

There's so much more to write about, including the food we've had in Italy, and my plans for my winter garden, that I must stop here. But thankfully, I bought a cookbook of Corsican cuisine, and I'm really looking forward to trying it, if I can find the necessary ingredients.