Of course one of the joys of being in Italy for me was all the fresh pasta all around. Mealtimes were exciting and I tried as many different types of pasta as I could. In Rome, they are known for their Carbonara- a light creamy sauce made of milk and egg yolks with sautéed pancetta. Also popular here is a pomodoro sauce- which is a basic spaghetti sauce made with tomatoes, garlic and basil. Another local favourite (which I did not try) is spaghetti bolognese which is a ground beef, tomato based sauce, cooked with milky to give it a creamy texture.
In Italy, you will not find Italian-American dishes like spaghetti and meatballs or Fettucine Alfredo. But who wants to eat what you can easily find back home? Not me! I enjoyed trying all the regional dishes and eating, as much as possible, like a local.
In Florence, I had the opportunity to taste another local favourite - tagitelle with "wild boar sauce". Sounds pretty extreme but this is another way of saying the sauce is made of ground pork and has a tomato base. It was seriously delicious. I loved egg noodles before, but Italy has completely converted me to only want to eat paparadelle and tagiatelle. Just love those broad noodles that hold so much sauce. Yum!
As I headed down south to Sorrento and Almafi, the pasta specialities changed. The selection offered was based more on seafood. Rightfully so as this is a coastal region. Most restaurants that cater to locals (not tourist traps) will bring their fish and other seafood in daily so everything is always delicious and fresh. Some of the regional specialities here include spaghetti alla Vongole (clams) or pasta with mussels or shrimp (scampi) or even lobster. It was all delicious and nothing beats the taste of freshly prepared food.
When you come to a place where food is basically a religion, it's fun to learn all about the different food customs surrounding what you are eating. Pasta was especially intriguing to me as I spent time in Italian kitchens. So what did I learn?
1) Spaghetti is always boiled in water that is salted. The salt is added ONLY when the water has already come to a boil and never before. If you add it before, the water will take forever to come to a boil.
2) Spaghetti is basically a friend of the family. As such, you NEVER break these precious hand crafted noodles in half. You always drop them into the water gently and let them slide further in as they cook.
3) Despite what we think, customarily pasta is eaten as part of a meal and not as the whole meal. It's actually a second appetizer at dinner followed by the main meat or fish dish. As such, pasta is served in smaller quantities than we are used to in North America.
4) When serving pasta or longer noodles, you would present it on a flat plate (don't over load it) with about three fingers worth of space between the pasta and the edge of the plate. This will allow you to eat the pasta "properly" (see number 6)
5) When serving pasta, you set the table only with forks...never a fork and a spoon. In Italy, eating your pasta with a fork and a spoon is like stirring your coffee with a knife...it's weird and simply not done. You'd never need anything but a fork when eating pasta anyway as you are never supposed to cut your pasta...ever. If you are dining at a restaurant as a tourist, of course no one would say much to you about this- Italians are far too lovely to comment on it, but customarily speaking, you don't cut your spaghetti.
6) so how DO you deal with those long noodles? Well when dining in Italy, remember we are supposed to take our time and savour each taste, flavour and meal. As such, you are encouraged to take your time- this worked in my favour as I tried to get a hang of the eating spaghetti technique which involves using your fork to bring about four spaghetti noodles to the side of your plate and then twisting them into a little ball on to your fork. Why four? Apparently it's a tried and tested amount to ensure you get the perfect sized bite every time.
And now? Nothing left to say about it except... Bon appetito!