“Wait…this is fresh made pasta, right?” I queried as the waiter looked at me with those eyes that can nearly be heard expressing their discontent.
Since when did I become such a pretentious eater that boxed pasta seemed so abhorrent? Oh…since spending 3 weeks gorging myself in Italy, scouring the country for the best eats. I had officially been ruined for all the Barillas & DeCeccos of the world. After witnessing Italian nonnas (grandmas) fresh rolling pasta in the back of restaurant kitchens and lingering over fragrant sauces it was no wonder I was appalled by food from a box and a jar!
After settling for his unequivocal reply of, “yes”, I took a deep breath, a sip of wine, and replayed my trip through Italy as I prepared for my last meal before jetting off. As an avid traveler Italy was one place I had been hesitant about visiting…not because I was concerned that I wouldn’t like it, but because I was concerned I would love it too much and never want to leave.
And boy did Italy live up to all the expectations in my mind. From the first peek of the rolling Tuscan countryside through the airplane window, to the thrill of riding on a scooter around winding cliff side roads on the Amalfi coast, to this quaint little restaurant in Florence where I was eating my final fresh pasta dish, Italy took my breath away around every corner.
There is something so special, so enriching, so passionate, so simple about the way Italians live. And food is a major part of that beautiful life. On my first night in Italy I made friends with a group of locals who invited me over for a barbeque. I stood awe struck in their Renaissance-period kitchen as one of them nearly apologized to me because, “this olive oil isn’t very fresh…it’s nearly 8 months old since their family is preparing for the olive harvest this year.” Old olive oil?! Is that even a thing?! At home I just used whatever EVOO I could find in my cabinet, purchased from who knows where, who knows when. And that was just the beginning of my education in the way Italians eat, drink, love, and live.
One of the most beautiful things about Italian cuisine is how utterly simple most of the dishes are and that so much of the rich aroma and flavor comes from using very fresh ingredients. Italians are not shy about their pride in this matter. While participating in a cooking class the chef looked at me and matter-of-factly asked, “Do you like lemon thyme?” Then he continued by saying, “Great, let’s go pick some,” as we trotted out of the kitchen where a few pots of fresh herbs grew. I felt like smacking my Staples’ ‘that was easy’ button
As a tour operator for international culinary trips, my sole purpose in Italy was to uncover the places that made me feel uniquely in love with Italian cuisine…places that I would be overjoyed to share with other like-minded food lovers. With some help from my friends at Utrip I was well connected with local Italian experts who showed me the way. And amongst some of my favorite meals were these 4 gems I highly recommend you check out: