There’s pasta, and there again, there is pasta.
There’s a world of difference between home cooked & hand made, where simple flour and water is lovingly transformed into something beautiful….and the stuff we get here. Or indeed, the stuff so popular at the masses of ‘Menu Touristico’ cafes lining the thoroughfares of Rome, Venice and all the popular tourist haunts. Oh they all look attractive initially, with their set menus and their all inclusive deals. But the food? Not a patch.
We tried wherever possible to eat away from el touristo trappo type places – where you can get your fix of spaghetti and lasagne in the company of other tourists – in favour of the sort of place that would appear in the famed Italian language guide to eateries – Osterie & Locande d’Italia. We used word of mouth, local recommendations, places from guidebooks and occasionally, research online, to find our dinners. With one notable exception, we did really well.
And I think it’s no coincidence that that one exception was during a coach trip* where we were dumped at a tourist trap restaurant with 40 minutes for our set 3 course meal and 3 or 4 other coach loads of people. The food was average (and not, we noticed, what the guides were eating, at their separate tables), and frankly it was the only time during that month away when I was really quite ill afterwards. But I digress.
The osteria were awesome. And it was clear that there is a regional type of pasta, and by golly there were going to serve that type, and only that type. And thank god for it, too. I fail to understand why people would happily get on a plane for hours, and then flop down at the first naff looking joint and order food that they could get at their local Wetherspoons. But there we are, they were popular, packed full of sunburnt tourists, and that freed up the good places for the likes of me and Mr C, so I shouldn’t complain…
So – usually mere feet away from the heaving, beer swilling, faux Italian cafes, there were fantastic joints producing awesome food that was genuinely and fervently local. And it cost about the same as the fast food nonsense nearby. The difference couldn’t be more stark. If that makes me a food snob – well then out and proud, frankly.
As a low wheat option I did also eat a fair bit of gnocchi – I know it contains some wheat flour usually, but at least I stood a chance of it being lower wheat. The quality did vary more than that of the pastas on offer though. They ranged from delightfully soft pillows to slightly over firms ovals of stickiness…but none were anything like my previous, non Italian experience of gnocchi – ie rubbery, ill disguised mash. This one in Venice was a beut; a crab gnocchi, served in it’s shell:
Well, it tasted better than it looked…
Sorrento even had a gnocchi specialty – a simple tomato and mozzarella sauce, it showcased the quality of the regional cheese. We found it everywhere in Campania, so I did try it a few times. The best was at the old fishing marina in Sorrento, at a home cooking place with a fantastic sea view that’s been going since 1947 – emilia’s. Mr C is sure he saw the original Emilia leaning out of her balcony overlooking the restaurant. She’d be about 95 if that’s the case, but hey – they live longer in Italy!
Our absolute favourite pasta dish was in Venice, at Osteria Alla Staffa – a rabbit and thyme number that was perfectly creamy without being too rich, handmade pasta in the local style, served al dente to my taste (ie: not very), wonderful clear flavour from the gorgeous thyme flowers and soft, rich rabbit pieces. Wow.
We had a chuckle at the prospect taking home souvenir pasta on our tiny weight allowance but I did think these were cute:
No, I didn’t buy them. Also loved the handy guide to a small selection of varieties:
Being low wheat in Italy was always going to be a challenge, and not one I did especially well at, suffering the bloaty consequences several times over the month.
But by golly, was it worth it.
*Coach trip. It was a mistake. We won’t do it again.