….uh-oh, a brand new blog may be necessary!
With the trip to Southern Italy dawning closer as a “first adventure”, I thought to consult Fred Plotkin’s “Italy for the Gourmet Traveler”, a voluminous knowledge base. Mine resides more to the north. Thankfully, my traveling companion likes to eat good food and wine and even asked me to be sure and get it together in that area. So far, the research has yielded many deep fried recipes to look forward to, and pizza, neither one my first choice, and many strange and exotic fruits from the sea, not even a second choice. The south of Italy apparently has an even sweeter tooth than my Tuscan relations, which will have to be on the reluctant choice menu (except for anything lemon, my fav). Red flag! This region is all about lemons everywhere and lemon everything delicious!
I heard about this book on a podcast interview Rick Steeves had with Plotkin and was impressed enough to buy the over 700-page encyclopedia. What a treasure of information on every major and un-major city and/or region, with notes on what it is famous for, where, why, and how…….dining, wines, ice cream, coffee, menu terms and definitions, even detailed walking guides through a town, recipes, folklore, calendar events, maps, personal notes and historical data for example …..”as you walk around Venezia, there are two other things I would like you to bear in mind……..” Instead of an index, all the cities and recipes mentioned are listed, and the 27-page Glossary of Food and Wine Terms is a literary piece of its own merit. The book is a treasure-trove of total entertainment to read. I crossed myself in case ancestors were watching and skipped to the Campagnia Region where we will be headed.
Although not the most populated city, Naples and the Campania region has the highest population density of any region in Italy. Plotkin’s descriptions are robust, colorful, inviting and, by nature, contradictory. For example, Campania, like California, has been subjected to severe earthquakes and Mount Vesuvius and Mt. Etna loom over millions of people. Napoli may be wild and chaotic, the people understandably a bit jumpy, but Plotkin goes on to say “the volcanic soil is unusually fertile, so the fruits and vegetables that grow here are sublime…….once you dine at even the most humble trattoria here, it will be hard for you to swallow so-called Italian food back home.”
The Roman emperor Tiberius made Napoli and Capri his playgrounds. Since then, there is a long tradition of elaborate cooking and baking for the royal families and nobles. Pizza, born in Naples, is the favorite nighttime meal that wraps around the local street life conviviality today. The finest “mozzarella di bufala” cheese, Plotkin says, comes from Campania in the province of Salerno.
Pecorino Romano sheep’s milk cheese comes from Sardinia, home to millions of sheep. It holds no candle to American imitations and must be imported, Plotkin advises. It dances on every table, especially those laden with festival foods created for every saint’s day and for whatever reason you might imagine.
You may think of pasta when Italian food is mentioned. Did you know it did not originate in Italy? Arabs introduced noodles in the 8th century, Marco Polo brought them from China in 1295 and they were the food of aristocrats until the 1600’s when mechanical pasta began and Naples’ pasta shops blossomed in the 1700’s. The first documented recipe, however, is said to have been born in 1839. The glorious growing conditions of southern Italy took the credit.
Despite dozens of versions of pasta with lemon in this region, there is much, much more:
Plotkin offers a Penne con Ricotta e Noci Sardinian recipe, that is, pasta with Ricotta and nuts.
I am anxious to try a local version of Colatura dei Alici, or spaghetti with anchovy sauce.
Every province, every region has their own pasta, individually named, and their own recipe
for the best dish you ever ate. Of course, those from Campania are the ultimate best, you know. uh-uh.
We will see.