Venice – The Local Way with Matteo
When Erin was 16 years old she studied for 3 weeks in Germany and met many international people, most importantly, the 3 Italians we’d be spending our next week with, Matteo, Chiara and Benedetta. Crazy enough, they all somehow stayed in touch! Walking around Venice’s canals and seeing the gondola’s being paddled around, you know you’re in a special place. It is however, extremely touristy and the prices reflect this as a gondola ride runs about $100 for an hour! No thanks. Good thing taking pictures is free. We met Matteo at the train station that night to go out to dinner. Before going to the restaurant we stopped for an aperitivo, any glass of booze that will peak your hunger before your meal. Since we were in Italy, I chose a Campari spritzer which was dry and bitter and definitely worked to get my appetite going. The scene was perfect. We sat at a table on the edge of a canal with lights strung from one building to another overhead. A fat man continuously sang opera to another table during our meal and we weren’t sure whether he was just another street performer or a tipsy patron. Going against all of my beliefs, I ordered the spaghetti (with clams and mussels) and it turned out to be magnificent. Somehow I wasn’t surprised that the Italians knew how to make pasta just right, every time. Accompanied by a house white wine, the meal was finished with a digestiv, in this case, limoncello, a lemon-infused sweet vodka (which I’ll be making a large batch of upon my arrival in Michigan! Get ready Schneider family!) It was very good to catch up with Matteo as Erin and I hadn’t seen him since his visit to San Francisco a couple of years ago. He showed us the real Italian way of eating out in style and even picked up the tab. We felt like locals and ate like locals and are very thankful to Matteo for an unforgettable evening.
Trento – Wine Country at the foot of the Alps
We putzed around Venice for another day following our night out with Matteo and then hopped the train to Trento, a wine region close to the Austrian border, where we spent the weekend with Chiara and her parents, Bruno and Paola. It is here we learned how real Italians eat a home-cooked meal and couldn’t have asked for a better home to learn in. The decor was perfect and no detail was spared from the high-end Italian-designed kitchen to artwork on the wall. At times we felt like we were in a show home but here we were allowed to put our feet up on the coffee table. For an authentic Italian meal, start with this simple recipe:
Bruno’s World Famous Carbonara (serves 6)
1 – 500g (1/2 lb.) bag of pasta, something between a spaghetti and linguine is best and if it says Barilla, apparently you can’t go wrong
250g (1/4 lb.) pancetta, can use bacon if unable to find pancetta
4 – eggs
salt and pepper
1/2 cup (or more if you’re feeling frisky) of extra virgin olive oil
Wedge of Parmesan Reggiano
1. Boil pasta in salted water, cooked al dente (of course)
2. Heat oil in small sauce pot and add pancetta. Once cooking, turn heat on low to simmer
3. Beat eggs and add salt and pepper as if you were about to make a scramble. Set aside.
4. Grate Parmesan and set aside
5. Once pasta is finished, drain and add oil and pancetta and toss.
6. Add eggs and toss. The hot pasta and oil will scramble them.
7. Once served on plates, add grated parmesan to your liking. (Dad, save some parmesan for everyone else!)
Eat the Italian way! Bruno’s World Famous Carbonara is your first course and apparently you’d be crazy not to accompany with red wine. Don’t forget to say “Bon Appetito” before digging in!
After the pasta is complete, serve the following:
Salad: Any type of lettuce besides romaine or iceberg. A bagful of the “green and red stuff” should do. Italians use olive oil, balsamic vinegar and salt as their dressing.
Bread: Try and find something from a bakery with olives in it or rosemary.
Sides: Any recipe with eggplant (aubergine) in it would go well.
Wine: Any Italian red is best. Try a Nero D’Avola. Eat, drink and be merry!
This was only one of many amazing meals we had while with Chiara and her family. My other favorites were a boiled Sicilian flatbread covered with mozarella, chopped tomatoes and olive oil and simple snacks like bread with prosciutto and cheese. Simple, healthy and delicious and completely explains the Northern Italians neat, fit and trim appearance. Well, eating healthy helps but so does their love for the outdoors! Chiara really showed us a great time around Trento. Before our first big Carbonara dinner she took us to downtown Trento for an aperitivo. This time I went with an Aperol Spritzer (much better than Campari!) and we met with her friend Sarah who now lives in Santiago, Chile. Immediately Sarah invited us to come and stay with her in Santiago so we’ll see her again in late October! Other great highlights were watching the longest television show in the world, Miss Italia, a hike up to the Piramidi di Segonzano, natural formations similar to Cappadocia in Turkey, finding the elusive dark chocolate gelato, a hike, albeit unplanned, through local vineyards, homemade tiramisu (literal translation is “pick me up” taking into account it’s one shot of espresso per serving) and a night out with local friends for aperitivo’s and pizza. By the time we ordered the pizza, we felt Italian and ordered Italian ordering an entire pizza to ourselves. But I made the mistake of ordering with anchovies and capers not thinking that this is similar to dumping an entire shaker of salt down your throat. Fortunately Erin is great at sharing and her ham and artichoke heart was divine. Needless to say, I still downed a few glasses of water throughout the night. Sadly, we said goodbye to our Italian family the next day and boarded the train to Milan. We were ensured that if anyone messes with us, they mess with the family! Thank you to the Giamparetti’s for your amazing hospitality; It was truly second to none. Hope to see you all soon in the U.S.A. but if not, you know we’ll be back to Italy soon.
Milano with Benedetta
Thanks to Chiara, we were able to time it perfectly to be on the same train as Benedetta on her return from Padova, where she spends just about every weekend with her family and boyfriend. Many Italians work in Milan for the week and return home for the weekend, a la Los Angeles. It was a high speed train and carried a high price tag because of it but Benedetta magically talked the conductor into only charging us for one, saving us $90! Arriving in Milan’s central station, we were right back to big city living; subways, buses, taxis and trams. The energy was exciting and Milan’s flare for high-fashion and shoes made it even more so. Benedetta lives in a perfect part of town on the top floor of an old building complete with 5-foot doors (watch your head because I sure didn’t) and an open courtyard. The place is cute and she lets us use her bed for the night while she slept on a rollout. By this time it was already past midnight and she had to work early so we all turned in. Erin and I spent the next day walking around Milan and since this would be our only day, stuck to the tracks. First stop was the Duomo, a must-see church that from afar looks like years of melted wax buildup from a white candle. We also stopped and paid our respects to the statue of Leonardo da Vinci, noted as Milan’s second most famous resident. I have yet to find out who number one is but it had better be someone really special. A picnic lunch in the park and a walk through the high fashion district completed our day before meeting up with Benedetta and her friends for aperitivo’s. The really cool thing about Italy is that in most places, if you buy the aperitivo, you get to eat from the buffet. Granted, the drinks in these places cost $11 but apperently this is the cheapest way to eat. From different types of pastas and salads to trays of olives and fresh-baked breads, you really couldn’t ask for more. Benedetta and her friends are a really fun bunch and all speak English really well and we wish we could’ve had more time to hang out with them. It is here on our last night in Italy that we learned a very important piece of Wisdom from friend Emeliano.
“A burp is a fart that took an elevator.” So true. So true.
Thanks Benedetta for the quick glimpse at life in Milan and for hosting us. Sorry we couldn’t stay longer but hopefully we see you soon. Ciao Ciao!
We spent that night in the Milan airport terminal and boarded our plane for Morocco bright and early the following morning. Italy was absolutely amazing and is a place I could spend some serious time. From friendly people and stunning scenery to great food and by and far, the funnest language to speak. Or in my case, at least try. Arrividerci!